Bizarre story defies Shatter’s drone attack

He talked a lot – but as the meeting wore on, holes began to appear in his story

It was a tough day for the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, who ended up waging a fight on two fronts. Photograph: Eric Luke

It was a tough day for the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, who ended up waging a fight on two fronts. Photograph: Eric Luke

Thu, Feb 20, 2014, 08:40

Leinster House didn’t need to engage a team of counter-surveillance experts to predict that a serious drone attack was imminent yesterday. Incoming sometime after 4pm. The chances of this incident being classified as “benign” were “close to zero”.

You can’t get more definitive than that.

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig MacLochlainn, officer in command of the Committee into Public Service Oversight and Petitions, did his best to contain the damage.

The first attack came in two waves. Fine Gael backbencher, Michelle Mulherrin, who was supposed to be asking the first question, made a very long speech. This was followed by a substantial barrage from Alan Shatter. Within minutes, we were up to our knees in muddy water.

“Maybe you could be sharper with your answers” suggested Pádraig to both of them. They weren’t.

“Is it fair to say the actions of the Garda Ombudsman may have been disproportionate” enquired Michelle, speaking of “a backdrop of mutual suspicion”.

Alan looked glad she asked him that question. And he droned on, and on, and on. Poor Pádraig – and there were hours of this to go – already looked a defeated man. But Shatter’s drone attack continued.

It was a tough day for the Minister for Justice. At the beginning , he had just one fight to worry about – his handling of the GSOC controversy. By the end, the battle had opened on a second front – the sacking of the Garda “confidential recipient” for allegedly telling a whistleblower the minister would “screw him” if his allegations got into the press.


Difficult session
This led to a very difficult session of Leaders’ Questions for the Taoiseach, who looked absolutely disgusted at having to go into the House and announce that Oliver Connolly, the man charged with hearing in confidence complaints from serving gardaí, had been sacked by his boss.

The reason for his dismissal? The emergence of a transcript of a conversation between Shatter’s appointee and Maurice McCabe, who came to him with his concerns. Some though it ironic that Connolly, who reportedly told McCabe that he would be “finished,” was the one actually “finished” by Alan Shatter.

When Enda quietly announced that the force’s confessor had been “formally relieved of his duties,” there were shocked gasps from the opposition benches. “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” intoned the Fianna Fail leader, coming over all Borgen .

The transcripts issue is slowly gaining traction. As Micheal Martin loudly demanded that the Minister for Justice come into the chamber to explain himself, the government benches were ominously quiet.

Meanwhile, a glowering Taoiseach was forced to take a dressing down from Micheál and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou. She dismissed his much-vaunted inquiry into the GSOC controversy as “a half baked review” and demanded a stronger response.

“Now you want a public inquiry. You always want a public inquiry” sniffed Enda, who was like a briar. He kept insisting that Shatter “isn’t happy”. Oh, not happy at all. That raised a laugh. In fact, Alan was in very good spirits while Enda was out batting on his behalf. The beleaguered minister was showing a party of elderly constituents around the building.

Shatter’s position is untenable, said the Fianna Fáil leader, taking to the plinth to stand up for the whistleblower. As he spoke, the roars of protestors could be heard from beyond the gates: “Shatter, Shatter, Shatter: Out, Out, Out!”


Esteemed
In fact, he was due in to the committee. Following his strong showing on Tuesday night, government politicians seemed optimistic that he would sail through it. Didn’t he have the forthcoming review by an esteemed, distinguished, retired High Court judge to shield him?

Shatter had a very confident opening half. He talked a lot. But as the meeting wore on, holes began to appear in his story. His bravura show from the night before – producing his own expert report and flatly declaring there was “no evidence at all” to prove bugging, was slowly undermined.

He had trumpeted the findings of Rits – a company he engaged just a few days ago to examine the original Verrimus report acted upon by GSOC. It concluded that a benign explanation for “threats” detected in Garda Ombudsman’s security system was “close to zero”.

The minister gave the impression that his new report was the clincher. He had us wondering if the PAC should investigate GSOC for giving €18,000 to a company which apparently confused wi-fi in a coffee shop with an attempted assault on our national security.

But he rowed back under pressure, admitting it was the word of one surveillance company against another. But – and this took the Rits biscuit – he didn’t want to give them his brilliant new report. And he couldn’t say if the Irish firm was as versed in the world of high-end counter-surveillance as the globally recognised British firm.

Alan got quite tetchy when asked why he wasn’t crying blue murder about the leaking of his report when he was very exercised about the leaking of the Verrimus report.

As for his relationship with the Garda Commissioner – he didn’t even want to go there.

This really is the most bizarre story to surface in Leinster House for a long time.

Where will it all end?