Sunday 23 October 2016

No solution to three years of controversy as department lurches from one emergency to the next

Published 03/06/2016 | 02:30

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

There's a belief that some good always comes out of a crisis - but what happens if the crisis won't end? For more than three years now the Department of Justice has been staggering from emergency to emergency, only calming the waters on one to be hit with the next.

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During his period as Minister for Justice and Defence, Alan Shatter appeared to revel in the controversy at times.

He took the hard decisions in relation to closing garda stations and fending off criticisms about cutbacks alongside every other minister in the era of austerity.

But that was the easy stuff compared with the gathering storms of bugging allegations at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's offices and penalty points scandals.

It was May 2013 when he went on 'Prime Time' and decided he'd had enough of Mick Wallace's moralising over whistleblowers and alleged dodgy practices by some gardaí. Mr Shatter breached data protection law and revealed to the country that the Wexford TD was once spotted on his phone while driving but not given penalty points by a garda.

At the end of the month he faced a motion of no confidence in the Dáil but the arithmetic at the time meant he survived easily and the Taoiseach back him.

But Mr Shatter then became the first Justice Minister in history not to be invited to address the Garda Representation Association's annual conference.

In some quarters he became dubbed the 'minister for self-defence' as 2,500 tapes emerged from garda stations and Commissioner Martin Callinan handed in his resignation.

Eventually, having survived a second motion of no confidence, Mr Shatter fell on his sword in May 2014.

The keys of the department were tossed to Frances Fitzgerald, who was delighted to be given the chance to clean up an almighty mess.

But two years later the chaos is even worse. The legacy of all the issues above are still hanging over the department, but now problems that affect ordinary people as they go about their lives are also on the agenda.

Rural crime dominated the headlines last summer as the impact of those austerity cuts finally came home to roost.

And since Christmas the emergence of a new incarnation of gangland has seen terror find its way onto the streets of Dublin.

While historical tapes and celebrities getting penalty points wiped stoke conversation at water coolers, burglars and gunmen install real fear in people.

It seems now that despite a Commission of Investigation, the whistleblower controversy won't go away. The Garda Commissioner is promising reform but comes from the old culture.

Budgets for rural crime look under threat.

And the gangland threat is only become more fierce.

It's more likely the next crisis is around the corner than a solution to the existing ones.

Irish Independent

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