Alan Shatter isn’t the bonniest baby you ever saw, but he’s gone out with the bathwater all the same in the wake of the hairy baby, Martin Callinan, and that other melancholy baby, Oliver J Connolly, the confidential recipient who confidentially received an elbow in the ribs from Shatter in the first place.
I’m sorry Shatter is gone, though I won’t miss his right-wing economic views or his uncritical support of Israeli policies. However, I will miss his progressive approach to social issues, I’ll miss the fact that we no longer have a justice minister without ties of any sort to the Catholic church, and I’ll miss the fact that he was preparing to face down the entrenched monopolies of the legal profession. With Shatter gone, it will be a tougher job to tackle the outrageous and inefficient legal practices that bedevil our country, and it might well be the end of the initiative to deliver same-sex marriage. I suspect the Iona Fringe are more than pleased by today’s announcement.
Shatter in office was a very different man from Shatter in opposition. Condescending, patronising and supercilious, the Brightest Boy in the Class made little effort to disguise his contempt for those of inferior intellect — you and me, in other words. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always argued that we need a higher calibre of intellect in our cabinet ministers than the sort of apes we’ve had to endure over the years, and perhaps that’s where the answer to the Shatter conundrum lies. After all, in stooping to the sort of shallow political jibe he used against Mick Wallace, Shatter made himself no better than the old-style Fine Gael fools he previously towered over. Likewise, by letting the mask drop, by being unable to hold back a little bit of gossip about a parliamentarian, Shatter exposed the uncomfortably close relationship a justice minister in Ireland has with the head of the police force, thus reminding us that our democracy isn’t quite as secure as some would have us believe.
We’ve always known that An Garda Síochána is given to unprofessional practices, but the Wallace case is downright sinister. Here’s an elected representative, Mick Wallace, stopped at traffic lights, illegally talking on his mobile phone when two guards pull up beside him. They don’t stop him, question him, caution him or issue a ticket. Nothing official has happened and yet, somehow, an account of the non-incident finds its way to the Garda Commissioner, who duly passes it on to the Justice minister. That’s the really worrying bit. Who considered this apparently innocuous encounter at a traffic light sufficiently important to pass it up through the ranks? And why?
Not too long ago, another elected member of our parliament, Clare Daly, was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. She was handcuffed, brought to the station and a sample was taken for testing. The next morning, Gardai released details of the arrest to the press. The tests subsequently showed that Clare Daly did not exceed the blood alcohol limit.
When the Garda ombudsman commission reported suspicions that it had been bugged, Shatter hurried to rubbish the suggestions, even though the implications of such activity threatened our democracy at a very profound level. Likewise, when Garda whistleblowers John Wilson and Maurice McCabe sought to expose activities such as fabrication of evidence or, as we used to call it, framing innocent people, Shatter and the Garda Commissioner closed ranks.
Thus it was that Shatter the maverick had morphed into Shatter, the authoritarian establishment man.
What a pity. Shatter has courage. He’s sharp, intelligent, articulate and socially liberal. Even Luke Ming Flanagan, of all people, lamented his loss on radio today, but Shatter had to go when the Guerin Report came out. Even though we haven’t been given the opportunity to read it, the report seems to criticise his handling of all those things — the GSOC fiasco, the whistleblowers, the penalty points scandal and his breach of the law by revealing what he knew of the Mick Wallace non-event.
In his dignified resignation letter, Shatter complains that Guerin failed to interview him but otherwise acknowledges his colleagues of both parties and also the officials he worked with.
I doubt we’ve seen the last of this fellow, and while I can’t say that I agree with all, or even much, of what he stands for as a politician, I can say this: he’s not a gobshite.
In Irish political terms, that’s praise indeed.