Thursday 18 January 2018

Former minister's anger over criticism shows no sign of dimming

Sean Guerin SC
Sean Guerin SC
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

FOR almost two months now, it feels as if former justice minister Alan Shatter has been screaming like a frustrated bag lady at a set of traffic lights.

He has been railing, primarily under the safety blanket of Dail privilege, at the circumstances that led to his resignation.

The chief target of his ire is Sean Guerin, the Senior Counsel asked by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to conduct an independent inquiry into allegations made by garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe and other matters.

In his report, Mr Guerin found that Mr Shatter had a statutory responsibility, as minister, to act once Sgt McCabe had brought his complaints about garda malpractice to the Confidential Recipient.

He also said that in the absence of any documentary evidence to the contrary, it appeared that Mr Shatter did what he did on foot of advice from the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, without the advice being questioned or analysed.

Mr Guerin's report was the tipping point that led to Mr Shatter's resignation last May. In truth, however, it is a surprise that Mr Shatter lasted as long as he did as justice minister.

His position had become increasingly untenable in the wake of a series of controversies.

They included Mr Shatter's disclosure, on RTE's 'Prime Time' programme, that Independent TD Mick Wallace had been cautioned by gardai for using a mobile phone while driving.

Mr Wallace hadn't and Mr Shatter – now appealing a Data Protection Commissioner ruling that he broke data protection laws – had to apologise.

There was also Mr Shatter's handling of allegations of garda malpractice and fears that the offices of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman (GSOC) were bugged.

The public were particularly incensed when both Mr Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Callinan claimed that Sgt McCabe did not co-operate with an investigation into the wiping of penalty points.

This was also untrue, resulting in a clarification in the Dail by Mr Shatter that Sgt McCabe "clearly wasn't directed to engage" – but was invited to.

Mr Shatter has mounted a series of blistering attacks on the Guerin report. Now he has brought his campaign against Mr Guerin to the High Court.

He has even accused Mr Guerin in court papers of objective bias because the lawyer served on a Bar Council committee during the long, still unfinished passage of the Legal Services Bill.

The Bar Council, the ruling body for barristers, has concerns about aspects of the bill but the committee Mr Guerin served on did not take a position on it.

I'm surprised Mr Shatter hasn't joined Enda Kenny to the proceedings. After all, it was the Taoiseach who commissioned the Guerin report – and who chose how and when to publish it.

If Mr Shatter, given mere hours to read the report, was so aggrieved, why did he not ask the Taoiseach to delay publication?

In his report, Mr Guerin said that the purpose of his review was not to make findings of fact or to determine any disputed question of fact or law.

But Mr Shatter has complained that he was not afforded proper procedures and that his career and reputation have been gravely affected.

It is ironic that a man ousted from office because he was perceived not to have afforded fair procedures to Sgt McCabe, is now seeking similar relief in the courts.

Irish Independent

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