Friday 13 December 2019

Justice Minister's toxic arrogance was an albatross around necks of FG candidates

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has a ruthless streak
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has a ruthless streak
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

BEHIND that smile lies a cold, ruthless streak. Kenny becomes more Haughey-esque in leadership style with each passing month. He decided to dispatch Alan "we're lucky to have him" Shatter several weeks ago – probably around the weekend of receiving the Maurice McCabe dossier from Micheal Martin. The politics of the Guerin Report was never a basis of whitewashing whistleblower allegations. It was a scoping exercise as concealed precursor to a statutory commission of inquiry, with its resultant ramifications of resignations.

Shatter was doomed, living on borrowed time, due to serial gross misjudgment and mistreatment of whistleblowers. Guerin wasn't interested in Shatter's prospective. He completely ignored him throughout his review, declining to interview him, thereby circumventing any rearguard action by him or the department.

Shatter's alleged voluntary resignation was as believable as Martin Callinan's 'retirement'. Tell-tale signals were contained in Shatter's resignation letter. He couldn't just pay his respects and quit. He had to "record my concerns and reservations" with regard to the Guerin Report and its conclusions. Moreover, he expressed "surprise to learn that he received no information from GSOC".

Shatter is smart enough to know when he has been stitched up by his FG colleagues. Kenny needed his toxic brand of arrogance off Fine Gael candidates' backs ASAP.

The Taoiseach and his right-hand man Martin Fraser (cabinet secretary and secretary general of the Department of An Taoiseach) concluded that they had to take direct charge of the conveyor belt of crises at the Department of Justice. The top team viewed Shatter as being part of the problem, rather than part of any solution. Canvassers confirmed dark moodiness from the doorsteps.

Poor Eamon Gilmore, fast becoming the Comical Ali of the Cabinet, was kept out of the inner sanctum. It was reminiscent of veteran Paddy Crerand of MUTV rubbishing speculation of his beloved Alex Ferguson's rumoured departure, while Ferguson had in fact already retired.

Labour's repeated defence of Shatter looks laughable in light of this report. Speculation suggests that Gilmore may have sought the vacant Justice post for himself. No chance. Kenny has to have an absolute acolyte in the job. Frances Fitzgerald was the perfect replacement. Old friends are best.

Back in 2001, when John Bruton was ousted as Fine Gael leader, speculation was rife that standing against the heir apparent, Michael Noonan, would be a dream ticket of Enda Kenny with Frances Fitzgerald as deputy leader – covering both gender balance and a West of Ireland/Dublin geographical blend. This was dubbed the "Ken and Barbie" double act, because of their common blonde good looks. Fitzgerald's loyalty to her leader is unconditional. Don't rule out the prospects of her becoming Fine Gael's deputy leader if Reilly is next for the chop.

A hands-on approach to a line ministry is fraught with political dangers. If the Health Department is Angola, then the Justice Department is North Korea and Vietnam combined. Who knows where this story will end? If commission probes of Garda affairs widen and deepen, lots of unexpected issues may emerge, including: covert activities of anti-terrorism units; suspected collusion with drug traffickers; non-co-operation with external oversight; accuracy of evidence procured for the Director of Public Prosecutions office; inadequate internal garda response to the Smithwick Tribunal's report; alleged individual corruption; and fresh appearances of new whistleblowers.

It mightn't be such smart politics for the Taoiseach to place himself centre-stage when the unknown domino effects of this saga have yet to unfold.

Frances's first poison chalice is following through on the promised "restoration of public confidence" agenda. If this means regime change, then the next casualty must be the secretary general of Justice, Brian Purcell. He is a critical link man between the minister and the Garda Commissioner. He was a central figure on the night of Callinan's exit and inexplicable non-briefing of Shatter on the tape-gate controversy. Guerin's findings now make his position untenable. Fitzgerald must immediately determine her full confidence in him or not.

Surely 'open recruitment' of the next Garda Commissioner means filling the vacancy from outside existing garda ranks. Noirin O'Sullivan is clearly the favoured candidate of the garda representative associations, the GRA and AGSI, whose relationship with Shatter had become toxic. The new minister's in-tray will involve stark choices of leadership changes or not. Cultures don't change themselves.

Humorous ironic analogous quips about the Taoiseach taking direct charge of Defence for himself being akin to African dictators taking personal oversight of the military in a crisis are somewhat harsh. However, what started with concerns about the Economic Management Council cabinet quartet taking excessive control of fiscal/budgetary matters has extended into another significant sphere of this administration.

Under the nice guy façade, Kenny increasingly mirrors Haughey's political (not integrity) traits – not only as an adroitly surviving party leader, but also a brutal intolerance of colleague's failings.

Those of us sitting in the cheap seats, watching months of own goals, have to doubt overall political management and timing that results in a cabinet casualty within a mere two weeks of polling day.

Misguided fulsome establishment support for Shatter should have ended ages ago. The Government's positive economic narrative has been drowned in debacles about water and the gardai. Failure to confront this crisis brought contagion inside the Taoiseach's door. The top of the greasy pole is as slippery as ever.

Irish Independent

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