Tuesday 21 January 2020

Niall Collins: Shatter has disgraced his ministerial office and he must resign

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter TD
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter TD

Niall Collins

Like so many people, I was utterly gobsmacked at the blatant and disturbing abuse of ministerial power I saw on last Thursday night's Prime Time programme. Even for a notoriously out-of-touch minister, it was an appalling moment of shocking arrogance. If this is deemed acceptable by the Taoiseach and Tanaiste, we are witnessing the dark side of a Government that sees itself as untouchable.

Mr Shatter has shown he is willing to exploit any confidential information he has for his own political gain and that no citizen is safe from that type of corruption. To protect due process, the rule of law and public trust in the justice system, the Taoiseach must now demand his resignation.

We have to remember that the Minister for Justice is one of the most important, influential and sensitive positions in any government. Whoever serves in that capacity is entrusted with immense power, the leadership of the police force and is privy to deeply personal information about citizens.

On Thursday night, Alan Shatter betrayed the trust the Irish people placed in him in that position and ruthlessly exploited his power to undermine a personal citizen.

He has fatally compromised his integrity in that role by using information that was not on the public record in order to gain cheap political advantage.

I am not going on the public record to talk about the rights or wrongs of Mick Wallace or the galling hypocrisy that we see week in, week out from the technical group. That is for another day.

This issue is far more important than one person.

Mr Shatter has exploited personal off-the-record information he had acquired solely because of his ministerial position to launch an attack on a personal citizen.

In a democracy based on the rule of law, every citizen – regardless of their politics – is entitled to due process.

Betraying the responsibilities of his ministerial seal, Alan Shatter took on the role of judge and jury himself for his own political advantage. Outside of soviet politburos and banana republics, this is a resigning offence.

The Prime Time incident was not a flash of anger or a mistake under the glare of the television cameras. Mr Shatter clearly prepared himself before the interview, marshalled his confidential information and ruthlessly used it for cynical gain. He arrived at RTE studios with a clear agenda – due process and the rule of law were not part of it.

The Taoiseach has witnessed a minister who has lost the trust of An Garda Siochana over the past year and has now completely breached the trust of the Irish public. He cannot simply stand by and watch Mr Shatter throwing aside the rule of law, depending on who he wants to attack politically.

The Taoiseach is obliged to uphold and defend the personal rights of all citizens and the fundamental bedrock of the rule of law and our Constitution.

A minister who so blatantly abuses his position to use confidential personal information in a calculated attack on a personal citizen sets a very dangerous precedent.

What fresh low will he stoop to in the future for the sake of a political gimmick or a quick headline? Are all citizens exposed to the political calculations of the minister?

A failure of the Taoiseach to demand Mr Shatter's resignation will throw the Government down a slippery slope. The breach of trust sets an example that will echo down the corridors of government.

Fellow cabinet ministers who are entrusted with sensitive information will look at a minister who has gotten away with such a clear abuse of his position. Imagine a revenue official using his knowledge of property tax payments to get one over on his neighbours or using their power to pursue their political beliefs, such as occurred in the US this week when President Obama had to sack the head of the IRS.

Will civil servants in such deeply sensitive areas as Revenue be treated with the same kind of kid gloves if they use their positions for personal advantage? Leadership must be by example and if Taoiseach Enda Kenny does not know that, then he is even more out of touch than I feared.

A refusal to stand up to such an abuse of power will irrevocably taint this Government. The Irish people deserve better than a banana republic justice system where the minister uses the gardai to accumulate information, which he then exploits for his own political gain.

This country is better than that and it deserves better than Mr Shatter, who has proven himself incapable of upholding the integrity his position demands.

For the sake of the rule of law its time for the Justice Minister to go.

Niall Collins is the Fianna Fail spokesman for justice and law reform

Irish Independent

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