Crises provide opportunity for reform, says Shatter
Minister not ready to leave post yet
Alan Shatter: “I am very happy that we have a statutory commission of inquiry and I am very happy that all of those issues are addressed there”
By most measures, Alan Shatter is the member of Cabinet under the most pressure as the Government prepares for the local and European elections and the ministerial reshuffle expected thereafter.
He has weathered numerous controversies, even if the credibility of explanations provided by him and the Government on the issue of taping at Garda stations has been widely questioned.
However, in an interview with The Irish Times , Shatter declined to go into detail on the chain of events on the taping affair, including how a letter from Martin Callinan, the former Garda commissioner, did not reach him for two weeks.
Given the broad terms of reference (“Yes, and why shouldn’t they be?” asks the Minister) drawn up for the taping inquiry, is Shatter confident his version of events will stand up to scrutiny and nothing will emerge to contradict him?
“I am, of course. I am, yes.”
But what of those who say the sequence of events as outlined by him, as well as the “who knew what when?” on taping, lacks credibility?
“I am not going to reprise issues that have previously been addressed.
“I am very happy that we have a statutory commission of inquiry and I am very happy that all of those issues are addressed there.”
Queries on whether Callinan was a victim of An Garda Síochána being dragged into politics, as he says the force itself was in recent weeks, are met with a similar response.
“I’m not going to reprise issues that have been dealt with in some length.”
Questions about his tenure in the Department of Justice have subsided for now, but Shatter says he just gets on “doing the job I am given”.
“I do it to the best of my ability and on occasions, things you are doing generate controversy.
“On occasions, things happen which are not necessarily always presented in the way they happened.
“All of those issues are going to be addressed and dealt with so I am a glass half-full person, not a glass half-empty person. There is a lot of very important work we will be doing in the coming weeks and I am very much focused on that.”
Also on the horizon in the coming weeks are the Cooke and Guerin reports into the alleged bugging of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) offices and the dossier containing allegations of Garda malpractice from whistleblower Maurice McCabe respectively. Both have the potential to cause immediate and serious trouble for Shatter upon publication, now expected before the end of the month.
While he insists he has no input into either – “it would be absolutely wrong to be inquiring into it because they are independent” – the Minister says any issues that arise could feed into the new Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform.
And he now claims the recent crises provide “a huge opportunity to look at the overall architecture that applies right across policing and to look at what now seems not to have worked, that are in the public interest, that are in the benefit of policing, that also improve oversight and confidence in oversight.
“So I see all of the controversies as creating a huge opportunity now to implement reforms that perhaps a year or 18 months ago would have been perceived to be controversial so I’m looking forward to the work we are going to do in the Cabinet committee.
“There’s a lot of other things that are coming in conjunction with this. You have the joint Oireachtas justice committee looking at the legislation that is applicable to GSOC, I think that is going to feed into it.
“We’ll wait to see if something comes out of the Cooke and Guerin inquiries that are of relevance to the reforms that may need to be implemented or whether they are specific to particular issues that gave rise to controversies and provide answers.”
He repeats his point that while the Garda is doing a good job operationally in tackling crime, there are management and administrative issues in the force, and these will be examined under arrangements set out in the Haddington Road agreement.
“I think they are clearly shown in the inspectorate report into the ticket charge issue. I think there is administrative and management issues across a number of areas and I think there is great room for improvement in those areas and this whole structure, the way the Garda has evolved and how it operates.”
Also upcoming is an open competition to replace Callinan – not “rocket science” but he won’t prejudge the outcome of the process – and the long-anticipated reshuffle.
While Shatter says his position is “entirely a matter for the Taoiseach”, he mentions the Government’s “enormous reforming agenda” and then details his own. “I have been spending part of my morning looking at some of the submissions that have come in on the child and family relationships Bill.
“But in the last few days we have taken committee stage of the DNA database Bill, second stage of the human rights and equality Bill. We have the legal services Bill, which should take report stage in the Dáil in the next few weeks also, and we have just finished the fines Bill.
“So there is an enormous reforming agenda which I am looking forward to still being engaged with.”
It certainly leaves the impression he is not ready to leave his post yet.