Shatter says Commissioner told him about Wallace incident

Minister for Justice says ‘nothing sinister’ in getting information on TD

Tue, May 21, 2013, 19:25

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has told the Dáil there was “nothing sinister” in the way in which he acquired information that Independent TD Mick Wallace was caught using a phone while driving by gardaí.

Mr Shatter addressed the matter in the Dáil this evening having faced a barrage of criticism over his decision to publicly reveal Mr Wallace escaped penalty points when a garda decided to let him off with a warning.

Mr Wallace has previously, along with other TDs, criticised the quashing of penalty points by members of the Garda.

“I have taken the allegations which have been made about the integrity of the fixed charge notice system and the controversy which arose with great seriousness,” Mr Shatter said in his statement. “In the circumstances I asked that allegations made be fully investigated and was briefed on the matter by the Garda Commissioner.

“During the course of one of our conversations in which a number of matters relating to the Reports on the Fixed Notice Charge issue were discussed, including circumstances in which the Gardaí exercise their discretion in relation to traffic offences, the incident in relation to Deputy Wallace was mentioned by the Garda Commissioner”, Mr Shatter added.

“I most certainly did not request any information in relation to Deputies and no big issue was made of the incident involving Deputy Wallace”.

Mr Shatter said he wanted to “give a solemn assurance to the House that I am not in the business of receiving, seeking or maintaining confidential, sensitive information from An Garda Siochana about Members of this House, the Seanad or, indeed, anyone in political life. Nor are the Gardaí in the business of providing it.”

Mr Shatter apologised to Mr Wallace but told the Dáil he believed he acted in the public interest in making reference to Mr Wallace and his doing so should have none of the connotations that some ascribed to it.

“If Deputy Wallace feels that I did him some person wrong by mentioning it, then I have no problem in saying I am sorry,” he said.

Mr Wallace has signalled his intention to lodge a complaint with the Standards in Public Office Commission, while the Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has already confirmed he will also look into the matter following a separate complaint.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins repeated his call on Mr Shatter to resign.

“You clearly crossed the line,’’ he added. “You knowingly and willingly abused your position to smear another individual with private, privileged information that came into your possession.’’

The Minister had done so, he added, on national television.

“I would ask you, as Minister for Justice, where you stand on due process,’’ he added.

“Where do you stand relating to natural justice ? Where do you stand on relating to a person’s privacy and any rights they might have ?’’

Mr Collins said the Minister had made a pre-determined decision to go to the television programme and use private and privileged information. “You set yourself up as judge, jury and executioner of a political opponent,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked where the paper trail was behind “all of these hundreds and hundreds if not thousands” of penalty points notices that were cancelled.

The Donegal North East TD said Mr Shatter was the Minister for Justice and Defence with a unique array of powers that very few ministers in the developed world had.

He said he could not understand “how in the name of God you felt you could make the intervention you did”.

Mr Mac Lochlainn said the Minister had not given the date or time of the incident in which Mr Wallace was stopped during the interview, but afterwards a journalist was able to contact the Wexford TD and had this information to hand. Mr Mac Lochlainn said he found it very strange that this could be so.

United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly said she was not assured by Mr Shatter’s statement. She asked why a briefing into the determination of fixed charge notices referred to Mr Wallace when he had not benefitted from the cancellation of a penalty points notice.

She asked how the Garda Commissioner would be privy to such trivial information. Ms Daly said that under data protection legislation, the information the Minister released was illegal.

Earlier, the Taoiseach again defended Mr Shatter in the Dáil .

Enda Kenny said the Minister for Justice had revealed that Mr Wallace had escaped penalty points for using a mobile phone while driving to undermine his argument that there should be no discretion applied after penalty charges were issued.

He said the information was conveyed to the Minister as part of a general briefing about the background and reports on the fixed penalty charges.

“The information was relevant to the argument being put forward by Mr Wallace,’’ he said.

Mr Kenny said it was outrageous for Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to insinuate that Mr Shatter was collecting files on individuals and members of the House.