Tuesday 15 October 2019

It may now be time for Taoiseach to separate Justice and Defence again

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

Alan Shatter's prodigious work ethic is repeatedly cited by his colleagues in the Coalition, even by his detractors.

The Justice Minister has a prolific record of publishing wide-ranging legislation and guiding it through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The lists of forthcoming laws, known as the Government Legislative Programme, frequently show the minister has a queue of laws in various stages.

The criticism that pops up frequently about the Justice Minister is his inability to accept points from others around the table.

Some ministers find his seeming infallibility amusing, accepting it as a trait in his character that must be tolerated to benefit from his other qualities.

But other ministers and advisers express frustration at the lack of engagement and his apparent failure to accept others who may have an alternative view to his own. Nonetheless, there is still a grudging admiration for his self-belief.

As a result of his often intransigent behaviour, Mr Shatter wouldn't exactly be the most popular figure in the Labour Party ranks. He is regarded as being overly abrasive and prone to engaging in confrontation for the sake of it.

After waiting 30-odd years to get into Cabinet, and doubtless the portfolio he most desired, Mr Shatter isn't wasting any time. His brief means he has a vast array of areas under his remit and this range was enhanced further by the merger of Justice and Defence.

Where previously there were separate ministers holding these portfolios, Taoiseach Enda Kenny decided it was more appropriate to give them to one individual and use the seat this freed up at the table to promote the Minister for Children's role to a full Cabinet post.

The result means Mr Shatter is in charge of the entire security administration in the country: the Garda Siochana, courts system, judiciary, law and order legislation, as well as the Army, Navy and Air Corps arms of the Defence Forces.

It makes quite a breadth of responsibility for any minister.

But Mr Shatter's often dismissive attitude towards questioning of his policies has caused eyebrows to be arched.

The accusations of abuse of power currently circulating as a result of his use of confidential information provided by the Garda Siochana has set alarm bells ringing.

The minister doesn't see he has done anything wrong.

The information he disseminated was accurate, but the appropriateness of divulging it is raising questions.

Mr Shatter unnecessarily got into a scrap with a political figure well below his station.

He has needlessly burned political capital, damaged his reputation and lowered himself in the estimation of many.

Government figures want the matter cleaned up.

The Justice and Defence Minister's sensitive range of influence means the public can't have any doubts about how he will wield his power.

Labour Party figures are worried the minister will potentially be a repeat offender.

Although Mr Kenny has fully backed his minister, it may be time to rein in Mr Shatter, warn him about his conduct and look to dividing the roles once again.

The Defence ministry may not be a prime portfolio but the Taoiseach cannot afford a perception to build up of a minister having absolute power.

Irish Independent

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