Monday 18 December 2017

Shatter opposed new watchdog for gardai as scandals unfolded

Taoiseach told Justice Minister to apologise to whistleblowers in Dail

Justice minister Alan Shatter
Justice minister Alan Shatter

Fionnan Sheahan and Tom Brady

Justice Minister Alan Shatter continued to resist the setting up of a new garda oversight body at last week's Cabinet meeting – even after the Garda Commissioner's resignation and the emergence of the garda-taping scandal, the Irish Independent has learned.

Mr Shatter was also directly instructed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that he would have to apologise to garda whistleblowers to take the heat out of that aspect of the controversy.

Mr Kenny saw the setting up of the garda authority and Mr Shatter's apology as vital to assuage concerns in the Labour Party.

But senior Labour figures were annoyed when there was still "pushback" from Mr Shatter at Tuesday morning's crisis cabinet meeting, which followed Martin Callinan's resignation.

The minister's attitude towards the garda authority will again raise questions about his suitability to head up the Government's response to a new era of accountability.

Government sources said the setting up of the authority "certainly was not agreed" until Tuesday morning.

But there were clear signals from Fine Gael from the weekend that it was going to accede to Labour's demand. Fine Gael was, by that point, willing to agree to look at the proposal in detail and not just pass it on to an Oireachtas committee to examine.

But the emergence of the garda-taping controversy made a decision on the setting up of the garda authority an imperative part of the Government's response.

Mr Kenny put the decision in principle on setting up the garda authority into his draft statement in response to the taping controversy, which was then agreed with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Mr Shatter made no contact with the Garda Commissioner before his unexpected resignation last Tuesday morning.

But the Irish Independent has learned that Mr Shatter did ring the former commissioner that night, shortly after he left Garda HQ for the last time.

Sources told the Irish Independent the conversation was polite but they did not discuss the phone-taping revelations in any detail.

"Shatter told him that he regretted the way things had worked out. Callinan said very little. It was a brief phone call and that was it," a source said.

Fine Gael figures confirmed Mr Shatter did voice objections at the cabinet table.

"The reservations were from the Minister for Justice as the Government hadn't gone into any detail about it (the garda authority). It was just being announced.

"You'd expect that from the line minister. Everybody in principle was agreed on the need for it. There was no problem," a senior Fine Gael source said.

Mr Kenny came to the Cabinet with a draft statement outlining the Government's response to the garda taping crisis.

But the statement had to take account also of the commissioner's retirement and the views of ministers.

"There was a discussion on a number of points, including the garda authority. Also the nature of the competition to replace the commissioner. It was clear there was a need for open competition. The statement was going to include that there would be an inquiry, that there would be a garda authority and so on," a coalition source said.

Different ministers wanted individual words and items inserted into the statement.

Frustrated by the process, Mr Kenny gave the responsibility to make the additions and the amendments for the final statement to a group of three ministers – Mr Shatter and two Labour ministers, Brendan Howlin and Pat Rabbitte.

Mr Kenny also reassured Labour on Tuesday that Mr Shatter would "deal with" the issue for claiming garda whistleblowers had not co-operated with a garda internal inquiry into penalty points.

Mr Gilmore had called on Mr Shatter to withdraw the remarks the day before.

Labour took it as read that he would be apologising in his speech on the Garda Inspectorate report into penalty points.

But Mr Kenny is still understood to have spelled out to Mr Shatter what was required.

"He told him what he'd have to do to sort it out," a senior party source said.

"It's not easy to guide Alan into a particular space. We all know he's 'never wrong'. But he needed to bury the thing. Once he apologised that was done."

Ministers believe the forthcoming independent reports on the garda controversies will be crucial in shoring up Mr Shatter's position.

"What he needs is a couple of those reports to put some context on the issues," a minister said.

But there is considerable anger in Government at the manner in which the crisis was allowed to spiral out of control.

"It's important the Government has a proper communications and political strategy to deal with them. We have no excuse," another minister said.

The new garda authority's responsibilities would include receiving reports from garda management, drawing up policy statements, approving budgets and questioning the Garda Commissioner and senior officers.

Irish Independent

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