It is extraordinary to think that a week ago a Garda Commissioner left office, or was pushed out of office, and yet no opportunity was given to debate it. Were it not for the opportunity presented to us by the tabling of this motion we would not have a chance to do that. It is evident from the heckles that the press office has supplied the scripts and backbenchers propose to troop in and vote confidence in the Minister. However, what Members opposite will not see in the scripts or briefings provided to them are issues on which they need to reflect. In voting confidence in the Minister, they vote absolute confidence in the manner in which issues in the Department of Justice and Equality have been handled not alone in the past few weeks but in the past three years since the Minister, Deputy Shatter, took office.
The first question Members opposite should ask themselves relates to the actions of the Taoiseach. Why, when the Taoiseach learned last Sunday from the Attorney General about one of the biggest challenges of all time to the Department of Justice and Equality did he consider it not appropriate to involve the Minister, Deputy Shatter, in his discussions and research for 24 hours? They should also question why the Attorney General felt it necessary to say to the Taoiseach that she did not want to discuss the issue on the phone and wanted to see him face to face. What does that say about the Attorney General’s confidence in terms of the security of her communications?
They should also question why the Taoiseach then spent the following day consulting with the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality and convened a meeting in his office at 6 p.m. that evening to which the Minister, Deputy Shatter, was invited, at which he laid out a course of events involving the Secretary General being dispatched to the Garda Commissioner to tell him of Cabinet unease despite no Cabinet meeting having been held. The Taoiseach also did not consult the Tánaiste at any stage during the 24 hours before he dispatched the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality to tell the Garda Commissioner to walk the plank. He did not consider it necessary to speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Tánaiste. What does that say about relationships within government?
We are asked to believe that at that meeting the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, who on 10 March had received a letter from the Garda Commissioner in relation to the issue which was the only item for discussion, did not think it appropriate to point out that he had received a letter from the Garda Commissioner in relation to that issue and that even when the Taoiseach told the Secretary General to go to the Commissioner’s home to inform him that he was not happy, the Secretary General still did not tell the Taoiseach the Garda Commissioner had written to him on 10 March. The Taoiseach clearly does not have operational confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality when he spent a full day researching an issue without involving him.
One must also question the level of confidence the Secretary General of the Department has in the Minister, particularly when a letter of that importance – delivered by law – was not brought to the attention of either the Taoiseach or the Minister at the meeting in question. A week has passed since this happened and the Taoiseach has had every opportunity to explain why he excluded the Minister and the Tánaiste from his negotiations. However, he has engaged in obfuscation at every turn and has not indicated why he failed to involve the Minister. We must deduce from the lack of a response that while the Taoiseach might express confidence in the Minister, he does not have confidence in him.
We are expected to believe that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, is the greatest Minister since Ministers began – that is the way it will be spun during this debate – that he is the best Minister in “Ministerland”, that we should all bow down before him, that he is the great reformer and that they will probably write songs about him in the future. One of the great reforms that will be trumpeted relates to independent oversight in respect of An Garda Síochána.
Only a few weeks ago, however, the Minister stated: “I have no plans to introduce a Garda authority and there is no such commitment in the programme for Government.” He also stated: “To pass control of such matters to an unelected body beyond the executive and the legislature is untenable.” Those were the words of the Minister a few short weeks ago in response to a parliamentary question.
What has happened since is that control of the Department of Justice and Equality has been taken from him. The Minister is like a learner driver – he is at the steering wheel but somebody else is in control. That is another reason that every Deputy intent on voting confidence in him tomorrow evening should be wary of doing so because he or she will be voting confidence in a Minister who is not in control of his own Department. Deputies are being asked to vote confidence in the Minister on the same day the Taoiseach appointed a committee to review his Department. The latter will be a Cabinet committee consisting of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister who, I presume, will be responsible for making the tea. It will be the “Alan Shatter oversight committee” or ASOC. It will be a case of ASOC meeting GSOC. I hope ASOC has better luck than GSOC.
The Taoiseach is going to ask all Government Deputies to come into the House tonight and tomorrow night and speak in favour of and then vote confidence in the Minister at a time when he would not involve him in the biggest issue facing his Department. Today, the Taoiseach felt it necessary to establish an oversight committee – involving the Tánaiste and one week after this matter first came to light – to review the running of the Department.
Again, the Taoiseach says he has confidence in the Minister but it is those opposite who are being asked to express their confidence in him. They will be asked to put their reputations on the line tomorrow by pressing the relevant button and voting confidence in the Minister, Deputy Shatter, while the generals who lead them will probably not be here to do so. They are being asked to vote confidence in a Minister in respect of whose brief some four inquiries are under way, with regard to whose Department an oversight committee has been appointed and who abused his office by sharing information on penalty points relating to a Member of this House on live television and has since shown little remorse for doing so. Confidence indicates that one supports, that one believes in and that one approves of the someone’s style of operating. Those opposite are being asked to express such confidence.
Almost one year on from the previous motion of confidence in respect of this Minister, are Government Deputies of the view that his way of operating has improved? Do they believe things are now better in the Department of Justice and Equality? The Government’s amendment to the motion is quite astonishing. It is four pages of an homage to the Minister. The only thing missing from it is a nomination for the Nobel Prize for literature for his novel. Are the ladies and gentlemen opposite absolutely sure that when they vote confidence in the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and give him their political and personal endorsement, he will not drop the ball once more or let them, as parliamentarians, down again? Are they sure that a situation will not arise where, following the publication of the findings from one of the four inquiries to which I refer, the Taoiseach might lose confidence in the Minister and, as was the case with Mr. Flannery and the former Garda Commissioner, say, “There is unease in Cabinet about you, Alan”? If the latter happens, that will be it and the Minister will be gone.
The Taoiseach will not have put his name to the amended motion but all of those opposite will have done so. They will cheerfully put their names to it in the next 24 hours. However, they must ask themselves a number of questions between now and 9 p.m. tomorrow. If the Taoiseach is so confident in his Minister, why did he exclude him from dealing with the biggest issue facing the Department of Justice and Equality in 30 years? Why did he put in place an oversight committee in respect of the Department earlier today? Why did he finally give the Labour Party some involvement in respect of that Department? Why is it that nine months later we are again debating confidence in the Minister, Deputy Shatter? If those opposite can comfortably answer all of those questions, then they should go ahead and express their confidence. If they have any doubts, they should remember that it is their personal and political reputations they are putting on the line.