Shatter tells Dáil of regret over Wallace comments

Minister accused of using private and confidential information for his own political advantage

Minister Shatter pictured during tonight’s debate

Minister Shatter pictured during tonight’s debate

 

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has told the Dáil he regrets making comments about Independent TD Mick Wallace.

Mr Shatter said he had apologised to the Wexford TD for the comments – about him receiving benefit of Garda discretion when he used a mobile phone while driving.

And the Minister said he would not do it again.

But he rejected the Fianna Fáil motion of no confidence in him as “disingenuous and opportunistic”.

He told the Dáil it was “absurd to contend” that the circumstances in which his comments about Mr Wallace arose had implications for the manner in which he dealt with sensitive matters from the Gardaí.

“No allegation can credibly be made of me ever having misused sensitive information or information relating to national security or of using such information for any personal political benefit”.

He had been asked where he got the information about Mr Wallace and “I truthfully replied. Had I not done so I would have been accused of covering something up. Once I did reply, I was accused of landing the Commissioner in it.”

He said the Commissioner could not reply publicly to criticism. Mr Shatter said it was “only in the context of the controversy involving the use of Garda discretion that Deputy Wallace’s car phone incident was recalled by a member of the force and brought to the attention of the Commissioner”.

Referring to the incident raised by Independent TD Mattie McGrath about Mr Shatter said “I committed no offence at the Garda checkpoint”.

He said he had his tax and insurance checked, cooperated with a request to exhale into a breathalyser, attempted to do so but did not exhale sufficiently due to my suffering from asthma.”

He said he informed the Garda he was on his way home from the Dail where he had been working all evening, had consumed no alcohol and that I suffered from asthma. I was subsequently waved on.”

He said there was no ellegation that he had consumed any alcohol of any nature whatsoever that tday “but I presume this is what Deputy McGrath attempted to insinuate”.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins was the first speaker in the debate and the proposer of the motion of no confidence.

He accused Mr Shatter of using private and confidential information for his own political advantage.

The Limerick TD also claimed the Minister had the “most toxic” relationship with An Garda Síochána by any Justice Minister in the history of the State.

He said he had “disastrous policies, poisoned relationships, hypocrisy and arrogant abuse

Mr Shatter sat with Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald beside him and about eight Fine Gael TDs behind him as Mr Collins spoke.

The debate will last for 90 minutes tonight and a vote will take place tomorrow night after a further 90 minutes of debate.

“You have reached the tipping point,” Mr Collins told the Minister and said he should resign.

He said Mr Shatter held arguably the most sensitive position in Government. “You are responsible for An Garda Siochana. You have to provide for the judiciary and you receive important and confidential information often pertaining to State security.”

Introducing the motion, Mr Collins said the motion was a culmination of fundamental policy mistakes and massive errors of judgment

“It’s about broken and damaged working relationships, flawed policies and the misuse of privileged information for political gain.”

He said Mr Shatter had “fatally compromised your integrity… by using information that was not on the public record in order to gain a quick and cheap political advantage”.

“We have lost trust with you. But more importantly the key stakeholders have lost trust with you. The community has last trust with you,” the Limerick TD said.

“By your own standards we have no confidence in you and we think you should resign.”

An Garda Siochana were under resourced, with low morale and the judiciary were alienated.

The force was in open conflict with the Garda Ombudsman Commission under Mr Shatter’s tenure and he had introduced a personal insolvency system that gave power to the banks that got people nto the problems they now had.

Charlie McConalogue (FF) said that while there were real difficulties in the country, Fianna Fail would be in dereliction of its duty if it did not deal with the manner in which the Minister had handled the penalty points’ affair.

The Minister, he said, had information which he got in a private briefing from the Garda Commissioner, and used it on national television as a debating point with a political colleague. He added that Mr Shatter no longer enjoyed the confidence of the people and the Dail.

Mr McConalogue said the Minister had failed to acknowledge the difficulties facing the Garda, adding that he had been in conflict with gardai in a way no minister had been in the past.

Barry Cowen (FF) said Mr Shatter had been described as a reforming Minister. “You reformed Templemore by closing it,’’ he added.

Eamon Ó Cuív (FF) said the Government was arrogant beyond belief.

Earlier Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted there was no Garda report on the incident involving Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at a checkpoint when he was an Opposition TD.

Mr Kenny told the Dail this afternoon that it had been confirmed, in a formal letter from the office of the Garda Commissioner to the Department of Justice’s secretary general, confirming there was no report from the garda involved.

“I believe that and I accept that,’’ said Mr Kenny.

The Taoiseach was replying in the Dail this afternoon to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins.

Later this evening, the House will debate a Fianna Fail motion of no confidence in Mr Shatter.l

Mr Adams said he accepted what the Taoiseach had said, but he had been advised there had to be a Garda report on a checkpoint. “That is the law,’’ he added.

Mr Collins said Mr Shatter held probably the most sensitive office in Government. Minister Shatter had gone on RTE’s Prime Time and divulged private information given to him by the Garda Commissioner relating to Independent TD Mick Wallace who had been cautioned for using his mobile phone while driving.

“He clearly crossed the line,’’ Mr Collins added.

Mr Kenny said Mr Shatter had apologised for the comment he made on RTE relating to gardai using their discretion in Mr Wallace’s case. Mr Shatter, who suffered from an asthmatic condition, made two attempts to blow into a breath-testing facility at a mandatory checkpoint in Pembroke Street, Dublin.

“I have absolute confidence in the Minister to do his job,’’ the Taoiseach added.