JUSTICE MINISTER ALAN Shatter will be back in the spotlight tonight and tomorrow as he faces a motion of no confidence in the Dáil, his second in less than a year.
Fianna Fáil will aim to pile the pressure on the embattled minister with its short and simple motion, but indications are that the government is closing ranks around Shatter and – barring any massive turn of events – the motion will be voted down tomorrow night.
This is widely seen as the government’s first fully-fledged crisis since it took office three years ago with signs that it is having an impact on its popularity, not just in the Red C poll at the weekend, but also on the doorstep where canvassers in Dublin South, the minister’s own constituency and a Fine Gael stronghold, reported anger towards Shatter.
Tonight, the minister will address the motion at some stage, but it is unclear whether he will deal with the significant questions which remain about what he knew about garda station tape recordings – and when he knew it.
There are a number of key questions that remain unanswered about the saga we now know as gardagate…
1. Did no one in his department know about the GSOC report on Waterford last summer?
Last June, the Garda Ombudsman published a report which discussed illegal recording of calls at Waterford garda station. Shatter told the Dáil last Wednesday it was “the simple truth” that GSOC did not furnish the report to him or his department, it wasn’t required to do so.
But it is hard to believe that there wasn’t some official, somewhere in the Department of Justice, who was aware of the report compiled by GSOC or indeed whose responsibility it was to read such reports.
Even more so when you consider the report related to a case where two former gardaí were jailed for assaulting a man in Waterford city in 2010. Regardless of whether Shatter knew about it – and he says he didn’t – it would be helpful if he could confirm whether any his officials read it.
2. Why did a letter from the Garda Commissioner not reach his desk until 16 days after it arrived in his Department?
This is the biggest question of all, and the answer remains unsatisfactory for many. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan sent a letter by courier to the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, on 10 March, but it did not reach the Minister’s desk until 12.40pm on Tuesday, 25 March and, according to the Minister, he did not read it until later that day.
We are told there were personal issues, including a bereavement in the department, which delayed the process. In addition to that, officials were working to establish just what exactly they were dealing with which included an exchange of correspondence between the Attorney General, gardaí and the Data Protection Commissioner on 19 and 20 March, all of which was copied to Shatter’s department.
But, we are told, the minister was unaware any of this was going on.
3. Why wasn’t he shown the letter from Callinan last Monday night?
Shatter was first briefed on the very serious matter of calls in and out of garda stations being recorded for decades on Monday night at around 6pm in a meeting involving the Taoiseach, Shatter, and the secretaries general of the Departments of the Taoiseach and Justice, Martin Fraser and Purcell respectively.
Why, at that point, given the serious nature of the issue, was the letter from Callinan not given to Shatter to take a look at?
4. What does he think of the delay in the Commissioner finding out last November – and him learning about garda station recordings last week?
Leo Varadkar appeared to turn the tables on the gardaí yesterday when he asked why it took from the Garda Commissioner learning about the recording practice last November until last week for Shatter to find out about it.
“The garda commissioner and senior people knew as far back as November that recordings were being made and they only saw fit to inform Minister Shatter four to five months later,” Varadkar said at an impromptu media doorstep yesterday.
It’s an important point and one which Shatter should perhaps address.
5. Was he aware of his Department’s discussions with Callinan over the withdrawal of the ‘disgusting’ remark?
Sources close to Martin Callinan have let it be known that through his discussions with the Department of Justice he believed he should delay the withdrawal of the ‘disgusting’ remark about whistleblowers. We know Callinan was preparing to withdraw the remark early last week or late the week before, with briefings to journalists clearly giving this impression.
But no withdrawal came before the Commissioner resigned on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the Department of Justice did not address the specific claim from sources close to Callinan that he was dissuaded from withdrawing by departmental officials. However the department denied the suggestion that officials at any point ruled out the possibility of withdrawing the remark. Clearly, not ruling it out is one thing, giving hints to the Commissioner that he should perhaps delay withdrawing it is another.
One of the key questions about this particular issue is what did Alan Shatter know about these ongoing discussions with Callinan?
6. Did he speak to Callinan between March 10 and 24? And did the recordings issue and the letter the Commissioner sent arise?
The Minister told the Dáil last Wednesday that he did not recall whether he had spoken to the Garda Commissioner on the phone between 10 and 15 March, but was definitive in saying that he did not speak to him while he was in Mexico on St Patrick’s Day business.
Certainly, there are occasions when we would talk about issues. I have no recollection of having a conversation with him about any issue that week but I cannot say that 100 per cent, because I don’t make a note every time there may be some brief matter that arises about which we would have conversed. I don’t recall talking to him that week but I can’t say that for certain,” he told Socialist TD Joe Higgins.
But his next sentence is crucial in that the Dáil record originally recorded Shatter as saying: “I cannot say for certain that this issue was never the subject of a conversation between the Garda Commissioner and myself.”
By definition this leaves open the possibility that Shatter DID discuss the issue, i.e. the garda recordings, with Callinan.
However, Shatter has since corrected the Daíl record – and a report in last Saturday’s Irish Times – so as that the record now reads: “I can say for certain this issue was never the subject of a conversation between the Garda Commissioner and myself.”
Further clarity on this may be needed given the audio (49 seconds in) is not conclusive.
7. Was anyone in the Department aware of the gardaí tendering for recording equipment?
This was of course before Shatter’s time in the Department of Justice, but it would be good to know if the department and its officials were kept informed of An Garda Siochana, in its own words, holding “a public tender in October 2007 for a range of telecoms, video and radio equipment”.
It could be that these were an operational matter for the force, but it seems unlikely that some officials in Justice were not made aware of this, or that it did not come up at any stage in the daily interactions between officials in the gardaí and the department.
8. What does Alan Shatter think of being kept out of the loop until Monday night, and of his senior civil servant being sent to see Callinan?
It would strike some as odd that when the Attorney General informed the Taoiseach of the developments on Sunday night that Enda Kenny did not then think to speak to the minister responsible for An Garda Siochána, Alan Shatter, to find out if he knew about the practice of recording conversations in garda stations or if anyone in his department did.
Instead, it was a full 24 hours before Shatter was made aware of of what Kenny had been told by the Attorney General and then it was not until Tuesday morning that Shatter saw the Commissioner’s letter.
We are told that Kenny and his officials spent most of Monday trying to determine the veracity and seriousness of the allegations as presented to him by the Attorney General on Sunday night. An unnamed senior counsel was supposedly involved in this process and attended the meeting with Kenny, Fraser, and Purcell (above, right) on Monday night where the Minister was informed of developments.
What did the Minister make of Kenny then sending Purcell to Callinan so as that the Commissioner, in the Taoiseach’s words, “be made aware of the gravity of how I felt about this and its implications”?
9. Was Shatter briefed about any aspect of the Ian Bailey civil case against the Garda Commissioner?
Much of this controversy has arisen out of the civil action being taken by Bailey against the State for alleged wrongful arrest over the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in 1996. Bailey, a former journalist, denies any involvement in her murder and is seeking damages from the State which is defending the case.
Sinn Féin’s Padraig MacLochlainn has asked that Shatter clarify what he knew about the Bailey case given that he was consulting with the AG in November 2011 about a report by the Director of Prosecutions which found no grounds for the prosecution of Bailey.
MacLochlainn has said: “The Minister needs to now clarify what was the outcome of that consultation? Also when did the Attorney General become aware of the tape recordings in relation to the Ian Bailey case, now the subject of public controversy and a Commission of Investigation and did she inform the Minister and if not, why not?”
All pics: Press Association