Shatter milks the moment, looking like 'Secret Millionaire’

Miriam Lord: Former minister gives preening display for media on Leinster House plinth

Investigating ineptitude in the Department of Justice, dysfunction in the Garda and the mysterious departure of a commissioner: millions.

Giving the minister for justice the elbow: €70,000.

Presenting a sizeable donation to a very deserving charity: €50,000.

Giving the two fingers to Brendan Howlin and Enda Kenny and bolstering Alan Shatter’s ego: priceless.


There are some things a retiring minister can buy.

For everything else . . . there’s always the paying public.

Who wouldn’t be happy for the Jack & Jill Foundation – a wonderful organisation that helps terminally ill children and their families? Theirs is a constant struggle for funds (State assistance is scant), as they daily witness distraught parents barely able to cope and now facing the withdrawal of medical cards. They need money, lots of it.

The foundation, set up by Jonathan Irwin and his wife Mary Ann O’Brien, richly deserves the cash they were given yesterday. But forgive us if we don’t pin a medal on their surprise benefactor, who shamelessly milked his generous personal gift of public money with a preening display before the assembled media. Alan Shatter, Philanthropist of the Plinth. Oh, but he was enjoying himself yesterday.

Crisis of his own making Much too much. Making a drama out of a crisis of his own making. He emerged from Leinster House, an understandably delighted Irwin and O'Brien by his side, like he was starring in an episode of The Secret Millionaire. As he sauntered down the plinth to the bank of cameras and microphones, Shatter couldn't help looking thoroughly pleased with himself.

“We’re all very professional, aren’t we?” he smiled at the waiting journalists, before going on to explain how the resignation golden handshake he agreed in Cabinet to abolish would stand as a legacy to their “very important” decision.

He noted the Government voted to get rid of this ridiculous “severance” entitlement at a time when people are in financial stress. The State needs every cent it can get. But for some strange reason Brendan Howlin didn’t get around to signing the order to bring the legislation into effect.

A matter that Alan couldn’t help mentioning more than once. When news broke earlier this week that he was entitled to this loophole €70,000, his ministerial colleagues said they were sure he would return it to the State. Alan said nothing.

Then, early yesterday morning, he announced he would deliver his decision at a press conference in the afternoon. And this, on the eve of the elections. The rumour machine went into overdrive. If he was not going to take the payoff, wouldn’t he just issue a press release?

The fact he was making such a palaver about it led some to believe that he would announce his intention and then do something spectacular, such as resign his seat. Fine Gael hadn’t a clue what he was going to do. The press office couldn’t help. There were a lot of worried FG people around yesterday. Out he duly came, party officials watching from a discreet distance, to tell all.

First, he explained the background. How he was surprised to hear from the “DEPER”, forgetting the meaning of the acronym and smirking, “Minister Howlin’s department, for God’s sake!”

And having considered the best way to use the money he was “entitled to” by dint of not doing his job properly, he prepared to astonish. But he was muddled by his big moment. Alan declared it would be appropriate “to mark the fact that ministerial surveillance, eh, ministerial . . . em, eh, er, whatever it is.”

“Severance! Severance!” cried the hacks, in gleeful assistance ‘‘. . . eh, severance, ministerial severance is no longer payable.” Then, scarcely able to contain his cleverality, he announced “the first decision is that I’m taking the severance payment.” And he paused, for dramatic effect, delighted with his sense of timing. The second decision came when the journalists looked sufficiently excited.

Entitlement He was giving the money to charity. His friend's charity, as it transpired, as he has known and admired Jonathan Irwin's work for years. Entitlement – as any tax-avoiding millionaire will tell you, means you can choose your own good causes. Entitlement – as any Sinn Féin deputy will tell you, means you can take your full whack from the State, give some of it to the party, then selflessly boast about only "taking the average industrial wage". Its makes no difference to Joe Public, who pays out regardless.

Alan then blithely declared – as if he has earned some special distinction – that “by sheer accident, I appear to be the last minister for many years to be eligible to get the payment”. By sheer accident, we presume he meant by sheer ability to make a mess of his job. Then, of course, he praised himself for bringing about the welcome legislation which means charities can benefit more tax-efficiently from donations from fellow philanthropists.

“It’s probably the largest philanthropic gift we’ve had this year for the children,” said Jonathan, who praised the former minister for his generosity. The former minister smiled modestly. How is he coping after his resignation? “I’m extraordinarily well. How are you doing?” Then he revealed he told nobody except those closest to him, of his plans.

“The Taoiseach, I think, will now be learning of it. The Taoiseach didn’t know.” Some might say it would have been common courtesy to tell Enda. But then again, Enda didn’t have the common courtesy to tell Alan about the taping of phone calls into Garda stations for 24 hours after he had discussed it with the Attorney General. A very chipper Shatter – the Shatt who got the cream – said he had no intention of resigning.

There would be lots of interesting things to do in the years before the next general election. It almost sounded like a threat. Afterwards, people wondered why Shatter couldn’t have delivered his decision by a simple written statement. But he’s eaten all the humble pie. Modesty gone mad.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday