Shatter to face breath test incident questions

Minister for Justice confirms he failed to complete Garda breathalyser test

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

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

Fri, May 24, 2013, 08:32

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter will face further searching questions from political opponents after he confirmed yesterday he failed to complete a breathalyser test because of an asthmatic condition when returning home from the Dáil some five years ago.

Mr Shatter released a statement yesterday confirming that an incident referred to by Independent TD Mattie McGrath in the Dáil yesterday occurred but did so three years earlier than alleged by the South Tipperary TD.

Mr Shatter said he had been stopped at a mandatory Garda checkpoint in Pembroke Street in Dublin and asked to exhale into a breathalyser.

“I did so but failed to fully complete the task due to my being asthmatic. I explained this to the Garda. I also explained that I was on my way home from Dáil Éireann and that I had consumed no alcohol of any nature that day. The garda consulted with another garda and I was waved on,” he said in the statement. It was issued late yesterday afternoon, some six hours after Mr McGrath had raised the matter during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil.

Parliamentary privilege
In the Dáil, Mr McGrath had suggested the incident had happened in late February or early March 2011, in the period between the general election and Mr Shatter becoming Minister for Justice. While the incident happened three years earlier, some of the other assertions made by Mr McGrath under parliamentary privilege were confirmed by the Minister in his statement.

It is expected he will face further questions over the contention by Mr McGrath that he invoked parliamentary privilege under article 15 of the Constitution which holds that a TD cannot be arrested travelling to and from the Dáil. While Mr Shatter has said he informed the garda that he was returning home from the Dáil, no further details were given as to whether that played any part in the decision made by the Garda to exercise discretion.

In the course of his Dáil contribution, Mr McGrath also put the question as to “whether [Mr Shatter’s] behaviour and reaction to the request [to give a breath sample] was appropriate and indeed cordial”.

Government TDs said privately the development would lead to further embarrassment for Mr Shatter.

More questions
However, Mr McGrath and others said that many more questions now arise in relation to the incident. Opposition parties and TDs are expected to press him further.

One of the questions will relate to why he did not disclose the incident in the Dáil during the week when he made the statement on why he had disclosed details of a minor occurrence involving Deputy Mick Wallace last year. Mr Shatter made a reference to another incident last night. He said it happened some years ago when he was stopped while driving in a bus lane but said he pointed out the lane was open to all traffic at that time.