Fionnan Sheahan

Monday 28 July 2014

Notion of AG as pawn in Coalition row makes no political sense

Published 28/03/2014|02:30

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Attorney General Maire Whelan

THE tit-for-tat theory about Fine Gael going for Labour's Attorney General if Labour went for Fine Gael's Minister for Justice ignores the fundamental workings of the Coalition.

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The argument put forward this week was if Labour went for Alan Shatter's head, then Fine Gael would retaliate for Maire Whelan's head.

It's simplistic.

The role of Attorney General requires a delicate balance between being the Government's legal adviser and having the nous to know what can flare up politically.

The AG's role is set out under Article 30 of the Constitution: "There shall be an Attorney General who shall be the adviser of the Government in matters of law and legal opinion, and shall exercise and perform all such powers, functions and duties as are conferred or imposed on him by this Constitution or by law." Although the Attorney General sits at Cabinet, they are not a member of the Government.

The AG also has to be intimately trusted by the Taoiseach of the day, to whom they directly report.

Ms Whelan would appear to have the confidence of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is in regular contact with her about a variety of issues.

"She's more Fine Gael than Labour at this stage," a minister told the Irish Independent.

If she was to be found to be negligent in her dealings with the garda phone-taping scandal, then so be it, her position would come under intense scrutiny.

But the notion she would be used as a pawn in a Coalition spat and be seen solely as a Labour plant doesn't hold water.

On the flipside, the idea that Mr Shatter's position was on the block this week seems far more credible.

Except it assumes Labour would have pushed the matter in government by demanding his head.

While the entire Labour senior ministerial ranks were calling on former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw his "disgusting" remarks about the garda whistleblowers, the party left itself a 'get out' clause by claiming it would be "helpful" if he made that move and even left him leeway by saying he could merely "end the controversy".

Going to that extreme would suggest the party didn't have entire confidence in the commissioner and shed few tears at his departure.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore went a step further early this week in calling for Mr Shatter to withdraw his statement that the whistleblowers didn't cooperate with the garda investigation into penalty points.

The signals coming from Mr Shatter from Tuesday onwards were he was finally prepared to go down that route.

Labour sources said Mr Shatter's apology "would not have been predicted" some days ago, but the party had not been looking for his resignation.

"That's not our game. Never has been. He has eased the pressure on himself," a senior party source said.

True enough.

Labour didn't go looking for Health Minister Dr James Reilly's head over the primary care centre affair, when their own junior minister Roisin Shortall walked away on a point of principle.

Labour has shown no appetite to become headhunters.

Irish Independent

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