Minister for self-defence stayed true to form to the end
Sketch: Alan Shatter managed to issue a resignation letter that was long on self-justification and absent of contrition
Alan Shatter: “The minister who won universal praise from his colleagues for his work is out of a job. The Government will find somebody to fill the shoes they previously insisted were too big for a mere mortal to occupy.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Controversy upon controversy crashed into Alan Shatter but nothing, it seemed, could dislodge the minister for justice from his lofty perch at the Cabinet table.
And the irony is that when he finally resigned, it was over a controversy that hasn’t even hit yet. Even so, with the report that was to be his undoing still under wraps, the outgoing minister for self-defence managed to issue a resignation letter that was long on self-justification and completely absent of contrition. True to form to the end.
In a heroic gesture, he says he decided to go to spare the Government the controversy that most likely will ensue from the Guerin report into the Garda whistleblowers’ allegations. After all, that would only serve to “distract” from their important work and could hamper the Coalition’s election campaign.
Why this controversy, when all the others were noisily ignored by Shatter’s colleagues? Timing is everything. There were no angry voters complaining about the ongoing Garda saga during the other squalls. The difference is that, this time, the Government needed a head for the doorsteps. So be it. Shatter has gone.
But his parting shot makes it clear that he is not happy with the findings of this report and, typically, he leaves behind an argument with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and with Sean Guerin, the senior counsel who compiled it.
He indignantly points out that Guerin didn’t even bother to interview him. Where did we hear that last? Ah yes, it was from the Garda whistleblowers. The ones the Garda top brass and Shatter didn’t give a hearing to either.
Shatter, normally willing to spend hours defending himself against all-comers in the Dáil chamber, didn’t stick around to fight his corner once his resignation had been accepted by Enda Kenny.
More than once – too many times – the Taoiseach, his Ministers and backbenchers praised Shatter to the rafters because of the hours he put in taking Opposition questions and appearing before committees. This was their “never mind the quality, feel the width” defence.
When Shatter was accused by frustrated Deputies of not answering questions, their stock response was to point to all the time he spent on his feet. Similarly, they brandished his work ethic: look at how early the man rises in the morning. “It’s not the time you get out of bed that’s important, it’s what you do with that time,” was Clare Daly’s pithy response to that threadbare defence yesterday.
To say Leinster House was in shock at the sudden announcement of Shatter’s unexpected withdrawal from his theatre of war is an understatement.
Right up to the last, in the face of yet another embarrassment over his breach of data protection law, senior members of the Government had been queueing up to back him. On Tuesday night, a spokesman for Kenny said the Taoiseach had confidence in Shatter. (Presumably, this was before he took delivery of the Guerin report, which set in train the chain of events that would lead to Shatter’s shock departure yesterday afternoon.)
Yesterday morning Leo Varadkar was bullishly expressing his full support for the minister for justice, while as late as lunchtime the Tánaiste was hanging on in there behind the beleaguered Shatter. But by teatime Eamon Gilmore was regretfully opining that the minister’s resignation had been “inevitable”.
By coming into a sleepy Dáil chamber and stunning everyone with the news that he had accepted Shatter’s resignation, the Taoiseach can say he acted decisively in dispatching a trusted ally from his Government. In reality, that act has been a long time coming.
Shatter’s Doorstep Sacrifice was imparted to a sparsely populated Dáil by the Taoiseach just before Leaders’ Questions. Business in Kildare Street is very much focused on the elections, and proceedings in the House were trundling along as an aside yesterday afternoon.
Nothing seemed amiss
In the morning, Shatter attended the annual Arbour Hill ceremonies, looking like he hadn’t a care in the world. Then, as scheduled, he took Department of Defence questions in the Dáil in the early afternoon. Nothing seemed amiss.
No one saw it coming when Kenny stood to make his announcement. There wasn’t a whisper of a rumour in the corridors.
Three have now been downed by those whistleblowers the establishment tried its best to ignore. Oliver Connolly, the Garda confidential recipient appointed by Shatter, was first to fall on his sword. Then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan got the heave-ho in mysterious circumstances. Now, the kingpin.
One wonders what happened when Enda read the Guerin report and discussed it with his minister. Did Shatter go away to consider his fate? Did Enda send the secretary general of his department around to Alan to tell him of the Government’s disquiet?
There hasn’t been a word from Shatter. Maybe “Sources Close to Alan Shatter” can have a word with “Sources Close to Martin Callinan” and make a joint statement on the whole affair.
The minister who won universal praise from his colleagues for his work is out of a job. The Government will find somebody to fill the shoes they previously insisted were too big for a mere mortal to occupy.
Shatter may have been a great minister, but he had poor judgment and an uncompromising self-belief that was to be his downfall. Yesterday, he said the only way to avoid controversy for the Government was if he resigned. For someone so smart, it took him (and his colleagues who steadfastly defended him) a long time to work that one out. He should have been out the door as soon as he shot his mouth off about Mick Wallace on Prime Time. Now that would have been decisive.