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Opponents demand Enda Kenny resignation over Martin Callinan row

Published 02/09/2015

Martin Callinan stepped down after Enda Kenny dispatched a top official to his house over a phone taping scandal
Martin Callinan stepped down after Enda Kenny dispatched a top official to his house over a phone taping scandal

Irish premier Enda Kenny is facing calls to resign over his role in the shock resignation last year of the country's police chief.

Garda commissioner Martin Callinan felt he had no option but to step down after Taoiseach Mr Kenny dispatched a senior official to his house late at night over a Garda phone-taping scandal, a long-running inquiry has found.

The judge-led investigation 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 have accused the Taoiseach of effectively ordering Mr Callinan's resignation as a political smokescreen for mounting controversies, and are to table no-confidence motions in the Dail.

Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins said Mr Kenny's position on the report "is neither credible nor tenable".

"One issue that stands out very clearly is the level of panic and haste that surrounded the Taoiseach's actions leading to Martin Callinan's resignation," he said.

"(That) a secretary-general of the Department of Justice was dispatched close to midnight to the commissioner's home to tell him the Taoiseach may not have confidence in him the following morning beggars belief.

"We have maintained that view from first learning of this. It is actually an extraordinary chain of events."

Under the law, a Taoiseach does not have the power to oust a Garda commissioner. That decision can only be made by collective government agreement.

Mr Collins said Fianna Fail's firm view is that Mr Callinan was dismissed to provide political cover for the then embattled Justice Minister Alan Shatter during a wave of controversies.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Mr Kenny should immediately resign and call a general election.

"It is clear that the Taoiseach's deliberate actions led to the resignation of the Garda commissioner. In effect, commissioner Callinan was sacked," he said.

"The Taoiseach's position is untenable. He should resign."

Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are to launch separate no-confidence motions against Mr Kenny.

Mr Callinan announced his retirement on the morning of Tuesday March 25 last year after a string of scandals dogged the force, the last involving revelations of widespread taping of phone calls at Garda stations.

The inquiry found the catalyst for his shock departure came in the final 36 hours when the Taoiseach held high-level meetings and sent a civil servant to visit.

Judge Niall Fennelly's long-running investigation found Mr Callinan was shocked and could not understand why Brian Purcell, the head of the Department of Justice, asked to see him in his family home at 11pm on a Monday night, the day before he stepped down.

Mr Purcell said it was to express the Taoiseach's grave concerns over the phone call taping and because Mr Kenny may not have been able to express confidence in his police chief.

Mr Callinan had previously reported the illegal recordings to the Attorney General's office and two weeks before the late-night visit he had written a letter to the Department of Justice about the looming crisis.

The Fennelly report revealed a tense one-hour meeting in the commissioner's home, and while there was no express instruction from the Taoiseach to Mr Callinan, the inquiry found he was in no doubt where he stood.

"Quite obviously, this was an extremely uncomfortable and stressful encounter for both men.

"Mr Purcell described it as one of the worst days of his life. The meeting went on until after midnight, though there were long pauses," the judge found.

He added: "The immediate and direct cause of his decision to retire was the visit from Mr Purcell, and the message conveyed from the Taoiseach during that visit."

Mr Kenny said he accepted the judge's finding that dispatching a top civil servant to the commissioner's house was the "immediate catalyst" in him quitting.

But he said: "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 inquiry found Mr Shatter believed Mr Callinan was expected to consider his position.

It also found Mr Purcell was "shocked and concerned at what he was being asked to do" and repeatedly warned the Taoiseach that the late-night house call was wrong.

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