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Andrew Lynch: Poisoned chalice of a post will test Shatter to the limit

Alan Shatter has a very unusual claim to fame.

"I am the only person ever elected to Dail Eireann on the strength of distributing his balls around Dublin South," he boasts.

The spherical objects in questions were actually promotional items designed to get him noticed during his first election in 1981 and the same colour as the PVC coats he used to sell in the Dandelion Market as a law student.

In his new job, Shatter will need to show some balls once again. The veteran Fine Gael TD has been handed the new super-ministry of Justice, Equality and Defence, a huge portfolio that will test him to the limit.

After decades of frustration at being passed over for high office, he now has more responsibilities than anyone in the Cabinet -- and the potential to be either this Government's biggest star or its greatest flop.

On a practical level, merging the police force and the army into one giant ministry makes sense. The issues of staffing, pay and resources are similar in both cases.


Shatter became one of the country's wealthiest family solicitors at a very young age, making him an obvious choice to look after the bodies responsible for keeping law and order on our streets.

However, there is one obvious potential source of conflict.

Shatter is the only Jewish TD in the Dail and an outspoken supporter of the Israeli cause.

Wherever you stand, it is clear that Shatter's pro-Israeli stance is a fundamental part of his political make-up -- and if the Irish defence forces become involved in any military conflict on that side of the world, there could be some very awkward culture clashes ahead.

When it comes to law and order issues, Shatter is an unapologetic hardliner. Unlike some of his predecessors, he is more interested in cracking down on criminals than making excuses for them. He wants more gardai on the streets, longer prison sentences and crooked bankers put behind bars.


On gangland crime, he proposes to strengthen the witness protection programme to encourage people to give evidence in court. He has also promised to beef up the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Shatter is known as an abrasive character-- he once remarked that his former leader Garret FitzGerald "couldn't run a monkey's tea party" and played a leading role in the coup that toppled John Bruton in 2001. Although he clearly has a much better relationship with Enda Kenny, he will be a forceful presence in a Cabinet that already has more than its fair share of political bruisers.

During the 2007 general election, Shatter distributed a leaflet in which he dressed up as Star Trek's Captain Kirk and promised to boldly go where no politician had gone before. After waiting such a long time for his day in the sun, this is now his chance to shine -- or face the inevitable calls of "Beam me up, Scotty".