Campaigners for justice may have sounded the whistle ... but it was the justice minister who really blew it

WHEN the whistle finally blew on Alan Shatter’s Cabinet career it was greeted by audible intakes of breath followed by a disbelieving silence in the Dáil.

Campaigners for justice may  have sounded the whistle ... but it was the justice minister who really blew it

The bombastic, belligerent, but increasingly beleaguered- looking justice minister had actually fallen and it took a moment for the reality of the shock turn of events to filter out across the chamber as the implications of what Enda Kenny had just announced rippled through the air.

The Taoiseach looked shaken by the unfolding drama which also wrong-footed Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who initially appeared flustered as he tried to find an adequate response.

But Mr Martin, the man who first waved the whistleblower dossier aloft in a stormy Dáil session in February, was now witnessing that incendiary action reach its slow-burn conclusion and bring down the justice minister in an explosive reckoning.

Those allegations made by Sgt Maurice McCabe that Mr Martin had handed to the Taoiseach claimed Garda bungling on a massive scale. And the sheer extremity of its nature forced Mr Kenny to set up a probe under SC Sean Guerin which has now done for one of his most trusted political confidantes.

But Mr Kenny was typically elusive about why exactly Mr Shatter had realised he had to go on this particular issue after brazening out all the other scandals which have swirled around him — including the startling revelation just a day earlier that the justice minister was guilty of breaking the law by using confidential garda information to trash a political opponent on live TV.

Praising Mr Shatter’s “dignity” in quitting, Mr Kenny told the hushed Dáil: “This is not the case of a minister being involved in anything underhand, illegal scams of any description.”

The Taoiseach added there was “inadequate analysis” of Sgt McCabe’s allegations by “various agencies”, before stating: “I point out that GSOC did not co-operate with Mr Guerin. I point out that Mr Guerin did not speak to the minister.”

Mr Kenny said the minister had read the “hard-hitting” report, and “in the interests of the entire situation”, tendered his resignation.

It was fitting that the rotating Independent at Leader’s Questions was pro-whistleblower campaigner Clare Daly who was withering in her assessment of the Taoiseach’s praise of Mr Shatter’s work rate, noting: “It is not the time one gets out of bed that is important, but what one does with that time.”

It is an understatement to say Ms Daly and the outgoing minster have a certain history, as only just over an hour earlier, as he took his last Dáil hurrah as defence minister, he branded the left-winger a “fan” of Osama bin Laden.

Ms Daly demanded to know why the Taoiseach had emphasised remarks on GSOC not providing information to Mr Guerin, and the SC not interviewing the minister in his statement. The replies from Mr Kenny did not shed much light on the matter. Was he trying to imply Mr Shatter got a raw deal?

As a highly dramatic Dáil session dissolved, deputies drained out of the chamber and began to take in the magnitude of what had just happened.

In the absence of hard information, colourful conjecture and black humour buzzed through the corridors of Leinster House as huddles of TDs and journalists formed and separated in a human stream of speculation and opinion.

One joke centred on Mr Guerin: “They got the wrong man — they chose somebody who could actually do his job.”

And as a result, Mr Shatter was out of his job, but not without a self-serving resignation letter in which, as ever, he tried to have the last word with a swipe at Guerin.

Campaigners for justice had sounded the whistle, but in his lack of response it was the justice minister who really blew it.

Timeline of events

by Stephen Rogers

GARDA STATION RECORDINGS (GSR) JULY 2011: DPP tries to enter evidence of phone recordings conversations of some accused in the prosecution of a case taken by the Garda ombudsman of four gardaí attached to Waterford Garda station over the assault in February 2010 of Anthony Holness.

WHISTLEBLOWERS (WBS) February 9, 2012: Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe speaks to Government’s confidential recipient, Oliver Connolly about a complaint over Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s recommendation to promote a senior officer who was under investigation. Recipient tells Mr McCabe “If Shatter thinks you’re screwing him, you’re finished.”

WBS February-March 2012: The complaint is handed to the commissioner who responds that the complaint had no basis.

WBS April 4, 2012: McCabe and another serving officer — since retired — report concerns over writing off of penalty points.

WBS August 2012: Both officers make complaint to the Road Safety Authority, then approach Oireachtas members.

WBS November 2012: Under pressure from Independent TDs, Alan Shatter orders an internal garda inquiry by assistant commissioner John O’Mahoney.

WBS April, 2013: Just before that report is published, McCabe writes to the Taoiseach pointing out that he hadn’t even been interviewed by O’Mahoney’s team. Kenny’s office passes the letter on to Shatter.

WBS April 30, 2013: The Justice Minister’s office says it is a matter for Garda authorities.

WBS May 15, 2013: The O’Mahoney report largely vindicates the operation of the penalty point system. Shatter says whistleblowers’ concerns must be “real and genuine, and based on evidence rather than conjecture, especially when the allegations made are of widespread criminality”.

PRIME TIME (PT) May 16, 2013: Alan Shatter claims Wexford TD Mick Wallace escaped penalty points while using a mobile phone behind the wheel.

GSOC BUGGING (BUG) September 2013: GSOC employs security expert Verrimus to carry out a surveillance sweep of its offices when two “technical anomalies” or security threats identified.

GSR June 16, 2013: Garda Ombudsman reports on the Holness case saying phonecalls between some of the accused “were recorded on the Garda Síochána recording system”.

Alan Shatter says the report was not furnished to him, nor did GSOC furnish it to his officials.

WBS September 31, 2013: Comptroller and auditor general finds one in five motorists escapes penalty points because of “weaknesses” in the system.

WBS October 1, 2013: Shatter tells the Dáil the whistleblowers “did not co-operate with the garda investigation”, despite being aware McCabe was frustrated he had never been contacted by the investigation team.

BUG October 7: A third security threat identified at GSOC — equipment was only available to government-level agencies.

BUG October 8: GSOC launches a public interest investigation on suspicion surveillance may have originated from the force.

WBS November, 2013: Public Accounts Committee receives box of files allegedly showing widespread abuse of penalty points system may have cost State millions of euro.

GSR November 11: Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan consults the attorney general about the existence of tape recordings of incoming and outgoing calls at Garda stations.

GSR November 27: The garda commissioner orders all garda station recordings except those made on dedicated 999 lines be stopped nationally.

BUG December 2013: GSOC to improve security at its offices. Ombudsman Simon O’Brien takes “strategic decision” not to inform Justice Minister Alan Shatter of the Verrimus findings.

WBS January 23, 2014: Callinan gives evidence before the Public Accounts Committee and describes the actions of the whistleblowers as “disgusting”.

WBS January 27: Shatter makes a last-minute intervention to prevent the appearance of McCabe before the Public Accounts Committee. He refers the penalty points issue to garda ombudsman and says they should be allowed to proceed with their work “unhindered”.

WBS January 30: McCabe gives evidence before the committee in private.

WBS February 5, 2014: Independent TD Mick Wallace reads parts of the transcript of the conversation two years earlier between McCabe and the confidential recipient to the Dáil.

BUG February 9: Sunday Times reports there were three attempts to either spy on or bug the GSOC HQ in Dublin.

BUG February 10: After meeting Shatter, GSOC chairman releases statement saying threats could not be comprehensively explained. Says no evidence of garda misconduct and expresses regret at not informing Shatter before Christmas. Government rejects opposition calls for an independent inquiry.

WBS February 11: Fianna Fáil also read parts of the transcripts into the Dáil record. Shatter says it is “outrageous” to suggest he “threatened anybody or authorised to threaten anybody“.

BUG February 12: O’Brien tells Oireachtas Oversight Committee he suspects offices bugged and says it could have been the gardaí. GSOC he says ended up holding meeting in cages in Dublin over bugging fears.

BUG February 13: Alan Shatter tells Prime Time he did not mislead Dáil. Mr Shatter describes Ombudsman’s O’Brien’s committee evidence as confused.

BUG February 14: Shatter expresses confidence in GSOC and Commissioner Callinan says there was no authorised or unauthorised garda involvement in bugging scandal. GSOC takes legal advice and initiates internal leak probe.

BUG February 16: Sunday Times reports GSOC suspicions raised when senior garda inadvertently revealed he was in possession of information from a secret GSOC report.

BUG February 17: Verrimus confirms it made a hi-tech equipment demonstration at Garda HQ at the same time as it was carrying out secret security sweep at GSOC offices. Gardaí said Verrimus requested the meeting, the company claims opposite.

BUG February 18: Government says it will appoint retired judge to investigate controversy. U-turn reason is Shatter had more information which resulted in less clarity. The coalition appoints former High Court judge John Cooke to look into claims that there were potential security breaches at GSOC.

WBS February 19: The Taoiseach says transcript of the conversation between McCabe and Connolly is a “serious matter” and tells the Dáil that the confidential recipient has been “relieved of his duties”.

GSR March 10: Martin Callinan sent a courier letter to Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell. It refers to the recordings of conversations into, and out of, a particular station. He says number of tapes collected was 2,485.

GSR March 11: The Department of Justice meets Garda commissioner and the AG office. Department officials consider the commissioner’s letter.

GSR March 15: Shatter goes to Mexico as part of St Patrick’s Day duties and says he hadn’t been informed of a letter or related meetings.

GSR March 19: Gardaí make contact with the data protection commissioner.

GSR March 19&20: Garda HQ copies Department of Justice with correspondence between the gardaí and both the AG and the data protection commissioner.

GSR March 21: Mr Shatter returns, saying he had still not been informed.

GSR March 23: Taoiseach meets Attorney General Máire Whelan and Ms Whelan reveals she has information that phonecalls in some Garda stations had been recorded.

GSR March 24: The Taoiseach dispatches a senior civil servant to Mr Callinan to apprise him of the “gravity” of the revelations. Mr Shatter says he was not briefed about the recordings until 6pm that day.

GSR March 25: Mr Callinan resigns at 9.40am. It is not until 12.40pm that Mr Shatter is given the letter Mr Callinan sent a fortnight earlier outlining the taping of calls. He does not open it until “some time later”.

WBS March 25: Criminal barrister Sean Guerin asked to review the wider allegations of garda misconduct made by the garda whistleblowers.

PT May 6, 2014: Data Commissioner rules Alan Shatter broke the law by disclosing on television that Mick Wallace had been cautioned by gardaí for driving while using his phone.

WBS May 7: Alan Shatter resigns over Seán Guerin report into allegations made by Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

More in this section