Tuesday 27 September 2016

Who can blame Shatter for his reticence over €70k payout?

Published 22/05/2014 | 02:30

Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Photo: Frank McGrath
Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Photo: Frank McGrath

FOR the opposition, Alan Shatter remains the gift that keeps on giving . . . and giving. There's no question that Fine Gael's recent, pretty steep, decline in the polls can be traced, to some degree at least, to the many controversies in which the former Justice Minister became embroiled.

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And the Government's hope that his resignation would stem the electoral damage have been, well, 'shattered' by the mini controversy surrounding his entitlement to a golden handshake of €70,000 after departing from ministerial office.

You can tell the Government is rattled because of the number of senior cabinet figures, including the Taoiseach, queuing up to proffer the view that Shatter really shouldn't take the payment.

Fine Gael wouldn't be "kicking a man when he's down" – to use Leo Varadkar's phrase – unless they were worried about the impact on voters come tomorrow.

You can see why. A fortnight after Alan Shatter departed the Department of Justice, most voters would struggle to differentiate between the Fennelly Commission of Inquiry and the Guerin Report. But the story of the €70,000 severance entitlement is one of those that will lodge in the memory.

Whether or not the €70,000 is paid out will clearly make no discernible difference on the national finances. But in the eyes of voters, it's a hefty amount of money and it's the kind of story that plays to the popular narrative of politicians feeding at the trough.

The really frustrating thing for the Coalition is that they had actually legislated to stop such parachute payments. The Oireachtas Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) bill was signed by the President on 12 April last. However, the statutory instrument required to give effect to the relevant provision was only signed in the days after Shatter's resignation.

So close and yet so far. What could have been a good news story for the coalition is now entirely dependent on Alan Shatter. And, up to now, he isn't saying what he's going to do.

The instinctive reaction is that, morally and ethically, a well paid TD, who is also a highly successful lawyer, should not take the €70,000. That, while he is technically entitled to the money, the spirit of the law demands he turns it down.

There's also the fact that he voted for the legislation to abolish severance payments. It would be a bit rich if he didn't then stand by that vote.

But before we rush to judgement, let's examine our own conscience. If we're all being entirely honest, how many of us would turn down such a lump sum?

It is true that the previous ministers who quit from this Government – Willie Penrose, Roisin Shortall and Lucinda Creighton – have not taken the payment. They deserve credit for that decision.

Crucially though, Penrose, Shortall and Creighton are all expected to contest the next general election. Shatter is not.

Also, the circumstances of the resignations of the three junior ministers were entirely different. All three bowed out on varying matters of principle. Shatter was effectively forced out by the findings of the Guerin Report. And, despite his glowing praise for the Taoiseach in his resignation letter, the former Justice Minister wouldn't be human if he didn't feel a little sore about the circumstances surrounding his departure.

And, given the barrage of criticism he has endured in recent months, he's also unlikely to be overly influenced by what media commentators have to say.

The expectation among ministers is that Shatter, who does have a strong sense of public service, will waive his right to the golden handshake. But could anybody blame him if he didn't share the same sense of urgency as his former colleagues in announcing that?

After all, he doesn't have much to lose at this point. Given everything that's happened, he might just be tempted to do the political equivalent of taking his ball and going home, at least until after the election is over. Fine Gael will be praying that isn't the case.

Shane Coleman is the presenter of the Sunday Show on Newstalk 106-108FM.

Irish Independent

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