Shatter says newspaper is using witch-hunt tactics

Fri, Apr 13, 2012, 01:00

MINISTER FOR Justice Alan Shatter has accused the Irish Independent of adopting the witch-hunt tactics of the McCarthy era in American politics in pursuit of its own agenda. Mr Shatter said he would not engage in a media project to compile a blacklist of elected TDs that Ministers should not meet on legitimate official business.

Mr Shatter was responding to a front-page headline in yesterday’s Irish Independent which claimed he had refused to reveal if he had met Independent TD Michael Lowry.

Mr Shatter said that in reply to a “loaded question” from a journalist, as reported in the body of the Independent story, he had stated: “As Minister for Justice I am not participating in Independent Newspapers’ agenda.”

He said a particular agenda by Independent Newspapers had been in play for some time.

“As Minister for Justice it is my obligation to uphold the rule of law. The Garda Commissioner is consulting with the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether aspects of the Moriarty report may be pursued from a criminal point of view and as Minister for Justice I am determined to ensure that I neither do nor say anything that could prejudice matters. This is entirely consistent with my contribution in the Dáil to the debate on the Moriarty report.”

The Minister said a question had been posed to him by an Independent journalist designed to elicit a response that facilitated the publication of a story that either condemned Mr Lowry or implied guilt by association or both.

“I am unwilling to engage in an unethical media project of compiling a blacklist of elected TDs that Ministers should not meet on legitimate official business and also with whom no conversations should ever take place.

“It is worth asking in this context, in addition to Michael Lowry, who from Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and TDs from smaller parties and none should be included in such a list? Should Ministers only legitimately engage with those TDs with whose words and deeds, both past and present, they agree or with those approved by the media?” asked Mr Shatter.

He said this was a slippery slope down which the political system must not be allowed to slide.

“It has echoes of the discredited McCarthy era of the 1950s in US politics. We should not allow such an approach to gain even a foothold in a robust constitutional democracy that takes political elective office and constituency representation seriously,” he said.

Independent Newspapers declined an offer to respond to Mr Shatter’s statement.

Last week a number of media outlets reported that Mr Lowry had led delegations from his constituency to meet Government Ministers including Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Health James Reilly.

The meetings took place after the Moriarty tribunal made an adverse finding against the Tipperary TD over the issuing of the allocation of the State’s first mobile licence to businessman Denis O’Brien.

Mr O’Brien is now the biggest shareholder in Independent News and Media and is involved in a boardroom battle with the O’Reilly family for control of the company.

Mr Shatter’s robust attack on the Independent follows his strong criticism of RTÉ crime correspondent Paul Reynolds last year. The Minister accused the journalist of engaging in “tabloid sensationalism of the worst kind” during an address to town councillors in Templemore, Co Tipperary.

He later apologised to Mr Reynolds for his remarks.