ALAN Shatter is a great man to dish it out. The Minister for Justice once dismissed Garret FitzGerald as "completely for the birds", claiming that the ex-Taoiseach was good at coming up with ideas but useless at turning them into reality.
If this was what he said about his own leader, you can only imagine how he put the boot into the opposition -- which is why he's widely regarded as one of the most savage attack dogs to ever walk through the gates of Leinster House.
Now that Shatter has finally made it to the Cabinet table after 30 years, however, he's starting to discover that being a Minister is harder than it looks. His first six months at the Department of Justice have been hugely disappointing, long on windy rhetoric and short on genuine achievements.
This week is a case in point. Shatter has finally slapped down the mad notion of a €460m super-casino in Tipperary, deciding that recreating Las Vegas in the middle of a field is not the solution to rural Ireland's job problem. Since his new betting laws will allow other "modest-sized" casinos to go ahead, however, it's hard to justify his pious claim that he is protecting young people from the evils of gambling.
Meanwhile, what about the issue that should be at the top of any justice minister's agenda? As last week's AK47 slaying of the notorious gangster Micka 'The Panda' Kelly in Clongriffin proved, gangland crime is still a menace that requires urgent government action.
Shatter has repeatedly promised to strengthen the witness protection programme, beef up the Criminal Assets Bureau and tackle anti-social behaviour -- but instead of prioritising these matters, he is pressing ahead with a pointless referendum on cutting judges' pay.
Ever since his appointment in March, Shatter has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. He became embroiled in a row over cronyism when it emerged that he had appointed one of his financial donors to a €12,500 position as a whistleblower liaison official for the gardai. He lashed out at RTE's crime reporter, declaring that the journalist had "great difficulty in accurately reporting anything", only to issue a grovelling apology 24 hours later.
In opposition, Shatter thundered that it was absolutely essential to stop Garda numbers from falling. In government, he has imposed a recruitment ban that means it will be at least two years before any more recruits head for training college at Templemore.
Another embarrassing U-turn has come over the issue of prosecuting the dodgy bankers who helped land us in this economic mess.
Here's what Shatter told former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern before the general election: "Does the Minister not understand that when someone who has not paid a fine of €250 ends up in Mountjoy prison, someone who drives a truck into the gates of Leinster House ends up before the courts within 24 hours, and bankers responsible for bringing the state to its knees and costing taxpayers €50bn have not been brought before the courts, it genuinely gives rise to a sense of public outrage, utter confusion and undermines confidence in our legal system?"
Six months later, still no crooked bankers behind bars. Where is Shatter's outrage now?
Ireland has not exactly been blessed with our recent justice ministers. Michael McDowell famously described one gangland killing as "the last sting of a dying wasp", but it was his own career that soon entered its death throes.
Dermot Ahern arrived in office with his "bootboy from Dundalk" tough-guy image, but he turned out to be a dismal failure who seemed more interested in cracking down on blasphemy than taking on the drug lords.
Enda Kenny recently revealed on The Late Late Show that he is keeping a report card on each of his ministers. In Alan Shatter's case, it should read, "Must do better -- or risk getting left behind."