It looks like nobody ever tells Shatter anything

Dáil Sketch: It may be that the Minister for Justice, for all his self-belief, is always the last man to know, writes Miriam Lord.

 Minister for Justice  Alan Shatter:  so busy he can’t be expected to know everything. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: so busy he can’t be expected to know everything. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 12:29

A full week has passed since Enda put the fear of God into us. The murderers and rapists and armed robbers remain behind bars. But the Taoiseach was right to warn us.

Otherwise, we would have existed in a state of blissful ignorance, thinking the worst thing which could possibly befall us was the sacking of a Garda commissioner and survival of an endangered Government Minister. And not the possible collapse of the criminal justice system.

The prison gates have not burst open. The convicts do not walk among us. It’s a relief. Last Tuesday, Enda put the fear of God into us. The way he suddenly called in the Opposition leaders to brief them all of a sudden. That’s grave national emergency territory.

He set up an immediate commission of inquiry to look into this, lassoing a Supreme Court judge into his rapidly growing collection of special investigations. It’ll take a while to nail down the terms of reference and stuff like that, but at least the Government has moved definitively to do something definitive about what they don’t know for definite yet.

This, explained Enda during Leaders’ Questions, is why he didn’t contact his Minister for Justice for a full day after the Attorney General alerted him to the fact that there was a problem with telephones in Garda stations. The serious matters raised by AG Máire Whelan needed to “be reflected on” and a thorough legal analysis carried out.

‘Continued reflection’
There had to be “continued reflection by the legal personnel”. This, for some reason, did not include his Minister for Justice, who is a highly regarded solicitor and knows his way around the law.

But never mind. As for the state of knowledge of the AG in the run-up to this crisis, the Taoiseach said she was only told “generalities” about the telephone taping situation. Would that make her an Attorney Generalitie?

And to keep everyone occupied, another committee will be set up. After yesterday morning’s Cabinet meeting, it was announced that a new Cabinet subcommittee on justice reform is to be established. Enda Kenny will chair it. He’s also chairing a subcommittee on health, as if he hasn’t enough to be doing.

Some might say this is a way of keeping a tight rein on gaffe-prone Ministers Alan Shatter and James Reilly, but it’s just because Enda likes to be a hands-on, high-five sort of leader.

The question of the letter from the Garda commissioner that nobody saw until after the commissioner was given the heave-ho last Monday night was high on the Opposition’s agenda yesterday.

Indeed, what actually happened over those 2½ fraught days between the time the Attorney General spooked the Taoiseach with information last Sunday week and the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday when a full blown national crisis seemed on the cards, has been a subject of much confusion in the past week.