Justice Minister Alan Shatter is under pressure to resign for his use of private and privileged Garda (police) information in an attempt to damage independent TD (member of Parliament) Mick Wallace.
Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins said that “for the sake of the rule of law,” Shatter should resign.
The dispute, which also includes criticism of Shatter from a government party TD – Labor’s Kevin Humphreys – has its roots in a confrontation between Shatter and Wallace on RTE’s Prime Time program during a debate on the alleged quashing by certain Gardai of penalty points for driving offences.
Shatter accused Wallace and other TDs of “wild and exaggerated claims” about the deletion of penalty points by Gardai from motorists’ driving licenses.
During the debate Shatter said he knew of Wallace being cautioned by Gardai for using his mobile phone in his car last year in Dublin. That statement caused uproar which has continued for almost a week.
Fianna Fail’s Collins said he was “utterly gobsmacked” at the “blatant and disturbing abuse of ministerial power.” He accused Shatter of showing he was “willing to exploit any confidential information he has for his own political gain – and no citizen is safe.”
Collins, who insisted he wasn’t speaking on behalf of Wallace, but on behalf of every citizen, said that to protect due process, the rule of law and public trust in the justice system, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny had to demand Shatter’s resignation.
Accusing Shatter of “betraying the responsibilities” of his seal of office, Collins said that, in a democracy based on the rule of law, every citizen, regardless of their politics, was entitled to due process.
“Alan Shatter took on the role of judge and jury for his own political advantage. Outside of Soviet politburos and banana republics, this is a resigning offense,” Collins said.
Speaking in Boston, Kenny said Wallace could not have it “both ways” by criticizing the Gardai over the penalty points controversy while benefiting from Garda discretion himself.
“You cannot be saying that there should be no discretion used, and at the same time, avail of discretion,” Kenny said.
“I want to make it clear that the minister for justice is not in a position of collecting files on any individual, or any member of the house.”
Back in Dublin, Shatter rejected allegations he improperly used confidential Garda information to denigrate the reputation of Wallace.
He stood over his decision to reveal during the debate on Prime Time that Wallace had been seen by Gardaí using a mobile phone while driving. He said he learned of the incident during a briefing with members of the Garda about penalty points.
“This wasn’t private information. I was required to get a full briefing from the Gardai on everything to do with the fixed charge issue and to my surprise, this came up. It’s no more complex than that,” Shatter said.
Wallace said he intended to report Shatter to the Standards in Public Office Commission for bringing the matter into the public domain.
Shatter’s use of private Garda information was described as “unbecoming” by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).