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Lise Hand: Alan plays it tough in audition for role of Mad Mullah Nua

It's easy to spot a brand-new government minister heading into the Dail chamber for his -- or more rarely, her -- very first Question Time, when members of the Opposition subject the person in the hot seat to anything from a light grilling to a full-on roasting on all manner of topics.

The newbie usually looks a bit nervous, and self-consciously sidles into the Taoiseach's seat while clutching a formidable pile of cog notes in shiny, matching folders.

But not our Justice Minister of a mere four weeks. As far as Alan Shatter is concerned, 'insecurity' is a bouncer on a pub door.

Yesterday afternoon, he walked into the chamber for his first question session as if he were walking on to a yacht.

Self-belief is not something that Alan is short of. After all, this is the same chap who, in a 2007 election leaflet, memorably compared himself with actor William Shatner, 'Star Trek''s dashing Captain James T Kirk, with the warning: "He needs your No 1 vote or he may resort to his phaser weapons."

But now, after light years of orbiting in opposition, the Fine Gael legal eagle has finally got his mitts on the justice portfolio. And it's been a bit of a long wait; Alan unwisely backed the wrong horse in the thwarted leadership heave against John Bruton in 1993, but he picked the winner in last summer's bungled putsch and put his money on Enda.

And so, the loyal lieutenant gets his justice desserts. And if ever a chap looks happy about his work, it's Alan Shatter.

By golly, but he flew out of the traps from the get-go. He was in the job for about five minutes when he made enemies of the small cabal of former Taoisigh and Presidents by announcing that he was axing their beloved Mercs-for-life perk.

He then launched a broadside at the vocal critics of the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal (ie Michael Lowry and Denis O'Brien), declaring: "Statements which endanger public confidence in our judiciary and in our courts are entirely unacceptable and are to be deplored."

His predecessor in the justice job, Dermot Ahern, fancied himself as a bit of a tough guy, but in truth, Dermo reserved his fiercest shape-throwing for taking lumps out of the Blueshirts during the Dail sessions.

Could all this ferocity herald a return to the take-no-prisoners reign of former Justice Minister Michael 'Mad Mullah' McDowell? Could Alan Shatter be Mad Mullah Nua?

Well he certainly breezed through his first question session without turning a well-combed hair. He declared war on terrorists in the wake of the murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr. "The gardai, in full co-operation with the PSNI, will not let up one iota in bringing the full pressure of the law to bear on those who are seeking to drag us all back into a violent past," he said.

He also castigated the knuckle-dragging boys in blue who were caught on tape joking about rape. "Remarks of the kind reported are completely unacceptable, whether made publicly or privately, and in particular are not acceptable when made by members of An Garda Siochana," he stated.

He even had a swipe at Willie O'Dea, who had the temerity to put down questions, but then failed to materialise to hear Alan's answers.

"It's unusual he didn't regard them as sufficiently important to attend before the House," he sniffed loftily. That's Willie told. And next time, Alan's phaser won't be set to stun.

Irish Independent