Party politics could prove a hindrance in determining what actually happened
GSOC fallout leads to game of political brinkmanship
Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter with Commissioner Martin Callinan. A lot rests on the two men’s response to the crisis. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
All of the main political parties have a lot to gain or lose in the long term over their handling of the Garda controversy even if the public does not appear to be very engaged with the issue at present.
So far Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and his Fine Gael colleagues have broadly defended the Garda Síochána while conceding that some reform is needed. Traditionally the party of law and order, going back to the early years of the state, the natural instinct of Fine Gael TDs is to side with the Garda. This is particularly so when the force is being attacked by Sinn Féin, who still refuse to condemn the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe in Co Limerick in 1996.
The political danger facing Mr Shatter and his colleagues is the charge that they have not properly protected whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, who has made serious allegations about the way the Garda have operated.
Mr Shatter has vehemently denied that this is the case and a review by both the Department of the Taoiseach and his own Department of Justice is currently underway to establish the precise sequence of events and the Minister’s role in the affair.
There have been widespread calls for an independent review of some sort and it is difficult to see how the Government can resist the pressure for this course of action as nothing else will put the matter to rest.
The Labour Party, which is more inclined than Fine Gael to focus on the human rights side of the argument, has a vested interest in ensuring that an independent examination takes place. Otherwise allegations of a cover-up will persist.
While Fine Gael may instinctively be on the side of the Garda, Fianna Fáil has actually had a much closer relationship with the force over the past half century simply because the party has been in power for so much of that time. The party controlled the promotions structure within the Garda and has long had a good working relationship with the Garda Representative Association.
That is what has made the stance adopted by the party and its leader Micheál Martin in the current controversy so courageous, or cynical depending on the perspective. At one level he has risked the friendly relations between his party and the Garda but at another he stands to gain a significant political victory if he demonstrates that Mr Shatter failed in his duty to protect a whistleblower and to stand by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).