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Alan Shatter is the problem that just won't go away

Analysis: The government is struggling to move on from the scandals that engulfed the former justice minister.

ACCORDING TO ENDA Kenny, he and Alan Shatter have barely spoken since the former justice minister resigned last year after the damning Guerin report into allegations of Garda malpractice in Cavan and Monaghan.

I called him out of a parliamentary party meeting last year to ask him how he was getting on in view of the fact that he was no longer Minister for Justice and Equality,” Kenny told the Dáil yesterday. “We did not discuss the terms of reference for the Guerin inquiry.”

A song and dance over his severance payment and two soft TV appearances (on the Late Late and The Restaurant) aside, Shatter has barely spoken in the Dáil since his resignation and has been as aloof towards party colleagues and other TDs in Leinster House as he was when he was a minister.

Or as Mick Wallace said last month: “I often meet Alan in the corridor and I always say hello – he doesn’t say hello back but that’s not my problem.”

Yet the former justice minister is still proving a thorn in the government’s side. That his name continues to make the headlines will be a source of angst to a coalition keen to move on from its annus horribilis.

New Tusla Agency Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

In his resignation letter to Kenny last May, Shatter made much of the fact he was resigning so as not to “distract from the important work” of the coalition.

But delve deeper into his resignation letter and the warning signs were there. He had “concerns and reservations” about Seán Guerin’s conclusions and the fact that he was not interviewed as part of the inquiry.

These concerns and reservations led him to launch a blistering Dáil attack on Guerin’s findings and lodge a High Court action aimed at having some of the barrister’s findings effectively deleted from his report.

Not content with that, newly-released correspondence shows that as far back as last September, Shatter sought to limit the scope of the Commission of Investigation set up off the back of the Guerin report to exclude references to him given his pending court case.

The correspondence is a fascinating insight into how much the relationship between the Taoiseach and his former minister has deteriorated.

Through his private secretary Nick Reddy, Kenny repeatedly dismisses Shatter and solicitor Brian Gallagher’s concerns about the O’Higgins Commission examining the former minister’s role in handling allegations by the garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The Restuarant on TV3 Episode 1   Alan Shatter

Getting nowhere with the Department of the Taoiseach, Shatter himself wrote to the Ceann Comhairle on 25 November seeking the removal of references to him from the Commission of Investigation’s terms of reference.

The argument was put forward that if references to Shatter, in his former role as minister for justice, were not removed, it would lead to a “direct and over encroachment and interference by Dáil Eireann in judicial proceedings”.

The Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett paid such heed to this letter that on legal advice he decided there should be no debate on the Commission’s terms of reference. This prompted a Dáil row that arguably almost resulted in Barrett’s resignation.

As opposition leaders have frequently pointed out, irrespective of the Seán Barrett row, this all goes back to Alan Shatter. ‘Just what sort of influence does he continue to exert on the Dáil?’ they ask. Whatever the answer to that, there is no doubt that he giving the government another headache.

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File: A Very Bad Week For Shatter.Fine G Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

That he got sight of the O’Higgins Commission’s terms of reference a month before everyone else is another cause for concern among the opposition parties. Kenny told the Dáil today that Shatter had to be made aware of the terms as he is involved in litigation surrounding the investigation.

It is a reasonable and plausible explanation.

The bigger problem is that nine months after his departure, the Taoiseach is still being forced to talk about Alan Shatter – hardly an ideal situation for a government that wants to leave much the events of last year firmly behind it.

Last weekend, Shatter told The Irish Times that he would address the issues concerned at a later stage, arguing it was “not appropriate” to do so now.

For the coalition, and Fine Gael in particular, that sounds ominous.

Read: Why was Alan Shatter given information about Garda investigation before other TDs?

Background: How has Alan Shatter gone from Department of Justice to High Court?

Analysis: Here’s why Alan Shatter’s legal challenge could cause the government more problems

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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