Callinan, Shatter and bad political choices
The resignation of Martin Callinan had become inevitable. The focus now moves to Alan Shatter who backed Callinan at every opportunity and in every action. The real irony of all this is that it’s a political crisis that should have been avoided by anyone with a modicum of political foresight.
Firstly, Alan Shatter never had any need to take the side of Martin Callinan so stringently. He could easily have been the democratically elected honest broker listening to the whistleblower concerns and ensuring they were heard while also ensuring that the views of the Garda hierarchy were known and proper procedures followed. Instead he opted to take sides and fight shoulder to shoulder with the Commissioner. Even after the Commissioner made his ‘disgusting’ comment. This now draws Shatter into a political mess he could and should have avoided.
As the issues rumbled on it became clear that people were not happy with Callinan and his remarks. The evidence did not back him up. Ministers know that eventually everything comes back to them. Leo Varadkar saw this. He was having none of it. If the Commissioner had mucked up then he was not going to taint Leo’s reputation by association. Leo did the right thing, he said straight out what needed to happen. By doing so he was saving not only himself but the public perception of the government. This in turn created a problem for the Labour party. If an FG minister was saying this then surely they, as a party seen as holding FG to account, should also be doing something. Joan Burton was quick to lead Labour through the gap. At this stage they recognised that the time for being cosy with FG was not right now. Eamon Gilmore followed too, even though he prides himself on his good relationship with Enda.
Then came the next inexplicable miscalculation. Enda Kenny had a choice. He could simply say that ‘Ministers’ have a view that will be taken into account, but that all matters would be dealt with by the Cabinet at the next meeting’. Instead Enda chose to admonish the Ministers. He said that they should only air their views at the cabinet table. That was a direct slap on the wrist. He was effectively telling them he was the boss and they were naughty children. Now, this would not bother Leo as he is playing a longer game. He can afford to smile and pass it off. However, Enda Kenny might be Taoiseach but he is not the Leader of the Labour party. In that instant he treated ministers and the Tánaiste like mere FG backbenchers to be told what to do. It was striking that within a couple of hours an experienced Minister like Quinn went out and spoke in direct defiance of Enda Kenny’s edict. The message was clear, ‘you are not the boss of us’.
While Labour Ministers may wish to spend as long as possible around the cabinet table they will not witness the disintegration of their party. Such an event will happen if backbenchers and grassroots feel an utter capitulation on their hands. Economic matters are one thing where little choice might be argued to exist, but this is another matter entirely.
Once this occurred it became impossible for Callinan not to be forced to act either in apologising or resigning. Labour now holds all the cards. Enda, through his own poor choice, has landed himself here. He now has another decision. If he wants to keep Shatter then he must assure Labour that it is worth their while. This means Labour can exact a price for their support. Whether it is reforms, legislation or budgetary measures, they have a chance now.
On the other hand Enda may decide that FG should not get compromised like that. This means that if Labour doesn’t wish to support Shatter then Enda will see him resign. This will create tension with some but it also means the crisis would be over and can move on with no baggage carrying forward to the next negotiation.
This government has a good relationship. Enda and Eamon get along very well indeed. Perhaps too well for some of their grassroots support. However, it is a salutary lesson; you can never take a good relationship for granted. Events overtake things and it’s very easy for a simple issue to spiral. Labour knows now, that at times they are taken for granted and they also know the strength the can hold if they desire to use it. It’s a small shift; the government can and should overcome it. The question is will they learn the lesson or repeat the mistake out of blindness?