Shattergate off the boil as ‘spirit of justice’ urged

More traditional issues were in focus during Leaders’ Questions

Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan took Leaders’ Questions

Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan took Leaders’ Questions


Shattergate appears to have run its race for now in the Dáil.

There were some fleeting references yesterday to the travails of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, but the focus was mainly on more traditional issues such as the health services and the dark underbelly of Irish life of decades ago, as represented this time by the Bethany Home.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, flanked by Labour colleague Minister of State for the Environment Jan O’Sullivan, took Opposition Leaders’ Questions in the absence of Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. There was a modest turnout of Government backbenchers, unlike Wednesday night when a succession of them spoke in support of Shatter in response to Fianna Fáil’s motion of no confidence in him.

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath tackled Quinn on the Government’s plan for universal health insurance, arguing that it would be another tax on middle Ireland. Quinn, no doubt conscious of May’s European and local elections, said his party was the first to make the proposal, as far back as 2001.

Medical needs
He then reverted to Coalition speak. “The Labour and Fine Gael parties believe that a person’s access to medical care should be determined by his or her medical needs, not the money in his or her pocket.’’

While the exchanges were intensely political, they did not have the sharp edge of the rows over Shattergate, which dominated Opposition Leaders’ Questions to Taoiseach Enda Kenny earlier this week. But then, the Opposition is more interested in Shatter’s political scalp than that of Minister for Health Dr James Reilly.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald asked why the “reforming’’ Minister for Justice had refused to acknowledge the survivors of the Bethany Home in Rathgar, Dublin.

On Wednesday, she said, the 222 infants and children, who died of neglect, at the home, were, for the first time, officially recognised and mourned at a sobering ceremony in Mount Jerome cemetery. McDonald said it had taken a determined campaign on the part of the Bethany survivors to end the appalling indignity of the burial of those children in an unmarked grave.

Familiar narrative
It was a familiar historical narrative in a Dáil that has heard horrendous stories of institutional neglect and abuse in recent years.

Quinn said that, as somebody living in a more enlightened time, he sympathised with people who had been abandoned, for whatever reason, and placed in child care homes. They were “cold places’’ for any child, he said.

However, he said, the Government was not satisfied that agents of the State were responsible for placing people in the Bethany Home where they had a “very difficult and harsh” experience.

McDonald said she did not accept that as an excuse for a lack of redress, although Ireland was a harsh and cold place at that time. She called on the Minister to address the issue “in a spirit of justice’’.

The Minister for Justice can expect the Dáil to be a harsh and cold place, if the Opposition has anything to do with it, when Shattergate is revisited, as is expected, this side of Easter. Those May elections are concentrating minds in Leinster House.