[Top: Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring; above: Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore]
Further to the cabinet decision to appoint a a senior counsel to review claims in Garda Whistlebower Maurice McCabe’s ‘dossier’ and Labour’s continuing confidence in Justice minister Alan Shatter, Political commenter Johnny Fallon writes:
“The crux of matter is why do the cabinet feel that matters are worthy of an investigation now? What merits this? Clearly Alan Shatter did not feel the matters warranted such action at any stage up to now and clearly he never believed cabinet had to be informed.
So, if that’s the case how can government have confidence in him while at same time taking an axiom that suggests he should have done things differently? A second issue is that Enda still has not shared the dossier with cabinet so in effect none of them know what they are talking about.
You might remember the ‘passports for sale’ issue in the early ’90s? Albert Reynolds’ business had availed of a government scheme at the time whereby if somebody invested over £1 million in an Irish firm resulting in jobs, etc. then that person could apply for a passport.
Reynolds maintained that his firm acted appropriately, followed the rules and there was no wrongdoing…In the midst of the media storm Albert Reynolds met with Dick Spring.
He assured Spring that everything was above board. Then, to underline his point Reynolds told Spring he could have full access to the files and see for himself that everything was handled as it should be. To Reynolds shock, Spring replied that he had already sought and got the file and he was satisfied that there was no impropriety.
Reynolds was pleased but he learned that Dick Spring was not a man to hang about. When Spring and the Labour party were under pressure they did not wait for invitations or explanations.
Also remember Ruairi Quinn demanded Albert Reynold’s head over a delay by an official in the AG’s office. Here the minister [Shatter] himself is implicated for not taking an approach that the cabinet made today. yet it’s OK for him to stay on?”
“Enough is enough. After more than two weeks of drip fed allegations that continue to undermine public confidence in our systems of Garda accountability, nothing short of an independent statutory inquiry under the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act will do. The Department of Justice and Equality have direct access to extensive legal expertise and have had ample opportunity to produce a convincing rebuttal of the disturbing allegations that have been levelled against An Garda Síochána. This has not occurred and to prolong the agony for the public, whistleblowers and alleged victims by appointing a barrister to spend more time looking at internal paperwork is simply not credible.”
Mark Kelly, Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties
[Sunday Times security correspondent John Mooney, above, and Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, top]
Last night Mr Mooney, who broke the GSOC bugging story last Sunday; Padraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Féin Donegal TD; Michelle Mulherin, Fine Gael Mayo TD; and Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, appeared on RTÉ’s Late Debate with Audrey Carville last night to talk about the story.
During their discussion, Mr Mooney set out to explain what he believed was behind the surveillance, while also accusing the Fine Gael/Labour coalition of trying to cover up the story.
John Mooney: “This whole matter goes back to a collusion investigation, a Garda Ombudsman Commission investigation going back a number of years, I was actually involved in it. Actually, I suppose to quote Enda Kenny, when he was in Opposition, saying – this was the Kieran Boylan affair – where he was demanding that the Government of the day provide explanations: ‘I want to give the Government…to give a full explanation of these cases, I will be tabling questions on the nature of the inquiry into both Boylan and why he isn’t before the courts when he was caught with large amounts of drugs, heroin and cocaine’. This was a drug trafficker who was working with a group of guards in the Dublin area, who served their way to promotion on the basis of turning a blind eye to these activities, in return for setting up people, including very young men in the Dublin area for arrests, and GSOC were in the middle of a very, very sensitive investigation into that which revealed all sorts of wrongdoing and all sorts of what could only be described as corruption within the intelligence services. And this particular escapade or what’s been happening, to the Commission, followed on, as they were drawing to a close, their big, public interest inquiry into this. And there were various people within the State apparatus who were desperately needed to know what they knew. And if you’re asking me, and it’s a very well-informed opinion, this is what this is all about. To be perfectly frank, I’m astonished at what’s going on in Government level.
I remember Pat Rabbitte, when he was a justice spokesman in Opposition, screaming from the rooftops about Kieran Boylan getting given a haulage licence on the basis of false documentation and information to the Department of Transport. I remember when this individual, whom I should say whose associates were issuing threats against myself and others, was being brought up and being charged, and then the charges would be dropped secretly and then recharged again and again charges dropped secretly in discreet manners, to try and get this man off because he has so much dirt on the guards. There was a lot of, there was a lot of people at risk over what had happened, because this all totally contravened the new rules that were brought in, following the Morris Tribunal. And I am actually astounded at what’s happening in Government at this level. Brendan Howlin himself, I was a witness in the Morris Tribunal, I’ve done a lot of work in security issues in the last 15 years, Brendan Howlin was one of, I remember he played a very noble role in exposing what happened there. And the silence of the Labour party in this matter is absolutely deafening. How anyone, at all, could suggest and you know, I’m just, I’m just speechless at these kind of defences that ‘well nothing can be proven’. Simon O’Brien was very categoric tonight [last night] right.
And I know modern surveillance, because I deal with this stuff for a living, it doesn’t leave traces, you can’t prove that someone has done something because it’s so high tech. We published a report last week, which has proved to be pretty accurate, despite Alan Shatter and Enda Kenny’s attempts to [inaudible] to cover this up…”
Audrey Carville: “And your implications, John, about who was behind it, is pretty clear as well.”
Mooney: “I’m not saying who is behind it because I think there’s two issues here: you have to differentiate between the guards as an organisation and elements within the State security forces that are doing their own thing and they’ve the know-how and the knack to do this stuff, on the QT and abuse State systems. I can hazard a guess, at this, because I’m pretty familiar with the types of people that may be suspected of involvement in this and what might be motivating them. But, at the end of the day, this has developed into something else now. We had the Justice Minister stood up in the Dáil yesterday and poured cold water on the most serious allegations to come out, concerning spying an espionage, illegal, I should say.”
Carville: “But he was doing it on the basis, it seemed, of GSOC’s own statement from the day before?”
Mooney: “I’m not so sure that Alan Shatter is being so forthcoming, again ‘baseless innuendo’, given the security report has stated and what he published in the Sunday Times. It’s quite clear this isn’t baseless innuendo, they were running state-of-the-art countersurveillance tests on their internal communications and external communication system and anyone who knows anything about a black operation, which this is, that’s a spying operation that’s run off the books and is deniable, that the first thing you do when you organise these, you give yourself and exit strategy. And if you’re asking me, my worthless opinion, the bits and pieces that they found during these screening tests were the loose ends that those involved in this forgot to tie up and have left a signature which showed that something was going on.
But, again, I think you have to go back to this. You’ve a number of issues here: you’ve the comments and the statements that Alan Shatter gave the Dáil yesterday [Tuesday], you have the unprecedented situation where Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach of this State, went off and gave comments that were completely inaccurate about the legislative requirements of the Garda Ombudsman and you have the bizarre situation, like it, it’s just feeding into this problem about the administration of justice, whereby Alan Shatter, for example. There was information read into the Dáil record about the Confidential Recipient [a transcript of a conversation between Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe and the Confidential Recipient Oliver Connolly in which Mr Connolly warned Sgt McCabe that Alan Shatter 'will go after you'], we were trying to seek, to find out, has the Justice Department done anything about this?
These are the most incredible allegations being made and I don’t think there has been…I was asking tonight, there was something that I’m very deeply interested in – as it seems now I’m the subject of some sort of investigation - did Alan Shatter sign a warrant for surveillance on the Garda Ombudsman? I still can’t get an answer on that. So I think this is gravely important, I think there’s been a really serious attempt by the State to cover this up over the last couple of days and it’s blown up in their faces.”
(Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton at the Labour parliamentary party’s think-in last month)
Beyond that, the country can’t stand Labour. Or its leader. Within the party, Eamon’s leadership is under threat from Joan Burton. Somehow, Joan has positioned herself as the protector of old Labour values, while attacking the unemployed and their lifestyle and slashing away at the social protections that we – in our work and our taxes – have already paid for.
As if Eamon hasn’t enough to worry about, last week he and his comrades got a kick in the teeth from the German SPD. The SPD is negotiating to go into coalition government with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. And they’ve been laying down conditions that involve this country.
No deal, they told Merkel, until you force the Irish political classes to stop mollycoddling big business. And, Angela – you know how the Irish politicians expect help with reducing the banking debts they’ve heaped on to their citizens? If you want the SPD to prop up your government, knock that on the head.
…In short, Eamon is being shafted by his comrades abroad, his comrades at home are waiting for the appropriate moment to slip a knife between his ribs and the Irish electorate look on him with the kind of distaste usually reserved for a genital rash.
The Labour leader denied the Seanad proposal represented a power grab but was rather part of a programme of political reforms. Cabinet had discussed broader reform proposals which would be published tomorrow and which could be discussed during the campaign.
Eamon Gilmore with Joan Burton, launching the Labour Party’s campaign to abolish the senate and create a court of appeal in the Merrion Hotel, Merrion Street, Dublin today..
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore appeared on RTE R1′s Today with Sean O’Rourke to defend the Labour party’s record in coalition and his own as leader.
Just a little defensive.
Sean O’Rourke: “The pattern is this, Tanaiste, if you go back to say, 1992, Labour campaigned on the basis of keeping Fianna Fail out. What do you do afterwards for reasons that are perfectly understandable, arguably, you put Fianna Fail back in. You weren’t in the labour party at the time, but again there was an expectation raised and the opposite was done. An expectation was raised at the last election about things like Child Benefit about things like Water Taxes, about things like that going up, or not going up and Third Level Fees not going up and so forth, and the opposite was done. And you’re paying the same price now, and you, personally are paying the same price as Dick Spring paid in the early 1990s?”
Eamon Gilmore: “Well, first of all I think that Government at the present time is in entirely different circumstances. There are people who now have the right to vote who weren’t even born then.”
O’Rourke: “Of course. but promises are promises, I mean people aren’t stupid, be ’92 or 2011 or 2013.”
Gilmore: “Let’s look at what we committed to do, let’s look at where we started out from when this Government was formed. This country was in the biggest… (economic down-turn)”
O’Rourke: “Yes, you made that point..”
Gilmore: “Yes, but it’s not just a case of me making a point…”
O’Rourke: “Actually, is it not the case when you went in and got the brief, it turned out to be far worse than you actually had thought was the case beforehand? I mean the IMF was in town, the Troika was here. I mean, what more did you need to know?”
Gilmore: “Yes, we did, and we went into government knowing that it was a very difficult period of time, that the country was in a crisis, that we had to bring the country out of that crisis. Because unless you bring the country out of crisis..”
O’Rourke: “And all your represented promises went awry?”
Gilmore: “Actually no, all our promises didn’t go, that’s one of those great generalisations. You know very well Sean, that the Labour Party, if you take it, right across the commitments that we made, whether it was.. – let’s take for example the commitment to put emphasis on employment, that was one of the promises that we made – we’re delivering on that. Let’s take the commitment that we would have reform on our Public Services and introduce constitutional convention, some of the Social Leglislation and so on – we have delivered on that.
Let’s take the promise that we would reform our Education system, Ruairi Quinn is delivering on that. Let’s take the promise that we would restore the National Minimum Wage – we have delivered on that. Let’s take the promise that we would protect the interest of working people, we have rstored the joint labour committees, we have ensured that there haven’t been any increases on taxes on people. Let’s look at the promise in relation to the way in which Public Service pay would be dealt with and you can take The Haddington Road Agreement – to ensure that people earning less than 65,000 Euros a year weren’t going to have their pay cut.
So, you know, when we talk about promises, let’s do it on-balance. Let me finish on this, I acknowledge… I acknowledge very clearly that yes there were promises of commitment that we made that have not been delivered, and we weren’t able to… (because we’re in a coalition).”
O’Rourke: “The Labour Party Conference is coming up in the Autumn, will you apologise there, for that failure?”
Gilmore: “I will report to my party conference and I will account to my party conference as Leader of the Party.”
They had promised a new politics. They would stand up to Europe (Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way), get the country working again (Fine Gael’s five-point plan), reverse the culture of favours and jobs for the boys, resist vested interests and protect the vulnerable. But the ink was hardly dry on a coalition deal when senior figures in both parties knew that not a word of their election rhetoric would be realised – the economic situation was worse than their direst imaginings.
This is the story of trying to govern a country on the verge of ruin – the favours, the deals, the policy compromises and previously unthinkable choices that had to be made. It is a gripping tale of high drama (and high dudgeon), of betrayal, backstabbing and disillusionment, of those who rose to the challenge and those who withered under the strain.