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Irish justice minister quits in blow to government

May 7, 2014

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland’s justice minister resigned Wednesday in a surprise blow to the country’s 3-year-old coalition government after a state-ordered investigation concluded that he mishandled the complaints of a police corruption whistleblower.

Alan Shatter said in a letter he was quitting to ease criticism of the government when the more than 300-page report is published later this week.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who received the report Tuesday night, announced the news to the audible gasps of lawmakers in Ireland’s parliament. Many opposition politicians had called for Shatter to resign, but it’s rare in Ireland for any politician to quit in the face of scandal.

Kenny said he accepted Shatter’s resignation “with regret,” but said the report had found that Shatter responded inadequately to complaints of police corruption made by a serving officer, Maurice McCabe. Ireland’s police commander, Martin Callinan, resigned in March over the same scandal.

Shatter was regarded as Kenny’s most intelligent, hard-working and reform-minded minister. But he suffered from unpopularity due, at least in part, to a perceived holier-than-thou manner and refusal to apologize for mistakes.

Even in his lengthy resignation letter, Shatter admitted no wrongdoing and instead slated the report as biased and incomplete. He noted that the investigator, lawyer Sean Guerin, didn’t interview him and should have, and also had failed to obtain any documents from Ireland’s police complaints watchdog, a central protagonist in the subject under investigation.

Shatter was accused of defending Ireland’s police force at the expense of both the watchdog agency and McCabe. The officer has suffered ostracism from police colleagues since filing complaints that the nation’s system for applying traffic tickets was rife with corruption, involving the systemic “disappearance” of fines and penalties for celebrities, top business people and others with high political connections.

Shatter himself was found to have benefited when, stopped at a road checkpoint screening drivers for alcohol, he was able to avoid taking a Breathalyzer test by claiming his asthma prevented him from blowing into the device.

He was criticized for being too close to Callinan, the police chief who quit weeks after telling a parliamentary committee that the actions of McCabe and a second police whistleblower were “quite disgusting.”

Few had expected Shatter to quit. Typically, Irish politicians cling to office regardless of the accusations surrounding them.

Ireland’s prime minister in 1997-2008, Bertie Ahern, stayed despite spending months in a corruption tribunal offering bizarrely implausible explanations for the piles of undocumented, tax-free cash found in his office and home safes.

The previous Cabinet resignation came in 2010, when Willie O’Dea tried to stay as defense minister after falsely branding another politician’s brother as a brothel owner. O’Dea settled a slander case out of court and kept denying he made the remarks — until a reporter produced the audio tape proving he did. The government of the day nonetheless backed him in a confidence vote, but O’Dea quit the post a week later. He was among the politicians most loudly calling for Shatter’s political scalp.

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