Labour is content to back Shatter – for now
Many in the smaller Coalition party see cause for hope after a traumatic week
Labour is happy for now, but any wandering from the chain of events outlined by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter will spell major trouble. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
The calm gave a chance to take stock of where a seismic week in Government had brought them.
Calm was probably the last thing some expected, particularly after the sensational events of Tuesday, with Martin Callinan resigning and revelations of the widespread recording of telephone calls at Garda stations.
The following morning, when asked what Wednesday and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s statements to the Dáil would bring, one party figure reached for the wisdom of Jimmy Rabbitte from Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown .
“To use an old Commitments quote: ‘F**ked if I know Terry’.”
Thankfully for Terry, there is a bit more clarity now on where Labour stands on Shatter himself, and the wider Garda controversy.
On Shatter, his statement to the Dáil on his level of knowledge – and that of other people – is now the bible and has to be trusted.
If there is any deviation from that in the coming weeks and months, Labour sources said his position will be untenable.
“If it is proven that it wasn’t true, then he’s gone,” said one. Indeed, some Labour figures at Cabinet and those around them felt he was in danger during the week, even if Gilmore’s office was more sanguine.
There was worry among some on Wednesday, between Shatter’s first Dáil statement on the issue of recordings and his second on the Garda Inspectorate report into penalty points.
He was expected to give Labour what it wanted – an apology to Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, the Garda whistleblowers.
“We saw the first statement, it was very pugnacious, it was very defiant, and didn’t look good,” said one source, while another added: “The tone jarred. He had a go at the media, he had a go at the Opposition, when what was needed was a bit of humility.”
It was typical Shatter, with this quote on the widely ignored GSOC report from last year which mentioned the recording in Waterford station: “It may be the case that no member of this House read this report until yesterday or, if they did, they placed no importance on it. Insofar as it received any media coverage, it does not appear as if any member of the media regarded the report as of any major importance. Again, I am open to correction.”
Some Ministers, such as Ruairí Quinn, were understood not to have confidence Shatter was “taking things in the right direction” at this point. Joan Burton is also understood to have been worried that the statement lacked humility.
There were now concerns among some about whether Shatter would follow through with an apology to the whistleblowers, although those at the top of Government were confident an agreed sequence would be played out and Shatter and Gilmore are understood to have briefly spoken on the day.
“It was plain as the nose on your face but that he had no option but to correct the record,” said one Minister.
On the issue of Garda recordings, many in the party are aggrieved Gilmore was not informed about it by Enda Kenny until just before the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Those close to the Tánaiste say the issue of the recordings is hugely significant, and insist there is no unhappiness with when Gilmore was brought into the loop by Kenny.
Labourites in an empty Leinster House yesterday also claimed they had got a great deal of what they wanted from the past week or two – Shatter withdrawing his claim that the whistleblowers did not co-operate with internal Garda investigations, an independent Garda authority, and the Callinan issue settled, albeit in a much more dramatic fashion than anyone anticipated.
“What’s lost in all of this is the Garda authority, which we weren’t getting on Monday,” said one party figure, which is probably pushing it a small bit since the indications in the middle of last week were Fine Gael was preparing to give on that policy.
Labour is happy for now, but any wandering from the chain of events outlined by Shatter or the Taoiseach will spell major trouble, as could the yet unknown consequences of the Garda tapes.