Mick Wallace: If Shatter and Callinan stay, our parliament is a sham

Mick Wallace

We can no longer trust in Alan Shatter to fulfil his ministerial role, writes Mick Wallace.

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter’s handling of the recent GSOC bugging, penalty points, and whistleblower controversies that have arisen throughout this Government’s tenure has been weak, ineffective, and indecisive.

Decisions are motivated by his own political survival rather than his ministerial responsibilities. As a result of this failure to deal cleanly and openly with the issues at the outset and to face them head-on, we can no longer trust in his ability to fulfil his ministerial role.

The initial reaction to each crisis has been defensiveness, delay, denial, and the discrediting of the party making the allegations. Media manipulation and government spin are important tools, as are targeting the reputation of whistleblowers and any TD that sides with them as conspiracy theorists prone to drama.

In the Dáil, the minister has denigrated citizens exercising their legal right to protest at Corrib Gas as “tourist protesters” intent on “sabotaging jobs”. In committee last week, the minister, ably assisted by Government deputies, implied that GSOC’s decision to initiate an investigation was an overreaction, overly dramatic, and disproportionate — hardly the reaction to a threat you would expect from the minister responsible for state security and intelligence.

After much political pressure and further revelations, the minister’s next step is to do something to be seen to take action — in reality, however, this is a weak response that bypasses any strong legislative options, a cynical political move rather than any considered ministerial decision to do the right thing.

The minister bypassed GSOC completely when he ordered the Children’s Ombudsman to investigate the Roma children controversy under terms of reference which do not allow any examination of Garda racial profiling. His response to the penalty points allegations was to initiate internal investigations of senior gardaí by other senior gardaí — an investigation that failed to interview the whistleblowers.

To add a sheen of legitimacy to these constitutionally flawed investigations, he kicked them to touch to certain committees and the Garda Inspectorate. This is another favourite delaying tactic: Asking bodies to produce new reports based on old reports, rather than any sort of investigation from first principles.

When, after two years, the minister finally referred the penalty points allegations to GSOC, he did so under the weaker section 102 provision — focusing on the conduct of the whistleblowers themselves rather than their allegations.

The minister’s eventual response to the GSOC bugging scandal was to order a paper review with no statutory basis to be conducted by a judge — a review with no judicial powers that focuses on GSOC’s conduct rather than the identification of the source of any covert surveillance.

Rather than taking responsibility for the maltreatment of the whistleblowers, he scapegoated and fired Oliver Connolly, the garda confidential recipient.

The minister ignores the readymade provisions available to him under the Commission of Investigations Act 2004 to investigate the GSOC bugging scandal and the very grave allegations that have emerged in recent days, allegations the minister has long been in possession of but only reacted to yesterday — again under political pressure rather than in the exercise of his ministerial duties and responsibilities.

The appointment of a barrister to see if an independent inquiry is necessary is an entirely inappropriate response to these allegations.

The disrespect that the minister has shown for the rules of constitutional fairness, his ignoring of the proper statutory procedures and channels, and his lack of concern for the administration of justice and the rule of law in this State is in stark contrast with Fine Gael’s much-trumpeted reputation as the party of law and order.

These underhand tactics do not work on a permanent basis. They result in long-term damage to the strength and integrity of the institutions of the State and in public confidence in those institutions. They also have a corrosive effect on public trust in politics and policing and undermine the administration and rule of law in the State, and any faith in the consistency and uniformity of its application.

Speaking on the issue in the Dáil, it was difficult not to be angry. I repeat what I said again now.

Many things have gone on in this State for a long time that leave much to be desired. They were happening long before the minister’s time but it is disappointing that there is still no appetite for the truth.

If the minister stays in power and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan remains in place, then our parliament is a sham.

People are right to be cynical about politics and politicians. This place is a joke. We play games in here, and sometimes these games lead to the unfair distribution of justice or no justice at all. Sometimes they lead to people losing their lives, to murders, to families not getting any justice.

What do we see when bad things emerge? We see our police force circling the wagons. We see our politicians circling the wagons, and doing what it takes to cover up what they do not want us to see. They do what it takes to hide the truth.

Is there any appetite for doing things any differently in the Dáil? The minister looks up at these benches and wonders how those people, with their long hair and raggy jeans, have the audacity to challenge him.

The people of Wexford did not elect me to come into the Dáil and approve of the minister’s behaviour.

They put me in there to challenge it. It is time for the minister to go and to bring the Garda Commissioner with him.

* Mick Wallace is an independent TD.

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