Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

'Graft' scandal claims third scalp

Alan Shatter has been fighting for his political survival

Allegations of wrongdoing, malpractice and corruption in Ireland's police force have claimed a third major scalp with Alan Shatter's dramatic departure.

Ultimately his refusal to act on the word of a whistleblower and his reluctance to accept responsibility for failings in the Garda and the department forced him out.

Mr Shatter had already fought for his political survival amid a myriad of controversies over the last 18 months - the penalty points affair, claims of negligent policing, bugging of the Garda Ombudsman and taped phone calls in Garda stations.

An inadequate response to whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe's concerns brought about his downfall.

Mr Shatter followed former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan and the former confidential recipient in the Garda, lawyer Oliver Connolly, on to the casualty list.

Their demise can be traced to January 2012 when Mr Shatter first received allegations of "gross dereliction of duty on a massive scale" in the Garda.

Within a fortnight Mr Connolly was told the claims have been dealt with.

He later resigned after it emerged he warned a whistleblower he would be finished if he continued to pursue the minister over corruption and wrongdoing in the force.

Sgt McCabe had raised concerns in 2008 and 2009 about neglect of duty by officers in Bailieboro Garda station, Co Cavan.

The most serious involved the vicious assault of taxi driver Mary Lynch in April 2007. Jerry McGrath, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, who went on to murder, was charged with a minor offence and released on bail.

Six months later he attempted to abduct a child in Tipperary and was again released on bail after a court was not told of the earlier offence.

Five weeks later he had killed Sylvia Roche Kelly in a hotel in Limerick.

The question of how the Garda handled McGrath, right back to the time of Ms Lynch's assault, is being investigated by the Garda Ombudsman.

Sgt McCabe went on to raise concerns about the wiping of penalty points by senior officers with the minister's office in September 2012.

The Department of Justice's response was to tell him to report the matter to senior gardai.

In the midst of those allegations Mr Callinan brought about his own downfall with a withering assessment of Sgt McCabe and now retired Garda John Wilson, both of whom spent months trying to expose the penalty points scandal.

During a parliamentary watchdog hearing into abuse of the penalty points system in the force, the country's top police officer said only two officers out of 13,000 were making "extraordinary, serious allegations".

"Frankly I think it is quite disgusting, on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting," Mr Callinan said at the time.

Again the Ombudsman was eventually called in to inspect the claims.

While these scandals were brewing the Garda Ombudsman's own staff were holding meetings in a coffee shop amid fears they had been bugged and calling in government level counter-surveillance experts to sweep its offices.

Mr Shatter went on a public collision course with the watchdog over that affair across several weeks at the end of last year.

And amongst all the controversies there is the case of Ian Bailey, who is suing the state over his treatment by gardai investigating the death of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in 1996.

He lawsuit has helped expose the secret recording of phone calls in and out of more than 20 Garda stations nationwide.

Another black mark on the minister's tenure.

Taioseach Enda Kenny, who considered Mr Shatter an ally in the Fine Gael ranks, has stood by his former minister through thick and thin.

As recently as yesterday his spokesmen were giving assurances that he still had his confidence.

Mr Shatter has been widely commended for his reform agenda in the department with colleagues remarking on his work ethic.

Reacting to his resignation, Clare Daly, an Independent TD who helped expose the whistleblower's complaints, said: "It's not what time you get out of bed at, it's what you do with that time."

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