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Friday 22 August 2014

Shatter: 'I've been portrayed as enemy number one'

Justice Minister says he's been 'vilified' by Opposition in taping controversy

Niall O'Connor and Daniel McConnell

Published 01/04/2014 | 21:06

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Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

ALAN Shatter has issued a staunch defence of his record as Justice Minister as unease continues to grow within the coalition over his handling of the garda tapes controversy.

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Mr Shatter claimed tonight that he has been portrayed as "enemy number one", adding that he has been subject to "taunts and vilification" by the Opposition.

In a speech that was predominantly off script, Mr Shatter hit out at Fianna Fail's sustained focus on the length of time it took before a critical letter by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was handed over to him by Department of Justice of Officials.

He said that his department's Secretary General, Brian Purcell, had acknowledged that it should have been forwarded sooner.

"It (the delay) shouldn't have occured, he would be the first to acknowledge it."

But Mr Shatter said that the Opposition appeared more interested in Mr Callinan's letter rather than the actual garda tapes scandal.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein are focussing on "process as opposed to substance", according to the Justice Minister.

He said that  the tapes issue "substantially has the potential of being a very serious invasion of citizens rights of privacy" and that this is of far greater importance that the actions of his department officials.

Mr Shatter was passionate in his defence of his record as minister and claimed that he has been unfairly subjected to personal attacks.

"I don't have a monopoly of wisdom. None of us have a monopoly of wisdom," he told the Dail.

"You would think listening to members of the opposition that I am enemy number one," he added.

During a tense and bitter debate in the Dail, the Opposition also targetted government backbenchers over their sustained support for Mr Shatter.

Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary told backbenchers that their "personal and political reputations" will be on the line if they back their under pressure minister.

At one stage, Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea likened the defence of Mr Shatter to the defence of South African athlete Oscar Pistorious, who is currently on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Fianna Fáil, which tabled the motion of no confidence, said that it has "long lost confidence" in Mr Shatter's ability to oversee the administration of justice.

The party's Justice spokesperson Niall Collins said he and his colleagues do not believe the minister's version of events given in recent days.

"Who knew what and when isn't clear...The public are appalled at the public shafting of the Garda Commissioner and the garda commissioner was shafted to save your skin," he told the Dail.

Mr Collin's party colleague, Limerick TD Willie O'Dea, criticised claims by several government ministers that Mr Shatter is one of the most reforming justice ministers in the history of the State.

"If that is the case, why has everything he has touched turn to dust," he said.

"History tells us that Joan of Ark was influenced by voices. The only voices Minister Shatter listens to are his own."

Mr O'Dea likened to the defence of Mr Shatter to the defence at the Oscar Pistorious trial.

"You have lost all confidence, all trust and you can never do anything to change it," he added.

Fianna Fáil TD for Laois/Offaly, Barry Cowen, said Mr Shatter has now experienced "four or five strikes" in relation to his handling of recent scandals.

As expected, several government ministers yesterday defended of their cabinet colleague, but not as in as a strong fashion as previously.

Speaking at an event in Croke Park, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said Mr Shatter still has the confidence of the Labour Party, but added that serious questions remain unanswered in relation to the Garda phone tapping controversy.

"One of the critical things for Justice (Nial) Fennelly is to establish exactly what the chronology and the sequence of events was because there are lots of different accounts in the media being given. So it is important what actually happened is established and the chronology of events is established," she said.

Asked specifically did Mr Shatter still retain the confidence of the Labour Party following the Cabinet meeting, Ms Burton said: "Absolutely".

"We heard from the minister. The discussion centred around the establishment of the commission of inquiry, the establishment of the Garda authority and the arrangements by which citizens would have an involvement in that authority, that was discussed," she added.

She said there "was a very detailed and friendly discussion at the cabinet. These are very serious matters."

Speaking during the vote of no confidence, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said Opposition TDs are solely focussed on "playing the man"

"Your sole political focus is about bringing down a government minister at all costs," Mr Coveney said.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte accused Fianna Fáil of tabling the motion because it feared Sinn Fein was about to do so.

"Therefore while Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin compete for who can make the most noise, the Government has decided to leave what happened to an Independent Statutory Inquiry and to press ahead, in parallel, with the most far reaching package of reforms of policing in recent decades," he told the Dail.

However, Mr Rabbitte did admit that there are a number of questions in relation to the ongoing garda tapes controversy that have not yet been answered.

"I can understand why people may be baffled by the recent series of events.  But I am confident that the public will understand why the Government has taken the decisions it has when findings of fact are made by Independent Inquiry," he added.

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