Shatter’s pugnacious power dealt him his final punch
As was his wont, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter went down fighting
File picture of former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at a launch in 2013. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
The most combative Minister appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny when the Government came to power over two years ago, Alan Shatter has been ousted from office by those who fought smarter and had more staying power.
Sgt Maurice McCabe and Garda John Wilson may have been dismissed by the Minister and many in the Garda force as disgruntled oddballs. But, two years after they first raised their allegations and despite their charges still being unproven, they have claimed three significant scalps.
Confidential recipient Oliver Connolly was the first to leave the stage. He was relieved of office in mid-February by an under-pressure Shatter after a tape recording of a conversation he had with McCabe entered the public realm.
In it, he warned the serving sergeant against blowing the whistle on the termination of thousands of penalty points by Garda members, saying he would anger Shatter and warning the Minister would “go after” him. But far from relieving the pressure on the Minister, the controversy continued. Six weeks ago, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar piled the pressure on the then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, saying he should withdraw his remarks branding as “disgusting” the actions of the whistleblowers.
In the weekend that followed, behind the scenes in Government it became known gardaí had been secretly recording conversations to and from Garda stations for decades. Callinan departed.
Many in the force believe the taping controversy was deliberately inflated by Government to distract from the fact it engineered Callinan’s departure to try and diffuse the ticking penalty points bomb under Shatter.
Allegations about the termination of penalty points should not have caused the political and policing casualties they have. And while reports by the Garda, Comptroller & Auditor General and then Garda Inspectorate all found thousands of unjustified terminations, the points issue itself never really ignited.
Instead, it was the dogged, arrogant and, at times, simply ugly manner in which the justice wing of official Ireland dealt with the allegations that has proven Shatter’s downfall. He decided in November 2012 to order an inquiry into the penalty points allegations – about eight months after the whistleblowers began approaching Government departments, other State agencies and Independent TDs. Incredibly, he left it to the Garda to investigate itself, with the Garda Ombudsman simply passed over for the job, dooming from the outset the Garda inquiry under Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony.
That process found evidence that points were cancelled. Some gardaí were disciplined and files were sent to the DPP.
But the whistleblowers were not interviewed as part of the inquiry, Garda Headquarters claiming they had been invited but never accepted, and McCabe and Wilson insisting they were ignored.
When the Garda report was published, Shatter used it as an opportunity to not just criticise the whistleblowers but to demolish them. He later revealed in the Dáil that another set of allegations by McCabe – including the failure to investigate sex attacks and clerical sex abuse, and the falsification and destruction of records by gardaí in Cavan-Monaghan – had been raised as far back as 2008.
He said the charges had been investigated by the Ombudsman and the Garda and reviewed by the DPP, with none of the allegations proven.
McCabe had also complained in 2009 he had been harassed within the Garda over his 2008 complaints and assaulted and falsely imprisoned by a senior officer.
In the address to the Dáil on February 26th outlining the history of the allegations made, the message was clear: these men were cranks and serial complainants whose charges never stacked up. And Shatter said he would not be apologising for telling the Dáil late last year the whistleblowers had not co-operated with the O’Mahony investigation.
By the time Callinan went from office less than a month later, Shatter was chastened. Having failed to get out from under the cosh of McCabe and those TDs who pushed his cause, he climbed down and withdrew his remarks.
Went out fighting
But by then a number of independent investigations had been established by Government to examine aspects of the debacle. And it is one of those, by Seán Guerin SC, that has now brought him down. As was his wont in office, Shatter went down fighting. He insisted he should have been interviewed as part of the inquiry. And he alleged its conclusions were reached without the study of what he believed was vital documentation the Ombudsman Commission had delayed in supplying.