Sunday 23 November 2014

Alan Shatter resigned after Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to give him 24 hours to consider Guerin report

Exclusive: Former minister resigned as report made his position untenable

Published 22/06/2014 | 02:30

COUNTERATTACK: Alan Shatter says Sean Guerin’s ‘failure’ to interview him was an abuse of fair procedure. Photo: Damien Eagers

A MONTH ago, Alan Shatter resigned as Minister for Justice after reading three of 20 chapters of a report which found that he had not done right by Garda whistleblowers.

With time on his hands to scrutinise the damning report by barrister Sean Guerin, Mr Shatter surprised his colleagues by launching his own equally scathing counter point under Dail privilege on Thursday.

He welcomed Judge John Cooke's report, which found no evidence to support the Garda watchdog's suspicions that it might have been "bugged" and questioned the "current leadership" of GSOC.

He reserved his most scathing criticism for Sean Guerin's report, which was published to wide acclaim last month. In his 300-page report, Mr Guerin found that gardai and the former minister failed in their duties to properly investigate the concerns raised by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Mr Shatter noted that Judge John Cooke's decided to delay his report to accommodate the Garda watchdog's input. Sean Guerin did not, prompting Mr Shatter to accuse him of an "unprecedented rush to judgement".

He attacked Sean Guerin's "failure" to interview him as an abuse of fair procedure. He claimed a letter sent by the Attorney General's office to his Department – which he says he never saw – was "misrepresented" in the report. The finding that he had failed to heed Sergeant McCabe was "mistaken", and there was no question of his "simply accepting the views of the Garda Commissioner".

Yesterday, Mr Shatter said: "I would have expected that if what I said was untrue, I would have been slated by now."

Mr Shatter's speech last week also begs the question: if he felt so strongly that the report was flawed, then why did he resign?

First of all, he said, he wasn't privy then to all the information that he has since managed to get hold of. Secondly, nobody would have listened to his concerns.

"We were in the middle of what I would describe as a political tsunami, where I'm afraid there were a lot of vested interests in the story that gardai had been bugging GSOC," he said. As minister, he was "under constant attack".

"I don't believe, having received the report from Mr Guerin, it would have been politically tenable for the Taoiseach to start raising a whole range of questions. He would at that stage have been accused of trying to reject a report, the conclusion of which he didn't like," he said.

"Had I not resigned it, it would have been unfair, and I believe this, to both Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

"There would have been a tsunami of opposition and media calls for my resignation. Any explanation that I would have given would have been probably described as being desperately trying to hold on to my job.

"I took the view that the appropriate thing to do in the circumstances, in circumstances arising out of conversations also I had with the Taoiseach, was to resign."

He said on May 8, he was "handed the report at 9.15am", and told by the Taoiseach that "the contents were very serious" and that the decision he made could "affect the life of the Government".

He rushed off to an official ceremony in Arbour Hill, returned at noon and had time to read three chapters – the first, the one on his department's performance, and the conclusions – before discussing it with the Taoiseach.

After offering his resignation, he asked for 24 hours to study the report but when the Taoiseach said he had a problem with that, he decided to quit that afternoon.

"I think the political reality of that report was to make my position untenable and to make it untenable for the Taoiseach to keep me in that position.

"Even if I had the whole of the report, even had the publication of it been delayed, the political back drop... was such that... no one would have had any interest in anything I would have had to say about it."

He said: "I continue to regard the Taoiseach as a friend. I think this was a matter of great difficulty for him. I think the person who needs to clarify why he dealt with matters the way he did is Mr Guerin."

"I think the Taoiseach was put in an impossible position. I think I was put in an impossible position. There would not have been time in 24 hours to do a forensic examination of the nature that I've done on this report. It's taken some time to do that."

After a long silence Mr Shatter last week came out fighting on all fronts; he is also appealing a Data Protection Commissioner's adverse finding about his sharing with the nation the news that Mick Wallace TD was stopped at a garda checkpoint.

Mr Shatter suggested to the Sunday Independent this weekend that the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, might intervene on the Guerin report.

"My disagreement is with the manner in which Mr Guerin conducted this review and I think there are obligations to seek clarity as to why matters were dealt with in the manner they were dealt with. To date, no one has refuted a single word of what I said in the Dail chamber."

He said: "I think the Taoiseach could reasonably ask these questions of Mr Guerin and I would have hoped that some of these questions may have already arisen."

Frances Fitzgerald, Mr Shatter's successor, last week stood by Sean Guerin's findings. The Government is now setting up a Commission of Inquiry, on his recommendation, and she said it was important that all sides got to tell their story.

Sunday Independent

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