THE decision by the Court of Appeal last week that the Guerin Report into the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Alan Shatter’s handling of the complaints of Garda whistleblowers had failed to ‘observe the rules of natural justice’ by not giving him a chance to give his version of events vindicated him and made his hounding out of office in May 2014 seem all the more unjust. The findings of senior counsel Sean Guerin’s report, effectively, brought Mr Shatter’s quite distinguished political career to a sudden and somewhat sordid end and he subsequently failed to get re-elected as a TD in this year’s general election.
The scoping Guerin report, which had a very tight deadline of eight weeks in which to do its work and draw conclusions, was ordered by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a stalling tactic to try to defuse a wave of controversies in the early months of 2014. These ranged from suspicions that the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission offices had been bugged and the well-documented allegations of the whistleblowers to revelations about the historic practice of the taping of telephone conversations in Garda stations and the ‘early retirement’ of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan after a late-night visit to his home by a senior Department of Justice official, who had been sent there by the Taoiseach and not his Minister.
Mr Shatter was pilloried with great glee by the opposition parties and fuel was added to the fire by sections of the media who did not spare him. The baying of the mobs obviously spooked the Taoiseach, especially with the local and European elections looming at the end of that May.
The fact that the Minister was a most capable, loyal and long-serving ally of the Taoiseach counted for nothing when he gave him three hours to read the Guerin Report ahead of its publication and decide whether he was going to resign or not – which he reluctantly did because Mr Kenny had told him that he had lost confidence in him. This was ruthless political expediency by the Taoiseach, whose stock response since then to the injustices perpetrated against Mr Shatter has been that the latter had resigned and was not fired by him.
His only concession was correcting the Dáil record when the follow-on O’Higgins Report – which was conducted more thoroughly over a longer period of time and published in May of last year – found that the handling of the whistleblowers’ allegations by both the former Commissioner and Minister Shatter was adequate. His successor as Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, has shown only token sympathy for what happened to him, saying that he was but one of the victims of all these controversies.
Alan Shatter has had to fight a two and a half-year legal battle to clear his name. Even in the Court of Appeal ruling last week, the Guerin Report author’s rudimentary error was excused by Judge Sean Ryan on the basis that he was operating under such severe time constraints.
Mr Shatter’s good name has been vindicated, but his political career was cut short in its prime and, while it may be of little consolation at this remove, an apology from his own party, the opposition politicians and sections of the media who bayed for his blood is well overdue.