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We still don't know if Martin Callinan resigned, retired or was sacked...

Analysis: The departure of the Garda Commissioner remains shrouded in controversy.

Updated 8.15am 

TODAY MARKS EXACTLY one year since the departure of Garda Comissioner Matin Callinan in controversial circumstances that remain unexplained.

Shortly after 9.30am on Tuesday, 25 March last year, news of Callinan’s departure emerged and was later confirmed in an official statement.

Callinan said he had decided to “retire” in the best interests of An Garda Síochána following months of controversy.

Much of this stemmed from his appearance at the Public Accounts Committee in late January when he described the actions of two Garda whistleblowers, in downloading a disseminating information from the garda PULSE system, as “disgusting”.

Source: Bock The Robber/YouTube

In the weeks that followed he came under severe pressure for the remarks and faced calls to withdraw them, including from several government ministers led by then-transport minister Leo Varadkar.

But it was actually another controversy that appeared to seal Callinan’s exit.

The emergence of information that phone calls in and out of a large number of Garda stations had been taped and recorded since the 1980s was the final nail in the coffin of his long garda career.

So grave were these revelations that a Commission of Investigation, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Nial Fennelly, was established to investigate how and why this happened and what implications there could be for ongoing and future legal proceedings.

Launch of CRI Alerts Martin Callinan, Brian Purcell an Alan Shatter Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

How and when then-justice minister Alan Shatter became aware of these revelations are the subject of their own controversy. Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell did not tell Shatter about the recordings issue until two weeks after he had been informed by Callinan in a letter.

But it is the circumstances that led to Callinan’s departure that are still shrouded in controversy amid the belief among opposition TDs that he was effectively sacked by the Taoiseach.

What we know (and what we don’t)

We know that Callinan announced his departure the morning after he was visited by the Purcell at his home. Purcell was acting on the instructions of the Taoiseach who dispatched the civil servant to see Callinan following discussions about the recording revelations that also involved Shatter and Kenny’s top civil servant Martin Fraser.

Kenny has repeatedly said that Purcell was sent to see Callinan so as that the commissioner “be made aware of the gravity of how I felt about this and its implications” referring to the secret recording revelations.

Callinan statements on Donohoe murders Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Through sources close to him, Callinan has let it be known that the belief was conveyed to him on that Monday night that he would not survive the following morning’s cabinet meeting. He formed the view that had no choice but to go.

The Taoiseach has faced repeated calls to explain exactly what happened, but he has not expanded on his statement about telling Purcell to convey the gravity of how he felt to the commissioner.

After failing to get answers from Purcell the Oireachtas Justice Committee recommended the Fennelly Commission be tasked with investigating the circumstances which led to Callinan’s departure.

Can’t say or won’t say?

IFS 2020. Pictured An Taoiseach Enda Kenn Source: /Photocall Ireland

In recent weeks it emerged that three people had been recalled to give evidence to the commission, with the Taoiseach repeatedly refusing to comment on whether he was one of the three.

The Sunday Times has since reported that he was as was, in fact, one of the three to be recalled with the Attorney General Máire Whelan and Kenny’s top civil servant Martin Fraser the two others.

Kenny has cited the Commission of Investigation Act 2004 in saying it would be illegal for him comment on the entire process. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claims that there is no such provision in the Act.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach insisted there would be no change in Kenny’s current position and he would not be commenting.

Martin has pointed out that last summer, when then-Labour leadership hopeful Alex White was critical of Kenny’s role in Callinan’s departure, the Taoiseach was happy to confirm that he would be cooperating with and speaking to the commission.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Speaking on Morning Ireland on Monday, Martin said of White’s criticism:

“The Taoiseach’s response to that was that he had been contacted by the commission of inquiry and that he intended… to respond within the next two weeks and give evidence. So while it’s now an offence for the Taoiseach it wasn’t an offence for the Taoiseach in June of last year”

When asked about this yesterday, the Taoiseach’s spokesperson said that at that point the commission, despite being formally established, had not begun the process of gathering evidence and witness statements.

Martin has faced accusations from the government of trying to interfere in the work of the commission, accusations which he denies.

He has repeatedly called for the full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding Callinan’s departure. The government’s response has been that these matters are the subject of an independent commission.

It is hoped that Fennelly can get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

Delays

JUDGES NIALL FENNELLY JUSTICE REPORTS PORTRAIT LANDSCAPE Nial Fennelly Source: Gareth Chaney/Photocall Ireland!

However, his report could be delayed for sometime, according to a letter from the retired judge, which was quietly published on the Department of the Taoieach website earlier this month.

Fennelly says that current High Court proceedings involving Ian Bailey, who is suing the gardaí and the State, mean that the draft interim report, which is expectedly to shed light on the Callinan controversy, can’t be published while these legal proceedings are ongoing.

“The Commission if not in a position to say how much longer it will take,” Fennelly wrote to Kenny on 17 February (the letter wasn’t published until 6 March – a still unexplained delay)

In the meantime Kenny will continue to face allegations that he sacked Callinan, allegations which he denies while insisting this will all be investigated by the one-man commission.

Quite understandably the opposition are not satisfied by this.

It could be reasonably argued that all of this would be unnecessary had Kenny explained what happened to the Dáil last year and/or Purcell did likewise when he appeared before the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

A year after he departed, we’re no closer to the truth of exactly what happened in the hours before Martin Callinan’s departure.

First published on Monday, 23 March 2015. 

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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