Dáil rejects motion to remove Guerin report from record

The report forced the resignation of then Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
Dáil rejects motion to remove Guerin report from record
File photo

The Dáil has rejected a motion which proposed to remove the 2014 Guerin report into garda whistleblower, which forced the resignation of then Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Mr Shatter has succeeded in challenging the report’s standing in the courts last year and called on the report to be removed from the Dáil’s record.

It has been proposed to the Dáil in the Order of Business that a motion without debate would be included in Thursday’s agenda but Opposition TDs spoke out against it, clashing with Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

The matter had been agreed in advance by the all-party Dail Business Committee and Mr Flanagan said some TDs were “now playing politics” by changing their position on the matter.

During the debate, Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh said he did not have a problem with the court judgement regarding this report.

“What is being suggested here is a brand new procedure that has never happened before. The Business Committee has not had legal advice and there does not seem to be any justification or reason why we are being asked to take this at this specific time," he said.

The proposal is to withdraw a report that was laid before the House and to which people had no objection at the time from the Oireachtas Library. This procedure has never happened before.

“It will also require the involvement the Seanad, which does not exist in the format that would allow it to have any say on this, so I think we are being previous on this,” he added.

Any changes relating to privileges normally go before the Committee on Procedure and this did not happen in this instance and since this was first mooted, he said.

“To do it in this format without any debate is a very dangerous precedent, which is why I have argued that we should not proceed,” he said.

Social Democrats leader Catherine Murphy drew the ire of Mr Flanagan when she said the withdrawal of the report could have “unintended consequences”.

Mr Flanagan hit out at the behaviour of the Social Democrats but a vote was called and Fianna Fáil voted against the government leading to the defeat of the motion.

Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne told the Dáil that the Fianna Fáil Whip informed the Government that we would like to have this motion deferred.

“We feel there has not been enough discussion. There are other issues in the Guerin report that are not simply related to the matters of concern in this case and we do not believe this should be dealt with as expeditiously as is proposed,” he said.

“We believe it is unnecessary to do so. It can be done when Members have had sufficient time to consider what is before them and what we are doing.

"That has been communicated from Fianna Fáil to the Fine Gael Whip,” he added.

Following the vote. a clearly displeased Mr Flanagan was heard saying: "The Business Committee needs to take a look at itself," said Mr Flanagan.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghail said he would convene another meeting of the Business Committee at 4.30pm today to rearrange the agenda for Thursday’s sitting.

Last year, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed an appeal over Alan Shatter’s successful challenge to sections of barrister Sean Guerin’s report concerning the former minister’s handling of complaints made by Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The five-judge court made clear its findings do not rule out future “scoping” inquiries.

In this case, Mr Shatter got no notice of certain conclusions reached by Mr Guerin which were damaging to Mr Shatter’s reputation or any opportunity to respond to those, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell said.

The “expression of conclusions” exceeded the scope of the preliminary inquiry Mr Guerin was authorised to carry out, he held. Had they been preceded by asking Mr Shatter for his views, it would not have been appropriate to grant any relief, he added.

He stressed he was “far from critical” of Mr Guerin who carried out his task with “great thoroughness and admirable expedition”.

The terms of reference of Mr Guerin’s inquiry were “not clear cut” and it would be “very desirable” in the future to have “absolute clarity” as to the legal nature of tasks to be performed.

The difficulty of Mr Guerin’s task was compounded by a “surprising lack of communication” within the Department of Justice, he added.

Mr Guerin appealed after the Court of Appeal held that “seriously damaging” “conclusions” in the report were reached in breach of Mr Shatter’s rights to fair procedures and natural and constitutional justice.

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