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Lise Hand: Blowhard Alan left red in the face by showboating

He started it. The big shot did it and ran away. Alan Shatter only has himself to blame for landing in the uncomfortable position of having to account for his movements pertaining to his vehicle and an encounter with the gardai on a certain night.

For Mattie McGrath – the Inspector Clouseau of Clonmel – brandished what appeared to be a smoking gun during Leader's Questions yesterday when he demanded to know if the Taoiseach (who wasn't in the Dail chamber) and Tanaiste (who was) were aware that the Justice Minister had himself been stopped at a garda checkpoint in early 2011.

Mattie was eager to uncover the answers to a string of puzzles – had the minister been cautioned, or given a breath test? Had he mentioned to the bizzies that he was travelling to or from the Dail? Or most intriguingly, if his "behaviour and reaction to this request was appropriate and indeed cordial"?

Curiouser and curiouser. Eyes popped out on sticks all around the chamber. Alan Shatter himself wasn't in situ to offer an explication. But one thing was certain – the penalty-points drama which had begun to sidle off the political centre-stage was firmly back in the spotlight.

And it was the minister's fault, really. He started this schoolyard scrap last Thursday during a head-to-head with Mick Wallace on 'Prime Time' discussing the garda inquiry into alleged abuse of the penalty-points deletion system.

Although he was cruising to a comfortable victory over the Independent TD, he just had to show off, revealing that Mick had himself been cautioned for driving while using a mobile phone, but had benefited from garda discretion.

Inevitably, umbrage was taken left, right and centre. The put-upon Mick lodged a complaint to the Standards in Public Office commission (SIPO), while freshly-mown grassy knolls sprouted conspiracies about intelligence files being complied on political persons of interest to the forces of law and order. How had such a minor incident reached the lofty ears of the Garda Commissioner and the Justice Minister?

The hullaballoo grew louder, and on Tuesday night Alan made a statement to the Dail. But it was no act of contrition. Like the Little Sparrow Edith Piaf, he regretted nothing. He had not been showboating on the telly – he had been acting in "the public interest" and "in the context of transparency".

"There was nothing sinister in it," he insisted.

Then yesterday Mattie poured fresh fuel on the dying embers. And for the second time in a week, the minister had to explain himself.

He had failed to complete a breath test because he was asthmatic. Now this was heavy breathing of quite a different stripe than that which features so memorably in various passages of his bodice-ripping novel 'Laura', which was also back in the headlines this week after it was referred to the censor to investigate if it was too naughty for Irish readers.

He hadn't consumed a drop of alcohol on the night in question (which was actually either 2008 or 2009 when he was a humble backbencher).

It's all a bit embarrassing for the motor-mouth minister. The next time he fancies using a bit of gossip to land a political punch, perhaps Alan should choose to save his breath to cool his porridge.

Irish Independent