‘Oblivious’ nature eventually led to Shatter falling on his sword

In one of his first public comments after he was appointed justice minister in March 2011, Alan Shatter had a blast at judges.

‘Oblivious’ nature eventually led to Shatter falling on his sword

Judges, he said, were sometimes “oblivious” to the impact of crimes on the daily lives of individuals.

It was his own “oblivious” nature — how he interacted with people, his difficulty in listening to them, his dismissiveness and sense of superiority that led to his undoing.

His ego, and seeming enjoyment of the battle, has tarnished his impressive record in policy and legislative areas — on the law and the courts, penal reforms and equality.


Alan Shatter started his tenure by opening up a Western front with the judiciary and the legal profession. He led Government efforts to enable the executive to cut the pay of judges leading to a referendum in 2011, which was passed.

He further damaged his relationship with the legal world with his dismissive attitude to those in the profession, including former attorneys general, who objected to a separate referendum to allow the Oireachtas to hold inquiries. This was rejected by the people.

Mr Shatter’s plans for a Judicial Council Bill further strained relations, although he failed to see that plan through in his tenure.

His flagship project — the Legal Services Regulation Bill — aimed to completely overhaul the legal system, drawing the wrath of barristers and solicitors. The project has since foundered in the corridors of the Oireachtas.

But it was Mr Shatter’s Eastern Front against the Garda that caused the deepest of fractures within the justice apparatus. He inherited the previous government’s troika agreement to cut Garda numbers from 14,500 to 13,000 and slash overtime. But it was his reaction to concerns from Garda associations to ease the cuts that soured relationships. The subsequent decision to close Garda stations (140 in 2012 and 2013) was a massive blow, physically and psychologically, to the force and to local communities.

Moreover, it was Mr Shatter’s consistent attempts to pass the closures off as the idea of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan that annoyed not just rank and file members but senior management.

He did himself no favours when, under pressure to justify his disclosure on RTÉ television that Deputy Mick Wallace had been cautioned for driving while using a mobile phone, that he dropped Mr Callinan in it, by revealing the Garda boss gave him the information.

He did not point out that the Garda chief is legally obliged to provide him with such information.

But it was the manner and speed with which Mr Callinan was pushed from his job that really shocked people, with the GRA describing it as a forced resignation.


Under the red mist of all the fighting, Mr Shatter churned out an impressive array of legislative proposals and policy changes.

As well as the legal reforms above, his reforms of the courts also included a referendum to set up a Court of Criminal Appeal on a statutory basis. It was passed in October 2013 and was seen as one of the biggest changes to the system in decades. He proposed a family law structure, with its own dedicated court system and mediation service.

He enacted the Personal Insolvency Act, which set up a range of debt-settlement arrangements.

On the children and equality fronts, he has proposed laws which will modernise family law, recognising all the children who live in different families. And in one of the biggest feathers in his cap, he has pushed a referendum on same sex marriage, to be held next year.

In criminal law, he published the long-awaited Forensic Evidence and DNA Database Bill, which will greatly assist the detection and investigation of many crimes. A new Sexual Offences Bill is also forthcoming, as is a report on a Strategic Review of Penal Policy.

The decision to refurbish the previously condemned Mountjoy Prison is to his credit. But topping that was his personal drive to replace the Dickensian Cork Prison with a new modern jail.


The details of the various scandals and crises have been well aired, but it has been his reaction to events that had a cumulative effect for him, his party and his government.

It started with his revelations about Mr Wallace in May 2013. That October he told the Dáil that the whistleblowers “did not co-operate” with Garda inquiries. Last February the Dáil heard from transcripts of phone conversations between Sgt McCabe and confidential recipient Oliver Connolly, in which the latter warned the garda Mr Shatter would “screw” him if his allegations reached the media. That led to the sacking by Mr Shatter of Mr Connolly.

His reaction to revelations of suspected surveillance of the offices of the Garda Ombudsman shocked many. He undermined the independence of the body.

Following the report of the Garda Inspectorate on penalty points, Mr Shatter eventually apologised to the whistleblowers and withdrew his comments. But then another crisis erupted, surrounding the secret taping of phones at Garda stations. Mr Shatter insisted to the Dáil that he knew nothing of this issue, nor of a letter sent to secretary general Brian Purcell from Martin Callinan. Mr Purcell in turn said he did not inform his minister of the letter.

Whichever is the case, it marks one of the biggest blunders inside the Department of Justice. Again the affair led to the “resignation” of somebody else, Martin Callinan.


Frances Fitzgerald takes control of a department and a police force in turmoil. Morale among ordinary gardaí is very low. Members are buckling under the scandals and the negative publicity, while continuing to struggle with low numbers and reduced resources.

The former Children’s Minister will bring calmness, Merrion Square tells us, and a personable manner. But she will also have to demonstrate character and conviction, and a command of a wide and difficult brief... beginning with the Guerin Report today.

Shatter’s justice scorecard


* 1. Penal Reform

Achievements include: securing Cabinet approval and funding to build a new Cork Prison; the refurbishment of Mountjoy Prison and the transfer of juveniles from St Patrick’s Institution.

* 2. Same-Sex Marriage

He led the Government in deciding to hold a referendum next year.

* 3. Court Reform

His referendum to set up a Court of Criminal Appeal was passed, in one of the biggest court reforms for decades. He has also proposed a new family law structure.

* 4. Legal Reform

Personal Insolvency Act — creating a new debt settlement service — and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

* 5. Police Powers

The long-awaited DNA Database legislation was published, which, when enacted, will assist gardaí and forensic scientists in solving crimes.


* 1. Whistleblowers

His response to allegations from the whistleblowers — his operation of the confidential recipient system (including the resignation of Oliver

* 2. GSOC

His response immediately following revelations of alleged bugging of GSOC undermined the independence of the ombudsman.

* 3. Garda Tapes

His role in the fiasco surrounding his department’s handling of the Garda tapes controversy. He insisted he knew nothing about it and his secretary general said he did not inform the minister of a scandal that has led to a commission of investigation.

* 4. Garda Morale

Relationship between the minister for justice and Garda associations is at an all-time low. His role, still unclear, in the forced resignation of Martin Callinan as commissioner, badly affected relationship with the force.

* 5. Garda Resources

Hamstrung by the troika agreement under the last government he implemented severe cuts in garda numbers to 13,000. He drove the closure of 100 Garda stations, but shifted responsibility to Mr Callinan.

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