Restoring confidence in Garda now a top priority
The resignation yesterday of Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter, preceded by the resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan a little more than a month ago, is unprecedented and indicates a dire need to restore confidence in our police force. Both of these events can be traced back to the handling by the gardai and Mr Shatter of allegations primarily made by whistleblower Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The alleged bugging of the GSOC office in Dublin was the spark that set off a series of allegations and subsequent inquiries that led to yesterday's dramatic announcement.
It now appears from Mr Shatter's letter of resignation that while Sean Guerin SC cannot "make any determination of the complaints Gda Sgt McCabe has made" he has recommended that the Government establish a statutory inquiry into what has become known as the 'Penalty Points Scandal'.
Since the foundation of the State there has been great respect in this country for An Garda Siochana. The public have always stood by our police force despite various crises, not least the awful events in Donegal which sullied the force's good name. While it is undoubtedly true that Mr Shatter was, at times, a brilliant and reforming minister, a combination of his own arrogance and a basic failure to deal with serious allegations has now led to his downfall.
Mr Shatter also made the mistake of alleging that the whistleblower had not co-operated with a garda investigation, when this was contrary to the facts. His delay in correcting the record undermined his credibility. His cause was not helped by the fact that he handled not one important and difficult brief, but two. The workload involved – in the Departments of Justice and Defence – is too onerous for a single minister.
The new minister and new commissioner must set the restoration of public confidence in the gardai as a priority. In his resignation letter Mr Shatter said: "In a cynical age, when politicians are given little public credit for anything they do, I want to especially acknowledge the dedicated commitment of members of both parties, ministers and non-minister, to the welfare of our country."
It has to be said that Mr Shatter did the State some service in difficult times. It is now up to his successor to do better.