MARTIN Luther King Jnr once said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
No sooner had news of the rejection of the Croke Park II deal hit the airwaves than the Minister for Justice, Equality, Defence and Petulance, Alan Shatter, was setting about doing what he does best: exacerbating an already difficult situation.
In this instance, he determined that the best way to treat an already demoralised garda force was to undermine it further by threatening to postpone overdue recruitment and allow numbers to fall below the 13,000 minimum-strength requirement.
Judging by his attitude and behaviour, it is hard to believe that this is the man with Cabinet responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in the State.
Not that judgement comes into it, except when he is looking for another group to frustrate and irritate.
Shatter’s treatment of the gardai this week, just like his comments after their annual conferences, reminds us that he lacks even the most basic political and motivational skills.
His approach to those whose responsibility and duty it is to administer the law of the land in an impartial and independent manner displays his capacity to walk this Government into a major constitutional crisis.
Last week we witnessed an extraordinary situation where the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and Taoiseach all had to intervene and act, to various degrees, to draw this Government back from the brink of a potential clash with the judiciary.
While Shatter’s supporters (few though they are) may want to portray him as the pugnacious champion of the plain man standing up to a whinging group of overpaid judges, those who have followed this ongoing dispute recognise that the truth lies elsewhere.
Shatter is no more interested in afflicting the comfortable than Pat Rabbitte is committed to comforting the afflicted. This is not about cuts to judges’ pay. That issue was put to bed with the 2011 referendum. This is about the relationship between two key arms of the State and the absolute need for an independent judiciary.
Since the 2011 vote, Shatter has undermined that independence by engineering a situation where he, and his Cabinet colleagues, effectively exercise control over judges’ terms and conditions, having rejected the idea of an independent commission used in several other EU countries.
But that is not all.
The controversy is about a lot more: it is about the appointment of the new insolvency judges and how they will be subject to ministerial direction concerning sittings; it is about how the Court of Appeal and specialist family courts will operate; and how the judiciary’s need for information and communications to prepare properly for these changes has been ignored.
These are not trivial matters.
The fact that some in Government are misrepresenting and dismissing these serious issues as just a row about pay shows that they, like Shatter, are every bit as disinterested in de-escalating this crisis as they are in resolving the garda morale one.
If, as Shatter claims, there is “no row” and no communications breakdown, why has the Chief Justice announced the setting up of a new working group to repair damage between the executive and the judiciary and is arranging to meet the Taoiseach “to discuss the issues of mutual concern that emerge”?
But for those interventions we may have come close last week to having another Fine Gael-manufactured Paddy Donegan “thundering disgrace” crisis.
For the information of those below a certain age, that crisis was provoked by impulsive remarks, made by one of Shatter’s FG predecessors as Defence Minister, criticising the actions of President O Dalaigh.
This near crisis, however, was all the more pernicious as it was provoked not by some ill-judged words said in the heat of the moment, but by more deliberate actions and inactions of a far more calculating minister.
It looks like Enda has yet another name to put beside those of Hogan, Burton and O’Reilly on his “time to move on” list.