Wednesday 31 August 2016

When an attack dog like Shatter's around, there will be blood for sure

Published 27/02/2014 | 02:30

Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter

'Life is complicated, not everything is simply black and white," Alan Shatter told the Dail, unburdening himself of a long-established slice of philosophy which is often right. But in this instance is wrong.

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Here's what should be unmistakable, unambiguous and unequivocal – rather than a question of perception, as the minister suggested.

When the Justice Minister speaks in the national parliament on a subject as crucial as allegations of malpractice in the gardai, citizens ought to feel reassured by his explanation. Nothing complicated about that, minister.

But my doubts weren't laid to rest by the time he sat down. How about you?

Indeed, the longer I listened to him yesterday, the more uneasy I grew about the effectiveness of internal systems for dealing with claims of wrongdoing within the guards. Mr Shatter's job should have been to focus on rebuilding confidence in the State's police service – instead he indulged himself by attacking his critics.

He appeared to fudge the ongoing rows, ranging from whistleblower claims to garda complaints structures, as a political point-scoring exercise by opposition deputies.

However, the public isn't distracted by conjecture that politicians are throwing opportunistic shapes. The public has fixed on something of fundamental importance here: something which hinges on trust in the Gardai, a keystone of any democracy.

There is no doubt that the relationship between citizens and An Garda Siochana is damaged by recent revelations, and the Justice Minister's torrent of words did nothing to restore it.

During his speech, he announced that he had reviewed the files – which are not open to others, incidentally – and found his own behaviour to be irreproachable.

So that's all right then. Let's stand down Sean Guerin, the criminal law barrister meant to be reviewing the material to assess whether an investigation is needed.

And let's not bother questioning if it was right for the minister to dismiss Oliver Connolly, the garda confidential recipient, after taking exception to a leaked conversation between Mr Connolly and Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Arguably, by immediately relieving Mr Connolly of his duties, Mr Shatter bolstered the confidential recipient's comments that "if Shatter thinks you're screwing him you're finished". Having explained himself to his own satisfaction in his War and Peace length speech – although not to everybody else's – the minister proceeded to savage Micheal Martin as the politician leading the current phase of the charge against him.

Peculiar, too, to hear so many words rain down – yet none using the language of apology to Sgt McCabe, whose voice has been the most consistent and credible throughout this episode, and whose shabby treatment must surely deter future whistleblowers.

"Allegations are not facts," Mr Shatter told the Dail. He liked the phrase so well, he used it twice. But personal offensives against his political opponents are no substitute for facts either.

Presumably, after a fraught time, it was gratifying for him to snipe at those on the other side of the divide – his haggard appearance yesterday betrayed the stress he has been under.

But how does that retrieve the tarnished reputation of the gardai? Wouldn't such an exercise have been a more worthwhile use of his time and platform?

It always comes as something of a disappointment to remember Mr Shatter is a lawyer when we watch him in action: the medical profession lost a talented practitioner when he chose the law and politics above phlebotomy.

Phlebotomists, of course, are experts at extracting blood for transfusions, donations or medical research.

And the Justice Minister is surely the most skilled member of the Oireachtas at taking blood, as well as the most willing to set aside his workload and get down to a spate of bloodletting.

However, he tends to spring for the jugular rather than remove blood from a lesser vein.

Why use the fingerprick method when a machete can be wielded? Cross him, criticise him, hold him to account or whistleblow on his watch, and there will be blood. That's his modus operandi, and it hasn't varied during three years at the cabinet table.

Responding, the Fianna Fail leader described his conduct as "appalling" – some might regard the adjective to be an understatement.

On the face of it, a less likely hatchet man is hard to imagine. Alan Shatter is intelligent, articulate, well-spoken, hard-working and presentable.

In government, he acted as a reformer – Gerry Adams acknowledged it yesterday, before calling for a judicial inquiry.

He is precisely what's required in a government minister, one might think. Except he is also an attack dog.

The issue with Mr Shatter is not the business he does, but how he goes about it.

He cares nothing about being popular. That's liberating, of course, but it isn't conducive to political alliances.

TDs such as Mick Wallace are never likely to team up with him.

Still, the public had some insight into the minister's capacity to alienate his fellow parliamentarians.

The passion infusing Mr Wallace's outburst told its own story: "Minister you look up here at us and you say how dare those people with their long hair and raggy jeans have the audacity to challenge you?"

Meanwhile, a cloud hangs over the gardai and the minister's behaviour has done nothing to lift it.

It is the same shadow which was deepened recently by his close associate, Commissioner Martin Callinan, when he dismissed whistleblowers as "quite disgusting".

Mr Shatter had an influential podium from which to convey his message. I'm not convinced that musing how life isn't black and white was an ideal way to generate confidence in it.

Irish Independent

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