If you dish it out, it can come right back at you
Shatter's criticisms of his predecessors sound just like what is being said about the justice minister now
Published 06/04/2014 | 02:30
THERE is a strange sense of victimhood in high places in Ireland. Angela Kerins – who has left her job in Rehab probably mainly because she came on Morning Ireland and refused to divulge her salary in the midst of a huge charity salaries scandal, and for a good while thereafter – announced last week that she was leaving her job for the good of Rehab and also because of the stress on her family. So her two reasons for leaving were: nobility – taking a fall for the greater good of Rehab, and because her family was being upset, presumably by reports in the media and so forth. So none of it is Angela's fault. She, and her family, are victims. And she has now been beaten by the bullies so she is retiring with dignity and the bullies have won.
Alan Shatter hasn't quite been beaten by the bullies yet but he is feeling the pressure. He made a most moving speech in the Dail the other night that suggested a man who is baffled and upset by the hammering he has taken recently. Indeed, the minister seems to feel that this hammering is undeserved and is certainly nothing to do with anything he did himself. He is a victim, it seems, of personal vendettas from people. He is constantly accused, he told us, in a very personalised way, of a variety of different failures. In fairness, it's hard to accuse someone of a variety of different failures without it being personal, and without them taking it personally. When that same person seems to be largely guilty of those failures, then that tends to make it even more personal.
And poor old Shatter can't win. When he tries to defend himself against his critics, he complained, he is "labelled as arrogant and overbearing". You'd think, he said, to listen to the Opposition, that he was public enemy number one. Perish the thought. So it was the Opposition who made Alan Shatter unpopular. It was they who made him seem arrogant when he was only trying to defend himself. Like Angela Kerins, nothing Alan Shatter did himself led him to his current sorry pass. He is a victim of bullies on the Opposition benches, and presumably in the media too.
And just to prove that he is, in fact, not arrogant, Alan Shatter even conceded in his moving speech that no one is perfect, and that "it is extraordinary how people think that no one can ever make a mistake, and no one can be forgiven for making a mistake". Of course, he stopped short of saying, "I am not perfect. I have made mistakes. Please forgive me for my mistakes", but that was presumably what he was trying to hint at.
Indeed, it's a pity his arrogance prevented him from actually coming out and saying it plainly: Imagine if Shatter had just told the truth. Imagine if he had come out and said: "I am a flawed man like everyone. I have made mistakes over the last while. I shouldn't have accused the Garda whistleblowers of not cooperating with the penalty points investigation. I shouldn't have taken so long to admit I was wrong about that, and I should have been clearer and more wholehearted when I corrected the record on that. And I should have been more on top of things in my department in general, and I probably shouldn't have broadcast tittle tattle about a serving TD on Prime Time. Oh yes and maybe I shouldn't have rubbished the GSOC bugging report without
having proper evidence and I shouldn't have held up the RITS report as being something it was not. I take full responsibility for all of this and I will do better from now on."
Maybe I don't understand politics but I think people might have respected that more than the endless speeches that display how none of this was Alan Shatter's fault. At least if he had taken some responsibility himself, then people would not have been left with the sense that everyone around Alan Shatter is dispensable when it comes to saving Shatter's hide. Right now, no one would be surprised if the top civil servant in the Department of Justice had to be the third person from Alan Shatter's orbit to be got rid of to prove that incompetence is everywhere around Alan Shatter but that it doesn't touch him, mainly because, like Manuel, he knows nothing.
It's funny that Alan Shatter gets so upset about criticism. Because he is well able to dish it out himself. Indeed, Shatter is well able to dish out what he would probably regard as very personalised abuse to Ministers for Justice. Before the last election, he talked about his predecessors in Justice in the most personal terms.
He said that when he hears Michael McDowell referred to as a person of superior intelligence, he has to "constantly try and restrain myself from vomiting". Whatever you might think about McDowell, that's strong stuff. Imagine if the Opposition had said of Alan Shatter recently that he made them feel like vomiting.
Ironically, Shatter said of Dermot Ahern, a "complete failure" of a justice minister in his eyes, that he "takes personal pleasure out of being as uncooperative and obnoxious as possible across the Dail chamber, and indeed, with his political protagonists".
The then aspirant justice minister went on to say that "I think it's very important that ministers regard themselves as engaged in public service, not self service. It's not all about your personal image." Just to clarify. Shatter was not talking about himself here, he was still referring to Dermot Ahern. But then, as Pat Rabbitte might say, isn't that what you tend to do in an election campaign?
But now that he's in the job, the minister's attitude has changed. Indeed, if Alan Shatter were the hungry Opposition TD looking at his own tenure as Minister for Justice, you have to wonder what judgement he would pass on himself right now?
Would he say that he made himself want to vomit? Would he say he was a complete failure? Would he say he was deliberately uncooperative and obnoxious? Would Alan Shatter say – as he allows faith in law and order, and perhaps even Government in this country to collapse completely rather than resign – that he is engaged in self service and not public service?
Or would he defend himself, saying that it was all the fault of the Opposition for treating him like public enemy number one?
The things that annoy us most in other people, and the things we criticise most in other people, can tend, without us knowing it, to be the things we dislike most in ourselves. Is it psychobabble to suggest that Shatter might have been projecting when he said all those thinks about his predecessors? Because it is funny that those are the exact things that people feel about Shatter now.
Even Shatter's supporters point to his obnoxiousness and arrogance, but they prefer to phrase it differently, saying that he doesn't mind being unpopular, which is the same thing really.