Wallace cuts through the waffle, for all the good it will do
The country is driven mad with this whistleblower stuff, writes Miriam Lord
The country is driven mad with this bugging and whistleblower stuff. Day upon day upon day of it. Wild spinning. Claim and confusing counter-claim. Taped conversations and flying transcripts. Government Ministers tying themselves into knots trying to sell the latest twist. Judges and lawyers stacked in a holding pattern above Leinster House, waiting for their landing slot on the latest inquiry.
Statements handed down from the oracle at Garda headquarters and channelled through selected handmaidens. A supercilious Minister cherishing whistleblowers while aiming digs at them, making things worse by playing politics. Blowing his Taoiseach off course and into the Dáil to explain. An Opposition making hay.
Yet, at the heart of it all, there are important questions about how senior management in An Garda Síochána conduct their business. That’s of interest to most people, even if they might be fed up listening to all the noise from the Dáil.
And into all of this steps Mick Wallace. A squeeze of lemon to cut through the lardy speechifying and point-scoring of the past few weeks. He won the day in the Dáil – for all the good it’ll do him.
Yesterday, after the latest instalment in this saga, if the Taoiseach ran into a few of of those random talkative citizens who confide in him on the street – and he never tires of telling the Dáil about them – chances are they will have sung the praises of Wallace. Chances are, they will have told Enda that the Independent TD summed up how they feel about how politics is conducted in Leinster House these days.
Wallace was high up on the list of speakers on Shatterday – the Dáil sitting set aside to hear the Minister for Justice answer his critics.
Alan Shatter, as had been widely leaked the night before, was going to come out fighting and lay to rest any outstanding questions about his role in the whole affair. He spoke for 35 minutes, giving a very detailed timeline of how the complaints of Garda misconduct were handled by the Garda and other authorities. He wasn’t out to speak ill of anybody, but he managed to deliver several strong swipes at Fianna Fáil and damn the Garda whistleblower with faint praise.
Shatter was well prepared, mustering his rebuttal arguments well. The Government backbenchers relaxed. Then Fianna Fáil’s Michael Martin blasted his “appalling” handling of the issue, accusing him of, at worst, “actively subverting the goal of dealing with allegations of improper behaviour”.
He still had questions to answer over his relationship with the Garda Commissioner, his sacking of the confidential recipient and his claim that the whistleblower refused to co-operate with a Garda inquiry. The Sinn Féin leader followed suit. By then, three speakers in, the Government benches had all but cleared and a handful of deputies remained in the house.
Then it was Mick’s turn. He began quietly, but outlining how he and others had been trying for 18 months to get the issue of Garda malpractice on to the political agenda. Attempts to suggest improvements to the oversight process had been ignored. “Your concern was with covering up, minimising and dismissing,” said Wallace. “The Fine Gael party used to pride itself on being the party of law and order. How in God’s name can it stand
Wallace became increasingly emotional as he spoke. Alan Shatter smiled across, looking like he was enjoying the spectacle. Then, not for the first time in his Dáil career, Wallace welled up as he instanced cases of people who feel they have been let down by the criminal justice system.
Struggling to maintain his composure, he quoted an email he received from the nephew of murdered priest, Fr Niall Molloy. “For almost 30 years people have hidden behind a wall of silence, deceit, corruption and cover-up; time for the light of justice to shine on them and reveal them to the people for what they are. Many, many people have gone to their graves overshadowed by this heartache.”
You could see the anger building up in him, overtaking the emotion. His voice rose. “Minister, the people are right to be cynical about politics. They’re right to be cynical about politicians. This place is a joke! We play games in here. Well, ye know what, sometimes these games lead to the unfair distribution of justice or no justice being distributed. Sometimes these games lead to people losing their lives, they lead to murders, they lead to the families not getting any justice.”
Alan Shatter’s smile vanished. He put his hand to his face. “And what do we see so often, when bad things raise their head? We see our police force circle the wagons. We see our politicians circle the wagons. Do what it takes to cover up what we don’t want to see. Do what it takes to hide the truth. Is there any appetite for doing things any different in this House?”
“Minister, you look up here at us and you’d say: how dare these people with their long hair and raggy jeans have the AUDACITY to challenge YOU! Well, I wanna tell you something: the people of Wexford who elected me to come here didn’t elect me to come here and approve of your behaviour. They put me in here to challenge it. It is time for you to go Minister, and bring the commissioner with ya!”
That got them talking. He’s a gas ticket, that Mick Wallace, going over the top like that. They’ll have a good laugh over that in the bar. Sure you need lads like that for the bit of colour.
The statements continued on. Then it was time for questions. Alan Shatter was there to take them for the full half-hour allotted. It was a farce. A few questions. Fewer answers. And most telling of all, when asked if he agreed with the Garda Commissioner’s assertion that whistleblowers are “disgusting”, the most diligent Minister in Cabinet said he didn’t read those highly publicised controversial remarks made by the commissioner to a Dáil committee. So he couldn’t comment.
His parting short was to criticise whistleblower Maurice McCabe for taping a conversation with a senior officer. But if Sgt McCabe had not, he wouldn’t have been able to disprove Shatter’s statement that he disobeyed a direct Garda order to co-operate with an inquiry. And Alan Shatter wouldn’t have had to obliquely blame the gardaí for leading him to “misunderstand” what actually happened.
Not that he apologised to McCabe for that misunderstanding. But he’s out the gap for the moment, and that’s all that matters.