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

A report into the circumstances surrounding Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s departure last year is expected shortly…

THE LONG-AWAITED report of the Fennelly Commission into, among other things, the circumstances surrounding the departure of the Garda Commissioner last year is expected to be published shortly.

The Commission delivered an interim report to the Department of the Taoiseach today. It is expected to be published within the coming days.

But what exactly has the Commission of Inquiry, chaired by former Supreme Court justice Nial Fennelly, been investigating? And what consequences might its findings have for the government and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in particular?

Here’s the background you need to know…

On 25 March 2014, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan announced that he was to retire with immediate effect.

4/12/2013 Response on Smithwick Tribunals Reports Martin Callinan Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Callinan had been under pressure for sometime after describing the actions of two whistleblowers who unveiled malpractice in the penalty points system as “disgusting”.

On the same day he resigned, the government revealed the existence of a system that had been secretly recording phone calls in and out of dozens of garda stations around the country from the 1980s up to November 2013.

The system emerged during the discovery phase of journalist Ian Bailey’s civil case against the State over the garda investigation into the murder of Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plaintier in 1996.

The recordings included conversations between gardaí and journalists, witnesses and members of the force. Their existence and the potential impact on legal cases caused such grave concern that the coalition immediately established a Commission of Investigation into the matter.

screenshot.1441038970.82131 Source: www.thejournal.ie

Fennelly was later appointed to head this inquiry and has since said that the examination of the recordings could take “years, if not decades” given the existence of thousands of tapes in excess of one million hours in duration.

The report delivered to the Taoiseach today is expected to scope out the timeline for the completion of this element of the inquiry. But it will also deal in detail with the controversial events surrounding Callinan’s departure.

Why are these events so controversial? 

Just hours after the recordings issue was made public, it emerged that Callinan had written to the Department of Justice to inform officials and Mnister Alan Shatter of the existence of the recordings on 10 March 2014 – two weeks prior to his departure.

He said in the letter to the department’s secretary general Brian Purcell that he had set up a working group to examine the issue when it first emerged in November 2013.

25/5/2012. Launch of CRI Alerts Three men no longer in their jobs: Martin Callinan, Brian Purcell and Alan Shatter. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

However, Justice Minister Shatter only became aware of the letter after the Commissioner retired on 25 March.

The delay has been put down combination of Shatter being in Mexico on government business and Purcell being absent for a number of days due to a family bereavement. Both men have since resigned their posts.

This delay and the events of this night, Monday 24 March 2014, have become the subject of much debate and controversy and have been investigated by Fennelly.

What happened on 24 March 2014? 

On the night before Callinan retired, Purcell visited the commissioner following a series of high-level meetings involving senior civil servants and the Taoiseach over the recordings controversy.

Kenny himself had only become aware of the recordings issue when Attorney General Máire Whelan met with him on Sunday, 23 March. Whelan became aware of the recordings issue the previous November when it was first uncovered by An Garda Síochána.

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

Kenny subsequently told the Dáil on 26 March – the day after Callinan retired – that Purcell had been dispatched to commissioner’s home in order to convey the gravity of how the government felt about the situation.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said this was tantamount of sacking Callinan.

That revelation this morning, and its confirmation by the Taoiseach, tells me one thing; he said it to inform and convey to him the gravity of how the Taoiseach felt about the issues that were emerging. He essentially sacked him. That is what that means.

But Kenny insisted this was not the case, and told the Dáil during the same heated Leaders’ Questions:

I thought it important that from my perspective given the nature of what lies up ahead that I should have the Garda Commissioner apprised of my view of the gravity of this because when the Deputy and all his people wanted me to confront the Garda Commissioner, it would have been tantamount to expressing no confidence in the Garda Commissioner.

The continued criticism of Kenny prompted the Oireachtas Justice Committee to examine the matter.

But Purcell refused to answer its questions about Callinan and so the committee recommended that the Fennelly Commission examine the circumstances surrounding the commissioner’s departure.

In the months since, the opposition has continued to criticise Kenny over the controversy and the delay in the report emerging has been the subject of much disquiet in political circles.

Some believe it is linked to the impending general election and limiting any political damage to Kenny and the government. But the coalition has pointed out that Fennelly requested an extension to the original deadline, which had been the end of 2014.

There has also been some controversy over reports that some witnesses, including Kenny, have been recalled to give evidence to the inquiry.

26/7/11 New Government Secretary General appointme Martin Fraser

The Sunday Times said in March that the Taoiseach, his secretary general Martin Fraser and the Attorney General Whelan were recalled to the inquiry to help resolve conflicting evidence about the events which led to Callinan’s departure.

Kenny has said it would be illegal to either confirm or deny if he had been recalled. But he has repeatedly indicated he did not sack Callinan. He told RTÉ in April:

I am very happy that I have complied here fully with my responsibility. Obviously, be clear on this, the only people I can sack in the country are ministers.

In June, the commission began sending out draft findings to the relevant parties named in the report, including Kenny and Callinan along with senior officials like Purcell, Fraser and Shatter. These parties have been given an opportunity to challenge or respond to any findings against them.

This process has now been completed and the interim report – which is expected to deal primarily with the Callinan departure controversy – has been delivered to the Taoiseach.

The government has repeatedly said there will be no undue delay in making this public.

If Fennelly finds that Kenny did sack Callinan the consequencs would be extremely serious. The Taoiseach would have effectively broken the law as a garda commissioner cannot be sacked without cabinet approval.

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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