Testy Mattie breathes new life into Shattergate

Just when we thought Shattergate had run out of puff, dramatic admissions forced from the justice minister saw questions about his suitability for high office splutter back to life.

For a man so loudly keen on everyone in the Dáil being transparent and open about their roadside brushes with the law, why did Alan Shatter decide to remain so quiet about his own?

The minister’s self-serving excuse for releasing confidential information passed to him by the gardaí in order to smear a political opponent was that not to have done so would have left him open to charges of suppressing facts and conducting a “cover up”.

Curious that during his emergency statement to the Dáil following the TV ambush on Mick Wallace exposing the fact the independent TD had been given a roadside waiver by guards, Mr Shatter remembered an obscure incident when he himself was rebuked for driving in a bus lane when it was open to all vehicles, yet failed to recall being “waved on” after failing to complete a breathalyser test.

With such a command of details and desire to have everything out in the open, one would have thought that incident would have been far more firmly lodged in his mind?

Yet it took a human truth-seeking missile in the unlikely form of Tipperary Independent TD Mattie McGrath to explode the minister’s memory banks.

Clearly primed with an explosive tip-off of his own, Mr McGrath asked an astonished Tánaiste whether he was aware if it was the case Mr Shatter had been stopped and asked to perform a breath test.

His remarks alive with innuendo, Mr McGrath then questioned whether Mr Shatter’s reaction to be asked for a breath test was: “appropriate and cordial, whether he attempted to use the privilege of travelling to and from the Dáil as a means of avoiding a breath test or being stopped at a Garda checkpoint and whether he gave a breath specimen”.

It then took a strangely long time — six hours — for Mr Shatter to respond to the claims made in the Dáil.

No doubt Mr Shatter, who is also defence minister, was doing all he could to recall the incident — as well as keeping his head down as he even missed a debate on defence issues, sending in a junior to tell the House: “The minister asked me to apologise for his unavailability.”

When the statement did come it was very carefully crafted and prompted more questions than answers.

After seizing on the fact Mr McGrath had got the approximate date of the incident wrong, Mr Shatter went on: “There was a queue of motorists and when I was reached, like those before me, my road tax and insurance discs were checked and I was asked to exhale into a breathalyser.

“I did so but failed to fully complete the task due to my being asthmatic. I explained this to the Garda. I also explained that I was on my way home from Dáil Éireann and that I had consumed no alcohol of any nature that day. The Garda consulted with another Garda and I was waved on.”

Interesting that Mr Shatter felt the need to tell the gardaí he was coming from the Dáil, as due to a civil war constitutional relic, TDs cannot be impeded when travelling to or from the Oireachtas.

It is also thought-provoking that Mr Shatter’s failure to provide a breath test did not result in him being asked to attend the nearest garda station for a urine sample as is the normal procedure for other people in a similar situation.

The statement did, however, provoke much hilarity on Twitter where one wag noted: “Clinton didn’t inhale, Shatter didn’t exhale.”

But given Mr Shatter’s over- arching desire for transparency as shown in his (mis)handling of the Wallace affair, if there is a Garda file on the incident, no doubt he would be happy for that to be made public so we can all get a rounded picture of the event?

Anything less would be hypocrisy, indeed one might say, breath-taking hypocrisy.

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