Monday 20 May 2013

The Minister and Mick

Alan Shatter TD and Minister for Justice is a solicitor with a proven track record, particularly in the area of family law. It is ironic then that such an able legal mind should have perhaps committed such a basic legal faux-pas that would threaten the future of his political career. It remains to be seen whether any offence will be deemed to have been committed but even to place himself in a situation where the question can be asked shows a lack of judgment on the part of the Minister. Surely a man of Shatter’s experience and standing would realize that the use of privileged information in a political context is exceedingly dangerous. 

I sympathize with his frustration in sharing a platform with Mick Wallace who to my mind belongs anywhere but in public office, but that was the will of the people in our democracy, which all politicians, Shatter included, are sworn to uphold.  The Minister should know better than to let himself be risen by such buffoonery.

And yet Shatter’s response has been anything but conciliatory. His familiar arrogance has been to the fore as he has tried to bluster his way out of an exceedingly tight corner. I am quite certain that the Minister knows that he has at best pushed the boundaries of his office to a new limit and at worst may have committed an offence under data protection legislation.

So why does he not simply apologize to Mick Wallace and the Irish people for overstepping the boundaries of his office? Surely one such as he who has devoted his professional life to the law, its formation and enforcement would not wish (no matter how arrogant he is) to stand over actions which if condoned would undermine the basis of our democracy. Surely even he would eat a little humble pie for the sake of the Law. I use capital letters for Law here intentionally because I do believe he would see it as one of the pillars of our society.

So why not hold his hands up and ask for forgiveness? I think this is the nub of the matter. He knows that there will be no forgiveness. To admit to having, however inadvertently, broken the law is career suicide. That will be the end of Alan Shatter TD and Minister for Justice and it will be not only his loss but ours too for he has made a considerable contribution to Irish politics and law in his lifetime. It will indeed be a sad end if this does prove to be his nemesis.

However as long as Shatter persists in defending the indefensible he will simultaneously diminish the democratic capital of this State. However provoked we cannot allow those with such weighty responsibility to abuse their privileged status for political point scoring. This is a dangerous precedent and one which must be stopped in its tracks! As it stands the best solution for the ongoing integrity of our democracy would be that the Minister would relinquish office.

I wish it were other, but in an unforgiving society there is no alternative. I wish we lived in a society where people could admit to mistakes and failures and be allowed the opportunity to learn from them. I would much prefer to have Alan Shatter continue in office, having eaten the necessary humble pie, and through the whole experience grow in stature and integrity. But that will never be unless things change radically and we abandon the culture of spin and systems failure where nobody is ever responsible for anything or anyone. In the meantime in this imperfect world I hope the Minister does the right thing.


Brendan Cafferty said...

good piece indeed. Shatter does not endear himself to many, not type u find in pub back slapping. I suspect that because of his religion many do not like him, this is Ireland you know.Was he right - if Ming & Mick talk about garda corruption having been let off, do they not deserve to be outed ? I think Shatter is a reforming minister- already thanks to him, SC and CCA judges are sitting in Sept having August off , believe it or not. He has stepped on toes of judges, barristers, guards. Must be doing something right.

James__t said...

Thoughtful and interesting. No doubt that having this interesting tidbit of information in his pocket, which betrays Wallace as guilty of at least a certain degree of hypocrisy and cant, it would have been wiser to say nothing, despite the temptation.

However, I think Enda Kenny's view is not without merit. He came rather swiftly to Alan Shatter's defense, arguing that since Wallace has himself raised this issue so frequently, his own treatment at the hands of the Garda is therefore relevant and a matter of public interest. Similarly, that Wallace owes the ACC €19M that he cannot repay and that he knowingly made false VAT returns, are matters that the public should reasonably expect to be aware of.

Póló said...

Well said.

The issue here is the Minister's partisan use of privileged information. If he doesn't say sorry, he should go. In staying on and having the Taoiseach and others rushing to his defence, he is undermining what remains of the political system and public trust in this country.

His offence might be forgiven but his arrogant refusal to admit it should not.

I have no wish to champion the cause of Mick Wallace. He should not be using a mobile phone when driving (and that includes being stopped at traffic lights).

I gather he is now arguing that the individual Garda should have discretion in issuing a ticket but once it is issued it should not be stoppable short of the case being dismissed in court. Given the potential risks and costs of a court case, this is really not satisfactory. What we need is for any discretion exercised after a ticket has been issued to be transparent.

Glad to see you back posting. Twitter is great but it has its limitations.

I suppose I'll have to start reading your sermons now. Subtle evangelisation?

Stephen Neill said...

Thanks for that :)
I agree with your point on discretion - Wallace's advice on anything more complex than opening a milk carton should be politely ignored - Actually come to think of it the milk carton........
Sermons are optional - they are only an approximation of what actually gets delivered of a Sunday - I get lost down various tangents and struggle to get back into the script seamlessly - doesn't always work!
Did enjoy your Cabinet post by the way :)

Póló said...

Thanks. Was trying to get it finished before the reshuffle, but didn't expect this kerfuffle.

My parodying of Shatter was on the international front and his support for the Israeli Government which is indulging in blatant illegality and attempted genocide. I chose Dayan over Sharon to keep a bit of my powder dry for another day.

Conor said...

I disagree that Shatter should resign. If he were to go then the "moral" screamers would win. He made a mistake. That's it. The Taoiseach (as manager) should have a private meeting after which Enda should say "I have spoken with the Minister and I am confident that an issues such as this will not arise again." End of story. refuse to take any more questions.

Póló said...


Fair enough. But he is justifying his action as are those who are leaping to his defence, including Enda Kenny.