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Shatter refuses to quit in 'breach of trust' row

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter, under fire for his use of private and privileged garda information in an attempt to damage independent TD Mick Wallace, has tried to laugh off suggestions that he should resign.

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter, under fire for his use of private and privileged garda information in an attempt to damage independent TD Mick Wallace, has tried to laugh off suggestions that he should resign.

"Is that a joke?" Mr Shatter said yesterday when asked by the Sunday Independent if he should consider his position in light of the serious issues that have arisen after he admitted he had been "advised" that Mr Wallace had been spared penalty points for an alleged driving offence.

Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins says that "for the sake of the rule of law" Mr Shatter should resign.

Saying he was "utterly gobsmacked" at the "blatant and disturbing abuse of ministerial power", he accused Mr Shatter of showing he was "willing to exploit any confidential information he has for his own political gain – and no citizen is safe".

To protect due process, the rule of law and public trust in the justice system, he said the Taoiseach had to demand Mr Shatter's resignation.

"If this issue is deemed acceptable by the Taoiseach and Tanaiste, we are witnessing the dark side of a Government that sees itself as untouchable," he said.

He added that Mr Shatter had "exploited personal off-the-record information" acquired solely because of his ministerial position to "launch an attack on a citizen".

Accusing the minister of "betraying the responsibilities" of his seal of office, Mr Collins said that, in a democracy based on the rule of law, every citizen, regardless of their politics, was entitled to due process.

"Alan Shatter took on the role of judge and jury for his own political advantage. Outside of Soviet politburos and banana republics, this is a resigning offence," he said.

Also yesterday, Sinn Fein justice spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn said Mr Shatter had to explain how he came by the information concerned and to clarify it was not hearsay.

Mr Shatter last week insisted Mr Wallace had escaped penalty points last year because of "discretionary consideration afforded to him by An Garda Siochana".

He claimed it was a "matter of public importance" to disclose the information so that people could "assess the credibility" of Mr Wallace, who has described a garda report into the penalty points controversy as a "whitewash".

In a statement yesterday, the Wexford TD, who is in Italy this weekend, repeated that he was unaware of the alleged incident in which Mr Shatter claimed he had received a garda warning for using his mobile phone while driving.

The Sunday Independent understands that an account of how Mr Wallace was allegedly given a verbal caution was discussed in garda headquarters last month.

According to informed sources, the story circulated was that two officers responding to a non-urgent call stopped to give the TD a verbal caution then drove on.

Neither the standard €60 fine or the maximum two penalty points were applied. There the matter ended until, gardai believe, details of the incident was passed to the minister in recent weeks.

Mr Shatter's use of private garda information was yesterday described as "unbecoming" by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).

General secretary John Redmond said the use of privileged information by a minister undermined public confidence in garda impartiality.

Asked yesterday, however, if he should resign, Mr Shatter replied: "Is that a joke?"

He made no further comment as he was driven away from a garda memorial ceremony in Dublin Castle which he attended with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

The AGSI has also said Mr Shatter's claims on RTE's Prime Time suggested politics and policing were too close and would undermine the garda.

Mr Redmond said: "We rely on the consent and support of the community. We guard that jealously, and we do not like a situation where that is being undermined. There should not be a question in the public's mind over whether decisions are being made for the minister's purposes. It reinforces the idea that the Government is always involved in the management of policing."

An associate professor of law at Trinity College Dublin, Eoin O'Dell, said: "My concern is if there is no formal way that he could have this information, then this really is a leak for political purposes. I see grave privacy concerns."

In a statement on Friday, Mr Shatter said: "I believed it was a matter of public importance that those viewing the programme be in a position to assess the credibility of the deputy's position.

"By making a pretence, for political purposes, that he is of the view that gardai should not use their discretionary powers in ease of a member of the general public while concealing the fact that garda discretion had been exercised in relation to himself, Deputy Wallace was effectively asserting that discretionary consideration afforded to him by An Garda Siochana should not be extended to others. I do not believe such an approach to be either acceptable or credible."

In the Sunday Independent today, however, Mr Collins writes: "A minister who so blatantly abuses his position to use confidential personal information in a calculated attack on a personal citizen sets a dangerous precedent.

"What fresh low will he stoop to in future for the sake of a political gimmick or a quick headline? Are all citizens exposed to the political calculations of the minister?"

Irish Independent