Minister "surprised" no notes taken at crucial meeting before Callinan retirement

Fennelly Commission found it was "extraordinary" no notes were taken of crucial meeting involving Taoiseach

Minister "surprised" no notes taken at crucial meeting before Callinan retirement

Martin Callinan. Image: RollingNews.ie

Communications Minister Alex White has said he was “surprised” no notes were taken at a crucial meeting between the Taoiseach and several others on the night before the Garda Commissioner retired.

The meeting on Sunday, March 24th, 2014 - which was also attended by the Minister for Justice, Attorney General Máire Whelan, secretary-general of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell, former minister for Justice Alan Shatter and secretary-general to the Government Martin Fraser - formed a key part of the sequence of events that led to the retirement of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, and was a major talking point in the Fennelly Commission report. 

The Fennelly Commission reported that it was “extraordinary” no notes were kept of the meeting, and it was a source of controversy.

The commission said Mr Purcell had testified that he was asked to deliver a message to Mr Callinan explaining the gravity of the revelation of Garda station phone calls being recorded, as the Taoiseach saw it. Mr Shatter and Mr Fraser supported this, but the Taoiseach and Ms Whelan disputed it.

There was controversy over the exact nature of what was said at the meeting, with conflicting accounts given to the commission. The commission reported that it was ““most unfortunate and, indeed, extraordinary that there was no note or record, of any sort, to resolve the matter”.

Speaking to Newstalk Lunchtime today, Mr White said he was surprised by the lack of notes taken at such a meeting.

“I was a little surprised that there were no notes at all, but at the same time, from what we know about the nature of that meeting, I think events were moving reasonably quickly and it doesn’t surprise me that there wasn’t a detailed note but it does surprise me that there was no note at all,” he added.

The report was bemused that although “the Taoiseach ... instructed the secretary-general of the Department of Justice to deliver a message about a matter considered to be of the utmost national gravity to the head of the police force. Yet there is not available to the Government ... to this Commissions or to the public, any written record to verify the nature of that mission.”

Mr White said he would keep a note on meetings, although there may not be time to take detailed notes in a fast paced meeting, However, he said that one of his officials “would take notes certainly where decisions were being made.”

“When decisions are being made it’s absolutely good practice to say the least of it for there to be good note taking,” he said.

“I think it’s always better to have the maximum amount of records whether written or in electronic form and if they’re made they should be kept. That would be my sense of it,” he said.

Mr White said he keeps personal notes at the very least on each meeting.

“I do keep a note, my own personal note of what happened,” he said.

Listen to the full interview with Alex White TD below