Shatter’s manner made him few friends

Minister was smart but often unwilling to walk away from unnecessary spats

Alan Shatter: During his time in opposition he drafted more private members legislation than any other TD of his generation. And during his time as minister, Bills came out like luggage on a carousel. Photograph: David Sleator

Alan Shatter: During his time in opposition he drafted more private members legislation than any other TD of his generation. And during his time as minister, Bills came out like luggage on a carousel. Photograph: David Sleator

Thu, May 8, 2014, 01:00

There was a lot of the infamous American tennis player John McEnroe to Alan Shatter during his long tenure in the front ranks of Irish politics. He was mercurial, imaginative, smart, energetic and had a great deal of flair.

Unfortunately, he was also petulant, impetuous, provocative, partisan and had a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way.

Such was his brilliance, he won many of his political matches to love. Sadly for him, he then managed to get himself disqualified by getting into an unnecessary spats with his defeated opponents.

During his time in opposition he drafted more private members legislation than any other TD of his generation. For the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and others, Shatter’s legislative agenda was welcome because it was very liberal. Such was the force of his drive and personality that the conservative section of his party would often be swept aside. It was that liberal nature that possibly dissuaded Labour colleagues from over-criticising Shatter.

Its judgment call that it was better for the party to have a genuinely reforming minister in place. The alternative was a traditional and conservative Fine Gael “law and order” minister.

From a Jewish family, Shatter (63) was brought up in Rathgar but now lives in Ballinteer. In his professional life a solicitor, Shatter quickly rose to prominence, as an authority on child and family law. His textbook on family law became the standard work in Irish universities. Another publication, slightly less salubrious, was his political bodice-ripper Laura, which unusually became the subject of a censorship of publications determination.

Shatter was first elected to the Dáil in 1981 in South Dublin and the only interruption in his career as a TD came in 2002 when he lost his seat in an election that saw Fine Gael routed in Dublin. Re-elected in 2007, Shatter was made spokesman on children by Enda Kenny. However, it was his role in the leadership battle in 2010 that was decisive. Shatter was one of few Dublin TDs who backed Kenny.

Appointed as Minister in March 2011, Shatter set about his task with the same energy and relish as Michael McDowell had done beforehand.

He also had a habit of playing the opponent and not the ball. Those who complained were targeted for a public hairdrying by Shatter – Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Luke Ming Flanagan, John Wilson, GSOC and Maurice McCabe.

The controversies over penalty points and the GSOC bugging damaged him, and when former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan resigned over the practice by gardaí of recording telephone calls, it was generally recognised that Shatter was only one controversy or two shy of resignation.

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