Shatter’s robust defence of Wallace revelation causes unease in Labour
Minister of State Seán Sherlock calls for clarity as senior party figures are reluctant to get involved
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: said information was relayed to him as part of a general briefing on the cancellation of penalty points. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
The robust defence by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter of his revelation that Independent TD Mick Wallace escaped penalty points for using a mobile phone while driving has created some unease within Labour.
Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock was among those calling on Mr Shatter last night to provide further clarity, but more senior Labour figures appeared reluctant to press the issue yesterday.
“The only way to clarify this is to get a full statement on the record of the House in relation to what exactly happened, when it happened and how it happened,” Mr Sherlock said.
“And I think until we have that clarity there is still some confusion in my mind as to whether or not there is a breach of civil liberties.”
Mr Shatter yesterday said the information supplied to him on Mr Wallace was not of a private or confidential nature but was relayed to him as part of a general briefing on the cancellation of penalty points.
Another Labour Minister, speaking on the basis of anonymity, said Mr Shatter should not have referred to the incident “in the political context”, adding: “ I am uncomfortable with that.” Backbencher Kevin Humphreys said he was “still unhappy” because there was a “need for further clarity” from Mr Shatter, while his colleague Joanna Tuffy said the Fine Gael Minister’s comments on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme last Thursday were “inappropriate”.
Speaking in Boston, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said the details of the incident involving Mr Wallace obtained by Mr Shatter were “part of the background information to a very full and thorough analysis of fixed charges in respect of penalty points.”
Mr Kenny would not say whether the use of the information was appropriate or not but he was “glad that Mr Wallace now remembered that the incident actually took place”.
Mr Wallace , who previously said he was “unaware” of the incident referred to by Mr Shatter, yesterday said he recalled it. He told Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1: “A Garda vehicle came up beside me and I was on the phone, I know I’m wrong and shouldn’t have been on it. I rolled down the window. The Garda rolled down his window.
“There were two guards there. I held my hand up and they said ‘it’s OK’ and left it at that. We made small talk for about maybe 15 or 20 seconds and the lights went green and they pulled off.” He added: “Did they exercise discretion? Yes, they did.”
However, Mr Wallace said he still wanted to know how Mr Shatter came to know about the incident. He will formally submit a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission today, while Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes confirmed he had already received a complaint.
Mr Hawkes said: “It’s the personal data of Deputy Wallace. It was disclosed by Minister Shatter so it’s for Minister Shatter to justify the basis and the justification for disclosing data that came into his position as Minister for Justice.”
Mr Shatter yesterday contended that the Wexford TD was a public figure who had engaged in political hypocrisy. He rejected allegations he improperly used confidential Garda information to denigrate a political opponent.
“As a Minister I have an inconvenient habit of telling the truth about issues. It occasionally gets me into trouble telling the truth. . . He was making a presentation that the Garda should never exercise discretion in favour of everybody,” Mr Shatter said.
“I felt in the context of the general transparency that he and his colleagues had been demanding in the very full briefing I received . . . I felt it was appropriate to point out to Deputy Wallace that he had benefitted from that discretion.”
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins described Mr Shatter’s explanation as “totally unacceptable”, while his Sinn Féin counterpart Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the Minister’s remarks had done nothing to clear up public concern.
Mr Shatter dismissed as “wild and wonderful” suggestions that he had gathered information on other political opponents. “I have no interest in doing so,” he said.