Breaking up is so very hard to do

Enda made a quick settlement: Frances got Justice; Charlie got the children

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter with Minister for Health James Reilly. Alan’s bombshell resignation could hog the headlines for weeks and deflect attention from Calamity James.  But then the spotlight will be back on him. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter with Minister for Health James Reilly. Alan’s bombshell resignation could hog the headlines for weeks and deflect attention from Calamity James. But then the spotlight will be back on him. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin


After a long and difficult break-up, the Taoiseach opted for a quickie settlement: Frances Fitzgerald got Justice and Charlie Flanagan was awarded the children. Naturally, they were delighted, honoured, humbled, privileged and looking forward to the challenges ahead because there is a big job of work to be done.

Enda texted Frances at 6 in the morning to tell her he had decided to drop her in it.

Justice? At the moment, it’s as toxic as the Department of Health. When news of Alan Shatter’s resignation broke on Wednesday afternoon, we hear James Reilly volunteered to lead the conga around the Law Library. But apparently Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan got there before him. Alan’s bombshell resignation could hog the headlines for weeks. Happy days.

That was before Calamity James and Big Phil realised the long-term implications for them arising from Shatter’s departure. The former minister for justice was a magnificent controversy magnet, drawing attention away from their stewardship of their departments. But now that he’s gone, the spotlight will fall on them again. Steady Frances will be the balm to Shatter’s sting. Reilly and Hogan will ship the collateral damage. There is always a downside to a break-up.

Alan Shatter’s “decision” to resign hasn’t done any favours for the Tánaiste either. As the day wore on yesterday, the Labour Party hastily put it about that they are not at all put out by the fact that Enda Kenny didn’t think to inform Eamon Gilmore that he had the Guerin report in his possession and the minister for justice was probably going to come to a personal “decision” to step down from his senior position in their Coalition. The Taoiseach took possession of the voluminous document on Tuesday night and consulted the Attorney General about it at 6am on Wednesday.

Batting for Shatter
Then he had his chat with Alan, who subsequently decided to call it a day. In the meantime, an oblivious Tánaiste was still publicly batting for the beleaguered Shatter while simultaneously declaring he didn’t know when the report would be ready but reckoned it was due any day now. Enda, out of courtesy to his minister, didn’t let on about anything to the Tánaiste until he got the resignation letter.

The Taoiseach has form in this regard. In sporting parlance, when it comes to resignations which he did not demand, Enda has clocked up two “assists”. He assisted Garda commissioner Martin Callinan out the door. And he did the same for Shatter, who, while not reading the entire document, chanced upon three of the chapters in the 300-page report and what he read convinced him to go.

The Taoiseach probably said something like “you might like to take a look at chapters 1, 19 and 20 and then pick up your coat on the way out”. According to Enda, the contents are very hard-hitting. We will know today when the details are revealed. But the injured tone of Shatter’s valedictory letter would suggest that he didn’t want to resign and feels somewhat hard done by. But he had to go.

And yesterday, the Dáil discussed the manner of the break-up. First though, the Taoiseach had to announce details of his quickie settlement to the House. The loyal and dependable Frances Fitz duly took her place a little further up the front bench as new Minister for Justice. Then the Taoiseach gave Charlie Flanagan the nod as her replacement. A fully fledged ministry for Flanagan, promoted from the backbenches.

Fine Gael deputies seemed happy with the appointments, unusually marked by a notable absence of begrudgery among party members. Under the circumstances, Fitzgerald is seen as the proverbial safe pair of hands, while Flanagan is considered deserving of a place at Cabinet.

Wrong horse
It was a good move by Enda. He displayed political magnanimity in promoting Charlie, who backed the wrong horse in the 2010 heave against Kenny and paid the price by losing out on a ministry. The Laois-Offaly TD now follows in the footsteps of his late father, Oliver J, who also got his ministry in controversial circumstances after minister Paddy Donegan had to step down in 1976 following his famous “thundering disgrace” remarks about president Cearbhall Ó Dáilaigh.

Frances, meanwhile, who looked like she was still reeling from Enda’s 6am text, took over a slimmed down department. The Taoiseach is temporarily adding the Department of Defence to his empire. Kommandant Kenny’s handlers will be sick with worry, dreading the moment he picks up a gun and poses for a funny photo, Willie O’Dea style. Enda will be delighted – what with playing around in tanks and dinners in the officers’ mess.

There were some mutterings about sexism. Sure you can’t have a woman around guns and things. She could explode with pre-ministerial tension on a firing range and cause chaos.

Given the circumstances, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, who were instrumental in Shatter’s downfall, were impressively measured in their speeches. They agreed that Shatter had to go, but graciously acknowledged many of the reforming measures he introduced during his tenure.

The House rose at lunch in deference to the real work of the day. And they hit the election trail again. Enda went straight to the midlands. No time to take a nap. Shatter gone. Just taking care of business.