Sunday 25 August 2019

Leo Varadkar betrayed me to win power, Shatter claims

Former friends: In 2012, Alan Shatter and Leo Varadkar were political allies. Picture: Collins
Former friends: In 2012, Alan Shatter and Leo Varadkar were political allies. Picture: Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Former justice minister Alan Shatter has launched a remarkable attack on the Taoiseach, claiming he “opportunistically” used the Garda whistleblower scandal to begin his Fine Gael leadership bid.

Five years after leaving the Cabinet, Mr Shatter has penned a cutting analysis of the role played by Leo Varadkar in the events that led to his resignation. He claims his ex-colleague was “orchestrating or engaging in extensive briefing to bolster his reputation and image, and deliberately damage mine”.

“I knew Varadkar had a great capacity to rock the boat and had no concept of collegiality,” Mr Shatter says.

The comments, in a new book entitled ‘Frenzy and Betrayal; The Anatomy of a Political Assassination’, come at a time when Mr Varadkar is already under pressure on several fronts.

He is expected to meet with backbench TD Maria Bailey today to discuss the reputational damage her swing fall compensation case has caused the party.

And in the coming days, Fine Gael officials will carry out a post-mortem on the local election results, which were well below expectations.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said he would not be commenting on the claims in the book. 

Mr Shatter’s book gives his insights into a string of controversies which engulfed the Department of Justice in 2014.

He blames Mr Varadkar, who was then minister for transport, for helping turn what was already “a perfect storm” into a “category five hurricane which destroyed my reputation and laid the foundations for ending my over 30 years of active involvement in Irish politics".

Among the controversies which dominated media coverage for months were inaccurate claims the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) were bugged, the handling of an investigation into penalty point cancellations and the revelation of unknown recordings of telephone conversations in Garda stations across the country.

The ex-Dublin Rathdown TD writes at length about a now infamous speech given by Mr Varadkar at a road safety conference in March 2014.

Mr Varadkar called on then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw controversial remarks he made about the two Garda whistleblowers, Maurice McCabe and John Wilson.

The commissioner used the word "disgusting" in relation to the leaking of details of the scrapping of penalty points by the two men.

By contrast, Mr Varadkar described them as "distinguished" and suggested the Department of Justice was not properly investigating the allegations.

Mr Shatter was in Mexico on government business at the time and felt "ambushed" by the comments.

In his book, he claims Mr Varadkar chose to "entirely ignore" briefings from the Department of Justice on the actions being taken and the fact the issue had been referred to the Garda Inspectorate.

Mr Shatter says the RSA event was used "as a platform for a publicity-seeking piece of self promotion".

"The speech also clearly promoted the false narrative that both Callinan and I had 'turned a blind eye to McCabe's complaints…"

"I believe that Varadkar was opportunistically reigniting a controversy, despite knowing the background to be more complex than the public could have understood or as presented by Opposition politicians and media commentators."

He continued: "Varadkar was depicted as the handsome hero, Luke Skywalker, and Martin Callinan and I joined at the hip as Darth Vader, with the shadow of Maurice McCabe cast across the whole stage."

He says the moment "would ultimately be recognised as marking the effective launch of his successful bid to become leader of the Fine Gael party".

Mr Shatter, a qualified lawyer, said that if Mr Varadkar had "genuine concerns, no barrier prevented him from discussing them with me, dropping into my office or raising them through discussions between our special advisors or proposing that we jointly meet with the Garda Commissioner to discuss them".

Assuming "all hell was about to break loose, the then minister cut short his trip to Mexico and returned home immediately.

He says Mr Varadkar "struck media gold": "I knew that, from his perspective, he would regard March 21, 2014 as a particularly good day. From my perspective, I felt I had just entered some parallel universe."

Throughout the book, Mr Shatter repeatedly claims the current Taoiseach was "dedicated to media spin".

"On an occasion when we were together and I had joked about the frequency of his appearances in the print media, he had laughingly described himself as 'a media whore'," Mr Shatter claims.

Mr Shatter resigned from government in May 2014 after a report by barrister Seán Guerin found he mishandled the whistleblower's allegations. He lost his Dáil seat in the election in 2016.

However, the courts later ruled his constitutional rights were breached by the Guerin investigation and cleared him of any wrongdoing.

He suggests this was a "pyrrhic victory" because "the clock could not be turned back". "There was little likelihood of resurrecting my political career. Multiple reports of Guerin's damning conclusions would forever be accessible online and I knew my reputation remained damaged," he writes.

He criticises the fact there was no public response from the Fine Gael party or any member of government when the final Supreme Court hearing concluded.

Irish Independent

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