Taoiseach does the talking for Minister Shatter. Again . . .

As Enda faced the Dáil yesterday, his Minister wasn’t on hand to help

Enda Kenny and Alan Shatter at this month’s Fine Gael Ardfheis. The Justice Minister was not on hand as the Taoiseach fielded questions in the Dáil yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Enda Kenny and Alan Shatter at this month’s Fine Gael Ardfheis. The Justice Minister was not on hand as the Taoiseach fielded questions in the Dáil yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Thu, Mar 13, 2014, 01:00

The Taoiseach and his Minister for Justice had a chat before Dáil business yesterday. “He was very happy to note Garda McCabe was in full co-operation with the Inspectorate inquiry,” Enda told the Dáil.

That was very big of Alan Shatter, pointing out how he is happy to acknowledge that Maurice McCabe had performed to his satisfaction this time. Here was the Minister grudgingly throwing a good word in the direction of the Garda whistleblower, although it took the Taoiseach to do the talking for him. Again.

As the two men had their tete-a-tete in advance of the annual St Patrick’s Day airlift, Enda must have been sorely tempted to shake his Minister warmly by the throat and tell him not to come back from Mexico until he discovered some humility.

Fat chance. Did the Taoiseach, in the course of their conversation, ask Alan if he could explain how parts of the Garda Inspectorate’s report into the penalty points system found its way into the hands of a crime correspondent the night before it was due to be presented to the Cabinet?

Enda told Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin that he could not comment on the contents of the report because Alan Shatter hadn’t passed it over to him. Yet Micheál and Caoimhghín were happy to talk about its findings, having heard them the night before on the news.

Alan Shatter must have been very annoyed, not having had a chance to brief the Taoiseach before the document fell into the hands of a journalist.

So when Leaders’ Questions began and the Opposition cornered Enda on the report, which more or less backed up the story told by the Garda whistleblowers, the Taoiseach was still in the dark.

Alan Shatter wasn’t on hand to help. He was probably on the phone, seething, ordering a full investigation to how those details were leaked, thus forcing his department to announce it is decisively dealing with the situation.

No doubt, when he returns from his shamrock-shaking stint in Latin America, the Minister will root out the mole and take appropriate disciplinary action. People who leak confidential information are, to quote the Garda Commissioner, “disgusting.”


Dismissed
Enda did his best not to sound disgusted at being confronted in the chamber over the behaviour of Alan Shatter.

The Minis ter had dismissed the whistleblowers’ allegations of systemic failings in the pen- alty points system as nothing of the sort. In a small minority of cases, the correct procedure hadn’t been followed and that was about the size of it, Shatter had concluded.

The Garda Commissioner had assured him of this and a very senior officer investigated the allegations and found next to nothing, but the whistleblowers stuck to their stories. Shatter cast doubts on their motives.

Micheál Martin reminded Enda of what his Minister said in the chamber about them.

“Having engaged with Members of this House and published material they did not co-operate with the Garda investigations that took place.”

As the Taoiseach batted gamely for his Minister, minds drifted back to Shatter describing the men’s allegations as seriously inaccurate and without foundation and misunderstanding of the facts.

Thing is, insisted Enda, Shatter just had a different interpretation of what was said. No need for him to apolo- gise, now that the report was essentially vindicating them.

“He hasn’t it in him to apologise,” spluttered Micheál.

That’s true, but by the evening news, at least by Shatter’s standards, there was the tiniest element of rowing back. Where the whistleblowers were concerned “of course, some of the issues they’ve raised proved to be correct.”

As for his remarks that their claims were inaccurate, Alan repeated a line used by the Taoiseach that morning by trying to convince listeners that he had only been referring to one specific matter they had raised. He wasn’t going to apologise nor was he going to accept the men had been vindicated to a large extent.

Why? “I am not interested in political point scoring.”

Because that would be to admit he got it wrong. So where once there was nothing to see, the Government is now rushing out an action plan on the penalty points front. Alan is spearheading it with “a very important roadmap”.


Rounded
As for the Taoiseach, he did what he always does in a tight situation. He rounded on the Fianna Fáil leader for doing nothing when in power.

Caomhghín Ó Caoláin didn’t just want an apology for the whistleblowers. He said Mick Wallace, who was also at the receiving end of the Minister’s arrogant pronouncements, should get one too. And what about the Garda Commissioner? Ó Caoláin recalled how he labelled the whistleblowers’ actions “disgusting”.

Martin Callinan, months after the event, clarified his remark. The whistleblowers were not personally disgusting, rather, he found the manner in which they distributed confidential and unverified information about individuals disgusting. He probably feels the same about those in the Garda Síochána and in the Department of Justice who leak to journalists.

At least the report shows how bad the penalty points malpractice really was. You wouldn’t have known from the commissioner’s evidence to the PAC. “There have been weak- nesses identified within the system, but the overall process is quite substantial in terms of success”.

And the whistleblowers who acted in a disgusting manner? “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they acted irresponsibly.” But nobody is saying that now.

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