Thursday 22 February 2018

Shatter and Howlin clash bitterly over referendum and garda bill

Justice department demands extra cash to cover security costs of VIP visits

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Tensions are mounting within Cabinet between Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin and Justice Minister Alan Shatter with clashes over two major issues.

Mr Shatter appeared to try to pin the blame for the Oireachtas powers referendum being defeated on Mr Howlin at the weekend -- a charge the Justice Minister denies.

But the Fine Gael and the Labour Party ministers are already at odds over the payment of the €36m garda bill for the visits by the queen and US president.

Mr Howlin is insisting the money comes out of existing garda budgets and will be examined at the end of the year but Mr Shatter wants additional funding to be provided as the spending was not budgeted.

"Howlin and Shatter are at each other's necks. It's not just the referendum. Already, they've been on about the queen's visit and who is paying for it. They never got on, even in opposition. They are too much alike," a government source said.

The €36m policing bill from the state visits has left the garda authorities struggling to manage their budgets.

Special funding to cover the cost of providing unprecedented security for the visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama last May has not yet been handed over -- and won't before the end of the year.

Officials from Mr Shatter's Department of Justice and Mr Howlin's Department of Public Expenditure are still involved in negotiations for the payment of the cash.

The lengthy delay has forced garda authorities to use their annual budget to meet the payroll costs and overtime incurred by their members during the massive operation.

As a result, garda management around the country is struggling to finance the day-to-day costs of running the force because of the shortfall.

The overall cost to An Garda Siochana of the two state visits amounted to €35.8m, of which €24.2m was spent on safeguarding the queen.

A breakdown of the expenditure shows that €28.4m met payroll costs, including overtime, while another €3m went on travel and subsistence and €4.4m on other costs.

It is understood that shortly before the visits, it was agreed by senior officials, and rubber-stamped by their ministers, that the costs should be met by special funding from the Exchequer.

The visits were not announced until this year, so there was no provision in the garda budget for the additional cost. All garda leave and rest days were cancelled for the visits and gardai on duty had to work longer than normal shifts.

Mr Shatter disclosed in the summer that the final cost for all involved, including civil servants, came close to €40m and that the vast scale of the security operation was commensurate with the very real security threats involved.


No additional money has been granted to the gardai and no supplementary estimate has been passed.

Mr Howlin said last month his department had been "engaged with the Department of Justice about the matter of cost management on expenditure in connection with these events". He said he expected to receive a report from the Department of Justice shortly.

Mr Howlin's department said last night that all spending had to come out of existing budgets and any exceptions would only be examined at the end of the year.

Mr Shatter is denying he tried to blame Mr Howlin for last weekend's referendum defeat.

When it was obvious the Oireachtas powers referendum was about to be defeated, Mr Shatter pointed out this referendum was the responsibility of Mr Howlin's department.

Mr Shatter also said he had played his role in the judges' pay referendum, which was passed comfortably.

But the minister is objecting to this interpretation of his comments as an attempt to deflect the blame on to Mr Howlin.

"Alan Shatter is taking exception to that. He feels the quote has been parsed," a government spokesman said last night.

The Cabinet briefly discussed the defeat of the referendum at its meeting yesterday.

"There was an analysis. The lessons to be learned will be learned. The outstanding referendums will be proceeded with. It was a very brief discussion," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Mr Howlin denies ignoring a request from the Dail spending watchdog to discuss the implications of the Oireachtas powers referendum.

The Dail Public Accounts Committee contacted Mr Howlin expressing concerns about the knock-on effects for its work if the referendum was passed.

Members of the cross-party committee were concerned the extension of powers to other committees could dilute its well-established role.

But Mr Howlin sent along an official, William Beausang, to brief the committee.

The minister's spokesperson said the committee did not ask for Mr Howlin to personally attend.

Irish Independent

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