Thursday’s Dáil thrown into chaos after row over motion to remove Guerin report

Report was to be removed from Oireachtas library in light of 2019 Supreme Court ruling

Alan Shatter resigned as minister for justice in 2014. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Alan Shatter resigned as minister for justice in 2014. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

New arrangements for Dáil business on Thursday had to be agreed after the agenda was thrown into chaos in a row about the removal from the Oireachtas record of a controversial report that led to the resignation in 2014 of then minister for justice Alan Shatter.

The motion was tabled to be taken on Thursday without debate to remove from the Oireachtas library the report by barrister Sean Guerin which criticised Mr Shatter’s handling of allegations by Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe into Garda misconduct.

The report was to be removed in light of a Supreme Court judgment last year, which upheld earlier judgments that Mr Shatter had handled the allegations correctly.

But Sinn Féin party whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh raised concerns that it was unprecedented to remove the report in this manner and called for the debate to be deferred for a full discussion at a later date.

He said, “this is a brand new procedure and we should be very, very careful”.

He also said that the report’s removal had to also be approved by the Seanad which could not do so until a new government is formed.

Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Social Democrats and a number of Independents supported Sinn Féin’s approach.

Former Labour leader Brendan Howlin said people were taken by surprise that the issue was on the order paper.

He told the Dáil that in legal advice, “one lawyer suggested you can no more unlay a report than a hen can unlay an egg”.

Legitimate

Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl said, however, that the legal advice was that they could do this, that this process was legitimate and “safe to proceed”.

Fine Gael whip Peter Burke said it was “very important as members of the House that we do not deny natural justice to any former member”. Mr Burke said it was clear that the report should be withdrawn.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the motion should proceed: “What is being proposed is in order is legal, is in compliance with standing orders.”

The House voted by 32 votes to 10 against proceeding with Thursday’s business, which included the motion on the report.

Mr Flanagan said the vote was a “very poor reflection on our parliamentary process and the business committee needs to have a look at itself”.

The Ceann Comhairle said Sinn Féin was the only party at the business committee meeting to object to the proposal.

In a statement later, Mr Shatter said it was disappointing that a majority voted against taking the motion, contrary to the agreement reached by the Dáil business committee last week.

He said many who spoke opposing the motion made false allegations about his conduct as minister which were subsequently found to be false.

“It is also noteworthy that Sinn Féin led the opposition as over the last six years I have regularly been targeted and trolled on social media by Sinn Féin supporters some of whom have engaged in anti-semite invective.

“They all have a vested interest in maintaining on the Dáil record a narrative indisputably proved false derived from the fundamentally flawed Guerin inquiry which the Supreme Court in 2019 held improperly reached conclusions.

“Their contempt for the truth, democratic values, the rule of law and constitutional rights is sadly consistent with what I experienced in 2014. Clearly nothing has changed.”