In doing so, he displayed a mischievous streak that was at odds with the overweening hubris which informed the latter stages of his ministerial tenure. The lad must have had a little giggle to himself, as he led the media pack on a merry dance, and put the frighteners on his former colleagues, whose nerves were already frayed ahead of a predicted hammering in today’s elections.
The little matter of Shatter’s severance package had taken legs over the last few days. On Tuesday, it emerged that he was entitled to €70,000 because the order implementing legislation to discontinue such payments hadn’t been signed. Enda Kenny led a succession of ministers in declaring themselves assured that Alan would do the right thing. He couldn’t take the money and run? Not days out from an election? Not now, with the electorate seething at cutbacks? He couldn’t do that, could he?
For two days, there was no contacting Shatter. He wasn’t returning calls. He wasn’t answering the plaintive cry from his bestest friend, Enda, to give up his oul’ money. He was letting them all stew.
Then, yesterday morning, he let it be known that he would be making a statement on the matter. His bombshell was scheduled for 2.30pm, to take place on the plinth outside Leinster House. The timing and location sent reporters into spasms.
Like, the plinth is serious big potatoes. You don’t mount the plinth unless you’re expounding on the state of the nation. And the timing was just after the broadcast moratorium for the election. What had he up his sleeve? Would he follow the lead of Ray Burke, another former justice minister forced from office, who went the whole hog and resigned his seat as well in a fit of petulance?
News websites reported the speculation all morning. The status of the speculation grew from common or garden fence speculation to “relatively informed” speculation. Collectively, those of us in the media who cover such matters, were fast arriving at fever pitch. After all, for months on end, Shatter was the story that kept on giving. Was he now about to provide us all one with last spin on the merry-go-round?
His former colleagues in government were left in the dark. A few were reported to be teetering on the edge of panic. Bad enough what Gerry Adams and his outfit were wreaking in the last few weeks, now Alan was going to lob his grenade into the pit?
He did his own bit for rising expectation levels. Collared by a reporter before high noon, he was asked if there was anything to the speculation.
“Je ne sais quoi,” he replied, a smile playing on his lips.
At a few minutes past the appointed hour, Alan Shatter emerged from the bowels of Leinster House, advancing on the assembled pack. Hearts sank when his companion hove into view. It was Jonathan Irwin, the redoubtable founder of the Jack & Jill Children's Foundation.
The former minister looked to be in spectacular form now the burden of office had been lifted from him. He related how he was surprised to receive a letter about his severance entitlement.
“I did what I always do and reflected on it,” he said. Scribble, scribble.
“It seems to strangely have been an issue that has attracted a lot of attention,” he added, sounding surprised. He was having a little fun with us. The only reason it had attracted attention was he’d stayed schtum about it for two days while his ex-colleagues were wailing about what he might do.
“The first decision I made is that I’m taking the severance pay,” he said. “The second decision is that it is all going to go to the Jack and Jill Foundation.”
You could feel the life going out of the media pack like a deflating balloon. Mr Shatter, meanwhile, was loving every minute of it. He dismissed any notion of resignation and ambled off after a few minutes, trailing a streak of mischief.
You couldn’t blame him for having a little fun with the media and his former colleagues. After all, he could never be accused of being somebody who engaged in rigorous self-examination about his own faults. Most likely, he blames everybody else for his departure from Cabinet.
He led the media on a dance, and he had a little parting shot at the Government by effectively ignoring the pleas to forgo the payment. He even broke the habit of a lifetime in politics and delivered a performance that was a masterclass in brevity.
Jack and Jill parents will be grateful for his course of action, and they are entitled to anything that comes their way, such is the callous disregard with which many of them have been treated by the State.
The irony will not be lost on them. Shatter was part of the Government that implemented the “medical card probity” policy which has led to thousands of “discretionary” cards being withdrawn from parents with children who had medical conditions or disabilities. Now one of the members of that Cabinet is donating his severance pay which will ensure over 3,000 more respite hours for stretched parents. What a guy. Nothing surely became him like the manner of his leaving.
Two children’s rights groups are compiling a list of medical card cases to “politically and internationally embarrass” the Government as part of a child rights update report for the UN.
The Jack and Jill Foundation and the Children’s Rights are filing the personal stories as part of evidence to give to the international group in 2015.
After the ratification of the UN committee on the rights of the child, the Government is due to write a report to the international body detailing progress on issues such as the children’s referendum and the Child and Family Agency.
However, under UN rules, the Children’s Rights Alliance has also been tasked with co-ordinating a “shadow” report. Its CEO, Tanya Ward, warned the discretionary medical card crisis will be central to the document.
“If that’s not resolved by next year it could politically and internationally embarrass the Government,” she said.
The Jack and Jill Foundation meanwhile, is considering taking legal action over the denial of medical cards for seriously ill children.
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