This article originally appeared in the New York ‘Irish Examiner USA’ for21st May, 2013
There’s Nothing to be Paranoid About. Trust Me; I’m the Minister for Justice.
“It’s strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”
—–Philip K. Dick
Back in January of this year former policeman Niall O’Connor contributed an excellent article to the Sunday World newspaper. For various reasons the idea of cutting the budget on panic alarms for the elderly had caught my attention. So it was with interest that I noticed Mr. O’Connor’s talk of the “panicked efforts to try and meet the destructive budget of the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter”.
In the course of his article Mr. O’Connor expanded on this. He wrote:
“It is horrific to think that a 96-year-old Donegal woman, Greta Lily, can be beaten in her home, that an elderly brother and sister can be attacked on their farm twice in one week near Kinsale in South Cork. It is mindless to think that the budget for the critical provision of panic alarms to elderly people can be reduced from €2.45 million last year to €1.15 million this year.
“I will never forget the look of relief on the face of a man in his 80s when I forced the door of his home after he suffered a fall. When he regained consciousness he couldn’t get back on his feet so he pressed his panic alarm around his neck and a colleague and I responded to the call.
“He told me: ‘It’s okay—I knew you were coming.’
“The budget cuts are taking away Irish citizens’ belief in their security—Mr. Shatter and his colleagues are creating a kind of passive anarchy where only the criminals will benefit…I am not lying when I say that [morale] is at rock bottom with [the Gardai].
“Morale is low Minister Shatter because promises you and politicians made to An Garda Siochana in years gone by have been discovered to be just white lies to get you and others re-elected”.
You could not state it much more baldly than that. The only thing that I would disagree with Mr. O’Connor on there is that they can be passed off as ‘white lies’. To me, since they concern the safety of our elderly—something that in this day and age they should be able to take for granted—they are instead lies of the very blackest sort. And come from the very blackest hearts.
By coincidence Niall O’Connor had made his remarks in the same week that I returned to writing for the Irish Examiner USA after a break of a couple of years. In that first article Alan Shatter was very much on my mind, and I wrote at the time:
As I write this on Monday morning I hear that the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter—a man with a smug face that you would never ever tire of punching—is perhaps about to do a U-turn on taking away panic alarm buttons from old age pensioners. What a guy; what a Prince amongst Men. Shatter, it doesn’t matter now. You actually considered doing it. What happened? Did something actually penetrate that thick skull of yours or did your own Masters just tell you that maybe it was a step too far?
Shatter, these people are our elders. They raised us and paid taxes and worked hard for this country over decades. How bloody dare you even think that you can treat them like disposable hankies at a time in life when they should be able to take things a little bit easier? We owe them, you insensitive clod. Don’t you get that?
The following month, in the second week in February Shatter (along with the guy you in America have been feting lately, Taoiseach Enda Kenny) was again on my mind and I had this to say:
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has sat in the Dail since the seventies. That is far too long a time to be cosseted and still cling onto any ideals he may have once had. It is not simply because of the legal and monetary ramifications that will arise out of him making an apology to those who slaved and were abused in the Magdalene Laundries, that he is keeping so quiet; it is not because he seems unable to convincingly utter a genuine word without a script written for him; it is not because he has shown himself over and over to be weak on our behalf. It is far worse than just being a person with no spine. I’m sure that he loves his family and is kind to small animals. But he no longer understands the person in the street. How could he? In other words there is simply no feeling of empathy any more. He has been a part of this rotten system for too long to be able to relate in any meaningful way. The same goes for the appalling, lying Justice Minister Alan Shatter or Michael Noonan and indeed for any number of them. (I won’t include Phil Hogan as I doubt that he ever had anything except a puffed-up bullying sense of his own importance.)
It is now simply impossible to believe anything—anything at all—that comes out of their mouths. Here, and it is just an example amongst many, is Alan Shatter speaking passionately in the Dail in December of 2009:
“Does the Taoiseach intend to introduce legislation in the New Year to amend the redress board legislation to extend it to those who suffered barbaric cruelty in the Magdalene Laundries? The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform now has irrefutable evidence that the state colluded in sending young women to what were then known as the Magdalene Asylums. They ended up in the Magdalene Laundries and were treated appallingly. Some of them have never recovered from the manner in which they were treated and their lives have been permanently blighted.
“Initially in this house the Minister for Education and Science denied that the State had any involvement in this. There is now absolutely irrefutable evidence as a consequence of court records that have been examined by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the State was directly complicit in many women being placed in these totally inappropriate circumstances.”
The underlines are mine; the text is Alan Shatter; but it was Alan Shatter in Opposition. Here was the same man, only different because he is now Justice Minister himself and in power, explaining last week why he, Kenny and their cronies couldn’t apologise:
“The story is more complicated… It’s not as simple as that [saying sorry]. What the report shows is that approximately 26% of the residents from 1922 onwards went into the Magdalene Laundries through a number of different routes, some through the court system, some through the social services; some were former residents in industrial schools. It also shows that there were a considerable number who were taken to the Laundries by their own families and left there… This is a very complicated story and there are a number of issues. What we want to do now is reflect on this very comprehensive report and give individuals and the different groups an opportunity to respond to it.”
Spot the difference, anyone? One is contemptible fake, phoney outrage whilst in Opposition; the other is a damage limitation exercise when in Government. And haven’t they become great guys for reflecting on everything? It’s only a couple of weeks ago that Kenny was ‘reflecting’ on a judge’s decision to grant bail to a man who had admitted to years of raping his daughter. Now we have this yoke telling us he needs a bit of the oul’ reflection time. He didn’t sound as if he needed to do much reflecting in 2009 when he was mouthing out of him about ‘irrefutable evidence’ and ‘State collusion’.
This is a mournful discovery: 1) Those who agree with you are insane. 2) Those who disagree with you are in power.
—Philip K. Dick
This morning I was chatting to an acquaintance, a serving policeman. Inevitably the conversation, light though it was, came around to Shatter’s extraordinary performance on live television last week where in the midst of a debate with the ghastly Mick Wallace, Independent TD he suddenly announced that he had been ‘advised’ that Wallace had been caught on the phone whilst driving—just like his Independent pal and crony Mick ‘Ming’ Flanagan—and that the Guard had used his discretion to make a decision to just let the whole matter drop.
I was telling my acquaintance that, despite my utter contempt for Flanagan and a lot worse for tax-evader Wallace, it seemed beyond doubt to prove that our Minister for Justice was using his very privileged position to keep useful information on politicians—and for all we knew, private citizens– who were hostile to him. I confess I was smiling at myself a bit as I said it, thinking Ah, too much of the old Philip Dick, Brady. Of course I couldn’t resist going a bit further and adding: “You know, you and your pals ought to watch what you’re saying about your own Justice Minister. A hell of a lot of you haven’t exactly hidden the fact that you can’t stand him. For all that you know he might have a bloody great big dossier on you.”
“Oh, I don’t know”, he answered. “It’s just as likely that there’s a file on you somewhere. You’ve said a lot of bad things about him in those New York and Chicago papers and you’ve been sniping at him on your website as well.”
We left it at that, grinning and kidding about the insanity of being paranoid about an Irish Minister…for Justice. We were still a long way from living in ‘1984’, after all. And yet…
There are at least a couple of seriously heavy, honest and genuinely influential journalists in Ireland who have not been nice to Mr. Shatter. What IS to stop him—since he has now proven himself capable of doing it with political enemies—from holding onto some damaging information that might just come in handy in the future. For myself, I’m a freelancer and simply not important enough to even be on the radar; but if I was then it is a simple fact that, no more than anyone else, I have not always led a life that would be squeaky clean. Nothing major, perhaps; but there is always enough on ANYONE to embarrass them; and the very fact that ordinary Irish people are thinking along those lines about someone who is in theory supposed to have their welfare at heart is…well, a little worrying, don’t you think?
The former Minister of Defence Willie O’Dea said:
“A lot of sensitive information of individuals comes into their possession, by virtue of their jobs.
“What the Minister for Justice in this instance seems to have done…is deliberately, and quite calculatedly, used this information to down a political opponent.”
And United Left TD Clare Daly said:
“Where did Minister Shatter get this information? Did he seek it? Was he given it? How much information does he have on the rest of us? This is like Orwell’s Big Brother. How many files does he have on other T.D.s?”
Now I must say here that I have little time for Ms. Daly and far less for Weasel Willie. That doesn’t mean that the questions they pose are not legitimate ones. And writing in Sunday’s Independent, Fianna Fail spokesman for Justice Niall Collins put it:
“Like so many people, I was gobsmacked at the blatant and disturbing abuse of ministerial power I saw on last Thursday night’s ‘Prime Time’ programme. Even for a notoriously out-of-touch minister, it was an appalling moment of shocking arrogance. If this is deemed acceptable by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, we are witnessing the dark side of a Government that sees itself as untouchable.”
The questions that this episode brings up are countless; but surely we have to be asking how he got this information and was it given willingly—and if so, by whom? It doesn’t bear thinking about that a state police force and a political system could get too cosy with each other. By God, we could look forward to some interesting ‘independent’ inquiries then, as if they’re not dodgy enough as it is. And to their credit the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors were quick to slam Shatter’s bullish decision to put his information into the public domain in order to humiliate even a creep like tax dodger Mick Wallace. In fact what annoys me most is that this is going to give him some sympathy with the feeble-minded.
What was highly amusing for those of us who can’t stand the man and certainly don’t give any credence to his brain-power is that the implications at the time seem to have eluded him. On the show it was left to interviewer Pat Kenny to ask him:
“By the way, are you not concerned that the minister should know about your private business with the gardai?” To which the seemingly oblivious Wallace replied:
“I’m not. I’m not remotely worried about what he knows about me.”
Oh dear. Well, scruffy Mick might not have had a clue as to how serious it was but someone was obviously very quick to wise the sap up after the show. And that’s when he came out all indignant. Of course, in a sane country we wouldn’t have been seeing this at all because Wallace would have been in jail months ago instead of still sitting in the Dail making a show of us.
And Shatter? Well, he has so far (Monday morning as I write this) reacted in the only manner he knows how, and summed up by that word that has quickly become synonymous with him: arrogantly.
When asked if he would be resigning he snapped back: “Is that a joke?”
And the sad and disquieting thing is that it might as well be. Of course he is going to treat us with his customary contempt because we have a Taoiseach who would rather be swanning around Europe playing Angela Merkel’s pet poodle. We have a Taoiseach who would rather be in Boston receiving an honorary doctorate: Dr. Enda Kenny, Jesus wept!
So no, I’m not going to be looking at Arrogant Shatter handing in his resignation any time soon.
As to Dr. Kenny, any chance you could keep him over there since you admire his (German) austerity policies so much? Come to think of it, here’s an experiment: take side silhouette images of four of his greatest political pushers of ‘austerity’ in Ireland: Michael Noonan, Pat Rabbitte, Phil Hogan and James Reilly. Line them up in front of each other and you have something that looks like an outing to an Alfred Hitchcock convention. Take a look at those big red faces and those bulging guts. NOW tell me about tightening my belt!