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Minister manages to rub many up the wrong way

WHAT is it about Alan Shatter? The Justice Minister, who seems to make a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way, has become a lightning rod for controversy.

And, as can be seen with his various spats with judges, the Garda Representative Association, former attorneys general or high-profile journalists etc, he doesn't do subtle or, for that matter, self-doubt.

The eight eminent former attorneys-general were, according to Mr Shatter, talking "nonsense" and "simply wrong" in their criticism of the 2011 referendums on judges' pay and Oireachtas inquiries.

The GRA executive ran the risk of discrediting the force with its protest at the public sector pay talks. And it was, said the minister, difficult not to "throw up" listening to Luke 'Ming' Flanagan talk about alleged garda corruption.

He might be the Justice Minister but, when it comes to arguing his corner, Alan Shatter doesn't take prisoners.

The joke in some quarters of Government is that at least he is completely consistent in his disregard for the opinion of others.

Not remotely in the mould of a back-slapping politician, Mr Shatter won't win a popularity contest in Dail Eireann. But, close observers say, that doesn't bother him in the slightest.

They say he's a man on a mission. Having waited 30 years to get to the Cabinet and aware that this might be his only shot at it, he is determined to leave a mark.

"A driven individual with an insatiable appetite for work" is the assessment of one senior government source.

There is respect, if not exactly affection, for him from the Labour wing of the Government for the way he follows his convictions. And admiration for his refusal to butter up or show "due deference" to the legal profession whence he came.

There is an acceptance that Mr Shatter can sometimes show a little too much appetite for the fray. But his modus operandi doesn't create anything like the angst that Dr James Reilly routinely generates inside the Coalition.

Particularly not this week. Nobody in Government likes the idea of conflict with the judiciary but they believe the judges have overstated their case.

And while the spat might be the talk of the Law Library and the media, the amount of traction it is likely to get among the wider electorate is questionable. Put bluntly, the Government has got much bigger problems than dealing with the concerns of a relatively privileged group of judges.

And even if Mr Shatter isn't always the most skilled at PR, the feeling among ministers is that the Justice Minister has a difficult job to do and they're glad it's him (and not them) doing it. There is even a belief that Shatter's unwavering clarity of purpose and reforming zeal might be well suited to the ever-troublesome Department of Health.

BUT there is no question that Justice is where he wants to stay. The legal profession, including the judges, may complain about a lack of consultation. But he is determined to overhaul the legal sector and that probably can't be done by consensus-style politics. Which, one suspects, suits the Justice Minister just fine.

Shane Coleman is political editor of Newstalk 106-108FM

Irish Independent