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Visit from civil servant was 'immediate catalyst' for Martin Callinan's retirement

The opposition are calling on Enda Kenny to consider his position, but the Taoiseach is standing firm.

Updated 9.30pm 

A VISIT FROM from a senior official in the Department of Justice was the “immediate catalyst” for Martin Callinan’s decision to retire as Garda Commissioner, an inquiry has found.

The long-awaited Fennelly Commission report into the controversial circumstances surrounding Callinan’s decision to step down on 25 March last year has published its findings this evening.

Callinan stepped down the morning after he was visited at his home by the then-secretary general of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the report has found that the question of removing Callinan from his position was never discussed.

He said he welcomed the commission’s conclusion that “the former Commissioner decided to retire, and that he could have decided otherwise”.

Kenny also said this evening that he would not have dispatched Purcell to visit Callinan had he known of a letter sent by the commissioner to the Department of Justice on 10 March 2014.

This letter informed officials of a system where non-999 phone calls in and out of Garda stations had been recorded since the 1980s. The correspondence was not brought to the attention of Justice Minister Alan Shatter or the government until after Callinan had retired.

The Commission of Investigation concluded that “serious information deficits and multiple failures of communication” beset the events leading up to Callinan’s departure.

‘Defended Callinan’

In a statement, Kenny said:

I have consistently rejected claims by some in Opposition that I either sacked or sought to sack the former Commissioner.
I welcome the report’s clear and unambiguous finding that the question of removing the former Commissioner from his position was not even discussed.
The Report confirms that the former Commissioner decided to retire, and that he could have decided otherwise.
Furthermore, it finds that I had no intention of putting pressure on the former Commissioner to retire.

The Taoiseach told RTÉ’s Six One News that he was “the strongest defender of the Commissioner in public and in private”.

“In Washington and in Brussels very shortly before this under quite aggressive questioning I was unequivocal in my support for the Commissioner,” he said.

9/6/2015. Cabinet Meetings Source: Sam Boal

In his lengthy statement this evening, Kenny noted that prior to Callinan’s departure An Garda Siochána had been engulfed in a series of controversies. These related to allegations by whistleblowers about malpractice in the penalty points system.

During this period a number of government ministers called on Callinan to withdraw or clarify remarks that the actions of the whistleblowers were “disgusting”.

Kenny said:

Throughout this period, I strongly, consistently and without qualification, defended the then Commissioner, including in Washington on 13th March and again in Brussels on 21st March when I called on Ministers not to publicly comment about the then Commissioner in advance of the Cabinet meeting to be held on Tuesday 25 March.
There was significant media commentary on these controversies and much speculation as to whether the then Commissioner would issue an apology or clarification for his remarks.

‘Deeply regrettable’

Kenny said it was against this backdrop that he was informed about the “serious issue of widespread recording of telephone conversations in garda stations”.

He said that the purpose of calling a meeting on 24 March – the night before Callinan retired – was to gather as much information as possible about the taping issue.

Kenny said it was “deeply regrettable” that none of the participants in the meeting, including himself, were made aware of a two-week old letter from Callinan to the Department of Justice about the recordings issue.

Had this letter been brought to my attention on the night of Monday March 24th, a meeting between Mr. Purcell and the then Commissioner would not have been necessary and this letter could have been presented to the Cabinet the next day.

Kenny said that he was left in a position where a cabinet meeting was about to take place, a Commission of Investigation would be proposed, and the recordings issue would be made public.

I made a decision that it was only fair and right to ensure that the then Garda Commissioner was made aware of the situation and my grave concerns.

Kenny told RTÉ he acknowledged that the report pointed to inadequacies in communication between departments but claimed “serious changes have been made”.

“Outrageous”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin this evening slammed the Taoiseach’s response to the report, describing his presentation of it as “scandalous” and “outrageous”.

Let’s get back to the real world here. The secretary general is out at 11pm the night before a Cabinet meeting telling the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána the Taoiseach has sent him out, that he sees the matter as very grave and that he might not have confidence in him the following morning if the matter arises at the Cabinet.

Martin said anyone looking at those sequence of events could come to only one conclusion – that the Commissioner “was given no alternative but to resign”.

He also said he believed the Taoiseach’s position on this was “neither credible nor tenable”.

“Spin”

Sinn Fein’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh also called on Kenny to “consider his position” and reconvene the Dáil next week to discuss the report.

“The Taoiseach’s spin in relation to the findings of this report is not credible and he must now consider his position.

“It was inevitable that Commissioner Callinan would see no other option but to resign following a visit by the Secretary General of the Department to his home on the orders of the Taoiseach.

The conflicting evidence contained in the Fennelly report is extraordinary and raises questions as to why the Taoiseach felt the need to send Mr Purcell on the Government’s behalf in the manner in which he did, rather than waiting until the following morning’s cabinet meeting to discuss Commissioner Callinan’s position.

“A series of deficiencies”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Joan Burton said the report “makes clear that the ultimate decision to retire lay with the then Garda Commissioner, and that there was no directive issued by the Taoiseach to the Commissioner”.

The Commission of Investigation identifies a series of deficiencies that require careful consideration and detailed response in due course. In that respect, its findings are in keeping with the Report of the Independent Review Group on the Department of Justice and Equality which examined the performance, management and administration of that Department.

“It is important to note that a series of actions are being taken to implement the recommendations of the Review Group report.”

Background

Retired Supreme Court justice Nial Fennelly has spent over a year investigating the controversial departure of Callinan in March of last year following revelations of secret recordings at garda stations.

Opposition parties have claimed this amounted to Callinan effectively being sacked by Kenny. By law only the cabinet can dismiss a garda commissioner.

Speaking earlier, Kenny indicated he had been vindicated in his belief that he did not sack Callinan, telling reporters:

It’s my intention actually to publish it as soon as I can and, as I said, the central charge against me of breaking the law and sacking the Garda Commissioner – I’ve rejected that always and still do – and I look forward to the publication of the report.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy and Órla Ryan.

Read: Everything you need to know about the controversy that could end Enda

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Hugh O'Connell

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