Guerin report exposes Shatter’s shortcomings

Report came at the end of a long sequence of losing hands for former minister

After his resignation this week, much praise was lavished on Alan Shatter for pushing through radical legislative reform when Minister for Justice.

That much was true when it came to civil legislation. However, there was one glaring failure in terms of the reform agenda on his part: confronting the umbilical link between An Garda Siochána, on the one hand, and the Department of Justice and its Minister, on the other.

Senior counsel Sean Guerin’s report exposes those shortcomings in an unvarnished manner. The internal Garda inquiries into the serious allegations of malpractice and incompetence were inadequate, the report finds.

So was the response of the Department and the Minister when the matters were passed to them for assessment.


Instead of exercising independence, as was required under the law, they appear to have accepted everything the gardai communicated to them without questioning or subjecting the Garda position to any rigour or scrutiny.

And for a Minister who prided himself on his work ethic and a total and encyclopaedic knowledge of his brief, it was an incredible oversight on his part to accept a one paragraph summary of the 12 complaints and to apparently accept without question the advice of the Commissioner that no evidence was found of wrongdoing.

It's only in the past decade that the close symbiotic relationship between the gardai and Justice has seemed increasingly anachronistic in a modern society. Sure, oversight mechanisms – such as the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate – were brought in 2005 but as recent events have shown, they were only partial and have many flaws and shortcomings.

Shatter was the latest in a long line of justice ministers who were content to continue with the status quo whereby the Garda Síochána and the Department/Minister were, in effect, one and the same extended body.

The Guerin Report concluded there was a basis for a Commission of Investigation inquiry into all, bar one, of the ten cases that Maurice McCabe compiled in his dossier.

Yet, a number of internal Garda investigations - and peer reviews - concluded there was no evidential basis for any of McCabe’s complaints.

As Guerin archly noted, the overall impression of internal Garda investigations was that complaints were put through a process of distillation so that by the end of the process any matter of concern had been removed as a form of impurity, and only what was good was found to remain.”

It must be noted there were also GSOC investigations into some of the allegations.

For reasons GSOC has failed to identify, it was unable to furnish any documentation to Guerin.

That is a highly unsatisfactory situation.

The report shows there was voluminous correspondence between McCabe and the Department/Minister, some from him and some from his solicitors.

But politically, the net point was that the Minister had statutory responsibilities. Under Section of the 2007 regulations pertaining to the office of the confidential recipient, when a complaint is communicated to the Minister, he or she is required to have the complaint investigated or take such action as is required, unless the complaints are frivolous or vexatious.

Guerin’s report shows the only action taken by the Department or the Minister was to refer the matter back to the Garda Commissioner.

The key paragraph of Guerin reads: “In effect the process of determining McCabe’s complaints went no further than the Minister receiving and acting upon the advice of the person who was the subject of the complaint [the Commissioner].”

The Department and Minister, in other words, accepted unquestionably the word of the Commissioner, and according to Guerin, failed to fulfil fully their responsibilities of independence under law.

That reflected a historical and cast-iron relationship that was nonetheless flawed.

“Had it been probed and tested in a reasonable way,” wrote Guerin, “further important questions would have come to light”.

There is no doubt Guerin identified a failure on the part of Shatter. Was it enough in itself to warrant his resignation? Not in itself.

Shatter made the fair point that the findings might have been different had GSOC not failed to hand over documents and had Guerin interviewed him.

But this report came at the end of a long sequence of losing hands for Shatter politically.

And with this play, his stack of chips had dwindled to nothing.