Wednesday 26 October 2016

Alan the terrier doggedly sinks his teeth into the Guerin Report

Published 23/04/2015 | 02:30

Alan Shatter arrives at the Four Courts yesterday
Alan Shatter arrives at the Four Courts yesterday

The sun was splitting the stones along the city quays and anyone who could, dawdled along the streets enjoying the grand weather.

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But not our former Minister for Justice. Instead he was spending his day in the High Court in a stuffy room where a refreshing breeze wafting through a window was in fierce competition with the hot air rising from the legal benches.

Ever since Alan Shatter resigned as Justice Minister, he has resembled a small but particularly determined terrier with his teeth sunk grimly into the trouser-legs of the Taoiseach and of barrister Sean Guerin, author of the report concerning the handling of allegations made by Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the publication of which was followed by the departure of Minister Shatter last May.

Almost 12 months may have elapsed, but this week he is in court, having initiated a judicial review aimed at quashing the disputed aspects of the Guerin report, claiming it breached fair procedures in how he reached allegedly adverse conclusions ... Sean Guerin unsurprisingly, begs to differ, and is opposing the application.

Mr Shatter has opted to take a back seat for this legal outing, and simply observe, as his senior counsel Paul Sreenan dukes it out with Paul Gallagher, counsel for Sean Guerin.

Mr Sreenan spent much of the morning methodically reading extracts of Alan's affidavit which contains a litany of beefs over aspects of the barrister's report and the subsequent fallout.

"I did request of An Taoiseach an opportunity to consider the contents of the report in detail.

"However that opportunity was not afforded to me and it was made clear to me by An Taoiseach that, in light of the contents of the respondent's report, he would have difficulty in expressing confidence in me if asked," stated the ex-minister in the affidavit.

Moreover, he added, the report "had the very real and immediate legal effect of causing damage to good name and reputation, both professionally and personally" and he continues "to be subject to criticism and adverse comment in the media and in public".

He added that the report's author didn't appreciate "the extent to which the Taoiseach's confidence in me was damaged" following it.

This was a point which Mr Sreenan later emphasised, arguing that a delay in quashing the contentious bits could damage his client, "who potentially has a career ahead of him in public service, either nationally or internationally".

Then Paul Gallagher read from a flurry of correspondence between Mr Shatter, the Taoiseach's department and the Ceann Comhairle's office.

In a letter from his solicitors dated September 9 last year, the former Justice Minister urged the Taoiseach not to include certain matters included in the Guerin Report into the proposed Commission of Investigation, pending the outcome of the High Court review.

However, the reply on November 7 from the Taoiseach's private secretary Nick Reddy offered no consolation, informing Mr Shatter that the Commission process was "wholly independent, separate and distinct".

A frosty missive was dispatched to Mr Reddy on November 17 warning that if their client was either precluded from challenging the Guerin Report and also obligated to become involved in a Commission of Investigation based on its findings, "we respectfully suggest that it would be bizarre, utterly unconstitutional and in breach of the European convention".

In fact, "such a scenario is Kafkaesque". Paul Gallagher was in feisty form.

"This case is based on a number of fundamental misunderstandings of Mr Guerin's role - which is surprising, given Mr Shatter was a senior member of Government," he declared.

In the back row, Alan Shatter fidgeted. The case continues, in the blazing sunshine.

Irish Independent

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