Analysis: More questions for Kenny; Dept releases Callinan letter

By Mary Regan, Political Editor

At the end of questioning by the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, in the Dáil this evening, the Taoiseach dropped in new revelations about the possible inadvertent recording of phone conversations from prisons.

But the news line he provided somewhat overshadowed more important questions surrounding how information on phone recordings at garda stations was handled internally by Government last week.

Enda Kenny failed to adequately address the question of why the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, did not inform either himself or the Justice Minister about a letter he had received from the then Garda Commission, Martin Callinan, raising concerns about the practice, until last Tuesday.

The Taoiseach described how a meeting took place last Monday night - 24th March - between himself, the Justice Minister Alan Shatter, the Secretary Generals of both their departments and the Attorney General.

It was to discuss the information that was given to the Taoiseach the night before about how phone conversations were being recorded in garda stations across the country, and a Commission of Inquiry that was being established into the issue.

We know that one of the five people in this meeting - Mr Purcell - had received a letter two weeks earlier - on March 10th - from the then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, informing him of the practice and how it was being addressed.

But, according to the Taoiseach’s account to the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions, the letter was not raised during the Monday night meeting.

“There was no discussion about the letter or about its contents at that meeting,” he said, backing up Alan Shatter’s version of events that he did not see the letter until the next morning.

The Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said he found this "somewhat incredible and difficult to comprehend.”

He said it was “inconceivable” that Mr Shatter would have been briefed by his officials about the recording issue at 6pm on Monday evening, but never told about the letter which had been sent in by the Commissioner two weeks earlier.

Furthermore, Mr Purcell was then sent by the Taoiseach on that Monday evening to the home of Mr Callinan, to inform him that the Cabinet was worried about the phone recording issue.

But he still, according to the Taoiseach, did not mention that the Commissioner had already raised concerns about it, in a letter.

It’s “even more incredible” Mr Martin said “that the very man that gets the letter is sent out by you, to the Commissioner, to have a discussion that the Cabinet are unhappy about this. You better reflect on it.”

“The two people who are having the conversation out in the house both know about the correspondence,” he said.

The opposition leader said it “defies belief” that Mr Shatter would not have been informed of the letter on the Monday night.

He told the Taoiseach: “You could not but be aware about the contents of it in discussions on the phone recordings.”

The massive hole in the story was not addressed by the Taoiseach and leaves a number of questions outstanding:

Did he have the full information needed when he sent a message to Mr Callinan on Monday night which the former garda commissioner believes essentially amounted to sacking him?

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said this evening there would be a "reasonable expectation" that Mr Purcell would inform him of the letter. But if we accept the Taoiseach's word that he did not, why is he willing to accept a secretary general not doing what is expected of him?

The Department of Justice has released Commissioner Callinan's March 10 letter to the department.

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