Saturday 7 December 2019

Minister Shatter suffers the slings and arrows of outrage and misfortune

Lise Hand

There was a note of decided frustration in Alan Shatter's voice. "I don't have a monopoly on wisdom. We all get some things wrong sometimes."

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Self-Defence was once again dodging Opposition bullets in the Dail chamber last night, as he faced the second no-confidence motion of his ministerial career. But he couldn't understand why, as far as he was concerned, the other teams were insisting on playing the man, not the ball.

"I'm constantly accused in a very personalised way of a variety of different failures – none of us is perfect. But apparently if I actually on any occasion in this House respond in kind to the manner in which I'm treated, I'm labelled as arrogant, as overbearing," he retorted. "You'd think to see the members opposite, that I'm public enemy number one."

Nor could he fathom why there was so much hoohah over That Letter, the missive from the then-Garda Commissioner alerting Justice to the issue of the bugging of Garda stations, which had mysteriously floated about his Department for 14 days before he clapped eyes on it.

He had already sworn up and down that he hadn't read it until after Martin Callinan had already made his exit. "What purpose would there be if I had received it any earlier in concealing that fact? What purpose would there be to do nothing about it?" he asked rhetorically, his exasperation evident to see. "Do you think anyone in this House wished yet another area of difficulty to arise in relation to An Garda Siochana?" he demanded.

There was no argument there. The 'difficulties' regarding the various branches of law and order are continuing to pile up into a precarious Jenga-like stack over the head of the Justice Minister – one wrong move, and it could all come crashing down around him.

A new 'difficulty' – or 'anomaly', as euphemistically described by the Taoiseach – rushed into the already-crowded spotlight yesterday with the revelation that numerous calls between prisoners and their lawyers had been "inadvertently" taped.

This had come to light earlier in the day during Leaders' Questions as the Taoiseach was once again grilled on the who/what/ where/why of That Letter by both Micheal Martin and Gerry Adams.

"Were you briefed on Monday evening by your officials about the content of the letter?" demanded Micheal.

In response, Enda announced that the Cabinet had signed off on setting up a Commission of Investigation into the bugging of Garda stations, to be headed up by Justice Niall Fennelly. And then he added, almost as a by-the-way, that the Justice Minister had been told earlier about a slew of phone conversations which had been "inadvertently" recorded between prisoners and their solicitors.

This was indeed news, but the opposition chose to remain in pursuit of the matter of That Letter. The rattled Government had now decided that the best approach is to throw the kitchen sink and all at this controversy which is stubbornly loitering with intent, and so Enda declared that the contentious communique would be published later in the day, along with a report on the timeline of events over the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday leading up to the departure of the commissioner.

And so they duly were – and at the same time, bemused Fine Gael backbenchers received a hefty 54-page dossier, itemising over 130 achievements of the Justice Minister since he took office in 2011, as the party wagons remained circled around their beleaguered member.

And the arrows were flying at Alan during the debate on the confidence motion which the Government had tabled to counter the no-confidence one put forward by Fianna Fail.

"You see everyone from a distance – from the towering height of your own self-regard," declared Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea.

BUT others on Alan's side of the house came to the rescue of the Minister for Self-Defence. One of the main reasons why the Justice Minister's scalp remains intact is that the Labour front bench hasn't wavered in its support.

And Pat Rabbitte stood firm on the party's behalf. "For the record, I believe the Minister when he says he did not receive the letter until 12.40 on the 25th of March," he said firmly.

But he did take a bit of a swipe at Alan for his tardiness in apologising in the Dail to the two Garda whistleblowers. "He did correct the record, but after an unconscionably long time," sniped Pat.

Alan kept his head down. No point in picking a fight with Pat. That would definitely prove to be a 'difficulty' too far.

Irish Independent

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