In football, you get severely punished by the referee for retaliation and so it was for our over-eager Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, over the past ten days. Not content with being 3-0 up in the communications stakes following the findings of an internal Garda report into the cancellation of traffic penalty points, he decided to do a solo run by announcing on national television, private information on a citizen.
The communications strategy decided upon for the launch of the Garda internal report into the quashing of penalty points was professionally executed and effective. The key messages being: there was absolutely no corruption, it was not widespread but confined to a few isolated areas, the whistle-blowers got it wrong and the independent Opposition TDs had blown the story out of all proportion to the actual facts. Apart from a few criticisms that the report should have been independent,(it should have been) both the Garda Commissioner Martin Callanan and the Minister for Justice’s communications teams appeared to have blown the opposition off the park and were home and dry.
Never content with what Johnny Giles might call a ‘result’, Shatter had to go for the jugular and so we watched aghast as our Minister for Justice grossly over-used his powers and abused his position and that of the Garda Commissioners’ by making public private information held by an institution of the State. That the Garda Commissioner had offered up and supplied this information is doubly worrying.
The information that Wexford TD Mick Wallace had been stopped and warned about using a mobile phone while driving was designed to show up Wallace as a hypocrite Shatter claimed that Wallace’s call that Gardaí should have absolutely no discretion in such cases was hypocritical when he had benefited from such discretion . Shatter attempted to set up a false premise to knock it down. Wallace had never argued that Gardaí should not have discretion before the issuing, only after the points had been received.
The Minister, now under pressure following his very public revelation, announced that he had received the information from Commissioner Callanan when being briefed about the internal report. His answer only brought more questions. Now we have a police commissioner and a Minister for Justice colluding to smear the Minister’s political opponent. So I imagine the meeting went something like this. Shatter: ‘Flanagan’s injury has severely weakened their team and Daly knows we don’t mess about – so what I need from you Commissioner is a tactic for taking out Wallace, something that can take the heat off these reports, reframe the narrative and put the lad Wallace in the dock – get my drift Commissioner?’
The Gaffer Kenny (he of Denis O’Brien and Lowry fame) claims he didn’t see anything wrong with the tackle and has full confidence. And now we find that the Minister himself has admitted failing to complete a breathalyser test at a checkpoint. His excuse for failing to complete the test is because he is asthmatic. Is there a clause in the Road Traffic Acts that allows for such a case?
This is a classic case of, not only abusing power but of failing to quit while you are ahead and highlights the failure of a Minister and a Garda Commissioner to respect the authority bestowed upon them by the citizens of the State. The Minister, 3-0 up in the communications stakes but in injury time, decided to do a solo run and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and has cleverly managed to damage both himself and his office. Minister Shatter’s behaviour is a classic case of how not to manage communications effectively. He must be gutted, sick as a parrot, and if he ain’t, damn well ought to be.