Government find themselves still mired in a swamp that won’t drain
High Court action is further evidence that Alan Shatter is not afraid of a fight
Former minister for justice Alan Shatter in the Dáil on June 19th where he described the Guerin report as a kangaroo court.
A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Cabinet reshuffle, a senior Government figure privately asked why Alan Shatter just wouldn’t go away.
The frustration arose from Shatter’s two speeches in the Dáil since he resigned as minister for justice in May. On both occasions he attacked the Guerin report into the allegations of Garda misconduct made by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, which led to Shatter’s downfall.
The report said he had failed in his ministerial duties to investigate complaints made by McCabe, and it also led to the independent report into the Department of Justice itself, which claimed yet another head in the justice sector this week when Brian Purcell, the department’s secretary general, announced he was standing aside.
In his first Dáil speech in June, Shatter likened the inquiries and reporting of Seán Guerin SC to “kangaroo courts” and said his final report was “hastily and prematurely completed”.
He was scathing of the fact that Guerin had not interviewed him before making his findings and publishing his report.
Then, on the morning of the reshuffle earlier this month, he said Guerin had failed to “comply with basic fair procedures, constitutional justice and natural justice”.
Human rights perspectiveHe also said both Government and Opposition had chosen to ignore his earlier speech and he invited “the Human Rights and Equality Commission, who have very prominent members, to now have a look, from a human rights perspective”, at how the Guerin report had been dealt with.
His successor, Frances Fitzgerald, had to sit in the Dáil chamber and listen to the criticisms, leading to wishes at the top of Government that Shatter would just go away. The speech largely got lost in the hectic activity of reshuffle day, but it didn’t go unnoticed at the top.
Both speeches contained arguments similar to those outlined to the High Court, and were a taster of what was to follow. Yet Shatter threw another bone of contention on the record yesterday.
He alleges Guerin’s membership, while preparing his report, of a Bar Council committee that criticised aspects of the Legal Services Bill, is among factors giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias. Shatter stresses he is not alleging actual bias.
“Until my resignation as Minister on May 7th, 2014, I was singularly associated with progressing this Bill through the legislature,” Shatter’s affidavit said.
He also expressed concern that Guerin’s findings would affect the commission of investigation established to examine the McCabe allegations.
Hurt evidentThe hurt caused by his resignation from a position he relished was also evident in the affidavit, as was acknowledgment that his career at the peak of politics is now over.
“I believe that the drawing of the conclusions and the procedure adopted in reaching the conclusions has caused me severe reputational harm, both in my capacity as a public official and in my capacity as a lawyer and in the context of any position I may wish to take up in the future. In the political context, the damage suffered by me I believe to be both severe and irreversible.”
Fitzgerald has attempted to deal speedily with the controversial issues left behind by Shatter.
With the publication of the independent report into the Department of Justice earlier this week, and the moving aside of Purcell, she could have expected to have drained the swamp by the end of the year, once a new secretary general and Garda commissioner were in place.
But Shatter’s High Court action – further evidence that he is not afraid of a fight when he feels it is warranted – has the potential to cast a shadow for even longer.
His former colleagues in Government may have hoped he would go away, but wishing and hoping doesn’t make something happen, especially when Alan Shatter is involved.