A new Minister for Justice was hurriedly appointed on Thursday less than 24 hours before the release of an official investigation which concluded that the former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter had failed to investigate a disturbing litany of corruption and malpractice.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced the appointment of former Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, to take his place, while veteran backbencher Charlie Flanagan was promoted to cabinet to take over Fitzgerald’s duties.
In his damning report on a dossier of claims handed by garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, barrister Sean Guerin called for a comprehensive commission of investigation.
He said the terms of reference for such a commission should include “definite matters of urgent public importance”, and listed a number of uninvestigated incidents which had been brought to his attention. The incidents of alleged misconduct include cases of murder, sexual abuse, child pornography, violent assault and the illegal accessing of restricted police files.
Guerin said there had been no-one to ‘heed the voice’ of whistleblowers such as Sgt McCabe, who he said had been marginalised as “someone who is not on the team”. He said there had been no ability to communicate with those raising the alarm.
“Ultimately, An Garda Siochana does not seem to have been able to do that. Nor does the Minister for Justice and Equality, despite having an independent supervisory and investigative function with statutory powers”.
In her first public comments since her appointment, Ms Fitzgerald paid tribute to the Garda whistleblowers.
“We do have to listen to critics,” she said. There was a crisis of confidence among the public in relation to the Gardai that has to be “dealt with and has to be changed”.
Despite defending the disgraced former Minister through countless scandals and right up to his departure, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said Alan Shatter had made the ‘right decision’ to resign on Wendesday.
He denied that the Labour party had been ‘outside the loop’ in the events which finally led to the decision by Mr Shatter to suddenly quit. “I think the right thing to do, when issues are raised, the right thing to do is to investigate them, to investigate those quickly - that’s what we’ve done in this case.”
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny said restoring confidence to the Irish justice “now becomes the number one priority for the new minister”.
Independent TD Mick Wallace -- who has been to the fore in calls for investigations into Garda wrongdoing -- said people had been ‘shocked’ by what they found out about the force in the past 18 months.
“Accountability is not something that they do,” he said. “Transparency is missing, we don’t really know how they operate a lot of the time, we hardly know what rules they work to”.
Independent TD Clare Daly said there needed to be a root and branch review of An Garda Siochana. “The issue has always been about Garda malpractice and this matter still needs to be addressed,” she said.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called for the parliament to formally commend the Garda whistleblowers. “Instead they were smeared, bullied, dismissed,” he said.
He pointed out that both the Taoiseach and Tanaiste had recently voted confidence in the former Justice Minister, and resisted all suggestions from Sinn Fein and others to deal with the debacles surrounding him.
There was a culture of secrecy, maladministration, unaccountability and no oversight at the top of the Garda and other state agencies that needed reform, he added.
“There is a crisis of public confidence in the administration of justice,” he said. “These problems will not be resolved by rearranging the deck chairs.”