Politics

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Shatter has a knack of getting himself into a bit of a pickle

The Justice Minister displays a remarkable capacity for needlessly making enemies, writes John Drennan

John Drennan

Published 02/02/2014|02:30

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EVEN before our judges slammed the "demonstrably deficient' current review of the courts, it had not been the best of weeks for our sun king of a Justice Minister.

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Mind you, the displeasure of the 'beaks' and the heroic status of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and its whistleblower is unlikely to trouble Mr Shatter too much, for one of the few traits he shares with 'Dear Leader' Enda is an astonishing, if occasionally futile, degree of resilience.

One of the more entertaining vignettes which best captures this hidden trait occurred during the apotheosis of George Lee.

At one of the revivalist-style meetings that accompanied George, a less than sympathetic colleague watched with some glee as two south Dublin dowagers ignored Shatter, who was standing alone and unnoticed whilst 'Dear Leader' Enda gazed adoringly at the glowing form of George.

The high point occurred when one of the pearl-wearing hyacinths loudly observed: "Thank God, at last Dublin South will have its first intellectual since John Kelly."

As it turned out, George is back on the radio. Mr Shatter, for once, picked the winner in a FG leadership contest and after a long career where he had suffered from many indignities he has been smiling broadly ever since.

The problem for Mr Shatter and FG, of course, is that if the Justice Minister is smiling, crying of some sort is generally going on elsewhere.

Last week, he was in the wars once again as he tore into the sainted PAC over the role it played in the ongoing Garda whistleblower drama.

In as fine a piece of spin as we have seen for some time, the decision of the minister to place the cordon sanitaire of the Garda Ombudsman around the whistleblower saga was represented as a victory for the minister over a PAC that had over-reached itself.

It was, however, somewhat more complex, given that the minister had, up to last week, displayed no enthusiasm at all for such a course of action until the PAC forced his hand.

Whatever about the rights and wrongs of it, the events conformed to an ongoing pattern involving Shatter, rows, public controversy and anger.

This was evident from the start as the bright new minister had to apologise for a blistering and unfair attack on the RTE crime correspondent Paul Reynolds for his claim that Reynolds was guilty of "tabloid sensationalism".

That sort of claim, needless to say, does not go down at all well with the RTE glitterati, whilst the blame for the defeat of the Government's cherished Dail inquiries referendum was also laid at Mr Shatter's door after he had dismissed the intervention of eight former attorneys-general as being nonsensical.

The lowest point in political terms probably occurred when Mr Shatter managed the rare feat of managing to make Mick Wallace look good, courtesy of his leaking of information he had received from the Garda Commissioner about Wallace during an RTE debate.

Others believe, though, that an even lower nadir was reached courtesy of the furore over Mr Shatter's response, when in opposition, to being stopped at a mandatory check-point in Pembroke Street.

This involved claims that Mr Shatter had been less than co-operative, to the extent of asking a female Garda "Don't you know who I am?" before he allegedly drove off into the night, having also told the officer to "check your law book".

Mr Shatter, in contrast, claimed the whole event had been quite amicable and that he had not been able to blow into the bag because of a prior asthmatic condition.

Afterwards, supportive souls claimed that someone was out to get Mr Shatter, but in truth, the minister was doing such a fine job of getting himself into trouble that there was no need for outside intervention.

If there was something of the Carry On comedies surrounding these contretemps, serious questions have emerged over his handling of far more high-profile issues.

When it comes to the thorny issue of reforming the legal profession, the supposedly cleverest cat in the Cabinet found himself vying with the designated dunce, Dr Reilly, for space on the Troika's naughty step.

And if a Troika, which couldn't wait to see the back of us, was still around, it is doubtful that it would be at all impressed by the curious scenario that surrounded the birth of our Legal Services Bill last week.

It all led to an inevitable Dail motion of no confidence, where the Fianna Fail Justice spokesperson Niall Collins claimed that even the judiciary was "so alienated by the minister that the Chief Justice had to intervene to set up a remediation forum to restore confidence in the rule of law".

There has also been no shortage of "double double, toil and trouble" when it comes to the minister's personal insolvency regime, which, in the words of FF's Niall Collins, imposed "a banker's veto on progress in tackling debt".

De Valera may once have been described as a riddle wrapped up in an enigma, and though he is a very different creature, something of that quality is certainly applicable to our eternally combative Justice Minister Alan Shatter .

The riddle is how such an intelligent individual ends up making so much unnecessary trouble for himself and his leader. Part of it is undoubtedly down to a combative personality, where, with the exception of his ever warmer entente cordiale with the Garda Commissioner, the minister often has a similar effect on anything in his vicinity to a wasp in a car travelling at high speed on a motorway.

The problem Mr Shatter may yet face is that if the wasp keeps flying around stinging the driver, either the car crashes or the wasp gets swatted.

Irish Independent

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