Monday 29 December 2014

Leo's sliding tackle on his own team could end in the red card

Gerard O'Regan

Published 29/03/2014 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

LOOKING back through the prism of these helter skelter days, in football terms it was that sliding tackle by Leo Varadkar which proved to be a real game-changer. It was all the more dramatic in that he took the feet from right under a player on his own team. In the process, he nudged the already floundering Alan Shatter ever nearer the sideline – and ultimately closer to the exit gate. No wonder team captain Enda Kenny could hardly conceal his rage.

Much has happened since Captain Kenny made his plea for team unity. He wanted such dissent kept within the privacy of the dressing room, so to speak. But obviously Varadkar's patience for such a strategy had worn out. That's why he decided to break ranks.

When he said the whistleblowers were "distinguished'', rather than "disgusting'', he put a political dagger through the heart of Alan Shatter. That raised the stakes to a previously unprecedented level.

Labour Party ministers moved to 'Side Leo' with almost embarrassing haste. Then they too wanted the Justice Minister to offer some form of apology to those troublesome whistleblowers.

But in the process of knifing Shatter, Varadakar also politically headbutted Enda Kenny. The Taoiseach knew then that it would take a mammoth effort to save his Justice Minister – and in the process protect the stability of the Government. All week, both he and his inner circle have desperately tried to turn defence into attack. But they are still bogged down in fighting a dogged rearguard action.

The bottom line for Kenny is that his authority as head of Fine Gael, and as Taoiseach, has been dented in a matter of days. As the storm clouds gathered, it was significant that some of his inner cabal within the Cabinet – those who stood by him in the bid to oust him as party leader – were especially quick to his defence. James Reilly, Phil Hogan and Frances Fitzgerald were among those who desperately tried to circle the wagons.

However, the politics of the situation remains high-risk for the Coalition on a variety of levels.

A particular source of concern is whether some discomfited Labour backbenchers will break ranks.

It must be galling for them, as they stare across the chamber at Sinn Fein TDs luxuriating in the high moral ground. They can rail at will against a Government they say can't be trusted with our police force. Adding an edge to everything is that local and European elections hover ever closer.

Kenny must ask himself repeatedly how did it all come to this. On surface level, it seems there are two reasons. Firstly, Fine Gael's support for the gardai and a certain concept of law and order is rooted for historical reasons in its DNA.

Consequently, the initial kneejerk reaction was to essentially dismiss the whistleblowers, particularly when they were being faced down by a Garda Commissioner. Much trouble has flown from that error of judgment.

The second is Alan Shatter's much commented upon hubris, self- importance, intellectual arrogance, inability to admit a mistake, etc, etc. On one level, this is simplistic. If he had a very different personality, reflected in a 'hail fellow well met' persona, it would probably mean he was an incompetent minister.

But on the other hand, it does seem his dismissive approach to Varadkar may have been the tipping point in provoking the latter to make that sliding tackle .

Of course, Varadkar this week assured us he now has confidence in the Justice Minister, following the Shatter mea culpa. But as the actress might say to the bishop, he would say that wouldn't he.

Shatter may also have suffered from the fact that he has waited half a lifetime to do the job of Justice Minister. This, coupled with his fixated views on our legal system, meant he had little time for accepting outside advice. Therefore, in the way of such sagas, one thing has led to another and so far all efforts to dampen down the crisis have failed.

A cloud of intrigue still casts a shadow over the Government. Allowing for all the subterfuge and verbiage surrounding the departure of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, a core question remains. Did he go – or was he pushed? Is he the fall guy?

The old mantra of who, what, where, when, why, and how is central to the alleged near nationwide garda telephone taping system, which seemingly very few members of the force were aware of. This could prove to be the biggest political time bomb of them all.

The irony for Enda Kenny is that it could be said he saw off the troika and their heavyweight arguments, over multi-million euro bailouts and such like. Yet a garda and an ex-garda, classified under the sobriquet of whistleblowers, set off a train of events which could yet do down the Government and end his political career.

Irish Independent

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