A government that instinctively protected a minister over the Garda whistleblower cannot be insulated from revelations

It is an ironic twist of this political saga that the man who was hailed as the most reforming minister of all time was brought down by behaviour that belongs to a different era.

A government that instinctively protected a minister over the Garda whistleblower cannot be insulated from revelations

The unquestioning reverence to those in powerful positions, the dismissive behaviour towards those who are not, and the stubborn adherence to convention, are now the legacy of the time in office of Alan Shatter, the one-time “progressive” minister for justice.

Reading through the Guerinreport into how serious allegations of Garda malpractice and corruption were handled, it is striking how little regard the authorities had for the power and responsibilities vested in them by the public they serve.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny had billed the report as “hard-hitting”. But that was a massive understatement of its damning conclusions of how Mr Shatter carried out the functions bestowed on him when he was given the ministerial seal of office.

On reading its details, it is hard to see how Mr Shatter didn’t resign sooner; how he thought he would get away with it, and how his government colleagues stood so firmly behind him as he undermined the whistleblowers whose claims he was dealing with.

In his resignation letter on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Shatter said he made the decision having read just three chapters of the report. Chapter one is the introduction, chapter 20 is the conclusion — and chapter 19 was the one dealing with the role of himself in the Department of Justice.

That chapter outlines all the attempts made by Sgt Maurice McCabe to raise concerns with the minister, who was entirely willing to take the Garda bosses at their word, on every matter.

One detail that stands out as a cause for his resignation is how Mr Shatter failed to properly deal with a claim by Sgt McCabe’s wife, Lorraine, that her family had received a death threat from a member of the force, as a result of him rocking the boat.

She more or less pleads with Mr Shatter — describing the “sheer hell” her family was suffering — to deal with her husband’s allegations and how he is treated within the force.

She even goes as far as confiding in the minister about the death threat, saying she would not let her husband report it, because she feared the repercussions.

Mr Shatter issued a cold response through his private secretary, and ignored her fears of the consequences from within the force, saying the death threat would be investigated by the Garda Commissioner.

Time and again, Sgt McCabe hit a brick wall as he tried to stress the seriousness of his concerns to the minister. The first was on June 16, 2011, alerting him to complaints that had been ignored by his seniors and telling him he had been “ostracised”.

He outlined the nature of complaints and said they warranted an independent commission of investigation. There is no evidence of a response. He wrote “with even greater concern” to the minister again on August 9, 2011, after an internal review of his complaints found no wrongdoing. The department wrote back, saying the matter was being looked at by the Garda ombudsman so it would be “inappropriate for the minister to intervene”.

Mr Guerin said it was “unlikely there was any such investigation” by the ombudsman, but could not tell without any documentation from GSOC.

In January 2012, Sgt McCabe went to the then confidential recipient for Garda complaints, Oliver Connolly. His report — outlining complaints of dereliction of duty, falsification of records, and incidents not being investigated — went to the “personal attention” of the minister. It said the garda making the complaint was “fearful of revenge and harassment against himself and his family”.

Mr Shatter referred the complaints to the Garda Commissioner before writing back to the confidential recipient that there was “no evidence to support further action by me”.

Sgt McCabe came to the conclusion that the minister was “being fed false and misleading information” and made a request to meet him.

He wrote again to Mr Shatter in September 2012, and pointed out the statutory provisions which required him to investigate the issue, and again called for an independent inquiry.

By November, the focus of his correspondence shifted to the cancellation of penalty points by senior members of the force.

However, correspondence between Sgt McCabe and the minister stopped in May 2013, at an “impasse”.

Mr Guerin found that the response of Mr Shatter was to “accept without question” the response of the Garda Commissioner to the matters raised.

“In effect, the process of determining Sgt McCabe’s complaints went no further than the minister receiving and acting upon the advice of the person who was the subject of the complaint.” He said he could find “no evidence” in the department of “any detailed assessment” of Sgt McCabe’s claims.

Without explaining why he didn’t interview Mr Shatter as part of the process, he said there was “no written internal records” of the decisions he made and therefore “is unable to shed any light on the reasons for the approach adopted by the minister”.

It is a damning indictment of the former minister that his functions as a holder of one of the highest offices in the land had to be pointed out to him by a man who he so readily dismissed on the floor of the Dáil and elsewhere.

It does not instil much confidence in the way this country is run, that all of the above happened so easily without any documentation being kept or explanation or rationale for why a minister behaved the way he did.

And as troubling as it is that the minister took the word of the Garda senior management, it is also worrying that his cabinet colleagues followed his lead in their response to revelations.

When it initially emerged that Mr Shatter had misled the Dáil by saying Sgt McCabe had not co-operated with an internal inquiry into penalty point cancellations, almost the entire cabinet refused to say he deserved an apology. The Taoiseach also supported the justice minister in sacking the confidential recipient because he refused to repudiate a transcript of him telling Sgt McCabe “if Shatter thinks you’re screwing him you’re finished”.

Sgt McCabe told the Taoiseach of the conversation by letter in May, 2013. It was read out in the Dáil in February by Independent TD Mick Wallace, but the Irish Examiner was the only newspaper to report it.

With the resignation of Mr Shatter and a new minister promising a “new era and new culture”, the Coalition is hoping that it can limit the political damage from the controversy.

But it instinctively protected its minister over the whistleblower and for that reason, cannot be fully insulated from the revelations.

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