Thursday 14 November 2019

Shatter tried to stop inquiry into his role in whistleblower scandal

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and his wife Carol arriving at the High Court for the decision in his appeal yesterday. Photo: Courtpix
Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and his wife Carol arriving at the High Court for the decision in his appeal yesterday. Photo: Courtpix

Philip Ryan Political Correspondent

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter tried to block a Commission of Investigation from investigating his handling of garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe's complaints, a High Court judge has ruled.

In a damning judgment, Mr Shatter's legal challenge against some of the findings of the Guerin Report was branded a "collateral attack" on the commission tasked with investigating allegations of garda malpractice and corruption made by Sgt McCabe.

Mr Shatter's complaints of unfair treatment by barrister Sean Guerin were dismissed as the outcomes of "purely political decisions" taken while he was still a member of Cabinet.

Justice Seamus Noonan also criticised Mr Shatter's "entirely unacceptable", "totally unwarranted" allegation of bias against Mr Guerin.

And in another blow for the former minister yesterday, it emerged Independent TD Mick Wallace has launched a civil action against Mr Shatter for disclosing personal information about him on RTÉ's 'Prime Time'.

The Data Protection Commissioner previously ruled Mr Shatter broke the law by revealing information he received from former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan about a driving incident involving Mr Wallace on live television.

Yesterday's High Court ruling followed a judicial review lodged by Mr Shatter after the publication of the Guerin Report in May last year.

The report found serious failings in the Department of Justice over its handlings of Sgt McCabe's allegations of garda negligence in the Cavan/Monaghan Garda District.

Mr Shatter was not given an opportunity to consider the report and it was made clear to him by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that he would not be able to express confidence in him if he was asked, the court heard.

In court documents, Mr Shatter complained Sgt McCabe was interviewed extensively by Mr Guerin, who claimed the then Justice Minister ignored his complaints. Mr Shatter said he was not given a chance to respond.

He also insisted the barrister should have taken more time with his inquiry and reviewed garda ombudsman files relating to Sgt McCabe's allegations.

Judge Noonan said Mr Shatter's claims that he was not responsible for every correspondence addressed to Department of Justice when he was minister as "extraordinary as it is unstatable".

Mr Shatter's most serious charge was that Mr Guerin was conflicted in his role overseeing the investigation as he was on a committee of barristers who criticised Mr Shatter's reforms of the legal profession. He subsequently withdrew this allegation when he found it to be untrue.

However, Justice Noonan said it was a "grudging withdrawal" and no offer of an explanation or apology was offered.

The judge said all the other complaints made by Mr Shatter were "quintessentially political decisions" which he could not rule on due to the "separation of powers" between government and the court.

"It is very difficult to resist the conclusion that these proceedings were initiated by the applicant with a view to preventing his role in the matter being examined by the Commission of Investigation," Justice Noonan said.

Earlier this year, Mr Shatter sought to stop the Government publishing the terms of reference for the inquiry by citing his legal challenge against the Guerin Report.

The Opposition walked out of the Dáil when Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett cancelled a debate on the terms of reference on foot of a legal letter from Mr Shatter's solicitors.

The Irish Independent understands the commission, led by Judge Kevin O'Higgins, has begun speaking to witnesses in the past week.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Niall Collins said the ruling "vindicated" the Guerin Report and called for the Fennelly Commission report on the former garda commissioner's resignation to be published as soon as possible. "Alan Shatter's attitude and approach did not help him when he was Minister for Justice, nor has it helped him since," he said.

Mr Guerin did not want to comment yesterday on the court ruling. Mr Shatter said he needed time to "reflect" on the judgment.

Irish Independent

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