Enda Kenny accused over Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan's resignation
Enda Kenny has been accused of trying to "hide, twist and turn" to cover up his role in the shock resignation of Ireland's police chief last year.
On the first day back at the Dail after the summer break, the Taoiseach was forced to mount a defence of his leadership in the wake of an official report into the retirement of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said a judge-led investigation showed Mr Kenny panicked when told by the Attorney General of the widespread secret recording of telephone conversations at Garda stations around the country.
Without hearing all the evidence, Mr Kenny despatched his most senior official to the Garda chief's home late at night - after which he stood down - and the Taoiseach has since tried to "hide, twist and turn" to cover his actions, said Mr Martin.
Accusing the coalition government of refusing to be open and honest with people, Mr Martin said details had to be dragged out of the Taoiseach as he refused to answer questions on the issue for 18 months.
"The departure of the head of an independent police force due to pressure from the head of government and the attempt to hide this pressure would be a major scandal in any democratic society," he said.
The coalition has put everything into spinning a line of defence that is as "shallow as it is cynical" over a government-ordered report which reveals "chaos at the centre of government and a Taoiseach incapable of owning up to the implications of his own actions", he added.
The Fennelly Commission interim report found Mr Callinan felt he had no option but to step down after Mr Kenny dispatched his top official to his house late at night over the Garda phone-taping scandal.
It ruled Mr Kenny did not sack the police chief or intend to pressure him into quitting, but his orders left no choice but for him to "walk off the pitch".
Both main Opposition parties Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein have accused the Taoiseach of effectively ordering Mr Callinan's resignation as a political smokescreen for mounting controversies.
But Mr Kenny, who introduced a motion of confidence in his own leadership, told the Dail the report was "clear and unambiguous" that removing the country's police chief was never discussed or contemplated.
Mr Callinan's decision to retire was his own and he could have decided otherwise, the Taoiseach said.
Mr Kenny accused Mr Martin of "an irresponsible attempt" to undermine the ongoing work of the Fennelly Commission for "narrow political advantage".
He also attacked Sinn Fein for urging a no confidence debate in the Government's chief legal adviser, Attorney General Maire Whelan, over the affair.
"Let me take this opportunity to say that I have absolute confidence in Attorney General Maire Whelan, and in her handling of the very serious issues that have given rise to the establishment of the Fennelly Commission," he said.
"She is a diligent and hardworking Attorney General who provides outstanding service to the Government and to the country."
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the power to remove a Garda commissioner could only be taken by Cabinet, and if the Taoiseach acted alone it would be unlawful.
The visit of Mr Kenny's top official Brian Purcell to the police chief's home late at night in March 2014 was the "immediate catalyst" of his unexpected retirement the next day, he said.
"When all circumstances are viewed objectively, the mission in which Mr Purcell was being sent was liable to be interpreted as suggesting to the commissioner that he should consider his position," Mr Adams told the Dail.
The Sinn Fein leader said Mr Callinan was left with no option but to stand down after being told the Taoiseach may not be able to express confidence in him.
Mr Adams said his party would not have complained or objected to the Taoiseach asking the Cabinet to remove the Garda commissioner, given the months of scandals and revelations surrounding his force.
But Mr Kenny was "not straight" with the police chief or then justice minister Alan Shatter, he added.
Tanaiste Joan Burton said she has full confidence in Mr Kenny.
Mr Kenny also gave his clearest indication that the general election will take place early in the New Year.
Scotching speculation that the country could be sent to the polls as early as November, the Taoiseach said voters will have a "clear choice" next year.
"In early 2016 the people of Ireland will have a clear choice," he said.
"A choice between government or chaos. People can choose stability and progress or to risk economic recovery to those who wrecked it in the past or to those whose policies would wreck it in the future."