Frenzy and Betrayal. The Anatomy of a Political Assassination
by Alan Shatter (Merrion Press, €19.95)
Alan Shatter has had to wait five years to give his version of his political downfall in May 2014 and the long ordeal of having his name cleared by two commissions of enquiry and finally the Supreme Court.
His book of 452 pages details every twist in this saga, but he makes it read almost like a thriller. But now that it is all over and his good name vindicated, he cannot rejoice.
When the Supreme Court unanimously ruled earlier this year that he had been seriously wronged by the Guerin Report which led then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, into demanding his resignation, Shatter felt it was all anti-climatic.
“Yes it was a relief that the court case had ended but, for me, it was a Pyrrhic victory. The clock could not be turned back. There was little likelihood of resurrecting my political career.”
Disgusted by the “evident lack of moral compass” and “basic decency” by senior Fine Gael figures (identified in the book), he has let his party membership lapse.
Often hailed as the most successful reforming minister for justice, how did it all come crashing down in just three fraught months in 2014? The short answer is Sgt Maurice McCabe into whose charges of police corruption, misuse of penalty points and general garda wrongdoing, Shatter was inevitably drawn.
On top of that, there was the earlier media frenzy over alleged garda bugging of the Ombudsman’s office, the discovery that garda stations had been recording phone calls for decades and the complaint by Mick Wallace TD that Shatter had breached his data protection rights.
Shatter, who was also Minister for Defence, was already reeling from this “perfect storm” when the report by Seán Guerin SC into the McCabe charges criticised Shatter, whom he had not interviewed, for having “failed to heed” McCabe’s voice.
For Kenny heading a shaky coalition with Labour, it was the last straw. The media had been predicting Shatter’s sacking for weeks. The news was loudly welcomed in the Bar Library where Shatter was not popular because of his legal reforms which threatened to reduce barrister fees.
In time, after the reports of the O’Higgins and Fennelly commissions of inquiry and the Disclosures Tribunal, Shatter was cleared of any failure to do his duty.
The Supreme Court also found serious deficiencies in the Guerin Report. But in the meantime Shatter was the target of often wildly inaccurate media criticism and the cold shouldering by former ministerial and Fine Gael colleagues.
He is especially bitter about the behaviour towards him of Kenny, Leo Varadkar, ex-Attorney General Marie Whelan and his successor Francis Fitzgerald.
He also targets journalists by name who jumped to faulty conclusions.
In one chapter entitled ‘The Arrogant and Perfidious Jew’, he raises the controversial question of anti-semitism in Irish life and how it may have played a hidden role in his political downfall. This is delicate terrain and academic commentator Dermot Ferriter has publicly rebuked Shatter for “claiming anti-Semitism as a cause of his downfall”.
Shatter in a letter to the Irish Times has denied making such a claim and says that the 10-page chapter “simply details factual contemporaneous events of relevance to the book’s narrative and gives them context”.
He describes how he was the recipient of two letters with anti-semitic material and white powder identified as ashes “presumably symbolising the remains of cremated Jewish concentration camp victims”.
There was also “a stream of anti-semitic emails” to the Department of Justice, the author of which was later identified, charged and sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
In the chapter Shatter picks out the speech in the Dáil of Fianna Fail TD, Willie O’Dea, who said that “the Minister’s name has become a watchword for hubris, arrogance, intellectual superiority and the inability to admit even the slightest mistake”. Shatter was surprised to find Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams later denouncing O’Dea for his personal attack.
While Shatter suffered in the political wilderness, another bitter blow was the loss of his Dáil seat in 2016 in south Dublin to Fine Gael colleague, Josepha Madigan. He was the victim of a vote-splitting attempt imposed by FG headquarters which Shatter believed would not work. He speculates that there were forces in Government and the party who engineered his demise.
This is a sad story of a good man brought down through an almost incredible chain of circumstances. He tells his story brilliantly, but what a pity a book that will be widely read has no index, an essential feature of any important book.
Alan Shatter hints at a parallel with the Dreyfus Affair with his quotation on the inside cover from J’Accuse by Emile Zola: “Truth is on the march and nothing can stop it.”