News John Downing

Saturday 20 September 2014

Minister has put his finger in the dyke for now – but reports could still bring him grief

Published 27/02/2014 | 02:30

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Justice Minister Alan Shatter

A VARIATION on that old hippie maxim about the 1960s – if you can remember them, you weren't there – comes to mind.

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We could say that if you have understood this three weeks of controversy about Alan Shatter and the gardai – then it's odds on that you have strong views on one or other side of the arguments involved.

In other words, if you know your latest 'Shattergate', either you don't trust the gardai and their political masters – or you suspect critics of the gardai and the Justice Minister are just maverick troublemakers.

The vast majority of the rest of us will be relieved the issues involved have now been taken out of the political boxing ring for a more considered assessment.

Yet the paradox of this rolling series of controversies is that it has not caught the public imagination all that much when compared with reports of health insurance, water meters, or charity salary top-ups. But in an equally strange way, it still has the potential to do big damage, not least the undermining of public trust in An Garda Siochana.

Almost three weeks ago, the public were briefly quite taken with reports of surveillance at the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) headquarters.

It had a certain 'Seamus O'Bond' home-grown spying ring to it. But allegations of 'bugging GSOC' were quickly left hanging between GSOC's own experts reporting 'anomalies' and Mr Shatter's own experts saying "there was no proof whatever" of bugging. After a week of claim and counterclaim, former High Court judge John Cooke was tasked with reviewing the issue and is to report in eight weeks.

That GSOC surveillance row was barely parked with Mr Justice Cooke when the other, bigger allegations followed on.

Whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe passed a dossier of material to Micheal Martin who went on to tell the Dail that several serious cases, some involving murder, assault, and abduction, were not properly investigated in the period 2007-2009.

There followed another series of claim and counterclaim, over a full week before the Government conceded its second review. This time barrister Sean Guerin is to review all documents, speak with whomever he wishes, and make what recommendations he thinks fit. And all of that before the Easter holidays.

So, where does that all that leave us? Well, the heat is taken out of both controversies – for now at very least.

Yesterday, Mr Shatter creditably answered the two big questions which had hung there for a week. He told us he still believed that Sgt McCabe had failed to co-operate in an internal garda investigation into penalty points being quashed, in spite of Sgt McCabe's trenchant rebuttals of same.

Mr Shatter accepted that other people thought the opposite and there was scope for differences of interpretation. But he argued, with some good reasons, that he had not misled the Dail.

Mr Shatter did better on the other issue: he very definitely had not sat upon a dossier of Sgt McCabe's allegations for two years. They went to the gardai and thence to the DPP. We might not entirely like the outcome – but they were dealt with.

Mr Shatter could have spared us the sideswipes at Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. He and the Government could have acted more swiftly and avoided more than two weeks of controversy.

Mr Shatter came through strongly and does not seem to be in the any significant danger of being toppled.

But he has made promises of longer-term reforms and he will be challenged again when both Mr Justice Cooke's and Mr Guerin's reports are published.

Irish Independent

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