Apology in a thicket of conditionality gets Shatter off the hook
Analysis: Minister for Justice’s case helped by lack of Government sympathy for Mick Wallace
Deputy Mick Wallace at Leinster House yesterday. “Most came to the realisation that the the political row surrounding Shatter was petering out.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Alan Shatter brought a new concept to the world of Irish politics last night: the nonapology apology.
After five days of controversy over his disclosure of confidential information about Deputy Mick Wallace last Thursday, Mr Shatter finally uttered the word “sorry”.
But it was couched in such a thicket of conditionality and “ifs”that it came out less as him being sorry to Mr Wallace but being sorry for Mr Wallace for not understanding that he was right and the Wexford TD was wrong.
The formulation of words he used was resonant of the non-denial denial, a long-practiced political ploy. “None of us have a monopoly of wisdom. If Deputy Wallace feels that I did him some personal wrong by mentioning it, then I have no problem in saying I am sorry,” Mr Shatter said.
Over the course of about an hour in the Dáil, most of those present came to the realisation that this political row was petering out. Privately, Mr Shatter’s Government colleagues sensed that what he had said last Thursday on RTÉ’s Prime Time should not have been said and involved a breach of confidence.
But many were of the view that it was a relatively minor indiscretion and, besides, they were directed at a politician, Mick Wallace, for whom there is little sympathy on the Government benches.
From the weekend, it was clear that the Labour Party was not going to make a fuss about it. Certainly, individual Ministers and TDs were very uncomfortable with it but the issue was not pursued at all at Cabinet level nor at leadership level. There were some indications, however, that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was not as comfortable with it as his comments from Boston indicated.
Mr Shatter’s statement to the Dáil was low-key but not contrite. There were a few new details, namely the information was given by the Garda Commissioner during a number of “chats”.
He defended his Prime Time remarks, which he said were to expose the hypocrisy of Wallace’s argument and to ensure “continuing public confidence” in the Garda as it was wrong for Wallace to pillory the force.
Niall Collins of Fianna Fáil and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Féin brought up the appropriateness of a Minister using confidential information to attack a political opponent and reminded him of speeches he made in opposition excoriating ministers for doing so. Clare Daly and Wallace focused more on shortcomings in the wider penalty points investigation in their contributions, which may have relieved the pressure on him. Shatter picked and chose what questions to which he wanted to reply, to the frustration of the impressive Daly.
It all descended into farce when he read out Luke Ming Flanagan’s letter asking for an investigation into his own quashed points. The clock was played down. It was over.
So what now? Politically, it is all but over. But there are other avenues. Wallace has lodged complaints to the Standards in Public Office Commission and with the Data Protection Commissioner. Ethics legislation allows the standards commission to conduct an inquiry when there is a complaint of an act which “inconsistent with the proper performance by the specified person of the functions” of their office.