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Friday 22 August 2014

Lise Hand: Opposition gets a dressing down over 'cover-ups'

Lise Hand

Published 27/02/2014 | 02:30

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Deputy Mick Wallace takes aim at Minister Shatter during yesterday’s Dail session.

AS THE clock in the Dail chamber ticked down to the last minute of his allocated speaking slot, Mick Wallace decided to let rip, unleashing a bellowed tirade in the direction of the Justice Minister.

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The Wexford deputy had been motoring nicely, highlighting problems relating to oversight mechanisms within the gardai, when the decibel level increased in the blink of an eye.

If Alan Shatter and Garda commissioner Martin Callinan kept their jobs, then parliament is "a sham", he declared.

"The place is a joke," he scoffed, adding, "we play games in here." This wasn't business anymore – this was personal.

Mick was literally spitting mad. "You look up at these benches and wonder how those people, with their long hair and raggy jeans, have the AUDACITY to challenge you," he bawled.

"The people of Wexford did not elect me to come in here and approve of the minister's behaviour.

"They put me in here to challenge it. It is time for the minister to go and to bring the commissioner with him."

It might have been more impressive if Mick – a performer who clearly believes in putting the 'ham' into 'Hamlet' – hadn't indulged in such high-wrought theatrics before.

Across the floor, Alan Shatter sat quietly, looking as smug as a bug in a rug (but not let's not mention bugs). It was a pity that Clare Daly was next to speak, because her colleague's dramatics distracted from what was a measured critique of the confusion surrounding recent events. (In fact, it was refreshing to hear a strong female voice contribute to this endless affray which to date has been a testosterone-fuelled swordfight).

"We had the Garda investigating itself, a toothless GSOC and a confidential recipient role that was not fit for purpose. These procedures were inadequate to deal with the penalty points issue and are likewise inadequate to deal with all of the other allegations," she said.

Clare also referred to the commissioner's recent description of the garda whistleblowers' activities as "disgusting" and described the "nature of the relationship" between the minister and commissioner as "the gigantic elephant in the room that needs to be addressed".

It was a long, long day in the Dail chamber. But after all the roaring, shouting, claims, counterclaims, insults, explications, obfuscations, justifications and accusations, are the Plain People of Ireland any the wiser about the rights and wrongs of recent events involving the Justice Minister, the Garda Commissioner, the Garda Ombudsman, the whistleblower, the former Garda Confidential Recipient and the leader of the Opposition?

Well if any of the Plain People do have a notion, they should consider solving the mystery of what happens to matter once it enters a black hole.

That conundrum would be a doddle to solve by comparison to this convoluted whodunit/whosaidit/ whobuggedit.

It is indeed fortunate that Alan Shatter has an ego in inverse proportion to his modest stature.

It began as a day of trying to untangle the whole business relating to dossiers containing claims of garda malpractice and cover-ups, which passed from garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe to Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to the Taoiseach.

But it turned into an inevitably doomed attempt to extract an apology or admission of wrongdoing from the Justice Minister.

Alan Shatter is a man happily possessed – like most of his predecessors in the job – of an unshakeable sense of self-belief, and at 10am rose and spoke for 34 minutes. He gave no quarter, apologised for nothing, stood by Martin Callinan and threw a flurry of punches at Fianna Fail.

There was, he stated firmly, "no basis" for any claims that the Garda Commissioner had misled him, or that he as minister had misled the Dail.

"I appreciate that different members of the House may perceive these matters differently. It is unfortunate that perceptions are coloured on occasion by political differences," he said.

As the debate and question session continued, it became less about highlighting what are clearly deeply-rooted problems in the culture surrounding how the Garda Siochana conducted themselves, and turned into an effort to make Alan Shatter utter the s-word (Sorry).

"You just don't have it in you, do you minister, to say you were wrong," observed Micheal Martin.

"Say the hardest word – 'sorry, I got it wrong'," Joe Higgins urged an implacable minister.

By the end of the day, the opposition had wrung a small concession from Alan Shatter. "I think, frankly, there was fault on both sides," he reckoned.

Whether it's all over (bar some more shouting from Deputy Wallace, perhaps), remains unclear. But if finger-pointing was a crime, hand-cuffs would be the accessory du jour around Leinster House right now.

Irish Independent

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