Kenny and Gilmore rally behind Shatter after data finding
Minister for Justice set to appeal ruling as Mick Wallace calls for his resignation
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter will appeal the ruling by the Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore have rallied behind Minister for Justice Alan Shatter after an official report found he broke data protection law on live television last year.
With Fine Gael activists already complaining that Mr Shatter’s missteps are being raised on the canvass for the local and European elections on May 23rd by party supporters, a decision by Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has called the Minister’s judgment into question yet again.
Mr Shatter is set to appeal the ruling by Mr Hawkes on a complaint by Independent TD Mick Wallace, who called last night for Mr Shatter’s resignation. “He has abused his public office in an attempt to damage me politically,” he said.
However, public declarations of support from Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore mean that the Minister’s position is not under immediate threat.
At the same time, Mr Hawkes’s decision piles pressure on Mr Shatter as the Government awaits the outcome of separate investigations into the taping controversy at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and claims of Garda malpractice by Sgt Maurice McCabe.
The ruling by Mr Hawkes centres on the Minister’s appearance alongside Mr Wallace on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme last May. Mr Shatter disclosed then that gardaí had cautioned Mr Wallace for using his mobile phone while driving near the Five Lamps in Dublin, prompting the TD’s complaint that he had broken the law on data protection.
While the Minister has not committed an offence, Mr Hawkes’s ruling further undermines his authority. The Minister, who said then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan had told him of the incident, later apologised to Mr Wallace in the Dáil.
Although senior Labour sources said that the ruling was “embarrassing” for Mr Shatter, the spokeswoman for Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore made it clear last night that the Minister retains his confidence.
Similarly, Mr Kenny’s spokesman said “the answer is yes” when asked whether the Minister retains the Taoiseach’s confidence. The spokesman declined to comment further as the matter may be subject to further legal proceedings.
The ruling by Mr Hawkes puts the Government on the defensive at a time of acute political discomfort for Sinn Féin, over the detention of Gerry Adams, and Fianna Fáil, over Mary Hanafin’s defiance of Mícheál Martin.
While the Government had hoped to regain control of the political agenda with the long-awaited settlement of the Fine Gael-Labour dispute over water charges, it now faces renewed questioning over Mr Shatter’s role.
In a statement, Mr Shatter pointed out that he had no hesitation in acknowledging he had made a mistake and had apologised fully to Mr Wallace. “I also explained why I made those remarks as I felt they were relevant to an allegation Deputy Wallace publicly made on an issue of importance in respect of An Garda Síochána,” Mr Shatter said.
“I am at present examining the decision closely with a view to taking any appropriate further legal steps.
“The decision which the Data Protection Commissioner has made in this complex area of the law raises issues of fundamental importance which I believe need to be further considered in the public interest.” He added that the matter was also considered by the Standards in Public Office Commission.
For his part, Mr Wallace said Mr Shatter was unfit for office and interpreted the law as he chose. “He’s obviously making light of today’s decision but the decision went 100 per cent against him,” Mr Wallace said.