Shatter speech takes heat out of row - for now
Minister comes out fighting and defends himself against host of political accusations
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has atttacked Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin for what he said was the lack of regard shown to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter delivered a bravura performance in the Dáil yesterday in response to the deluge of political accusations that have poured down on his head for almost a month.
In a long and detailed speech he defended his own conduct and rejected claims by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that he had failed to act in response to claims of Garda misconduct.
Pending the outcome of two inquiries instigated over the past week the Minister appears to have done enough to calm the political controversy that has persisted for weeks despite the Government’s best efforts to get it to go away.
One of those inquiries involves retired High Court judge John Cooke looking into the GSOC bugging allegations and the other is a review by senior counsel Seán Guerin of how the claims of whistleblower Maurice McCabe have been handled.
Then there is the bigger issue of how claims of Garda misconduct will be treated in future. The Government has promised that the GSOC will be given more extensive powers to supervise the Garda through amendments to the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and that is something which will probably have more long-lasting implications than all of the political heat generated in recent weeks.
The long-running controversy has its roots in persistent claims that the Garda has not undergone the kind of thorough reform expected in the wake of the Morris tribunal. That is an issue that will not go away.
Yesterday’s Dáil debate centred on Shatter’s response to the attempt by Fianna Fáil and a number of Independent TDs to pin responsibility on him for the inadequacies in the way the serious claims made by McCabe were handled.
Came out fighting
Not surprisingly the Minister came out fighting with a direct political counter attack of his own.
He provided a detailed account of how all of the allegations had been handled by the various arms of the State since they were first made in 2008.
Of course the nub of Shatter’s argument was that Martin and Fianna Fáil were in power when McCabe’s claims were processed by the Garda, the Department of Justice, the GSOC and the Director of Public Prosecutions and, therefore, were in no position to criticise his handling of the issue.
To reinforce the point Shatter pointed out that in 2009 McCabe had written to then minister for justice Dermot Ahern alerting him to the fact that he had made a complaint about malpractice and corruption in the Bailieboro Garda district.
“The minister replied, through his private secretary, that the conduct of the investigation was a matter for the Garda Commissioner, in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, that the minister had no role in directing the commissioner in such operational matters, and that, in the circumstances, the most appropriate action was to allow the commissioner to complete his work and let due process take its course,” said Shatter.
He added that he wanted to make it absolutely clear that he was not criticising the response of his predecessor to McCabe “although I accept, of course, that it might have been helpful to Deputy Martin if he had been aware of it”.
Shatter was adamant the Opposition was “entirely incorrect” to say nothing had been done to deal with alleged Garda misbehaviour as all of the procedures were scrupulously observed.
“The allegations were dealt with under the procedures in place at the time and the confidential recipient, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission fulfilled their statutory roles in relation to them.”
He added that an investigation by an assistant Garda commissioner over a lengthy period culminated in the submission of 10 volumes of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who directed that no prosecutions were warranted.
The Minister added that the investigation did result in disciplinary action against a number of gardaí.
Shatter went a step further and defended Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan saying he regretted the lack of regard Martin had shown to the person his own government had appointed to the post.
“I have to say frankly to Deputy Martin, that whatever political disagreements I may have had with Fianna Fáil over the years, I think many of the former statesmen in his party would be appalled by the cavalier attitude he has taken to An Garda Síochána against whom he has made the most serious allegations without waiting to establish the truth or otherwise of them.”
The one point on which Shatter was under some pressure was his statement in the Dáil that McCabe had not co-operated with the Garda inquiry into the operation of the fixed penalty point scheme headed by Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony.
Shatter accepted that what was at issue was an interpretation of the one-page directive issued by Callinan on December 14th, 2012.
The political controversy will not go away but for the moment at least Shatter appears to have taken the heat out of it.