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Shatter backed into corner over 'breach'

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter is facing a double probe into his use of confidential garda information to mount a political attack on Mick Wallace – with Labour still unhappy with his defiant stance.

Although Fine Gael ministers are weighing in behind Mr Shatter as the controversy rumbles on, the junior coalition partners are not satisfied with his answers.

The Labour Party is worried he will use garda information against individuals again if he doesn't learn his lesson from the Mick Wallace affair.

However, Labour ministers are not going to push for his resignation and there is no sympathy among them for Mr Wallace personally.

Having initially said that it was "news" to him, the Independent Wexford TD – who is expected to return today from Italy where he spent the weekend at the vineyard owned by a relative – has since remembered that he was caught by gardai driving while using a mobile phone last year and then let off.

But Mr Shatter is facing an immediate demand to respond to the Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes after Mr Wallace complained that he breached data protection laws.

Although he cannot be sanctioned for committing a breach, it would be deeply politically embarrassing and would give Mr Wallace the opportunity to sue for compensation.

And Mr Shatter is set to face a second investigation from the Standards in Public Office Commission, which is expecting to get a complaint from Mr Wallace today that the minister breached ministerial standards of behaviour.

Mr Shatter has also been facing calls for his resignation from the opposition, who have accused him of using confidential garda information to mount a political attack on a rival.

Mr Shatter has admitted he got the information on Mr Wallace from a general garda briefing about the penalty points system. He has said he has no regret about his actions and has insisted there was nothing wrong with making the garda information about Mr Wallace public.

But a Labour source said the party was concerned Mr Shatter had set a "precedent" by using confidential garda information to attack a political opponent.

"If he doesn't explain how he does it, the fear people have is that he might do it again," the source said.

SPYING

So far, the party is demanding an explanation from Mr Shatter in the Dail rather than raising it at today's Cabinet meeting. Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett is due to make a decision today on a request from Labour Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphreys to quiz Mr Shatter in the Dail about what level of garda information he is being provided with.

However, Mr Shatter insisted he was not using his position as Justice Minister to gather confidential garda information on his opponents. "I, as minister, have no time to be spying on anybody and I have no interest in doing so," he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny again gave his full backing to Mr Shatter during his visit to Boston. He said the information Mr Shatter had supplied was "relevant" – and he was glad that Mr Wallace had recalled the incident in question.

"The information was relevant in the sense that you can't have deputies saying on the one hand that there should not be any (garda) discretion, but at the same time, be the recipients of that," he said.

Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins and Independent Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath both called on Mr Shatter to resign.

Sinn Fein has not called for Mr Shatter's resignation.

But the party's justice spokesman Padraig MacLoch-lainn said the minister had to give a full explanation to the Dail.

Both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail are considering motions of no confidence in Mr Shatter.

Irish Independent