Politics

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Final straw as Alan Shatter breaks law on Mick Wallace

Data Protection Commissioner made adverse finding against the minister

NIAMH HORAN and JOHN DRENNAN

Published 04/05/2014|02:30

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Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

A SHOCKING finding that Justice Minister Alan Shatter broke data-protection laws could spell the end of his cabinet career.

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The finding is contained in a draft decision by the Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, which is due to be issued this week.

It follows a complaint made by Independent TD Mick Wallace after Mr Shatter revealed live on RTE's Prime Time on May 16, 2013, that the Wexford deputy had been cautioned by gardai for using his mobile phone while driving.

Mr Shatter later told the Dail that former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had told him about the incident, which occurred in Dublin in May 2012. Mr Wallace subsequently filed an official complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner's Office.

The Sunday Independent has learned that Mr Shatter has been found guilty of breaking data-protection law.

"Fine Gael are in a real bind. This is one they cannot just brush under the carpet," a legal source said.

An adverse finding by the Data Commissioner leaves Mr Shatter open to a lawsuit by Mr Wallace, who can take civil proceedings against him, seeking compensation.

Mr Shatter, who has faced repeated calls to resign over his handling of a string of garda controversies, will be able to appeal the decision.

However, the damaging finding that a serving Justice Minister has been found to have broken the law could spell the end of his ministerial career and will certainly compound existing tensions within the Coalition.

Two further reports – the Cooke investigation into the GSOC bugging controversy and the Guerin review into garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe's claims of mishandling of criminal investigations – could spell further trouble for Mr Shatter and the Coalition.

One minister told the Sunday Independent last night: "If those reports, particularly the one on GSOC, do not support Shatter, he really is toast."

The minister added: "Confidence is utterly shattered on both sides of the Coalition. The election campaigns have been disastrous, the voters hostile. More trouble over Shatter would put the tin hat on it."

Prior to today's revelations, one senior Labour source had warned: "Shatter is on the brink, his line of political credit is very thin."

Another senior Labour figure warned: "Our tolerance for indulging failing Fine Gael ministers is very low. When it comes to errors, Mr Shatter is on a political choke chain."

Mr Shatter, however, is believed to enjoy the confidence of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

One senior Fine Gael told this newspaper: "Enda is very loyal, too loyal for his or our good. He feels Shatter has been hounded by the media and vested interest groups who want his head."

However, anger is growing within Fine Gael over Mr Shatter's performance.

A Fine Gael minister said: "Shatter has ruined us. We were doing grand, we had just left the Troika. His performance and (Health Minister James) Reilly's have been devastating for our core vote."

When the complaint against Mr Shatter was first raised, Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said it was "incumbent upon all persons in the public, whether they are ministers or public servants, to be careful about personal data that they hold and not to disclose it, other than with the consent of the person".

A source close to Mr Wallace said: "This is a massive coup for Mick, who has long argued that the public cannot have a Minister for Justice who abused his position by using his power to find private information on an individual to smear their reputation for political point-scoring."

Commissioner Hawkes last night said he could not comment "at this juncture".

Sunday Independent

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