John Downing: Appearance has done little to boost our confidence in handling of sensitive data
WE HAVE known for a long time that Alan Shatter is the smartest boy in the class.
But last night he showed us again by out-pacing most of his opponents in the debate, and giving Luke 'Ming' Flanagan a night at Leinster House he would surely rather forget forever. Mr Flanagan's letter, read into the Dail, may be the definitive summation of the Roscommon TD's political nous.
Surely, Mr Flanagan is the only one, anywhere, ever, to appeal directly in writing to the Justice Minister to have penalty points applied to his licence. The surreal appeal was rivalled by Mr Flanagan's insistence that he bore no malice toward the people who helped him out of his previous penalty points fix.
But for all Mr Shatter's polish of presentation, his two half-apologies, and his trenchant arguments, we are still left with one core question about the Justice Minister: can we trust him to handle sensitive garda information?
And he has yet to answer that question to satisfaction.
In many ways it was easy for Mr Shatter because his opponents, with the exception of Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins, failed miserably to stick to the point and pin him down.
Mr Shatter led off with one of his two half-apologies: regret that he might have inadvertently given the totally wrong impression that he was using confidential information to compile sinister dossiers on political opponents. Later we got the second attempt at 'sorry': a grudging admission that if Mr Wallace felt wronged – he had no difficulty apologising.
Otherwise, there was a statement that Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan fulfilled his duty to Mr Shatter and the Government by telling the minister that Mr Wallace had been warned by gardai, rather than given penalty points, for using his mobile phone while driving. That statement followed on from an earlier admission that he got the information from the gardai and it will raise further questions about the relationship between An Garda Siochana and their political masters.
It is hard to say definitively where we go from here as much will depend on the outcome of twin inquiries by the Standards in Public Office Commission and by Data Protection Commissioner. Mr Shatter will carry on, but key questions about his judgment remain.