Thursday 23 November 2017

The long and bumpy road to Shatter's resignation

Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

BRIAN COWEN once described the Department of Health as being like Angola because there were so many landmines.

The same description could also apply to the Department of Justice, at least during the reign of Alan Shatter.

The former justice minister attracted controversy after controversy.

The first major item that contributed to Mr Shatter's downfall came across his desk in January 2012.

Garda Confidential Recipient Oliver Connolly gave him a report detailing allegations of misconduct made by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, specifically that a number of serious cases were not investigated properly.

These complaints were investigated by gardai and the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission. The gardai found no evidence of failures. GSOC found malpractice in one case.

Mr Connolly was later recorded by Sgt McCabe saying that Shatter would "screw" the garda if certain allegations reached the media.

The next landmine emerged in November 2012 when the Irish Independent revealed claims that well-known individuals, including a sports star and judges, had had their penalty points cancelled.

An internal garda review of the points system published in May 2013, headed by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony, led to disciplinary proceedings against three gardai, but the report did not find any evidence of corruption.

Mr Shatter made a major slip that month during an RTE Prime Time discussion where he disclosed Independent TD Mick Wallace had been cautioned for using his mobile phone while driving.

The information had been passed to him by then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the minister's comments on national television would come back to haunt him.

Despite the findings of the O'Mahony inquiry, pressure for further action on penalty points began to build.

By September 2013, the Comptroller and Auditor General had completed an examination of the penalty points system and found significant failings which had cost the taxpayer millions of euro.

In January of this year Mr Shatter gave in and referred the penalty points issue to GSOC, but only after Sgt McCabe defied the minister and Commissioner Callinan's wishes by giving evidence to the Dail's Public Accounts Committee.

The following month another controversy blew up, the alleged bugging of GSOC's offices, and things really began to snowball for Mr Shatter.

He sought to play down the controversy, saying there was no evidence of bugging and accusations against gardai were "baseless innuendo".

However, pressure on the minister intensified further when Mr Wallace read a transcript of the conversation between Mr Connolly and Sgt McCabe in the Dail. He said Mr Connolly told Sgt McCabe that Mr Shatter would "go after" him if his complaint became public knowledge.

This controversy led Mr Shatter to sack Mr Connolly on February 19.

Then in March, the penalty points issue went up yet another notch when the Garda Inspectorate published a report detailing widespread breaches of penalty points system. Chief Inspector Bob Olson also described Sgt McCabe as credible.

By the end of that month another scandal had erupted – the widespread taping of conversations over several decades at garda stations.

Commissioner Callinan had been aware of the issue since the previous November and had highlighted it with the Department of Justice, yet Mr Shatter claimed not to have been informed.

The Commissioner, who was already under pressure to go for refusing to apologise for calling the whistleblowers' actions "disgusting", resigned.

By the end of March there were four investigations of garda controversies under way – a GSOC investigation into penalty points, a review of the GSOC bugging controversy by former High Court judge John Cooke, a review by barrister Sean Guerin into Sgt McCabe's garda investigation mismanagement claims, and a commission of investigation into the taping of garda station phone recordings.

But yet another controversy was about to hit Mr Shatter. The Data Protection Commissioner found this week that the minister had broken the law by disclosing personal information about Mr Wallace's mobile phone incident.

Mr Shatter seemed to be, once again, toughing it out and looked set to appeal the finding.

But then came the bombshell yesterday afternoon that the Guerin report had been delivered to Government and he had resigned. The report recommended a statutory inquiry be set up to examine Sgt McCabe's allegations.

It seems that this was just one controversy too many for a minister who clung on to his job for so long.

Irish Independent

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