SHAUN CONNOLLY: Former justice minister’s ‘day in court’ ends badly

“The judge said there had been no denial of fair procedures by barrister Sean Guerin to Shatter, and expressed bafflement that Shatter, as a member of the government that commissioned and
published the Guerin report, could complain of its consequences”

FORMER Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, thought he had a point of law, but his departure from Cabinet was just the brutal old law of political point-scoring. Taoiseach Enda Kenny could no longer justify a justice minister who lurched from one crisis to another, and so the order went out: throw Shatter from the train.

Tired of his troublesome former friend, Mr Kenny saw the Guerin report into allegations of garda wrong-doing as the perfect opportunity to dispatch Mr Shatter to the back benches and, hopefully, out of the headlines.

The Coalition carriages were in danger of coming off the rails at this time last year, as it derailed itself on obstacles it had placed along the track. Obstacles like the chaotic start-up of Irish Water and endless rows surrounding Mr Shatter, as it headed for the next stop down the line, Voter Revenge Central, otherwise known as the Euro and local elections, in which both governing parties did worse than expected.

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So, Mr Kenny did for Mr Shatter, but Alan didn’t like it and launched a legal challenge that was dismissed with such sweeping disdain this week by Justice Seamus Noonan that it was nothing short of humiliating for the former justice minister.

Mr Shatter has said he intends to “reflect” on the judgment, which as an understatement is pretty good, but not quite there with Emperor Horohito’s statement to his subjects, after the second atomic bomb had smashed down on Nagasaki: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” Justice Noonan’s dismissals of Mr Shatter’s arguments ranged from them being “somewhat curious” to “hardly credible” to “extraordinary”, as he rejected all of the ex-minister’s points in a damning 71-page document.

The judge said there had been no denial of fair procedures by barrister Sean Guerin to Shatter, and expressed bafflement that Shatter, as a member of the government that commissioned and published the Guerin report, could complain of its consequences.

Indeed, Justice Noonan found that many of Mr Shatter’s complaints stemmed from “purely political decisions” taken by that government.

The judge also criticised, as “totally unwarranted”, Mr Shatter’s claim of bias, made in the early stages of the case against Mr Guerin, which was later withdrawn.

In perhaps the most serious ruling, Justice Noonan said it was difficult not to conclude that Mr Shatter’s legal action amounted to a “collateral attack” launched to prevent a commission of investigation, set-up alongside the Guerin probe, from examining the ex-justice minister’s role in the whistle-blower saga.

That commission, which is looking into the secret taping of phone calls at Garda stations and the departure from office of former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, will put out a draft report within weeks.

The Guerin report centred on how Sgt McCabe’s complaints were handled, the complaints then garda commissioner Callinan had dismissed as “disgusting” before an Oireachtas committee.

The probe found Mr Shatter’s attempts to determine the validity of the claims went no further than taking the advice of Mr Callinan — “The very individual who was the subject of the complaint”.

Of course, as Margaret Thatcher observed dryly after purging a third of her Cabinet, no-one is ever sacked from government, they merely “resign”.

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And so, Mr Shatter resigned last May within hours of Mr Kenny getting hold of the Guerin report, but his demeanour at the time, and actions since, suggest he may not have been completely in agreement with the rush to remove him from office.

Mr Shatter has since bided his time on the back benches, contenting himself with occasional Dáil tirades centred around how badly he feels he has been treated.

One wonders, now that the legal route to restore his reputation has seemingly been lost to him, what the outcome would be if he really let-rip and sought his own revenge with revelations about the goings-on in government involving himself and the Taoiseach.

The prospect of that must be a sobering thought for Mr Kenny.

But the Taoiseach has quite a lot on his mind at the moment, as the countdown to the country discovering the truth in the curious Callinan affair begins in earnest.

That is the same Mr Callinan who suddenly left his post a few weeks before Mr Shatter, in unusual circumstances that are the subject of another investigation, by Judge Nial Fennelly.

Followers of this political cliff-hanger, carried out as tragi-farce, will remember that Mr Callinan “retired” as commissioner just hours after Mr Kenny had sent a senior civil servant to the top cop’s house, under cover of darkness, to convey the Taoiseach’s unhappiness at recent invents in the police force.

But the two events were not connected, oh no, because Mr Kenny told the Dáil that, and insisted he had not even “effectively” fired the police chief.

Because if Mr Kenny had done so, not only would he have gone against the legislation, which states that a garda commissioner can only be removed by a Cabinet decision, but he would have deliberately misled parliament, and therefore should resign.

But the Taoiseach may soon come to realise that those who live by the expedient political expulsion from the inner circle can also die by them.

The Fennelly investigation will finally rule on this matter very soon and you can bet its report will fly off the shelves faster than Laura, Mr Shatter’s racy, slightly lurid contribution to literature, with both Mr Kenny and his jilted ex-justice minister poring over its more exciting chapters to see which of them comes out of it worse.

Not a bodice-ripper along the lines of Laura, but it could yet prove a career-shredder for Mr Kenny.

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