Alan Shatter has a varied writing history which stretches from the steamy novel Laura: A Story You Will Never Forget to more serious contributions like ‘Family law in the Republic of Ireland’. But the former justice minister’s latest effort is probably his most colourful and intense piece of work.
Shatter claims to be someone who believes that when something bad happens, “it is important to move on”. Yet Frenzy And Betrayal suggests he wasn’t prepared to move on from politics without settling a few old scores first.
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This deeply political book deals with heavy topics, many of which provided the backdrop to everything that happened in Leinster House in the latter years of Enda Kenny’s time as Taoiseach.
Shatter gives his perspective on inaccurate claims the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission were bugged, the handling of an investigation into penalty-point cancellations, the treatment of whistleblowers and the revelation of unknown recordings of telephone conversations in Garda stations.
In all cases, Shatter justifies his own actions. At the book’s launch, the ex-Fine Gael TD was described as the “most vindicated man” in Irish politics – and that is the only conclusion you could reach from this book. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is portrayed as a self-interested minister with “no concept of collegiality”, while it is Shatter’s view that Enda Kenny was willing to cling to power by constructing “his own version of the truth”. Others, such as former attorney general Maire Whelan and ex-Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, also take a lashing.
And members of the media, who he claims presented him as “a mixture of evil incarnate and gross incompetence”, should consider having a stiff drink before reading.
He recalls a frontpage headline in The Sun which read: “I NEARLY SHATTERED MYSELF”. The story claimed he’d been involved in a “take-off terror” at Dublin Airport in August 2014 as an Aer Lingus jet had to avoid an incoming aircraft. The author says the only accurate bit of the story was “Shatter could not be reached for comment last night”. The reason for that was he was 4,000 miles away in Florida at the time. “Like so much media reportage and commentary since the start of 2014, all references to me in the story were as fictitious as the Photoshopped picture,” he wrote.
So Frenzy and Betrayal is an attempt to bring the public his “unvarnished account of the truth of dramatic and unprecedented events” that led to the end of his political career.
We learn that he considered phoning former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan to warn him Kenny was sending a senior official to his home to discuss tape-recordings made at garda stations. The fallout from that now infamous door knock would see Callinan retire early.
“I was convinced there was more to the story and conflicted about whether I should phone Callinan before [Brian] Purcell’s arrival at his home. I had always respected Kenny’s authority as Taoiseach and his role as head of Government. I was concerned that a phone call by me at that moment to Callinan would be seen to be not only disloyal but to be disrespectful,” he divulges.
Shatter believes the then-attorney general had presented the Taoiseach with an “alarming picture” about the taping scandal. He believed that “her presentation was of wholesale criminality by An Garda Síochána and the possible meltdown of our criminal justice system with multiple applications coming before the courts by members of the legal profession to secure the release of convicted offenders. (Of course, this never happened.)”
Shatter also disputes the widely held perception that himself and Callinan were overly close.
“Varadkar was depicted as the handsome hero, Luke Skywalker, and Martin Callinan and I joined at the hip as Darth Vader, with the shadow of Maurice McCabe cast across the whole stage,” he says.
He alleges Varadkar used the Garda Whistleblower scandal to beef up his own credentials and ultimately launch his Fine Gael leadership bid.
There are brief insights into the wider workings of government, such as the lengths ministers have to go to in order to use the Government Jet.
During Shatter’s time in cabinet, the country was still reeling from the economic downturn but he believes the approach taken to use of the jet was “farcical”. “The Air Corps’ aircraft were being used so infrequently by ministers that air corps pilots, to clock up the annual mileage required for their international flying licences, were regularly flying empty planes. As a cost-saving mechanism, the whole thing was total nonsense. It was all about appearance,” he writes.
Shatter notes how even after he left office, the scandals in justice continued to engulf ministers and officials. Like him, Frances Fitzgerald was forced from office but when the Charleton Tribunal cleared her of wrongdoing it was widely acknowledged by Varadkar and others. “Despite my vindication by O’Higgins, there were no private messages of encouragement or support from any former Cabinet or Fine Gael colleague.
“As far as they were all concerned, I was bucking the system and creating unnecessary controversy when I should long ago have compliantly accepted my fate and disappeared from public view,” he writes.
He might be gone but Shatter doesn’t want to be forgotten.
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