News John Drennan

Saturday 30 August 2014

John Drennan: Our talented Mr Shatter is a peculiar class of genius

John Drennan considers the evidence on just how good a legislator our noisy Minister for Justice has been

John Drennan

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

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It was once said that if a clever peasant wanted an easy life he should be seen up early milking his cows just once by his neighbours.

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The grounds for this tactic were that if our farmer was seen once, then having secured the reputation amongst his neighbours for being an early riser, he could lie in bed all day.

It is a bit of a journey from the peasantry to Alan Shatter but, last week, showed the importance of a good reputation in times of trouble.

The whistleblower and GSOC controversies are evolving into a political disaster, but, the Justice Minister's political flank still has one coating of chain mail left courtesy of the cross-party agreement that the Justice Minister was the finest legislator this poor country has ever enjoyed.

In fairness, unlike our farmer, when it comes to this reputation there is nothing false about the praise of the unnaturally talented Mr Shatter.

The minister might be capable of starting a riot at a Buddhist convention while even his friends, whoever they might be, admit his political personality is as warm as a wasp that has just been batted away from a jam sandwich.

Everyone in Leinster House, though, admits that far from lying in the bed, Mr Shatter is instead up with the lark at dawn every day drafting laws to such an extent he is one of, if not the most, prolific legislators in the history of the State.

Such recommendations will have come as a relief to the 'ordinary' citizens for the figure Mr Shatter has cut over recent weeks is less impressive.

Since this extraordinary crisis broke the minister has resembled the sort of fellow who has tried to kill a snake with one blow to the head.

Sadly his failure to do this means he has been experiencing the inevitable denouement of flailing blows to the hissing creature, followed by an occasional yelp of pain, when the snake manages to sink its fangs into the poor beleaguered soul or anyone else that might be hanging around.

However, before we get too relieved about the certainty of everyone from the acerbic Pat Rabbitte to 'Dear Leader' Enda Kenny that, whatever about his other political flaws, Mr Shatter is worth his place on the team because of his legislative record alone, we should ask just how successful a legislator he has been.

The legislative priorities Mr Shatter faced when he came into power consisted of the Insolvency Bill and the reform of the legal profession.

Though the latter is now meandering towards its doleful conclusion, it should be noted that progress was so slow on this key issue, the Troika supernannies provided Alan with his own special naughty step which he shared with Dr Reilly, the cabinet dunce of popular choice, on a regular basis.

The minister's reform of our bankruptcy law, in fairness, has been completed.

Progress, however, was painfully slow and confidence in the final Bill was so low that the minister's insolvency regime has been described as representing nothing more than 'a banker's veto on debt'.

Sadly, there is no shortage of other critical legislation in areas such as the need for a Judicial Council that is living in the shadowlands of great expectations rather than happy realities.

The minister has undoubtedly been very busy and far noisier but could it be the case that he is, in legislative terms the sort of busy fool of a shop-keeper who stays open 20 hours a day for little final gain than a great reformer?

It is a somewhat harsh query, but, you are beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel of political credit when anxious supporters claim the minister must be retained to see the gay adoption legislation through.

A competent junior minister could pilot this legislation through and might even do better, given that much of this job will consist of winning hearts and minds, which is not a speciality of the minister.

This, of course, is not to say that Mr Shatter is not the cleverest man in the Cabinet.

Sadly, though, despite the praise of his colleagues, if Mr Shatter is a legislative genius, then to borrow another rural saying, he is a peculiar class of a genius.

Sunday Independent

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