Shatter should not use his religion to avoid confronting his own hubris

Diarmaid Ferriter: Few mourned his downfall but it has nothing to do with his Jewish faith

A faded tennis ball was unearthed in the back garden recently. Enough of the lettering on it had survived to identify its creator: former Fine Gael TD and Minister Alan Shatter. “Alan Shatter is on the ball” were the words on the tennis ball, picked up, no doubt, by one of the kids in Dundrum when Shatter was seeking re-election to the Dáil in 2016.

Shatter is certainly not on the ball these days, judging by the objectionable way he has chosen to promote his new book, Frenzy and Betrayal: The Anatomy of a Political Assassination. The “arrogant Jew”, he asserts, is a “centuries-old anti-Semitic depiction of Jewish people who stand up for themselves, have the courage of their convictions and who are neither servile nor compliant”.

His comments are unjustified and he should not be using his religion to avoid taking responsibility for his own hubris

By the time of a motion of no confidence in him as minister for justice in 2014, “accusations of my being arrogant were commonplace . . . and surfaced several times during the debate. I assumed that most, if not all, of those who resorted to it had no understanding of the backdrop to the narrative used by them, were not consciously anti-Semitic and would be outraged if accused of anti-Semitism”.

In retirement, it appears Shatter continues to be convinced of the stupidity and unthinking prejudices of his political opponents and oblivious to his shortcomings. His comments are unjustified and he should not be using his religion to avoid taking responsibility for his own hubris.


Exceptionally arrogant

Shatter was indeed an exceptionally arrogant politician. In 2014, this newspaper’s experienced political correspondent Harry McGee noted his frequent tendency to be “petulant, impetuous, provocative, partisan”, and with “a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way”. But McGee also observed that Shatter was “mercurial, imaginative, smart and energetic” and had “a great deal of flair”.

Shatter’s intellectual prowess has also been commented on positively for decades, since he was first elected a TD in 1981, as has his achievement in opposition of drafting more Private Members’ legislation than any other TD of his generation. As a specialist in family law, he brought a much-needed expertise to the Dáil in relation to this vital area, and he remained a TD until 2016, with the exception of the period 2002-7.

Former Labour Party minister Barry Desmond, who served with Shatter on Dublin County Council in the late 1970s and early 1980s, wrote in his memoir that Shatter was “somewhat unloved. He had an abrasive legal approach to most issues. Unfortunately, he was devoid of political humour”.

But he also pointed out, in another common assertion, that Shatter deserved a senior portfolio in government long before he achieved it and referred to him as a “tower of legislative experience and ability”.


Shatter finally became a minister in 2011 and his period in office was frantic and turbulent; as he noted in his memoir, “frenetic multitasking” had been the hallmark of his career and that style, accompanied by impatience and disdain for opponents, meant not many would mourn his downfall, but this had nothing to do with his religion.

There have always been strands of Irish anti-Semitism but the Ireland in which Shatter was born was not anti-Semitic

Shatter has justifiable grievances about the way he was treated during the Guerin inquiry into the Garda whistleblowers scandal. He was undoubtedly shafted by some of his colleagues, but he also has to take responsibility for his own imperiousness and to play the anti-Semitic card is desperate.

There have always been strands of Irish anti-Semitism but the Ireland in which Shatter was born in 1951 was not anti-Semitic. Chief rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, appointed in 1949, wrote of the relationship between Jews and the Irish State in the post-second World War period as “close and cordial.

The rights of Jewish citizens as equals among the other denominational groups are expressly recognised in a special clause of the Irish constitution– probably the only Jewish community in the world to be constitutionally protected in this explicit manner. In practice too, the Jews of Ireland have always felt free from discrimination. In fact, Ireland is one of the very few countries that has never blemished its records by any serious anti-Jewish outrages.”

Jewish politicians in Ireland have fared well. Robert Briscoe, who died in 1969, was Ireland’s most prominent Zionist and a hugely popular politician; a founder member of Fianna Fáil, he served an unbroken 38 years in the Dáil from 1927 and was twice lord mayor of Dublin.

More recently, in 2008, Rory Miller, a historian of anti-Zionism, pointed out that “in the 1990s, when the Jewish community in Ireland was only 1,400 strong, there were three Jewish members of the Dáil compared to one Protestant parliamentarian out of a community numbering well over 100,000”.

One of those Jewish TDs was Mervyn Taylor, Labour’s much-respected minister for equality and law reform in the mid-1990s.

In claiming anti-Semitism as a cause of his downfall, Shatter is not only off the ball; he is completely out of the court.