Alan Shatter is Ireland's Alfred Dreyfus - opinion

Shatter was accused of conspiring with Ireland’s police commissioner to ignore complaints made by a police whistleblower. A judicial inquiry determined that allegation untrue.

Alan Shatter. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Alan Shatter.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For 85 years at least one member of Ireland’s small Jewish community was a member of the Dáil, the primary chamber of the Irish Parliament. The membership of Robert Briscoe and then his son Ben Briscoe, both of whom also became lord mayors of Dublin, spanned an extraordinary 75 years. Mervyn Taylor, who became minister for Law Reform & Equality was a member for 16 years and Alan Shatter, who became minister for Justice, Equality & Defence was a member for 31 years. 

Shatter was not re-elected in the 2016 Irish general election and since 2016 there has been no Jewish member of the Dáil. Some observers believe that has resulted in an increased use of extreme language by some members of the Irish Parliament in their criticism of Israel and their frequent resort to egregious antisemitic tropes.

Shatter, in addition to his former ministerial role, is author of seminal books on Irish family law, an accomplished lawyer and well known as a prodigious proponent and publisher of major legal and social reforming legislation both prior to and during his time in government. He is also a former chairperson of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and was the founding member and first chairperson of the Ireland/ Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group.

During Ireland’s presidency of the EU he chaired meetings of the EU’s Council of Justice and Home Affairs ministers and also meetings of defense ministers. During that presidency he made one of Ireland’s priorities that the EU take more coordinated and effective action to combat growing antisemitism across Europe. Shatter, who has occasional commentaries published in The Jerusalem Post, is also the Irish Dreyfus.

Alan Shatter’s period in government as minister for Justice was exceptional not only for his reforming zeal but also because of the nature of the frenzy of vitriolic criticism to which he was subjected by some members of the Irish Parliament, its promotion by some sections of the Irish media and for the antisemitic on- and offline abuse he suffered. The attacks on Shatter reached a crescendo in the first half of 2014 and resulted in a series of political crises which ultimately led to his forced resignation from government.

Alfred Dreyfus, circa 1894 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Alfred Dreyfus, circa 1894 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

During Shatter’s term as justice minister, a number of controversies arose relating to alleged misbehavior and incompetence of Ireland’s police force. All of the issues, save one, related to events that preceded his becoming justice minister. It is now indisputable, from independent judicial inquiries conducted, that not only did Shatter properly deal with the issues of controversy but that he at all times told the truth about them. Despite his doing so, during the first half of 2014 he was falsely and repetitively accused not only of being complicit in police misconduct but also of being involved in multiple conspiracies to cover it up. 

David Collier’s “Report on Antisemitism in Ireland,” published just three weeks ago, reveals the dark underbelly to some of the false allegations that were made. His report discloses that some of Shatter’s most trenchant Dáil critics are also prominent critics of Israel who frequently resort to antisemitic depictions and deploy blatant antisemitic tropes that ferment hatred.

Shatter was accused of conspiring with Ireland’s police commissioner to ignore complaints made by a police whistleblower. A judicial inquiry not only determined that allegation untrue but praised Shatter’s ministerial conduct. He was accused of conspiring in the illegal taping of phone calls in police stations and conspiring to cover up the taping. A judicial inquiry not only determined the allegation untrue but concluded that for 30 years police had been inadvertently recording regular phone calls through a system intended to record just emergency calls and no malign use had been made of the recordings.

It also established that Shatter knew nothing about the recordings until they became a subject of controversy. Shatter was accused of conspiring to have Ireland’s police oversight body put under surveillance and of conspiring to cover up the surveillance. A judicial inquiry determined the oversight body had never been under surveillance and the whole issue to be a total fabrication. 

No criticism of any nature was voiced of Alan Shatter’s ministerial conduct or competence by any of the judges who conducted full independent judicial inquiries nor was his honesty impugned in any resulting report. Moreover, on an occasion in which there was conflict between Shatter’s evidence and that of Ireland’s then-prime minister and leader of Shatter’s party and also Ireland’s then attorney general, it was Shatter’s evidence that was preferred as true.

Over the centuries different groups and individuals have been the victims of conspiracy theories but with tragic consistency Jews have been primarily targeted. Jews have always been easy to blame and implicate for inexplicable events and imagined plots and wrongs. It is something of a many-centuries European tradition. To its shame, Ireland has now joined that tradition with Alan Shatter becoming one of the most recent public Jewish figures wrongly targeted and pilloried with the consequent destruction of his political career and damage done to his reputation. 

More than seven years have passed since the events that forced Alan Shatter’s resignation from government. The immediate catalyst to his resignation was a report of what was designated by the government to be a preliminary inquiry into whether a full independent judicial inquiry should take place into allegations of police failures and corruption. Instead of simply determining such inquiry necessary, the state-authorized report wrongly criticized Shatter without affording him any hearing or opportunity to address any issues of concern. The report’s conclusions were accepted by government and all opposition political parties and resulted in Shatter being excoriated in the Dáil and the Irish media.

Its creation with the authority of the state and its becoming an official report of the Irish Parliament also resulted in an avalanche of antisemitic abuse on social media and Shatter being abused and spat upon in the street. 

Almost five years later, in February 2019, Ireland’s Supreme Court unanimously determined the report’s government appointed author, barrister Seán Guerin, had no authority to criticize Shatter, that Shatter was wrongly condemned without a hearing and his constitutional rights violated. Guerin’s condemnation, which had already been discredited in a judicial report into the affair published in 2016, was ultimately the subject of a statement to the Dáil in December 2020 by Ireland’s prime minister, Michael Martin. He informed the chamber that critical references to Shatter had been deleted from the report as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision almost two years earlier and an amended copy had been placed in the parliamentary library.

Alan Shatter’s political career was wrongly destroyed and his reputation wrongly shredded by an official report commissioned, published and adopted by the Irish government. It has now been replaced by a report from which all criticism of Alan Shatter has been deleted. To date not a single member of the Dáil has publicly apologized for false allegations made against him nor has the Irish government for the damage wrongly done by the deeply flawed critical report to which it gave its official blessing. To date the Kafkaesque events that ended Alan Shatter’s Irish and international political career have received no attention outside Ireland. Nor has the antisemitic backdrop to those events. 

The Irish media, who were complicit in what occurred, have also chosen to ignore the extent to which Alan Shatter was wronged. He should now be internationally recognized as the Irish Dreyfus and the Irish government should be put under international pressure to publicly apologize to him and to fully acknowledge on the parliament’s record that he was grievously wronged. As possibly the last Jewish member of the Irish parliament who has with dignity fought a seven-year battle for truth and justice, it is the least he deserves.

The writer is chairperson of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland. The events discussed by him in this article are comprehensively detailed in Alan Shatter’s book Frenzy & Betrayal, published in 2019.