News Analysis

Thursday 2 October 2014

From his ivory tower, minister did little to win support

Published 08/05/2014 | 02:30

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Alan Shatter has resigned as Justice Minister
Alan Shatter has resigned as Justice Minister

ALAN Shatter's position as Justice Minister has been precarious since he stood back and effectively allowed Taoiseach Enda Kenny to make a decision which forced Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to resign.

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At the time, the two government parties were seriously at odds and were preparing for a cabinet meeting at which the junior partner was going to demand a "head".

Mr Shatter's head was the obvious one to be handed on a plate to Labour, in light of the way he had handled a series of allegations over the previous few months and his failure to extricate his name from headlines that were damaging to the Government. However, that was deemed to be unthinkable to Fine Gael and, instead, the spotlight turned on Mr Callinan.

Following a night-time visit to his home by Mr Shatter's secretary general in the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, the Garda Commissioner realised he had no option but to go. As a senior colleague of Mr Shatter told the Irish Independent on the night of the cabinet meeting, the Government needed a head and they got one.

Mr Callinan's departure in March provided a breathing space for Mr Shatter but it was always going to be a short-term relief.

Since his shock resignation, opposition TDs and some commentators have been lining up to criticise Mr Shatter for his response to the litany of controversies.

But it must be pointed out that all of those controversies consist of allegations only, none of which have yet been proved. Indeed, many of them have been investigated previously by the gardai and by the Garda Ombudsman Commission and did not result in any directive from the DPP for a criminal prosecution.

That still remains the position following the completion of the report by senior counsel, Sean Guerin, who has stated it was beyond the scope of his review to make any determination of the complaints lodged by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Mr Shatter can look back on a string of achievements during his tenure in the Justice portfolio, including wide-ranging and badly needed reforms of the law and a complete overhaul of the prison system that has resulted in a drop in the number of inmates and better conditions for jailed offenders.

It is his perceived arrogance and his failure to build up a good working relationship with the key stakeholders in the justice system that has helped to bring about his downfall.

He did not court public approval by pressing ahead with changes that his predecessors had avoided, such as the closure of more than a hundred garda stations.

But he might have garnered more support from those within the justice family if he had been more inclined to meet and listen to their views, rather than operating from his ivory tower.

The outcome of the series of inquiries set up to investigate the allegations may yet vindicate the position he took in many of the controversies.

But if he is largely vindicated, it will not remove the perception that has been created in the past year. Politics can be a rough game.

Irish Independent

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