This is not the sort of motion one necessarily enjoys having to speak on. We realise that on many occasions confidence motions have been used purely for political advantage and opportunity. Given the current arithmetic of the Dáil, a person would be forgiven for questioning our motives. However, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the commentary of many Members on the opposite side of the House prior to and on assuming office. The Taoiseach said Ministers would be measured by performance and results, there would be report card systems in place and those who failed to live up to expectations would be replaced. There would be a new politics. There would be reform in the House akin to a democratic revolution. The people would be kept in the loop, not out of it.
When the Taoiseach said on election night that when Paddy needed to know, he indicated that he would inform Paddy. Recently, the Taoiseach addressed the public while speaking in the USA and said that if anyone had a suggestion, a question or a problem, that person should call him. He said his numbers were on the public record. I say to the Taoiseach that we have a problem. The people have a problem. Paddy has a problem and Paddy wants to know why, after the whistleblowers fiasco, the GSOC fiasco and the telephone-tapping fiasco, the Taoiseach has not disposed of Deputy Alan Shatter as a Minister. Paddy needs to know and Paddy must know.
I am sure Deputies will be aware of the baseball analogy and the “Three strikes and you are out” rule. While the Government has dropped report cards, new politics and the mantra of a democratic revolution, it has yet to drop the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. The Fianna Fáil Party has been left with no option but to table this motion. While it may not succeed in its obvious intent, the motion offers the Government an opportunity to answer and to clarify many of the questions arising out of last week’s shenanigans in the Taoiseach’s office, the Cabinet and this Chamber. I remind Deputies of a comment made by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, at the weekend. In response to a question on the most recent issue to emerge, namely, the practice of taping telephone calls, he stated the issue became significant only when the Attorney General brought it to attention of the Taoiseach on Sunday, 23 March. Is the inference to be drawn from the Minister’s statement that everything that had occurred since the previous June was insignificant?
That appears to be the opinion of the Minister and his colleagues in government. Incidentally, utterances made by other Cabinet members on this issue since last week appear to have had the blessing of the Taoiseach, whereas only a week previously all comments were to be made in the privacy of the Cabinet room. Unfortunately, public comments made by the Ministers for Finance, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputies Noonan, Rabbitte and Varadkar, respectively, have done nothing but raise further questions.
To return to the nub of the issue, namely, the timeline of events in the fateful weekend before last, are we to believe, and is Paddy to believe, the coincidence that this issue landed in the lap of the Taoiseach on the Sunday before a Cabinet meeting which had, at its centre, the future of the Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice and Equality? Are we to believe, and is Paddy to believe, that the Taoiseach, when briefed by the Attorney General on the Sunday in question, did not believe it would be worthwhile to telephone the Minister for Justice and Equality, supposedly the hardest working, most reforming Minister in Cabinet? Despite the Minister having more legislation, acumen and intelligence than any other Minister in the Cabinet, the Taoiseach did not believe it necessary to contact him. Instead, we are to believe that the Taoiseach saw fit to sleep on the matter.
We are led to believe the following scenario occurred the next morning. The Taoiseach again decided not to consult the Minister for Justice and Equality, officials in the Department of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the leader of the Labour Party, his partner in government in whom he has little faith, and instead called in the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality who is supposedly answerable to the Minister for Justice and Equality, who had not yet arrived. The Secretary General, Mr. Brian Purcell, is the person to whom the then Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, had written two weeks previously asking that he inform the Minister about the issue.
Moreover, the Minister’s staff had been engaged on this very issue with staff in the Office of the Attorney General since the previous June. Until that point, of course, the issue had been deemed insignificant. The Taoiseach then decided to despatch the Secretary General, the most senior official in the Department of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to the home of the Garda Commissioner. Was this decision taken with the consent and agreement of the Minister? Was it the case that an official of the Department of Justice and Equality was sent because only a Minister in that Department can sack a Garda Commissioner? Given that the Taoiseach cannot do so, as he informed us last week, perhaps there was method in his madness as a visit from a Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality has an obvious inference.
On the morning of Tuesday, 25 March, the Taoiseach will have faced his Cabinet meeting in the belief that he had solved all his problems and averted an imminent collision with his Labour Party colleagues in government. In any event, the Labour Party Ministers sealed the fate of the Garda Commissioner the previous week when they declined to give him public support. The Taoiseach will have informed the Cabinet that the Garda Commissioner was out of the way and asked if that was agreed. Once agreed, he could tick a box. He will then have stated that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, was to give an apology to save his skin. Having obtained the agreement of his Cabinet colleagues, the Taoiseach could tick another box. He will then have asked for agreement to place on the agenda the issue of establishing a Garda authority because, while not included in the programme for Government, the measure would, given the circumstances, have to be agreed. He could then tick another box. The Taoiseach will then have asked for agreement regarding the establishment of a commission of inquiry, which made an insignificant matter into a very significant matter. Once that was agreed, he could tick another box. He will have asked if his Ministers agreed he was in full and total control of the meeting and, once agreed, he could tick the relevant box. Having replaced the old crisis with a new one and silenced the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, who no longer had the podium and the ear of the people, he could tick another box.
This approach succeeded for a few hours until chaos broke out, holes emerged and suspicions were raised. The decision to send the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to appear on “Prime Time” that night backfired. During the course of that programme, the sure-footed, wise and confident Minister for Finance became the bungling and inept Minister for Health whom we knew from yesteryear. Similar comments made by various Ministers have only added to confusion, notwithstanding their efforts to defend the Taoiseach, Attorney General, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality and Minister for Justice.
The initial public perception that the issue may have been a conspiracy theory has begun to unravel and a belief is emerging that the real scenario was that one crisis was created to avert another crisis. The policy and manner in which the Government has dealt with this issue have backfired to such an extent that the Labour Party needs to revert to type, as the Minister for Finance did on “Prime Time” last week. This will mean the Labour Party returning to a practice in which it has much form, namely, seeking heads, as the Minister for Education and Skills will attest. Let us see it revert to type. To return to the three strikes and you are out rule, the Minister has had four or five strikes in respect of his handling of various affairs, as highlighted by Deputy Niall Collins. On that basis, the Government must realise that, unfortunately, the Minister is not capable of administering justice in the Department to which he had the privilege of being appointed. I ask that the House confirm this.