Alan Shatter feels the hooves of history on his shoulders

Is this now an end to the sorry saga of Shatter, the Garda commissioner and the whistleblowers?

Dáil Éireann had witnessed the conscious uncoupling of the Minister for Justice from his pride

Dáil Éireann had witnessed the conscious uncoupling of the Minister for Justice from his pride

Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 01:00

Alan Shatter felt the hooves of history on his shoulders yesterday, but will nobody spare a thought for the wild horses?

For six months, these noble beasts were yoked to an immovable object and forced to work, night and day, to try and shift it. This is surely a case for the animal protection authorities.

Mercifully, the exhausted beasts were released from their wretched toil last evening – their work done.

An apology finally dragged from Shatter.

Dáil Éireann had witnessed the conscious uncoupling of the Minister for Justice from his pride.

Is this now an end to the sorry saga of Shatter, the Garda commissioner and the whistleblowers?

It would have been, had Shatter – the immovable Minister – acted earlier.

But his apology now seems nothing more than a procedural formula of words uttered to get himself, and more importantly, a severely rattled Government, out of the mess he helped create for them.

Those hooves of history have left behind a scarred and rutted political landscape. They tell a tale – that it’s too late, the story has moved on. Those whistleblowers, gracious in their vindication last night, have outgrown the label they were given.

By seeking to disregard their claims while unable to neutralise their persistent presence, Minister Shatter and the former Garda commissioner set in train a chain of events which have grown to a full blown Government crisis. They turned the whistleblowers into the thread-pullers.

And still the story unravels for the Coalition.

Shatter’s apology provided an entertaining cameo yesterday during another day of drama in Leinster House. But once the wild horses had dragged it out of him, it was viewed by most as a thing of little consequence. Minister agrees to correct the Dáil record.

But does anybody believe his contrition? And why should Shatter be allowed to correct that record?

Speaking of which, the Taoiseach may have to seek to correct the record himself after his magnificently flawed statement during Leaders’ Questions when he mounted yet another strong defence of Shatter. His Minister is a man who has “got the courage to deal with the truth and to change it where it’s necessary in the interests of our citizens and our country”.

Let’s think about that.

Somebody should have told the normally impeccably turned out Taoiseach that his Freudian slip was showing.

But perhaps that unintended remark was understandable in the fraught circumstances in the Dáil yesterday morning, when the Government found itself in a firestorm and trying to deal with outbreaks on a number of fronts. There were more Labour deputies and Ministers in the chamber when Shatter delivered the first of his two statements – the second coming late in the afternoon.

This one was on the recent developments on Garda phone taping so dramatically introduced into the mix by the Taoiseach on Tuesday.

This is a very murky situation, and Shatter did little to shed light on it. However, he succeeded in bringing the Attorney General Márie Whelan into the heart of this tangled web, while, of course, not wishing in any way whatsoever to impugn this most distinguished law officer’s pristine reputation. This might explain the heavy Labour presence – Ms Whelan is a Labour appointment. The junior Coalition party now had – to borrow a phrase from the Anglo tapes – skin in the game.

The Garda phone taping revelations threaten to have far-reaching implications for the administration of justice in this country. We hear the bunting has already gone up in the law library.

But the question on everyone’s lips yesterday was why did news of this situation come as such a bombshell to the Government.

The questions kept coming.

How come the Minister for Justice, the man who is so on top of things in his department that the Taoiseach and Ministers have to keep coming into the Dáil to sing his praises, hadn’t a clue about an issue which could rock the foundations of the State?

How come the Attorney General was not laying siege to Government Buildings to warn of the great damage potentially facing us?

And if it was so massive, how come she apparently only mentioned it to Enda as an aside during a phone call from him on a different subject?

Why did the Minister not read a letter from the Garda commissioner alerting him to the impending crisis, which had been flagged on numerous occasions?

And why was the commissioner decommissioned when he appeared to recognise and take the correct steps to deal with the imminent phone-taping tsunami?

The dates are all over the place. The timelines posited in such detail by Alan and Enda seem implausible. But as Shatter pointed out, there is nothing sinister in the way this information suddenly appeared when he was in deep trouble and, by extension, the Government.

Fast forward to Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley, who was not prepared to let the “distraction” scenario fall. The sudden urgency to address the phone taping was the Taoiseach’s wheeze. When the Attorney General mentioned it “by the way” to him, Enda, wily political operator that he is, “capitalised on a particular issue quickly” in what was “a classic case of political expediency”.

This would take the heat out of the whistleblower problem, while binding Labour to Shatter’s survival by bringing their Attorney General into the frame.

And in a warm stable somewhere, wild horses enjoyed their hot oats while back in Leinster House, the Government stumbled and lurched about in the mire left behind by prideful Shatter’s Hooves of History.

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