Independence of new Shatter appointee called into question
THE independence of a new whistleblower liaison official for An Garda Siochana was questioned last night after it emerged Justice Minister Alan Shatter received a donation of €1,000 from the man he appointed to the post.
As well as the close links between Oliver Connolly -- the new "confidential recipient" for gardai -- and Fine Gael, further personal connections between the barrister and Mr Shatter emerged yesterday.
Mr Shatter was trained as a mediator by Friary Law, the company owned by Mr Connolly. It comes after Mr Shatter announced Mr Connolly as the point of contact for whistleblowing gardai and civilian employees of the force.
The part-time "confidential recipient" must be available to receive confidential reports of corruption or malpractice within the gardai.
It also emerged yesterday that Mr Shatter did not tell the Labour Party that the Fine Gael supporter he appointed to the €12,500 state position gave him the personal donation. But Labour sources insisted it did not affect Mr Connolly's ability to do his job.
Mr Connolly donated €1,000 to Mr Shatter in 2007, and also gave former Fine Gael senator Eugene Regan €1,000.
Fianna Fail justice spokesman Dara Calleary said Mr Shatter "specialised in the last Dail of lecturing Fianna Fail and others about appointing family and friends to these kind of positions".
"This is supposed to be a completely independent position and someone who has the confidence of the force," the Mayo TD said.
Mr Calleary has said he will be raising the issue with Mr Shatter in the Dail next week.
Amid opposition criticism of the appointment by Mr Shatter, one Fine Gael TD said last night: "He'd be the first to say it himself if the shoe was on the other foot."
Mr Shatter also refused to answer questions yesterday about the appointment, including whether he followed correct procedures in appointing Mr Connolly and if he told his Fine Gael cabinet colleagues about his links with Mr Connolly.
In response, Mr Shatter's spokeswoman said: "Mr Connolly was appointed because of his integrity, competence and experience. The minister notes that despite the Irish Independent being furnished with full details of his qualifications and legal experience the paper chose to entirely ignore the information furnished and the minister has nothing to add."
When asked if he was a Fine Gael supporter, Mr Connolly said: "I don't think my personal politics really would impact in any way in respect of this appointment."
He had no comment to make on whether he donated money to Mr Shatter or Mr Regan.
But he defended his record and insisted he was highly qualified for the new, part-time position.
"I think that perhaps what you should be aware of is that I've practised as an attorney in New York, at the bar in London," he added. "I was a world fellow at the American Arbitration Association."
He also told this newspaper to be "very careful" when reporting about him.
"You have to be most careful there, you have to be most careful," he said. "In fairness to the accuracy, you would have to be very, very careful."
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said Mr Connolly's appointment was based on "merit and on the basis of what he will bring to the task".
"There is no rule or there is no convention that says that if someone is a member of a political party, or a donor to a political party, (they would be) disqualified from appointment to a post like that," Mr Gilmore said.
"The issue of his being a donor to Fine Gael and, as I understand it, was public knowledge because it was declared by Mr Shatter in his SIPO declaration."
After his office said on numerous occasions that they could not confirm to the Irish Independent that Mr Connolly was a donor, Mr Shatter yesterday said he had "absolutely" received a donation.
"That has absolutely no connection with his appointment," he told 'Morning Ireland'. "To suggest anything other than he's been appointed on merit is nothing short of contemptible."