MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Top drawer intellectually but ultimately judgment failed him

Alan Shatter is gone from frontline politics, but he appears determined not to be forgotten, writes Michael Clifford

Yesterday’s High Court ruling was the latest setback in attempts by the former Minister for Justice to right what he sees as the wrongs that led to his resignation. This man has a particularly annoying bee in his bonnet, and there’s no sign of it departing anytime soon.

Mr Shatter resigned on May 7, 2014, after reading extracts from the Guerin report, which was about to be published. The report into allegations of garda malpractice by Sergeant Maurice McCabe had criticised Mr Shatter for his handling of some aspects of the allegations.

Earlier that week, the Data Protection Commissioner had ruled that he had misused information in his possession when he had revealed on RTÉ television that Mick Wallace had benefited from garda discretion over a minor matter.

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While the criticisms of Mr Shatter in Guerin were not major, it was the latest in an accumulation of scandals.

The garda commissioner Martin Callinan had resigned two months previously. There was no longer a buffer protecting the minister. Taoiseach Enda Kenny was at the end of his tether. He gave Mr Shatter two hours to read the report, quite obviously expecting that his former ‘best boy in the class’ would do the decent thing. And so he did.

He was the first senior minister compelled to resign for what was effectively political incompetence rather than any personal failings. Ordinarily, such a figure might be expected to fade into the background, take up fishing, or throw himself into altruistic or charity work. Instead, the former minister carried his sore like an open wound.

First of all there was the petty. When his ministerial pay-off became an issue a week before the European elections, he allowed the matter hang for days, causing embarrassment to his former colleagues, and speculation in the media that he was about to throw a strop, before he donated the money to charity.

In the Dáil, he attacked both Sean Guerin and then chair of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, Simon O’Brien, who had featured in another controversy that had contributed to Shatter’s travails. The speech on Guerin may have attracted legal action had it been uttered outside the House. He challenged both the data protection decision, and Guerin.

In December, it emerged that he had written to the Taoiseach requesting that he not be included in the terms of reference for the Higgins Report, set up in response to Guerin. He was unsuccessful with that. He wrote to the Ceann Comhraile requesting that any debate on the terms of reference be silenced on the basis that it could affect his legal action against Guerin. Controversy ensued, but the Dáil didn’t debate a matter of democratic concern.

In January, the Circuit Court ruled against his appeal on the Wallace data issue. He is now appealing that decision to the High Court. And then yesterday, in what is probably the biggest blow he has suffered since leaving office, his action against Guerin was roundly dismissed.

Form would suggest he will appeal to the Supreme Court.

All his words and deeds in relation to matters associated with his resignation would appear to be informed by a bitter and deep sense of injustice. It is quite obvious that the man has not come to terms with the fact that he, of all people, was forced to resign from high office. In a political culture where resignations are practically non-existent, it is easy to see how he could harbour such a grievance. Intellectually, he would occupy the top drawer in politics.

He was a renowned hard worker. He had beavered away for nigh on 30 years before achieving what must have been his dream job. And, before the garda controversies began to bubble up, he was making a pretty good fist of it. Then he went and spoiled it all.

His judgement failed him when he backed senior management in the force as controversies spilled out. Crucially, when the truth began to tumble out, his elevated self-confidence ensured that he could not change tack, or back down. In the end, even his old buddy Kenny despaired his lack of horse sense. Since then, the public manifestations of his sense of grievance have been a repeated source of irritation to his former colleagues.

And even in the same-sex referendum debate, he couldn’t help himself, emerging last week to declare that if the Government had only listened to him on the matter of surrogacy, it would not now be an issue in the debate. If only he had acquired a little perspective when he was high on his ministerial horse, he might never have fallen to earth with a crash.

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