Sunday 25 September 2016

Shatter ploughs a lonely furrow after being thrown to the wolves by Enda

Published 06/05/2016 | 02:30

Alan Shatter was forced to resign in May 2014 after a sustained campaign against him based on a variety of accusations that three reports, including the leaked but so far unpublished O’Higgins report, have found to be false. Photo: Frank Mc Grath / Irish Independent
Alan Shatter was forced to resign in May 2014 after a sustained campaign against him based on a variety of accusations that three reports, including the leaked but so far unpublished O’Higgins report, have found to be false. Photo: Frank Mc Grath / Irish Independent

Since Alan Shatter resigned as Justice Minister in May 2014 following the publication of the Guerin Report, he has been fighting a lonely battle to vindicate his reputation. That is both unfair and unjust. As subsequent reports have shown, he did not deserve the battering he received from almost all quarters in the weeks and months leading up to his resignation.

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He stood accused of three main 'crimes'. The first is that when Gsoc conducted an investigation into whether or not they were under surveillance by members of An Garda Siochana, Shatter strongly sided with the latter and put the Garda Ombudsman under undue pressure.

The second is that he lied about when he received a letter from former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan concerning the discovery of possibly illegal Garda taping of telephone calls in various Garda stations around the country.

The third is that he ignored complaints of Garda corruption and Garda investigation failures made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Shatter was adjudged by almost the entirety of Leinster House (either directly or by their silence), by most of the media and therefore by the public, to be guilty as charged.

In fact, subsequent reports, the latest being the leaked but as yet unpublished O'Higgins report, have found him innocent of all the charges but it is very likely that not many members of the public know this and therefore in the public mind he remains guilty. This is why his treatment has been so unfair and so unjust.

As mentioned, what precipitated his resignation two years ago this month was the publication of the Guerin report. This report was the outcome of an investigation into Sgt McCabe's allegations against the gardaí that had been highlighted in particular by Micheál Martin in the Dáil. The investigation was conducted by criminal lawyer Sean Guerin.

It ruled that the McCabe allegations had not been properly examined.

Shatter resigned because he probably felt he had no choice. The pressure on him at this stage was huge. The local and European elections were coming up and he did not want to be an issue and a distraction for the government during those.

But he did not accept the findings of the Guerin report and he was rightly angry that he was not invited to testify on his own behalf.

However, one of the recommendations of the Guerin report was that a fuller, statutory investigation take place and this was one chaired by retired High Court judge Kevin O'Higgins. That is the report sitting on the desk of Frances Fitzgerald, awaiting publication.

Shatter fears that it might be released as the new government is being formed and the media's attention is elsewhere. That really would be a miscarriage of justice because to judge by the leaks so far, the report vindicates him and former Garda Commissioner Callinan.

According to the leaks, the O'Higgins report finds that Shatter took the allegations made by Sgt McCabe very seriously and displayed an active concern in relation to them.

In respect of Martin Callinan, it finds that there is "not a scintilla of evidence" to substantiate the accusation of corruption made against him.

When the O'Higgins report finally comes out it deserves the fullest possible coverage. Whether it gets it or not is another question entirely because two previous reports, that also cleared Alan Shatter of the worst allegations made against him, did not get the coverage they deserved.

The first was the Cooke report published in June 2014, only weeks after Shatter's resignation. This was a non-statutory inquiry headed by retired High Court Judge John Cooke, into whether or not Gsoc was in fact under electronic surveillance. It found no evidence of such surveillance, much less by members of An Garda Siochana.

Some politicians seized on the statement in the report that it was impossible to categorically rule that certain electronic "anomalies" were not evidence of surveillance, but given the sophistication of modern surveillance technology, it is probably impossible to completely discount the possibility that any given person or organisation is under surveillance.

This was a very thin reed on which to base an indictment against Shatter.

The other report published was the Fennelly Interim Report in September of last year. This one was authored by retired Supreme Court judge Nial Fennelly and looked at whether or not Shatter had lied when he said he first knew about a letter from Martin Callinan about telephone recordings at Garda stations.

Shatter said he did not know about the letter until four hours after the forced retirement of Callinan, and not two weeks before as had been alleged, and Fennelly determined that this was the case.

So Alan Shatter has been found innocent of all of the charges laid against him.

However, unless this gets coverage that is sufficient to counter the damage done to him by the accusations that led to his resignation in the first place, justice in the proper sense will not be served.

What has happened to Alan Shatter is actually a perfect illustration of how Leinster House and the media can sometimes hunt in a giant pack to bring someone down regardless of the evidence.

A narrative about a person develops either in the media first, or in Leinster House first, and is presented to the nation as a fact.

That person is then adjudged guilty and it subsequently becomes enormously difficult for that person to clear their name. Too many people are invested in the guilty verdict, and evidence to the contrary will be downplayed.

In the case of Alan Shatter, who in the Dáil is going to defend him? Fianna Fáil won't because he is not one of their own and because Micheál Martin helped to lead the anti-Shatter posse in the first place.

Nor will Sinn Féin or anyone else on the left because they despise him, partly because he is so pro-Israeli.

But no one in Fine Gael is going to defend him either because their leader threw him to the dogs in the end rather than defend him robustly.

This means Alan Shatter has been left to defend himself. No-one who is in fact innocent of the charges made against them should ever be put in that position and it is a very poor reflection on the Irish body politic that Alan Shatter has been put in exactly that place.

Irish Independent

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