That’s not all folks as Shatter changes tune

There Alan Shatter sat, while Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald tore strips off him

 Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: under pressure. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: under pressure. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


This ombugsman story was getting out of hand.

The Government had to move.

Then came the distant sound of breaking glass.

In the light of continuing developments, the Cabinet took an executive decision yesterday morning: time to smash that bottle of smoke and break out the emergency fudge.

Alan Shatter wasn’t happy, but he’d had his chance and blew it.

For the past week, the Minister for Justice tried his best to convince us that the Garda ombugsman spying controversy was nothing to be worried about. He came into the Dáil and insisted it was much ado about nothing.

Bugs? That’s Looney Tunes stuff, huffed the Minister, performing his homage to the aforementioned Mr Bunny.

“That’s all folks!”

But it was far from all.

The GSOC controversy, which wasn’t a controversy and didn’t need the Government to launch an inquiry into it because there was nothing to inquire about, refused to die.

So the Cabinet met and decided it was time to open the bottle of smoke. Enda duly arrived in the Dáil chamber shrouded in mist and creating a vapour trail to rival the best efforts of The Red Arrows.

He announced that there was going to be an inquiry into the ombugsman bugging scandal after all.

Or rather, a review.

A review is not the same as an inquiry. Unlike the anomalies detected in the GSOC’s communications system, a review is a relatively benign creature.

While the Taoiseach was breaking the news to the House that he was going to hire a High Court judge to look into what he and his Minister had refused to see, Alan Shatter entered the chamber.

Studied swagger
With a studied swagger, he sauntered slowly around the top railing, smiling. He took his position on the front bench, beside Michael Ring.

Ring? Who put him there? Is there no escape from telephones?

There the Minister sat, while Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald tore strips off him and the Taoiseach was forced to waffle in his defence.

“Clearly, there is a lot of confusion,” said Enda, proceeding to read out lengthy passages of legalese.

Shatter smiled his little smile as Enda continued to defend him.

If Opposition leaders had a problem with how his Minister handled the GSOC controversy and suspected skulduggery at the heart of our justice system, then they should bring it to Shatter.

The High Court judge undertaking the review will bring the final report to the Minister.

The Opposition was not happy with this. Why leave it up to the Minister at the centre of the controversy to decide how the review is conducted? As it is, the judge appointed will not be able to call witnesses. It will be merely a paper review.

It looked like the Government was kicking to touch and sidelining the issue.

As the day progressed, word emerged that the Coalition was feeling more confident about its stance on the GSOC and bugging.

Alone he stands
When Shatter came into the chamber last night to make his statement, he was on his own. Not one frontbench colleague sat
with him.

This, perhaps, was an indication of how his fellow Ministers viewed his handling of the controversy until now.

Tonight, when the SF motion on the GSOC allegations concludes, one suspects Alan Shatter might have some companions to keep him company.

When he spoke last night, he fought back strongly against what he called the “hyperbole, hysteria . . . and of wild claims” of the past week.

Having been subject to “continuing political attack” he put his case for a second time – having done nothing but cause confusion at the first attempt.

Since then, he said, the situation had changed. His department engaged its own technical experts, and their findings did not concur with those of the GSOC’s experts.

And, in the spirit of bewilderment and farce that has been the mark of this saga, Shatter’s countersurveillance team concluded the supposed surveillance was nothing more than interference from a local coffee-shop’s wifi service.

No bugs at all, says Alan.

You pays your money and takes your choice between counter

surveillance agencies, seems to be where we are now.

Actions and utterances
It doesn’t explain the Government’s actions and utterances of the past week, nor does it explain the overwrought reaction of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the Minister.

But Alan Shatter most definitely put in a more creditable performance last night.

The Taoiseach left us scratching our heads after this remark earlier in the day.

“Whereas the ombudsman in Northern Ireland has the opportunity to oversee the chief constable, that ombudsman does not have the capacity to oversee MI5.

“We don’t have an MI5. We have a garda commissioner.”