Justice minister resigns - A decision that was long overdue

In a country where political resignation is more a state of mind rather than an occasionally used sometimes even an honourable bookend to a discredited political career these are indeed seismic, almost GUBU II weeks in political and public life.

One assessment suggests the dominoes started to topple when then Justice Minister Alan Shatter fired Garda Confidential Recipient Oliver Connolly, incredibly suggesting there was no longer a need for the office. Bizarrely, and contradictorily, he suggested that gardaí who wished to highlight wrongdoing should contact him. This is just one instance where his behaviour suggested an untenable disconnect.

The tumbling dominoes gathered pace when Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was fired just over a month later. The last domino in this strand of a far deeper crisis fell to earth with a thud yesterday when Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced to the Dáil that Mr Shatter had resigned. Though there were already myriad occasions to justify such a decision the Guerin report, to be published tomorrow, into how the gardaí and the Government responded to, or more accurately, suppressed allegations of misconduct, apparently contains judgements so critical of Mr Shatter, his department and the gardaí that his position was no longer tenable.

That even in his resignation letter Mr Shatter pointed out, or rather stuck a stick in Mr Guerin’s eye, that he had not been interviewed during the investigation hints at his tenacity and self belief, qualities that evolved into the stubbornness and a withering disdain for any view other than his own that brought his ministerial career to an end. That he made absolutely no effort to control that disdain, indeed at times it seemed to fuel him, suggested a lack of emotional intelligence that nullified his undoubted capabilities and commendable commitment to reforming the stuffiest elements of our legal tradition.

Even a cursory review of Mr Shatter’s responses to one critical situation after another, when he shrugged off justified criticism as if it was a fleck of dandruff on a good suit, indicates that Mr Guerin may have uncovered damming evidence to support the charges made by garda whistleblowers over a long and lonely period.

And there’s the rub. All of those who resigned were ignored or sidelined, all of those — especially deputies Mick Wallace and Claire Daly who were routinely cast as looney-fringe cranks — who were patronised when they criticised Mr Shatter or the gardaí have been vindicated. And here’s another rub. Those people brave enough to confront the minister and his supporters are bit players in a far bigger crisis — a dysfunctional, unaccountable police force, one that has refused to accept its obligations to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman’s Commission and, through that agency, to public accountability. Indeed, this almost unprecedented resignation might be traced back to the suggestion that GSOC offices had been bugged and the realisation that there is a very short list of suspects for that sinister, anti-democratic behaviour. If not that moment then the scandal in Cavan where a man on bail for a serious assault went on to murder a woman in Limerick and the shocking role of gardaí in that shameful episode. However, reforming the gardaí and the culture that makes the force so impenetrable and self-assured is work for those who succeed Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan.

It is worth pointing out too that this newspaper, especially through Michael Clifford and Mary Regan, played a very significant role in bringing these matters to a head while others were more than happy to swallow the move along, nothing to see here plamás so forcefully peddled by everyone from Taoiseach Enda Kenny down. Those who accuse the press of cynicism should consider all of the efforts made at the highest levels to close down this story.

Mr Shatter’s resignation has implications for those around him too, especially Mr Kenny, who as late as early yesterday offered unquestioning support for the former minister. Yesterday’s announcement must bring Mr Kenny’s judgement into question. It also raises — again — the question of whether he is capable of the objectivity needed when assessing cabinet members. It is far too early to suggest his leadership might be as vulnerable as Micheál Martin’s but he cannot afford any more misjudgements of this confidence-sapping scale.

Mr Shatter is not the first or last politician of great abilities to be destroyed by a challenging, abrasive personality. That he could not show respect for those who challenged him, that he could not bring his scorn to heel made him unfit for office and ruined what was a political career that, among many things, showed great commitment to essential, long-overdue reforms in several areas, particularly family law.

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