Michael Clifford: We must resist attempt to rewrite history

Alan Shatter is entitled to have passages in the Guerin Report referencing him redacted, but removing it from the Oireachtas library would be a travesty, writes Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford: We must resist attempt to rewrite history
Former justice minister Alan Shatter’s desire to remove the Guerin Report from the Oireachtas library sparked a tense exchange of views in the Dáil recently. Picture: CourtPix

Alan Shatter is entitled to have passages in the Guerin Report referencing him redacted, but removing it from the Oireachtas library would be a travesty, writes Michael Clifford

On May 13, the Dáil was subjected to an unseemly row over the proposed removal of the Guerin Report from the Oireachtas library.

Opposition parties wanted a debate on the matter. Removing a report written by a senior counsel, which was a vital cog in uncovering Garda malpractice, from the official record is not something to be done lightly.

Yet Fine Gael, at the urging of its former grandee Alan Shatter, just wants to be shot of the thing. Every effort should be made to resist this attempt to rewrite history.

Shatter is perfectly entitled to have passages in the report referencing him redacted. Removing the full report, effectively throwing the baby out with bathwater, would be a case of Fine Gael sorting out one of their own to the detriment of the official record.

Guerin was published in May 2014. Its origin was in a meeting betweenMaurice McCabe and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin months earlier. McCabe provided Martin with a dossier of Garda malpractice which he said had not been addressed despite his best efforts. A shocked Martin conveyed the dossier to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who professed himself equally shocked.

Kenny appointed senior counsel, Sean Guerin, to prepare a report exploring whether the issue demanded a full judicial inquiry. Guerin was given a tight timeline of about six weeks. The lawyer reported on time. His only interviewee was McCabe.

The remainder of his report was based on documentation. Despite not interviewing then Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, the author criticised how Shatter had handled some of McCabe’s queries.

On receipt of the report, Enda Kenny handed Shatter the proverbial revolver and bottle of whiskey. Shatter resigned within 24 hours. It was a swift and cruel end to a ministerial career that had promised much.

Kenny would have been perfectly entitled to stand by Shatter and suggest that the full judicial inquiry which Guerin recommended would get to the bottom of things. But Shatter was damaged goods by then.

Over the previous 12 months as the controversy around Garda malpractice ebbed and flowed, Shatter’s political stock had plummeted. He attributes this to a media and political campaign designed to damage him. The record would suggest that at various junctures over that time, he had shown, at the very minimum, poor political judgement.

One way or the other, by May 2014, Kenny was facing into forthcoming difficult European and local elections.

Guerin’s conclusions on Shatter would have presented a big political stick with which to beat the already unpopular Fine Gael-led Government at the polls.

Understandably, Shatter was highly aggrieved.

He pursued Guerin through the courts and lost in the High Court, but won on appeal. Then Sean Guerin went to the Supreme Court on a point of law, but last February the five-judge court ruled in Shatter’s favour.

In the meantime, the former minister lost his Dáil seat in the 2016 election. He attributed his political demise to Enda Kenny, Guerin, the media, political opponents, lies, and so on. He penned a memoir along the same lines.

The only concession he made about his own contribution to his fate was that he had been too rigorous in telling the truth.

“If I am guilty of anything, I am guilty of naïve truth-telling when political theatrics or a political parable compatible with or which pandered to the desired false narratives of others might have avoided much of the trouble that led to my political downfall in 2014,” he wrote in the memoir.

Last July, his solicitor wrote to the Taoiseach asking for an apology for how he was portrayed in Guerin, that the report be removed from the Oireachtas library, and that the Government “acknowledge the wrong done to our client”.

The letter pointed out that, following a Supreme Court ruling, the Government had apologised to the victims of child sexual abuse in day schools, yet failed to extend the same courtesy to the former minister.

“We believe the State, through the Government, has both a constitutional, legal, and moral duty to publicly address these issues regardless of the composition of the Government,” Brian Gallagher, solicitor and partner in the firm Gallagher Shatter, wrote.

It is notable that in seeking to have Guerin removed from the Oireachtas library, he appealed not to the Oireachtas, but to the Fine Gael-led and dominated Government.

Alan Shatter was done a wrong, as determined by the courts. He is entitled to have redacted in the Guerin report any reference which casts him in a negative light.

However, excising the whole report from the public record would be like taking a sledgehammer to beat the living daylights out of a nut.

Shatter was not central to the report. If anything, his involvement in the narrative around McCabe’s issues was peripheral — as determined by Guerin. The main thrust of the report concerned the shortcomings in criminal investigations that McCabe had highlighted and reaction to him within the force for raising concerns.

The outcome of Guerin was the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation, which largely endorsed most of what Guerin had compiled.

It would be a travesty to the record, and to the efforts of the senior counsel, to eliminate all of that.

Guerin was also a cog in the process that led to the establishment of the Commission on the Future of Policing and the biggest reform agenda in An Garda Síochána since the foundation of the State. And yet, last week the Government attempted to ram through its proposal to remove Guerin from the official record.

What is really going on here is internal Fine Gael politics.

There are some within the party who sympathise with Shatter’s demise and his relentless pursuit of what he considers the restoration of his reputation. Others, perhaps such as the Taoiseach, just want him to go away.

Neither reason is sufficient to do a disservice to the historical record.

Redact Mr Shatter's presence from Guerin as appropriate, but don’t make a mockery of the recent past on such a flimsy basis.

Alan Shatter's Statement

Following the row in the Dáil over the proposal to remove Guerin from the Oireachtas library, Alan Shatter issued the following statement to Irish Examiner political editor, Daniel McConnell.

“It is noteworthy that those who spoke in the Dáil opposing the motion all with regularity made false allegations about my conduct as Minister for Justice in 2014 which were found by independent commissions and properly conducted independent inquiries to be entirely false.

"They all have a vested interest in maintaining on the Dáil record a narrative indisputably proved false derived from the fundamentally flawed Guerin inquiry which the Supreme Court in 2019 held reached improper conclusions. Their contempt for democratic values, the rule of law and constitutional rights is sadly consistent with what I experienced in 2014.”

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