Speech of Justice Spokesperson Niall Collins, FF Dáil Motion of No Confidence in Minister Alan Shatt

Published on: 02 April 2014

I move that Dáil Éireann has no confidence in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter T.D. We also note the amendment that has been tabled by the Government and which was broadcast on the six o’clock news this evening.  

The cornerstone of any functioning democracy is accountability and taking responsibility for one’s actions.  Unfortunately, this has been sadly lacking in the Government.  It has also been completely absent when it comes to the Minister taking responsibility for his stewardship of the administration of justice and the Department of Justice and Equality.

The Minister will be well aware that this is the second occasion on which we have tabled a motion of no confidence in him.  On the previous occasion we took issue with his policy and direction concerning the oversight of the roll-out of community policing across the country.  Many communities are still feeling the adverse effects of the roll-out of that policy and in particular the closure of Garda stations.  

Since the last motion, however, we have gone from crisis to crisis and under the Minister’s stewardship things have gone from bad to worse.  Four separate investigations are currently going on under the Minister’s remit.  Mr. Justice Cooke is looking into the GSOC bugging scandal.  Senior Counsel, Seán Guerin, is looking into the whistleblower dossier that the Minister sat on for a number of months.  That dossier contains some very serious information, including details of events.  GSOC itself is looking into the whole penalty points issue.  Thankfully, we have also had the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

There were calls from many people, including the Opposition, for separate investigations into those issues, yet the Minister, the Taoiseach and their Government colleagues steadfastly refused to accede to a commission of investigation into any of those.  Lo and behold, however, we will now have a commission of investigation into the telephone recording incidents.  All of this is occurring against a backdrop of other ongoing scandals.  They include the Minister’s use live on RTE television of a confidential briefing he received on Deputy Mick Wallace.  We now understand that is still subject to a ruling from the data commissioner.

We have had the sacking of the confidential recipient and have heard nothing from the Minister about what the confidential recipient said about him to the whistleblowers.  The Minister is refusing steadfastly to say anything about it and is remaining silent.  That is very serious.  We now have the departure of the former Garda Commissioner.

As is typical of the Government whenever someone raises questions about the Minister’s stewardship, it has sought to rubbish the Opposition, in this instance for tabling a motion of no confidence.  We did not table the motion lightly.  We are being repeatedly asked if we have confidence in the Minister and we now wish to outline why we have long lost confidence in him to oversee the administration of justice.  We did not take the decision lightly yet the Government describes it as a pointless exercise and a waste of parliamentary time.  We will use the time to provide the Government with an opportunity to explain the holes in its story over the last days and weeks.  

The Government has an opportunity to explain why the Garda Commissioner retired prematurely.  The Government does not like to be accountable for its actions.  We even had the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, who was a hero a couple of weeks ago when he called it straight, turn into the bad cop yesterday when he sought to rubbish the former Garda Commissioner at Trinity College Dublin.  He suggested that the former Garda Commissioner sought to destroy the tapes, which is completely untrue and must be corrected.  What we expect and what the public expects is that over the course of tonight and tomorrow night the Minister, the Taoiseach and the rest of the Government will use the opportunity to address the holes in their narrative of the last number of days.  They were skilfully placed in the narrative and the timeline.  The Government must address the premature departure of the Garda Commissioner.

Let us recapitulate the timeline.  On 16 June 2013, GSOC published a report into what is now known as the Waterford assault case – the Anthony Holness case.  It was in the public domain and the report was ultimately published on the GSOC website.  On 11 November 2013, the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, informed the Attorney General about recordings and their potential impact on legal proceedings.  On 26 November, the Ian Bailey civil case was reported on the RTE news, including the potential detail around telephone traffic.  On 27 November 2013, the Garda Commissioner himself stopped the practice of telephone recordings except in the case of emergency 999 calls.  On 28 February 2014, Department of Justice and Equality officials were informed of the implications of the recording practice for ongoing civil proceedings in the Bailey case.  That was as part of discovery order.  On 10 March 2014, the Garda Commissioner wrote pursuant to section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, which correspondence the Government published this evening.  The first line of the Commissioner’s letter included the words “Please inform the Minister”.  On 24 March 2014, the Government claims, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, was not informed until 6 p.m. and the Taoiseach sent the Secretary General to meet the Garda Commissioner.  We know what evolved from that.  The following day, we had the resignation.

All of this happened conveniently at a time when the Minister was in the dock politically and the Government was at sixes and sevens on the contemptuous treatment of the whistleblowers.  The Government was refusing steadfastly to apologise, yet conveniently it statement that new, important and grave information had come to its attention.  All of that information was in the domain of the civil and public service and, indeed, in the public domain.  Nevertheless, the Government conveniently said it came out of left field and took everybody by surprise.  The public is not buying it and has made up its mind on the matter.  Let us remember that it has been reported since that the former Garda Commissioner was minded to apologise, but the Government would not let him.  The Government must address that.

There are questions which must be addressed over the course of tonight and tomorrow night.  Why did it take until 24 March 2014 for the Minister to become aware of the telephone recording practice?  Why did it take until 25 March 2014 for the Minister to physically see the letter dated 10 March 2014 to the Secretary General from the Garda Commissioner?  Was the Minister made aware of the contents of the letter in advance of seeing it?  That is very important.  There was a series of meetings.  Are we to believe that the content of the letter or the fact that the recordings were widespread were not discussed at previous meetings?  The Attorney General or her office knew since last November.  Is it the case that she did not see fit to inform the Minister, the Government or anybody about the scale and extent of it notwithstanding how grave the Government said it was in its statement of last Tuesday?  The Attorney General attends Cabinet.  Does she not provide regular briefings on sensitive cases in line with normal practice?  Critically, why was the Minister not involved in the meeting between the Taoiseach and the Attorney General that took place on the Sunday?  These people are all in Dublin within a couple of minutes of each other.  It beggars belief that the Minister was not involved.  If the Attorney General and the Minister’s Secretary General are involved in meetings, one would imagine the Minister would be involved.

On the Monday, there was a meeting involving the two Secretaries General, the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Attorney General but we are led to believe that the letter of 10 March was never raised.  That is not plausible or credible.  Brian Purcell left that meeting and went to the home of the Garda Commissioner.  Are we to believe that what he was mandated to say was not discussed?  Was there no discussion of the message he was to convey?  We are told he conveyed the disquiet of Government and that the following morning the disquiet had not dissipated.  Who knew what and when is not clear and the Government is not trying to make it clear.  The Government is now being afforded an opportunity to do so.  The public is appalled at the public shafting of the Garda Commissioner.  The Garda Commissioner was shafted to save the Minister’s skin.  It is as simple as that.  We must hear from the Taoiseach and we must have real leadership.

One would have imagined that on the Sunday the Taoiseach would have got the Minister, the Attorney General, the Secretaries General and the Garda Commissioner around a table when everybody was available.  It does not make sense and we need to hear the truth.  The bottom line is that the public has lost confidence in the Minister.  His own people are reporting it to him.  Throughout the country, local election campaigns are under way and the feedback is that the public has lost confidence in Deputy Alan Shatter to oversee the administration of justice.  We are taking our legitimate opportunity here in the Parliament to articulate that again.

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