GSOC affair - A bad week for Kenny and Shatter

This has been a very bad week for Taoiseach Enda Kenny, possibly the worst since he assumed that office.

He has prevaricated and dodged the most important issue at the very heart of the scandal around the attempt to spy on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission — a threat to State security through a covert attack on an agency of our parliament that, by even the calmest reckoning, amounts to sedition.

He has, intentionally or through unacceptable and unimaginable ignorance, muddied the waters by repeatedly and incorrectly insisting that the GSOC was obliged to share information with the Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Even his apology, when he could not ignore the facts any longer, was a mealy-mouthed, graceless concession that made no reference to how his error gave a false, derogatory impression of the GSOC’s behaviour and even of how the scandal unfolded.

He has not shown that he understands the responsibilities or dynamics of leadership in a difficult situation like this. Neither has he shown that the detachment that defines successful chief executives, comes naturally to him. He has not set or controlled the agenda but tried to manipulate it to serve a political need rather than establishing — or discounting — a warts-and-all truth. It is impossible to say, to use that almost-forgotten political benchmark, that he has been a plain dealer on the increasingly worrying GSOC affair.

If all of that was not bad enough he has rendered all of the commitments given by Fine Gael to accountability and openness as meaningless as penalty points discounted at the whim of a faceless garda. And, sadly, there’s more — he has not shown that he has the nous to know when to stop digging a hole for himself, his Government, his party or the policies they espouse but ignore if there might be awkward consequences. But most of all he has not shown the courage or political passion needed to look into dark corners and face any truth he might uncover no matter what the consequences. Neither has he shown that he understands this scandal, if the worst-case scenario is made real, has the potential to topple his Government.

The charges arraigned against Justice Minister Alan Shatter are as damning but of a different character. He has been, in turn, disingenuous, evasive, selective, Machiavellian, manipulative and patronising to an almost offensive degree. He has most inappropriately overreached his authority by calling an Oireachtas-appointed ombudsman to account for his behaviour. In other democracies, where openness is cherished and given more than passing lip service, this wrong-headed intervention might have cost him his job. The advice offered to garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe by the confidential recipient, that he would be “finished” if Mr Shatter became aware of his allegations adds a deeply disturbing and sinister tinge to his reputation. By his one-sided, blinkered response, a response that had a huge influence in turning the victim into the defendant, he has shown that the suspicions that he is opposed, for whatever reason, to making oversight of the gardaí more effective are justified.

Unfortunately, and there is a considerable degree of tragedy in this, he has appointed himself judge, jury and hangman and by doing so he has entirely justified any reticence the GSOC might have had in sharing sensitive information with his office. This stands in addition to the disquieting instances when he, in defiance of an Oireachtas policy decision, sidelined the GSOC when its mandate seemed tailor-made for the needs of the day — the penalty points affair and the investigation into the Garda role in seizing Roma children last year. His response on these matters has unfortunately overshadowed a lot of the very commendable reforming work he has done in other areas.

That sense of disappointment extends to Mr Kenny as the affair is a perfect opportunity to show that the idea of accountability is more than a carrot to dangle in front of a weary, gullible public as electoral needs demand. Ironically, the response of Mr Kenny, Mr Shatter, Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, and especially the intemperate demands from a Garda representative organisation, have deepened rather than allayed suspicions.

If this weekend brings further revelations then Mr Kenny and Mr Shatter’s attempts to sweep this affair, which stinks to high heaven, under the carpet will take on an entirely different complexion. Already the calls for an independent inquiry are justified but if there are more revelations then that momentum will become undeniable. If that terrible vista transpires it will be impossible for Mr Kenny and Mr Shatter to maintain their nothing-to-worry-about-here stance, a situation that would have the gravest consequences for both of them.

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