Coalition could be at risk in wake of Shatter resignation
Since January, the Coalition has been lurching from one crisis to the next
Former minister for justice Alan Shatter and former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire Former minister for justice Alan Shatter and former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Alan Shatter’s resignation represents a moment of truth for the Coalition. It could mark the beginning of the end if the public loses faith in its ability to govern as it slips from one controversy to the next.
Alternatively, the shock could give the Coalition parties one last chance to regain the initiative and begin to govern with the mixture of confidence and decisiveness that marked its first three years in office.
The exit from the EU-IMF bailout in December was supposed to usher in a triumphant chapter in the Coalition’s term of office.
Instead it has lurched from one crisis to the next with Shatter and the Garda providing more than their fair share of them.
The array of controversies surrounding Shatter and the justice system has bedevilled the Coalition since the beginning of the year to the intense frustration of Shatter’s Government colleagues.
The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other Ministers were sucked into defending Shatter again and again.
Just two days ago both Kenny and Gilmore expressed their support for Shatter despite the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes had found that he had broken the law in revealing information given to him by then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan about Independent TD Mick Wallace.
Less than 24 hours after springing to Shatter’s defence, the Taoiseach announced to a stunned Dáil that his Minister had resigned. Only a few hours earlier Gilmore appeared to be unaware that there was any problem.
Week in politics
If ever there was an illustration of Harold Wilson’s dictum that a week is a long time in politics, the past seven days have been it.
This time a week ago Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was being questioned by the Police Service of Northern Ireland as part of their inquiry into the murder of widowed mother-of-10 Jean McConville.
A few days later Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was embroiled in a damaging controversy over the shambolic process that led former deputy leader Mary Hanafin into running as a local election candidate against his wishes.
Now it is the two Government parties who are at the centre of the storm as they try to explain why Shatter has felt it necessary to resign and why they defended him for so long.
They will now have to try to put all the controversies behind them as they struggle to put in a decent performance in the European and local elections. Those elections were already a tough ask for Fine Gael and Labour and it is impossible to gauge just what sort of impact the Shatter resignation will have.
As with the Adams arrest and the Hanafin debacle, it will take the election results to reveal the impact on the public but the episode will hardly help either party to gain votes.
The other side of the coin is that Martin, who was in trouble 24 hours ago, can claim credit for forcing the whistleblower issue on to the agenda, with its devastating consequences for Shatter.
That election result on May 23rd may well determine how the Coalition grapples with the necessity to produce one more relatively tough budget in October. If it is really bad, even just for one of the Coalition parties, the Government’s future could well be in doubt.
Ministers of both Coalition parties have talked about easing the tax burden on hard- pressed middle class voters in the next budget but this week the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has joined EU institutions in warning about the necessity to stick by the commitment to come up with another €2 billion in cuts.
An election-battered Coalition might find it impossible to do what is required and that could bring its life to a conclusion sooner than anybody had anticipated.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny will try to regain the initiative by announcing the new minister for justice. Since he took office Kenny has surprised a lot of people with his leadership abilities but the real test could be ahead.
Picking the right new Minister for Justice and promoting a new face to the Cabinet will be just the beginning of the process. Far more important will be how he and the Tánaiste go about regaining the political initiative.
The Opposition has had a field day because it has been fighting the Government on the ground of its choosing on justice and related issues.
If the Coalition can’t set the political agenda in the second half of the year it will be doomed.