Shatter gets through the gap and away
Dail sketch: street-fighting Minister comes away from his bout over Mick Wallace controversy largely unscathed
Mick Wallace and his sidekick Clare Daly were furious with Alan Shatter. But they got no answers
And Minister, here’s some juicy tittle-tattle we gathered for you earlier. . . Shatt’s Chat – it sounds more like a cheap daytime TV show than the transmission of useful gossip from the most powerful police officer in the country to the politician who administers our justice system.
But that’s all it was. A simple chat. So simple that Alan refused until last night in the Dáil to reveal with whom he had been chatting, and he still hasn’t managed to come up with a date for when this harmless tete-a-tete took place.
The Minister for Justice landed himself in hot water last Thursday when he disclosed private and privileged information about a political opponent in the course of an interview on RTÉ’s Prime Time .
It wasn’t very serious information – in fact it was so inconsequential as to have been eminently forgettable by those who came across it in the first place.
Except that the motorist encountered by two rank-and-file gardaí at traffic lights in Dublin happened to be a colourful and controversial TD with a habit of saying less than complimentary things about the force.
So here’s what happened: Mick Wallace is stopped at a traffic junction. A Garda car pulls alongside. One of the occupants notices Mick on
his mobile and gestures to him to end the call. The TD complies, rolls down his window and raises a hand in contrition. That was it. A brief exchange, no penalty points issued, no documents filled out.
This happened at a landmark called the Five Lamps in the north inner city. To say the gardaí are stretched in this area would be an understatement. Nonetheless, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the gardaí would have told their colleagues that evening about putting manners on yer man Wallace.
A year later and Alan meets Martin for one of their regular chats. Mick Wallace is causing them grief over his campaign about the quashing by gardaí of penalty points for motorists. Alan is due on television to debate him.
It is the commissioner’s duty to make sure his Minister is fully briefed. Which is when Martin throws in the story of Mick’s fleeting encounter with his lads. And why the Minister for Justice was in the Dáil chamber last night to answer questions about his Prime Time appearance and how he got hold of the information about Wallace.
Not only that, but Opposition deputies were worried that if a harmless encounter such as the one between the man in pink and the boys in blue, could be used against a TD a full year after it happened, then their own comings and goings were probably on file somewhere too.
“You sought to misuse your office and smear someone,” thundered Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins. “How did an unrecorded incident pertaining to Deputy Wallace make its way to you?”
Shatter didn’t know what all the fuss was about. “I want to give a solemn assurance to the House that I am not in the business of receiving, seeking or maintaining confidential, sensitive information from An Garda Síochána about members of this House, the Seanad, or indeed, anyone in political life.”
He omitted to add that the information about Wallace was merely resting in the commissioner’s account.
He addressed the Prime Time question, although not very well.
He got the information in a straightforward way. There was nothing sinister about it. He didn’t request it, but “no doubt the commissioner was probably mindful, too, that Deputy Wallace might make public reference to the incident as part of the public controversy going on about the fixed-charge notices.”
And as it happened, didn’t the commissioner just have this information floating around in the Phoenix Park (not that files are kept or intelligence gathered or anything) about Mick’s non-event at the Five Lamps.
As it happened, Wallace didn’t mention the incident. But Alan decided to throw in the information anyway, seeing as he had it. He spent the best part of his statement attacking Wallace and his cohort for their approach to the fines controversy.
But last night wasn’t about the fines, and what Wallace or Clare Daly or Ming Flanagan might have said. It was about how the Minister for Justice came across this private information and why, in heaven’s name, it had been deemed important enough to be recalled at the highest Garda level 12 months on.
Shatter stood his ground. No idea how the commissioner came by the information. He never looked for it, in the same way he never seeks information on any member of the House.
Wallace and his sidekick, Clare Daly, were furious with him. But they got no answers. And in the end, Shatter, who is a street fighter, ended the bout with a haymaker of a story about Ming Flanagan writing to him to explain his travails with the traffic corps.
The Minister, putting on a plaintive little voice, read out the letter. It was a hilarious performance, but a vicious closing attack. In the letter, Flanagan names (and blames, as Shatter helpfully pointed out) the people who had done him a turn by helping him lose his penalty points.
“I do not hold any malice against Mr ‘Blank’ for this,” said Shatter, as the place erupted. The trio of Wallace, Daly and Flanagan shot sulphurous looks across at the floor at Shatter, who knew he was through the gap and clear.
The chamber was laughing at his tormentors and worrying chats with the commissioner were forgotten.