Kenny backs Shatter for now as Labour seeks answers
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is backing Justice Minister Alan Shatter as the Labour Party demands answers in the Dail over his use of confidential garda information in a political attack on tax-cheat TD Mick Wallace.
However, Mr Shatter is understood to have come under pressure from Mr Kenny to clean up the controversy over his latest spat as soon as possible.
The affair is causing tensions within the Coalition, although Labour ministers are not going to push the matter too hard – apart from wanting the furore to end. The combative minister will make a statement on the controversy today as Labour Party deputy leader Joan Burton said she expected him to provide a "frank and full reply".
Mr Shatter is embroiled in yet another bitter dispute after alleging on live television that Mr Wallace escaped penalty points for using his mobile phone while driving.
The Justice Minister alleged Mr Wallace was given a warning, but was spared points on the discretion of a member of the force.
But the minister's disclosure has led to calls for him to clarify how he obtained confidential garda information and criticism that he used it for a political attack.
Speaking in Boston, Mr Kenny strongly backed Mr Shatter, and when asked if he was 100pc behind his embattled minister firmly replied: "Yes I am."
The Taoiseach said Mr Wallace could not have it "both ways", by criticising the gardai
over the penalty points controversy while benefiting from garda discretion himself.
"You cannot be saying that there should be no discretion used, and at the same time, avail of discretion," he said.
"I want to make it clear that the Minister for Justice is not in a position of collecting files on any individual, or any member of the House."
Government sources said Mr Kenny and senior coalition figures wanted the issue to be cleaned up quickly and did not want it dragging in to the new Dail week.
"I understand there was pressure from our friends in America," a government source said last night. "They wanted it sorted and not dragging into the week."
Another coalition source said there was a "degree of agitation" with communications across government "busy", while a Fine Gael minister said he expected Mr Shatter to explain the controversy at the weekly cabinet meeting tomorrow.
A spokesperson for Mr Shatter said the minister will make further comment today and pointed to Mr Kenny's backing.
"The Taoiseach was very clear on the matter in Boston," the spokesperson said.
Ms Burton had said the Dail was the "proper forum where the minister will address any of the issues", adding: "I am sure he will give a full and frank reply."
A senior Labour source added that the party's ministers were not too agitated over the controversy, but said Mr Shatter "would have heard Joan Burton".
"The answers being asked for are a question for him to answer," the source added. "Was it the wisest thing in the world to say? No, but it's a matter for him now."
Labour TDs, such as Dublin South East deputy Kevin Humphreys, have tabled Dail questions on the issue and are pushing for Mr Shatter to answer questions on the floor of the house.
But Fine Gael ministers rowed in behind Mr Shatter, saying his allegations were in the "public interest". They also went on the attack against Mr Wallace and fellow Independent Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, who called the gardai corrupt but later admitted he had penalty points wiped himself.
Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes, in attacking Mr Wallace, said: "We're not going to be lectured, quite frankly, by people who don't pay their tax and have a huge tax liability to the Irish State."
Mr Wallace and fellow Independents Clare Daly and Joan Collins are due to hold a press conference on the issue later this week.
But Mr Kenny said the incident involving Mr Wallace was relevant to the overall discussion on penalty points.
"As a general background to the discussion about this particular issue of fixed penalty points, it was brought to his (Mr Wallace's) attention that discretion has applied in the past in regard to fixed penalty points before fixed notices were issued," the Taoiseach said. "And that's relevant information to the general discussion.
"The point here is that the deputy in question was adamant that no discretion should be used by gardai, when he himself was the recipient of discretion, before a fixed penalty point notice was actually issued.
"That information is relevant to the background of this discussion," Mr Kenny added.