News Gene Kerrigan

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Shatter has finally lost touch with reality

Minister shows his contempt for Dail by refusing to provide crucial information, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 23/03/2014 | 02:30

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Sunday Independent illustration.

The focus last week was mostly on the Garda Commissioner, Martin "Disgusting" Callinan. As a result, a couple of startling moments slipped by almost unnoticed. One involved Enda Kenny – and no, it wasn't the Taoiseach fundraising in Washington for an American right-winger.

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The other startling moment involved Alan Shatter. And this latter moment raises a question. Has Alan finally, as the poet almost put it, slipped the surly bonds of reality and touched the face of madness?

The startling moment involving the Taoiseach came when he tried to put Leo Varadkar back in his box. Leo and Simon Coveney are the two youngsters of this Government – in a Cabinet of exceptionally jaded cynics. Born when they were, with their backgrounds, it was inevitable that Varadkar and Coveney would end up with heads full of Ronald Reagan fantasies about smart markets and dumb regulation.

That said, in a Government dominated by world-weary cynicism, there's a conspicuous sincerity about both men – whatever one thinks of their political ideas (in my case, not much). Varadkar has, in the past, expressed unmistakable signs of idealism. His department, Transport, encompasses road safety, and the penalty points system is clearly a legitimate interest.

His remarks about the whistleblowers were honestly held, decent and true. That the Taoiseach would wish those remarks away was inevitable, given the control freakery surrounding this Government.

Mr Kenny expressed a "preference" that Varadkar keep his mouth shut in public. He's entitled to that preference – but when Mr Kenny expresses a preference he's really giving an instruction. He then said: "There is a process by which these things should be dealt with."

Eh, no, there's not.

When the GSOC scandal arose, Mr Kenny began quoting a non-existent piece of legislation. Now he's invented a non-existent "process". When an issue arises, any of us – including a government minister – is entitled to a view, and is entitled to express that view. There's a "process" when an issue comes before a Cabinet and is debated therein, and voted on. This vote, under cabinet collective responsibility, is binding on all.

None of this applies to the Garda Commissioner's disgusting remarks. Mr Kenny may wish there was a process that stops ministers entering public discussion on issues of the day, but there's not. There's just his control freakery. And their fear.

Speaking of the disgusting remarks, Mr Kenny said: "The Garda Commissioner has clarified his comments and the context in which he made those." This is not true. The commissioner "clarified" that he made the remark in the context of the release of personal information into the public domain. He did not. He made the remark about the character of two gardai in the context of their allegations. Full stop.

(Incidentally, I understand why the Garda Press Office repeats this "clarified" nonsense – they do as they're told. But why do RTE reporters keep repeating the untruth that the commissioner "clarified" his disgusting remarks? He didn't. He gave an untrue explanation of his disgusting remarks.)

Now, to Alan.

On Thursday, I got a copy of a letter from Alan Shatter to the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. I read it three times and concluded that either I'm going mad or Alan Shatter has finally flipped. After due consideration, and reading the letter at least 10 times, I think Alan's the one with the deep, deep problem.

Some context.

GSOC received a report from a specialist firm, Verrimus, that concluded there were three suspicious activities they couldn't explain. These suggested attempts to penetrate GSOC security, but Verrimus had no "definitive" proof the attempts succeeded.

On February 18, Alan Shatter told the Dail he hired another firm, RITS, to assess the Verrimus report, and that RITS concluded "there is no evidence of any technical or electronic surveillance against GSOC; that is, no evidence at all, not merely no definitive evidence".

Shatter used the RITS report to undermine concerns about GSOC being bugged – but without disclosing what was in the report. Appearing before the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, next day, Shatter was pushed by committee chairperson Padraig Mac Lochlainn to provide more information.

Shatter refused. Both reports were paid for with public money, they shed light on an issue of urgent public interest. As long as any technical matter that might help buggers is redacted there's no reason why we shouldn't be told what's in both reports.

After a lot of waffle, Shatter promised to provide the committee with a "document which summarises the differences" between the Verrimus and RITS reports.

That's what this letter to the committee is about. Or, it's supposed to be about. Mr Shatter writes: "I am very conscious that retired High Court judge John Cooke has been appointed by the Government to conduct an independent inquiry into the reports of unlawful surveillance of GSOC."

Now, all of us who have followed this scandal are aware that Judge Cooke has a job to do. This in no way affects the right of anyone to inquire into or discuss any aspect of this matter. Judge Cooke is quite capable of conducting an independent inquiry regardless of any background noise from you, me, Mr Shatter, Mr Mac Lochlainn or the Count of Monte Cristo.

The judge's work and the committee's work are two separate things, they can and do and must co-exist. This or any other newspaper may conduct an inquiry into the GSOC affair. Any other body, properly constituted – including an Oireachtas Committee – may discharge its duty in these matters and the judge may find something of interest in such proceedings – or may ignore them entirely.

It would be ludicrous to say that Mr Shatter, in revealing to the Dail his interpretation of the RITS report's conclusion, was somehow interfering in the independence of the Judge Cooke inquiry. Similarly, it's entirely legitimate for Mr Shatter to reveal to an Oireachtas Committee the details of the report from which he drew that conclusion.

Here's where it gets truly bizarre. Mr Shatter's letter then sets down the terms of reference of Judge Cooke's inquiry. This is utterly irrelevant to the matter. No relevance whatever, but set out in its entirety. It would be as relevant had Mr Shatter included a summary of the rules of croquet – in short, no relevance at all.

But it fills up the page.

Mr Shatter goes on to say that he's anxious not to say or do anything that might be seen to be in any way trespassing on the independence of the independent inquiry. He finishes the letter by setting down three queries, that might or might not have been put to RITS. No answers – no information, just three badly worded queries.

"I hope this goes some way towards clarifying some of the main technical issues which arise from these reports." Yours etc.

This is crackers. Nuts. It might as well be a recipe for chicken cacciatore. Mr Shatter has indulged his contempt for the committee, for the Oireachtas, and for the citizens they represent, by refusing to give the information he promised – when under pressure – and instead, filling three pages with irrelevant nonsense.

In a Government with any standards, this would be a sackable offence. But, I'm afraid, as Don Corleone might put it, the fish rots from the head.

Sunday Independent

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