EMBATTLED Justice Minister Alan Shatter will be left to sweat over the coming days as the opposition scent blood over his failure to complete a breath test.
The minister's political future depends on the possible existence of a garda report on the incident four years ago, which would back up or contradict his version of events. Mr Shatter will be pressed to formally ask the gardai if there is any information on his own case – either on file or verbal.
Despite Mr Shatter's explanation his asthma stopped him from completing the breathalyser test, speculation is rife about the Dublin city-centre incident.
It is believed the garda on duty did not recognise Mr Shatter.
And there are conflicting accounts of whether there was an actual report made on the incident.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hadn’t spoken to Mr Shatter yet but he was “advised” the minister made two attempts to complete the mandatory breath test “but as an asthmatic he was unable to do so”.
The minister’s decision to release garda information about Independent TD Mick Wallace, provided to him by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, is being used against him.
Fianna Fail has tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Shatter, which will be debated over two days next week.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government would “strongly defend” Mr Shatter’s record.
Government sources say Mr Shatter’s position is stable unless a report emerges conflicting with his version of events.
“If that is contradicted, the original point about Wallace will pale into insignificance.
That’s a whole different ballgame.
But someone would have to prove that. If something pops up, then it would have to be evaluated,” a source said.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath is standing by the questions he raised about Mr Shatter’s conduct in the incident: ?? Whether his behaviour and reaction to this request was appropriate and cordial.
Whether he attempted to use the privilege of travelling to and from the Dail as a means of avoiding giving a breath test.
But Mr McGrath’s role in revealing the incident is also under scrutiny, with suggestions he was used as a stalking horse as rumours of the incident were circulating in political circles for some time, particularly in Fianna Fail.
Arrogance In a reference to the controversy around the incident, Independent TD Finian McGrath yesterday cryptically commented: “Let’s hope Minister Shatter did not throw his toys out of his pram.” Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins said Mr Shatter had displayed arrogance and his position was no longer tenable after a string of cases where he showed poor judgment.
“Minister Shatter’s behaviour last week was frankly a disgrace.
It was made even worse yesterday when it was confirmed that Minister Shatter decided to keep his own encounter at a garda checkpoint under cover.
“This showed considerable hypocrisy from a minister who seems to be determined to isolate every group he has dealings with. Morale in the Garda Siochana has never been so low,” he said.
Ministers are standing behind Mr Shatter, despite being perturbed by his decision to release information on Mr Wallace a week ago.
“There was pressure on him from all sides to acknowledge he shouldn’t have used the information he did. But I don’t think even Fianna Fail actually believe this is a resigning matter,” a coalition source said.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the controversy had been “blown out of all proportion”.
“The suggestion that there is a sort of Big Brother scrutiny, that the Minister for Justice is looking after and probing into the details of people's private lives and their behaviour is exaggerated from what I understand,” he said.
Describing Fianna Fail’s move as “political charge and opportunism”, Mr Kenny said the Government would strongly refute the motion.
“Minister Shatter has set out the most reformative agenda for the legal system in this country in the past 200 years and the Government look forward indeed to dealing with the motion of no confidence when it comes next week,” he said.