Shatter’s qualified apology seen as acceptance he might have overstepped mark
No pressure on Minister from Labour Coalition partners to resign over remarks about Wallace
Deputy Mick Wallace at Leinster House yesterday. He said Mr Shatter had “tried to ridicule us, skew the debate, misrepresent us and show a level of disrespect to us as elected representatives.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter appeared to have drawn a line under the political row surrounding his disclosure of confidential information about Independent TD Mick Wallace last night when he made a highly qualified apology to him.
In statements in the Dáil last night on the controversy, Mr Shatter again strongly defended his decision to reveal during a Prime Time debate with Mr Wallace that the Wexford TD escaped getting penalty points in May last year when a garda cautioned him over the use of a mobile phone while driving.
In a conditional apology, described by Opposition deputies as “mealy mouthed”, Mr Shatter said: “None of us have a monopoly of wisdom. If Deputy Wallace feels that I did him some personal wrong by mentioning it, then I have no problem in saying I am sorry.”
During the course of the hour-long debate in the Dáil Mr Shatter disclosed that the information was given to him by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. He divulged little new on how he had received information on an incident that lasted for less than a minute and was not recorded on the Garda’s Pulse system. This was despite persistent questioning from Opposition deputies.
Overstepped the mark
Mr Shatter’s use of the word “sorry”, albeit qualified, was privately taken by Government colleagues last night as acceptance that he might have overstepped the mark on Prime Time last week in revealing confidential information from the Garda.
There was little political pressure on his position, as the Labour Party did not press the issue. The matter was not discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting and the Labour leadership made no communication with their Fine Gael Coalition partners over the matter. This was despite several Labour Ministers and TDs expressing discomfort over Mr Shatter’s remarks as inappropriate.
The Minister again defended his use of the information saying it ensured “continuing public confidence” in the Garda for operating a discretionary system that it was wrong for Mr Wallace to pillory, given that he had been a beneficiary himself.
Niall Collins of Fianna Fáil and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Féin separately contended that Mr Shatter had made inappropriate use of confidential information to denigrate a political opponent, with Mr Collins again calling for his resignation. Mr Mac Lochlainn pointed out that Mr Shatter in opposition had said it was wrong for a Minister to publicly disclose Garda information for personal political gain.
Mr Wallace and United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly again challenged the Minister on the outcome of the Garda’s internal investigation into quashed penalty points. Mr Wallace said Mr Shatter had “tried to ridicule us, skew the debate, misrepresent us and show a level of disrespect to us as elected representatives”.
He added that he had never said, as the Minister suggested, that gardaí should not be allowed to use discretion. He said he had argued it should be subject to proper oversight. Mr Wallace has lodged complaints with the Standards in Public Office Commission and the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to Mr Shatter’s remarks.
Under 2001 ethics legislation, the standards commission is empowered to conduct an inquiry when there is a complaint about an act which is “inconsistent with the proper performance by the specified person of the functions” of an offender’s office. Under data protection legislation, the Minister will have to justify (or claim an exemption) over his use of Mr Wallace’s personal data .
Kerry Independent Michael Healy-Rae asked whether Mr Shatter would resign if either of those inquiries found against him. The Minister did not respond to the question.