Monday 23 April 2018

The Shatter controversy shows yet again the Coalition's capacity for political own-goals

Arrogance has become watchword for this Government, claims opposition

Alan Shatter
Alan Shatter
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

ABOUT three-quarters of the way through the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, the matter of the Government's response to the motion of no confidence in the Minister for Justice came up.

Alan Shatter spoke slowly and carefully about the response he had drafted, focusing on his achievements.

Watched silently by his colleagues, he also went through his account of the breath-test incident that had come back to haunt him.

That morning, the Irish Independent contradicted his account of the incident, publishing details of his interaction with the garda concerned.

Information obtained by this newspaper reveals that sources said the garda on the checkpoint felt Mr Shatter was not fully co-operative.

Sources said he did not mention he was asthmatic as the reason he could not complete the breath test and suggested he could not be stopped because of constitutional protection.

The garda who stopped Mr Shatter felt he was not fully co-operative and she was asked by the then Fine Gael frontbench spokesman: "Don't you know who I am?"

This newspaper also believes, on good authority, that the female garda wrote a report on the incident, which is now missing.

The information made available to the Irish Independent around the incident added to the questions about the Justice Minister.

Sitting at the Cabinet table later that morning, Mr Shatter went through his version of events, unquestioned by fellow ministers.

"He was shook," a cabinet source said.

The minister also circulated a letter from the Garda Commissioner saying no report had been produced on the incident.

Once again, the Garda Commissioner was being dragged into a controversy.

Ministers were generally supportive of Mr Shatter with plenty of volunteers to speak on the motion, including Dr James Reilly, Ruairi Quinn, Michael Noonan and Frances Fitzgerald.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Coalition had to be seen to treat the debate seriously and back up Mr Shatter's record.

"There was more than a sense he (Mr Shatter) was suitably chastened by the whole affair. The swagger was gone.

"He gave some run-through to Cabinet. It wasn't extensive. But nobody in Cabinet pressed him. There was a touch of sympathy for him," a government source said.

Although he was at the eye of a storm, Mr Shatter got the overwhelming backing of colleagues.

"As often happens, and we know this from being in opposition, a confidence motion in a minister brings a controversy to an end," a senior government source said.

Regardless of their views of Mr Shatter's personality, ministers and backbenchers queued up to defend their man – and attack Fianna Fail for tabling the motion.

Mr Shatter's own speech was in stark contrast to his performance a week earlier, where he made a half apology to Mick Wallace (pictured left) for releasing personal information about his driving while on a mobile phone incident and went generally on the attack.

The apology only came after pressure applied from the Fine Gael and Labour Party hierarchies. This time out, Mr Shatter made sure the apology to Mr Wallace was beyond doubt.

Fine Gael sources say a couple of backbenchers told him he had to remove the ambiguity from the apology.

He also went back over the same ground on his breath test.

Notably, the minister never addressed the issue of his alleged lack of cordiality to the garda at the checkpoint.

As the week progressed, more garda sources confirmed the version of events.


Coalition TDs and ministers alike referred to his hard work ethic and his reforming zeal.

Fianna Fail's Dara Calleary summed up the minister's conflicting personality traits best when he referred to the "two Alan Shatters".

When dealing with legislation, the Mayo TD said the minister could be very generous with both his legal knowledge and political experience.

"There is, however, another Deputy Shatter. I refer to the one who cannot resist an audience. It is the Deputy Shatter who must punch the man who might disagree with him rather than dealing with the issue.

"In the words of one of his supporters – I refer to Deputy Lowry who, I gather, is going to vote confidence in the minister – he is irritatingly dismissive and brash.

"That is the side of the minister's personality that has brought us here this evening."

Some in Government regarded the entire affair as "a bit of a sideshow" over the past couple of weeks.

Yet again, it displayed this Government's capacity to inflict own goals and burn up political capital unnecessarily.

The penalty points issue was comprehensively dealt with through the garda report and would have passed on until Mr Shatter's rush of blood to the head on RTE's 'Prime Time' where he divulged information about Mr Wallace. In his desire to inflict a killer blow on an opponent, Mr Shatter placed himself at the eye of the storm.

From that self-inflicted mistake, the controversies surrounding him rolled.

Arrogance landed Mr Shatter in difficulties.

The phrase was to pop up again and again and again.

A running theme through the debate on Mr Shatter was the description of arrogance.

Practically every opposition speaker attached the tag to the minister and the Government.

"This shows the arrogance that has entered the Government.

"It has arrogance flowing through its veins and the Government is unable to control it," Fianna Fail's Niall Collins noted.

Opinion is divided on whether Mr Shatter will change his approach and if he's learned his lesson, or if he's been permanently damaged by events.

"I'd say he won't change at all," a fellow minister predicted bluntly.

Irish Independent

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