Tuesday 12 December 2017

Alan Shatter's fate is left hanging in the balance

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Justice Minister Alan Shatter at Dublin Castle earlier this year. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Justice Minister Alan Shatter at Dublin Castle earlier this year. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Niall O'Connor, Political Correspondent

THE Government is scrambling to contain the fallout from the latest controversies, with Justice Minister Alan Shatter's future dangling on the line.

He is under mounting pressure in the wake of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan's resignation and revelations of taping of phone calls in garda stations.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan's attempt to calm the crisis failed miserably last night as he left more questions than answers in a series of media interviews.

The Coalition rolled out its most competent performer, yet even he couldn't explain the latest controversy to rock the gardai and the Government.

Mr Shatter's fate is likely to be determined today when he addresses the Dail and is expected to withdraw comments he made attacking garda whistleblowers, in which he accused them of failing to co-operate with a garda inquiry.

The minister is due to make statements and answer questions in two separate Dail debates on the garda controversies and penalty points affairs. The debates have been moved forward to today from tomorrow to clear the Dail schedule to allow TDs to attend the funeral of the Fine Gael TD Nicky McFadden.

Despite his being strongly supported by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Labour, Government TDs are now expressing doubt about Mr Shatter's future as Justice Minister.

The Dublin South TD appeared drained in the Dail just after lunchtime yesterday as he answered questions in his capacity as Minister for Defence. Hours earlier, Mr Shatter had been informed of the shock resignation of the Garda Commissioner, whom he has backed during the ongoing whistleblower controversy.

It's believed that Mr Shatter told Mr Callinan of the Government's "unease" over the revelations that illegal phone taping has been going on in garda stations since the 1980s.

He was then forced to inform the Cabinet of Mr Callinan's resignation. However, several of them had already heard the news through the media.

Mr Shatter is now under intense pressure on two separate fronts – the ongoing whistleblower controversy and the extraordinary revelations surrounding alleged phone tapping at garda stations, potentially one of the biggest garda scandals in the history of the State.

Such is the seriousness of the issue, fears have already been raised that the tapes could potentially collapse trials and taint current court judgments.

But crucially, Mr Shatter will have to explain when exactly he and his department knew that the tapes could pose such a threat to litigation, both past and present.

He is due to give a statement on the taping of phone calls later today and is understood to be seeking information from An Garda Siochana in relation to the extraordinary practice.

Aside from the tapes, Mr Shatter also must promptly address the ongoing whistleblower controversy.

Government figures were consistent last night in their claim that Mr Shatter will adequately address the issue of his controversial comments about Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former garda John Wilson in the Dail.

The minister claimed that the two whistleblowers did not co-operate with an internal garda investigation into the quashing of penalty points. It is an allegation the pair have fervently denied.

Despite being given several opportunities to withdraw the remarks in recent weeks, Mr Shatter consistently declined to do so. Any decision not to withdraw the remarks at the very least would lead to uproar among the Opposition.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan also indicated last night that he believed Mr Shatter would be "addressing" the issue. "I think he has to certainly address it. I'm not going to prescribe what form of word he uses," he told RTE.

Irish Independent

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