Thursday 14 December 2017

Justice Minister Alan Shatter blames AGs' 'grenade' for poll loss

Justice Minister still reluctant to accept voters' decision on referendum


Justice Minister Alan Shatter, whose foot-in-mouth gaffes have led to him becoming a lightning rod for voters' anger with Fine Gael in government, continues to show a reluctance to accept the will of the people.

This weekend, Mr Shatter sought to deflect responsibility for the defeat of the Oireachtas Powers referendum by launching an astonishing personal attack on former attorneys general, whose public letter is widely regarded as being the turning point in the referendum campaign.

"It might have been helpful if some of those who signed the declaration of the eight attorneys perhaps made some declaration of interest," said Mr Shatter.

Mr Shatter's renewed attack on the eight attorneys general, whose opposition fatally damaged the Government's referendum, came as he himself faced serious criticism over his handling of the campaign, and his attempt to pin the blame on his cabinet colleague Brendan Howlin.

Two of those who signed the declaration, former Fianna Fail AG Dermot Gleeson and the former Fine Gael-appointed AG Peter Sutherland, went on to senior careers in banking.

Mr Gleeson was chairman of Allied Irish Bank and was present on the night of Brian Lenihan's infamous bank guarantee in September 2008.

Mr Sutherland is the current non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International and is a former director of Royal Bank of Scotland, which is now being propped up by the UK government and was heavily exposed in Ireland at the time of the crisis.

Another of the former attorneys general who signed the Vote 'No' letter was the last Fianna Fail/Green Party nominated attorney general Paul Gallagher , who was also present on the night of the bank guarantee as the government's law officer and was in office during the EU/ECB/IMF bailout last November.

Mr Shatter claimed that the cross-party group of eight former senior law officers of the State, "threw a grenade into the public arena three days before the referendum without affording an opportunity for the general public to truly work out who was right on that issue and I don't believe that served the public interest".

He added: "I found the lateness of their engagement very puzzling," he said.

"They had access to what the wording was from early September. Any of them could have contributed, either privately or publicly, to make any proposal they deemed appropriate if they believed the wording was defective in protecting individual rights. They chose not to do that."

Mr Shatter added: "One of the primary and immediate concerns for the Government was to have a full public inquiry into the banking disaster and into the decisions made in September 2008.

"And it might have been helpful if some of those who signed the declaration of the eight attorneys perhaps made some declaration of interest."

The group of eight came together just three days before the nation went to the polls to send a letter to national newspapers warning people that a 'Yes' vote would "seriously weaken their rights".

The letter was signed by David Byrne, Patrick Connolly, Paul Gallagher, Dermot Gleeson, Michael McDowell, Peter Sutherland, John Rogers and Harold Whelehan.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, he said: "I'm simply saying that the eight individuals, former attorneys, who felt the need to accumulatively come together because they know how government works -- they've been on the inside of the system -- had every opportunity, all through the month of September, to feed in their concerns. . ."

Mr Shatter also responded to Mr Sutherland's claims that he displayed "startling arrogance" in his response to the objections raised by the group of eight.

Asked about the view in some quarters that he is arrogant, Mr Shatter described the group of eight as "precious".

He said: "I do think the group of eight might have been just a little bit precious and that it is their belief that if they say something -- it has to be right.

"It seems to me that they're prepared to criticise but they find it extremely difficult to accept any criticism of the intervention."

Asked about public criticism of him, he said: "If people want to caricature me, then so be it. It's not my problem."

The referendum on Houses of the Oireachtas inquiries was rejected by a majority of more than 116,000 votes. (53.3 per cent to 46.7 per cent)

The amendment -- which would have been the 30th to the Constitution -- sought to give more power to Oireachtas members to set up inquiries into matters deemed to be of public importance. The second amendment, on judicial pay, passed easily.

Sunday Independent

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