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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Timeline: How Alan Shatter's resignation unfolded on a day of drama at Leinster House

There was no prior indication of what was to unfold when Taoiseach Enda Kenny rose to speak in the Dáil just after 4.30pm yesterday.

Alan Shatter and Eamon Gilmore at Arbour Hill just hours before the Minister dramatically resigned.
Alan Shatter and Eamon Gilmore at Arbour Hill just hours before the Minister dramatically resigned.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

IT IS HIGHLY unusual for whispers or rumours of a big political developments not to envelop the halls of Leinster House in the hours before an announcement and yet yesterday was one of those rare days.

There was literally no indication of anything untoward in the hours leading up to the announcement of Alan Shatter’s resignation. Though it comes after months of controversy, it still came as a surprise to many seasoned politicos.

“We didn’t get a text to be in the chamber or anything,” remarked one Fine Gael TD who said this would normally be the case if a big government announcement is in the offing.

To underline the shock nature of the announcement, Labour TDs and senators were still at their parliamentary party meeting when Enda Kenny took to his feet at around 4.38pm to tell the Dáil that the Justice Minister had resigned.

Here’s how the dramatic day unfolded….

6am: The Taoiseach, having received the Seán Guerin report into the handling of series allegations of garda misconduct of the previous evening, speaks with both the Attorney General and senior officials in his department about the contents of the report.

8.20am approx: Mick Wallace tells RTÉ he is considering legal action against Alan Shatter after the Minister was found to have broken data protection legislation – though not committed any offence – when he claimed the independent TD benefitted from garda discretion.

9am: Kenny gives Shatter a copy of the Guerin report. The Minister later says he only read three chapters before deciding to resign.

At some stage in the morning Kenny also contacts Gilmore saying there is a matter he wishes to discuss with him, though what this matter itself is not discussed on the phone. The pair agree to meet later in the day.

9.41am: Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton tells Newstalk she has confidence in Shatter:

Meanwhile, Shatter himself, along with members of the government, attends a memorial ceremony at Arbour Hill for the men and women who died in the 1916 Rising.

Religious leaders, political party leaders, and senior members of the government are in attendance along with President Michael D Higgins. Shatter is spotted in conversation with Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Denham.

Alan Shatter Resignes. Pictured is Ala Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Traditionally, government ministers and political leaders do not speak to the media at such memorial events meaning there is no opportunity to question Shatter about the DPC findings.

11.15am approx: Leo Varadkar mounts a robust defence of his Cabinet colleague, saying he has confidence in Alan Shatter and downplays his breach of data protection law over comments about Mick Wallace by saying the independent TD committed a much more serious breach of the law by evading tax.

Did the outspoken Varadkar have confidence in Shatter? “Yeah, absolutely,” the Transport Minister told a small gathering of reporters at Iveagh Gardens where he was launching a sports funding initiative.

Lunchtime: With no exact time, we are told that Alan Shatter informed the Taoiseach of his decision to resign around this period of the day.

1.55pm: At the end of a press conference in west Dublin to launch the by-election campaign of Labour’s Loraine Mulligan, the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore says that he does not know when the Guerin report will be published.

He’s asked if he can commit to the Guerin and Cooke reports (the latter examining GSOC bugging) being published before the elections on 23 May.

“I don’t know when they’re going to be available,” Gilmore insists. “I haven’t seen either of those reports, but when they are made available to us, the intention is, as I understand it, is to publish them. But we haven’t got those reports yet.” He adds: “When we get them, we get them and we haven’t got them yet.” 

2.37pm: Seven minutes late, Shatter – having, we are told, already tendered his resignation to the Taoiseach – arrives in the Dáil to answer questions on his defence portfolio.

Exchanges are as robust as they normally are between Shatter and opposition spokespersons with no indication of what’s happening behind the scenes.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 00.30.11 Source: Oireachtas TV

To give one example, Shatter tells Sinn Féin that its concerns about whistleblowers are “touching” adding that the Provisional IRA’s approach to them was ”a bullet in the back of the neck”.

In another exchange, Shatter agrees with Fianna Fáil’s Seán Ó Fearghail on the need for more Defence Forces spending but points to the constrained financial circumstances. Ó Fearghail points out to the Minister that “in the years ahead, as you sit around the Cabinet table” it will be more difficult to get such funding.

Between 3pm and 4.30pm: It is in this period that the Tánaiste was told by the Taoiseach of Shatter’s resignation. Some reports say Gilmore was told at 3pm, others indicate it was as late as 4.20pm. Gilmore is said to have been passed a note at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and left the room to speak to Kenny. The PLP meeting was subsequently abandoned.

4.38pm: The Taoiseach stands up in the Dáil to make a “short statement to the House”

“I wish to announce, for the information of the House, that I am advising the President to accept the resignation of Deputy Alan Shatter as a member of the Government. I have accepted the Minister’s resignation with regret. I would like to thank him for his service to the Government and to the country.”

He goes on to praise the “exceptionally hardworking, radical and reforming Minister” and outlines some elements of the Guerin report saying that he and the Minister have “considered its contents during the day”.

He continues: “Mr. Guerin has raised some legal issues that need to be addressed in advance of the publication of the report. These are currently being considered by the Attorney General. However, I can advise the House that the report is critical of the inadequacy of the actions taken by a number of agencies – notably An Garda Síochána, but also including the Department of Justice and Equality, and the Minister for Justice and Equality – in responding to the allegations made by Sergeant McCabe. In that context, the Minister has accepted responsibility and has taken the course of tendering his resignation.”

Kenny tells the Dáil that subject to legal advice the report will be published on Friday and that he will name a replacement for Shatter “later this evening or tomorrow”.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald is the first TD out of the blocks on Twitter:

Labour’s Kevin Humphreys is the first government TD to react on the Twitter machine:

4.40pm: “Jaysus” – the response of one government TD when informed by TheJournal.ie via text that Shatter had resigned. Another notes “Wtf” and laments “all the letters and emails I sent out in his defence!”

4.56pm: As opposition leaders react with shock and surprise in the Dáil, the Department of Justice issues the following statement, attaching Shatter’s resignation letter: “Minister Shatter tendered his resignation to An Taoiseach this afternoon in a letter furnished to him. His letter of resignation is attached.”

5.15pm approx: Emerging from the Dáil chamber later, a Fine Gael TD notes that things will be a bit easier on the doorsteps now that Shatter has departed.

5.27pm: TDs begin to emerge on the plinth at Leinster House, the traditional spot for speaking to the media, where they give their reaction. Labour’s Kevin Humphreys is first out of the blocks:
https://vine.co/v/M6TnAl9Lr7A

Sinn Féin looks for a “fresh approach” from Shatter’s successor:
https://vine.co/v/M6T69JAjAMA

Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, emerges just before the rain starts to fall to say that he and his party feel “vindicated” by the resignation in the wake of the dossier he gave to Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Though he adds:

5.43pm: In his statement issued through the government press office, the Tánaiste says that Shatter’s resignation was “inevitable” given the circumstances. He pays tribute to Shatter as “a talented legal thinker who worked incredibly hard on his reform agenda”.

6pm approx: Alan Shatter departs in his ministerial car.

6.14pm: On RTÉ’s Six One News, Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan says that Shatter has had the Guerin report ”for some days”.

6.45pm: A government spokesperson says that Flanagan misspoke and that Shatter received the Guerin report in the morning.

Government spokesperson also indicates that the new Minister for Justice and Defence will be appointed later in the day with a motion before the Dáil.

7.29pm: In the Dáil, Government chief whip Paul Kehoe says that the announcement of Shatter’s successor will in fact happen on Thursday morning at 10.45am.

Evening: Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting takes place. The mood is described as “sombre”.

Taoiseach and Tánaiste meet to discuss events as speculation regarding Shatter’s successor centres on Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Charlie Flanagan.

Explainer: Why Alan Shatter has resigned

Read: What did Alan Shatter do in office?

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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