The controversy surrounding Alan Shatter as Minister for Justice is growing. The GSOC bugging allegations were just a start. The government hoped that granting an investigation would buy time and take some of the political heat out of the matter allowing for calm and fair reflection on the issue. It was followed quickly by the controversy over the file Micheál Martin gave to Enda Kenny and Shatter’s sacking of the confidential recipient.
The problem here is that Minister Shatter could, and should, have avoided most of this trouble. As a Minister he is elected by the people, selected by the Taoiseach and paid by the Taxpayer to be the voice of the country and ensure all matters are dealt with in the best interest of the citizens. Acting as a counterweight to group think is one of the most valuable tasks a Minister can perform. However, like a lot of Ministers in the past, Alan Shatter quickly went native.
Mr Connolly, the confidential recipient who was recently sacked has assured the Whistleblowers that their evidence of corruption had been passed on to the government. If so then Minister Shatter was aware of the allegations contained in the file but no progress was made. Throughout this crisis and the GSOC affair, the minister has displayed a very close affinity with the Garda top brass. He could have been the concerned honest broker, seeking answers but wishing to be fair to all sides. Instead he chose to be very much in the corner of the Garda Commissioner and to take a very definite side. That is what has caused his current problem. There can be no doubt that no matter what he says, any Garda with information of wrongdoing will not believe that Alan Shatter wants to hear it. That means the democratic balance in the running of state security has been completely lost.
This crisis places the Labour party in a difficult position. As of now they need information and don’t want to call for Alan Shatters head unnecessarily. That means that they must express confidence in him despite doubts. Yesterday, Joan Burton complained during question time that the opposition was introducing new documents like a ‘snowstorm’. She said that the documents needed to be handed over and considered and she saw this as a matter of respect. Just consider this for a moment. Joan Burton believes that the opposition should, as a matter of respect, provide all documents they have to the government, which is correct. Yet, she went on to express confidence in a colleague who is believed to have been in possession of those same documents for 2 years and yet never shared them with her or the rest of the cabinet. You can’t have it both ways; if the right thing for the opposition to do is to hand over the files for consideration then surely it was the right thing for Minister Shatter to have done?
Enda Kenny has expressed grave concern about the contents of the file he received from Micheál Martin. Watching him speaking I could not doubt the Taoiseach’s sincerity; he looked to me like a man who was indeed worried by what he had read. The Labour party now needs to know exactly what it is dealing with before this matter goes any further. If Minister Shatter has done nothing wrong then they need to be assured of this and see the evidence. If they are to defend him then they need to know exactly what the accusations are.
Some of you might remember the ‘passports for sale’ issue in the early ’90s. Without getting into the nuts and bolts, Albert Reynolds business had availed of a government scheme at the time whereby if somebody invested over £1 million in an Irish firm resulting in jobs etc then that person could apply for a passport. Reynolds maintained that his firm acted appropriately, followed the rules and there was no wrongdoing. The matter did cause huge controversy though and led to the end of the scheme. The Labour party at that time was placed in a very difficult position. In the midst of the media storm Albert Reynolds met with Dick Spring. He assured Spring that everything was above board. Then, to underline his point Reynolds told Spring he could have full access to the files and see for himself that everything was handled as it should be. To Reynolds shock, Spring replied that he had already sought and got the file and he was satisfied that there was no impropriety. Reynolds was pleased but he learned that Dick Spring was not a man to hang about. When Spring and the Labour party were under pressure they did not wait for invitations or explanations. Eamon Gilmore and his cabinet colleagues need to assure the wider Labour party that they know exactly what’s going on and that they are fully aware of all the contents of the file before the talk again.
In opposition Alan Shatter supported the formation of the Morris Tribunal into allegations of Garda impropriety in Donegal. At the time he said the ‘matters should not be left festering’. Yet there is little doubt the current allegations have festered and been dismissed by those in power. Shatter also maintained that without his work in opposition the Minister would never have held an investigation and the terms of reference would have been ‘deficient’. Yet the Minister is open to the same allegations in this regard today. At the report of the Morris Tribunal Shatter said that the delay in establishing it had ‘contributed personally to the damage done to the reputation of the Garda Síochána, to the public perception of that force and to the difficulties that continue to be experienced by individuals to whom this State has already had to pay compensation and to some of whom compensation payments remain to be made.’ The same accusation stands today.
Opposition parties call for resignations with ease. There is no doubt that if Labour was in Opposition they too would say Alan Shatter must resign. Equally if FF or SF were in power they would be desperately trying to establish the facts before throwing a colleague overboard. Nonetheless, the situation is a grave one. The Gardai as a force are being tarnished and damaged and it is a force that contains a huge number of great and brave men and women. Those who are doing their job well need to be protected and defended. Those who besmirch the name of the force should not be tolerated. The reaction to allegations thus far is simply not good enough. It stinks of an attitude where the powers that be wish people would just shut up rather than being grateful for the chance to root out malpractice.
The political storm will continue. The cabinet, and in particular the Labour party, must be full sure that they know everything before they are asked to leap from the trenches again.