Justice Minister Alan Shatter seems to only have three levels of public persona; smug; very smug; and smugtastic.
The minister had been in merely smug mode when he decided to disclose on live TV that anti-penalty point waiver campaigner Mick Wallace had penalty points waived at the roadside — but Mr Shatter ratcheted himself up to smugtastic by the time he finally confronted the political firestorm engulfing him following that crude attempt to discredit a political opponent with official information supplied by gardaí.
Fittingly, the Justice Minister’s back was against the wall as he faced a media scrum in a small, stuffy room at the National Convention Centre, but rather than hold his hands up to a rather grubby smear attempt, Mr Shatter decided to use those hands to grab a metaphorical shovel and start digging an even deeper hole for himself.
The inversion of reality on offer was not so much Alice Through the Looking Glass, more Shatter In Wonderland.
After recently describing himself as the Minister for Time, he now tried to recast himself as the Minister for Truth — and to be fair, it did sound like something that would emerge from George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in 1984. Using all the linguistic tricks of a small town lawyer who is not quite as slick as he thinks he is, Mr Shatter went to work on the truth.
“As a minister I have an inconvenient habit of telling the truth about issues. It occasionally gets me into trouble, telling the truth.”
No, what gets Mr Shatter into trouble is arrogantly alerting the public to the fact he may have access to secret police files on individuals and fellow TDs which he can use against them whenever it suits him.
“In no circumstance would I seek — deliberately — information from any member of the force to in any way target any Dáil deputy.” But if gardaí just happen to hand him damaging information on a critic they both do not like, then that Dáil deputy is duly targeted.
“In the context of the general briefing I received about the exercise of gardaí discretion, the example of discretion being exercised in the context of Deputy Wallace was given to me.”
Well, isn’t that a coincidence. “The only reason I raised that issue is that Deputy Wallace is a public personality.” He is not a “personality” he is an elected opposition TD.
“I felt it was appropriate for me to point out to Deputy Wallace that he had benefited from that discretion.”
Wallace was not campaigning against roadside discretion, but canceling points already lodged on the system.
“I think it’s regrettable that Deputy Wallace forgot the incident (on Prime Time). I welcome the fact that he remembered it this morning and told the truth this morning about that incident.” Nasty twist of the knife there, implying that Wallace was not telling the truth on Prime Time.
“I have been listening to some of the wild and wonderful suggestions that have been made that I as minister might be spying on my political opponents. That is arrant nonsense, I as minister have no time to be spying on anybody and I have no interest in doing so.” Except when it interests him to ambush opponents with information received from gardaí. Oh, and as line minister for the intelligence service, Shatter is effectively Ireland’s spy chief.
“If I am ever asked to leak something or brief someone in advance of some announcement being made you don’t get much out of me.”
Unless, of course, there is something in it for Mr Shatter’s political advantage, like doing down Wallace.
“In so far as it is being suggested that there is some sort of conspiracy to spy on members of the opposition. It is all complete nonsense.”
So, gardaí keep files on all people given a ticking off at the roadside, do they?
“If someone else, whom we might describe as a whistleblower gave information about Deputy Wallace being the benefit of the gardaí discretion, that’s okay, but it seems to be suggested that as Minister for Justice I should cover that up.”
Who would have accused Shatter of a “cover up” as no one assumed he had such sensitive information?
“There is no question of me using private information, this was not private information. I was required to get a full briefing from gardaí on everything to do with the fixed ticket issue, and much to my surprise this came up.”
The only really surprising aspects are the gardaí lodged this information about a known critic of themselves, and the Justice Minister then made it public to score cheap political points.
“I thought that was a credibility issue.” Maybe so — but it is Mr Shatter’s credibility that is now on trial, not Wallace’s.
“I’m not going to go any further into the gardaí briefing because I do not see any point in doing so.”
Which means there is nothing to benefit the Justice Minister in disclosing more juicy tit-bits from it to attack his political enemies with.
Mr Shatter may be guilty of more than smugness, but just as concerning is the deafening silence from the rest of the Cabinet as this sorry, sinister, saga unfolds.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved