AND so Alan Shatter has lived to fight another day.
Forced into an embarrassing climb down on the GSOC bugging controversy and having to sack an old acquaintance and political donor, it was a bruising 24 hours for the embattled justice minister.
Not only was he scrambling to contain the numerous questions still floating around about if, why or who carried out spying at the ombudsman’s office, but he also had to face down calls for his resignation.
Sinn Féin told the Taoiseach Mr Shatter should be “relieved of his duties”, while Fianna Fáil said his position is no longer tenable.
But the minister appears to have fought off the latest onslaughts and emerged — bruised and weakened, yes. But fighting for his political career? Not really.
Here is why:
He found a fall guy.
This is a useful thing for any politicians facing an onslaught of public criticism.
This came in the form of someone who has helped him out before.
Oliver Connolly, who had donated €1,000 to Mr Shatter’s election campaign in 2007, and was appointed as the confidential recipient for concerned gardaí in 2011, was yesterday relieved of his duties.
Mr Connolly, a respected barrister, was given the task of being a private point of contact for any members of the gardaí who wanted to raise concerns about issues in the force.
In June 2011, Mr Shatter said: “Any member or civilian employee of An Garda Síochána who wishes to report in confidence about corruption and malpractice can be assured that any such report will be taken seriously and extensive protection will be given to him or her.”
But then, a transcript came to light of a conversation that took place when a whistleblower tried to do just that.
“I’ll tell you something Maurice, and if this is just personal advice to you, if Shatter thinks you’re screwing him you’re finished...”
And it happened before Mr Connolly fulfilled his duty and dealt fully with his complaints in the process set out for him.
The office was due to be done away with in any event, as Shatter announced in the Dáil last month.
But nevertheless, the Taoiseach told the Dáil he would be “relieved of his duty”.
So that’s that dealt with then. “Decisive action” was taken, and that will draw a line under the messy whistleblower issue for how.
Mr Shatter’s spokesperson would not say last night if the minister would apologise to Mr McCabe for telling the Dáil in October he had failed to co-operate with an internal garda inquiry on the penalty point issue. “The Taoiseach dealt this morning with the relieving of Mr Connolly of his duties,” was the unsurprising response.
nHe set up an inquiry (well, review).
Yes, it was an embarrassing climbdown from his earlier insistence that to set up an independent inquiry into claims of surveillance at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission would amount to undermining its independence.
But it was well worth any bit of embarrassment it might have brought, because it allows the Government to wash its hands of the issue for a while.
Mr Shatter appeared before the Oireachtas Oversight Committee last night and put up a robust defence.
But now it is over to a former High Court judge to “review all of the documentation and all of the reports that have been produced on this matter to date,” the Taoiseach said of the process that will take eight weeks.
Until then, they must be given “time and space” to examine the issue “unhindered” and “without interference.”
GOVERNMENT backbenchers, for the most part, lined up in chorus to sing the same tune last night that (while the opposition and media are to blame for the saga so far) it was now time to allow the independent person “finally put some clarity to this.”
No Smoking Gun:
There might have been a big “puff of smoke” around the GSOC story from the start, if Government spin doctors were to be believed, but there was none of that other political cliché — the smoking gun.
There was no “definitive evidence” of bugging or no tangible proof of the variety that anyone who worked outside the surveillance technology industry understood in a way that would allow them to pin the blame on anybody.
Instead, there was one complicated explanation against another — and sometimes deliberate confusion — so that the whole thing looked a little shady but not much more.
And as a result, the public were not engaging on the issue, according to Government TDs.
And if backbenchers are not getting it in the neck then, in most cases, neither will the minister.
His colleagues stood by him:
Labour were more than willing to take the credit for an independent review of the GSOC controversy after it was announced following Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
But apart from wanting a line to be drawn under the story, to stop further revelations from “tumbling out”, they did not seem all too concerned.
In fact, over the weekend, they didn’t want an independent inquiry at all — or at least Eamon Gilmore didn’t feel the need to call for it when asked three times by Bryan Dobson on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.
Nevertheless, they spotted an opportunity, and told reporters yesterday they had pushed the cabinet to put in place an “independent person” and a process that people could have faith in.
The party appears to be genuinely of the view that Shatter has little to answer here and that he is caught up in a row between the Garda and GSOC.
On the treatment of the garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe, Labour has little or nothing to say.
A spokesperson for Labour ministers would not say last night whether it supported calls for Mr Shatter to apologise for the way Mr McCabe was treated. Neither did the spokesperson want to comment on whether a Dáil statement was needed to correct the record from earlier misrepresentations.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said “if a mistake was made, that ought to be corrected.” But he added he hadn’t heard the earlier debate on it.
“My schedule this morning didn’t permit me to listen to any of the noise that has been going on all day and I wasn’t in the House for Leaders’ Questions.”
The party will come under further pressure to explain its backing for Mr Shatter when one of its senior ministers takes Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today.
Thursday is an important day on the political week. Not only is the pressure of the bit weekly event passed onto Labour, but if they manage to get through it, there is usually a nice breathing space ahead to allow things to settle down.
And if Mr Shatter has made it through this dramatic week that has passed, then it’s likely he’ll be out the gap — for now — of this long running saga.
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