Shatter overwhelmed by tide of scandal and error
The Guerin report again called Alan Shatter’s judgment into question
The catalyst was a damning report by Seán Guerin SC into allegations by Sgt Maurice McCabe (above) of rampant Garda malpractice, but a gathering tide of scandal and error meant Shatter’s position was already in jeopardy. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Alan Shatter’s abrupt departure from Government followed months of ever increasing turmoil in his ministry.
The catalyst was a damning report by Seán Guerin SC into allegations by Sgt Maurice McCabe of rampant Garda malpractice, but a gathering tide of scandal and error meant Shatter’s position was already in jeopardy.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny received the Guerin report on Tuesday night and he passed it to Shatter yesterday morning. The report criticised Shatter’s inadequate response to McCabe’s complaints. Not only that, but he also criticised the response of An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice. These were devastating conclusions for Shatter, calling his judgment and political nous into question yet again.
Only hours had passed since Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore had expressed confidence in the Minister for Justice after a different official report had criticised his actions in another affair. Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes found that Shatter broke data protection law on live television last year by divulging that gardaí had spoken to Independent TD Mick Wallace for using his phone while driving.
Shatter survived Hawkes but he could not survive Guerin. With Fine Gael and Labour in the middle of a challenging election campaign, he had little choice but to step down. The self-righteous Minister, famed for his forthright zeal, was finally overwhelmed.
The Guerin report, to be published tomorrows, calls for a new statutory commission of inquiry into McCabe’s allegations. This is on top of an ongoing investigation by retired High Court judge John Cooke into allegations that the office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) were bugged. Then there is the GSOC’s investigation into the penalty points affair, belatedly ordered by Shatter after many months of delay and the denial. Moreover, there is the commission of inquiry chaired by Mr Justice Nial Fennelly into the covert recording of phone calls at many Garda stations.
Both the magnitude of these investigations and their sweeping scope point to the emergence of profound trouble within Irish policing on Shatter’s watch. While no one suggests the Minister was the architect of those difficulties, his response in too many instances was to say, defensively, there was nothing to see and to dismiss valid questions.
McCabe was not the only Garda whistleblower to feel the fire of his rhetoric. So too did retired garda John Wilson. He ended up apologising to both McCabe and Wilson in the Dáil, just as he had apologised to Wallace over the data breach.
All of this, in turn, created considerable trouble for Kenny. While Labour was ultimately willing to shelter Shatter in the interests of stable relations with Fine Gael, it all sapped his credibility.
It is a given that the establishment of each investigation carried with it the danger that Shatter would be further undermined once reports appeared, as proved to be the case with Guerin’s findings.
Colleagues say Shatter’s isolation was increasingly obvious in recent weeks. A TD for decades before he ever became Minister, he could hardly have imagined that it would end like this.