THE HOT PRESS IN­TER­VIEW

Hot Press - - Hot Press / 4119 / Contents - In­ter­view: Ja­son O'Toole

Alan Shat­ter’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer came crash­ing down, when he was forced to re­sign as Min­is­ter for Jus­tice in 2014. The former Fine Gael TD talks about his fierce scep­ti­cism about the new Fine Gael.

Alan Shat­ter’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer came crash­ing down, when he was forced to re­sign as Min­is­ter for Jus­tice in 2014. The former Fine Gael TD be­lieves that he was cyn­i­cally be­trayed by the ex-Taoiseach Enda Kenny – and by the party. In a pow­er­ful in­ter­view to co­in­cide with the pub­li­ca­tion of his new mem­oir, there burns an in­cen­di­ary in­dig­na­tion –

and a fierce scep­ti­cism about the new Fine Gael.

After wrap­ping up sev­eral hours of an in-depth in­ter­view spread over two days, Alan Shat­ter is in a good mood.

“You have enough there to gen­er­ate some de­gree of con­tro­versy,” he says with a grin.

The re­tired politi­cian knows what he is talk­ing about.

He is used to hit­ting the head­lines – most dra­mat­i­cally when, in March 2014, un­der pres­sure from the then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny, he re­signed as Min­is­ter for Jus­tice and Equal­ity, fol­low­ing crit­i­cism in the (Seán) Guerin Re­port con­cern­ing a se­ries of Garda con­tro­ver­sies. Alan Shat­ter’s ac­tions as Min­is­ter were sub­se­quently vin­di­cated by the O’Hig­gins Com­mis­sion, and in the Court of Ap­peal. But the fall-out from those events rum­bles on, with a Supreme Court ap­peal, taken by Seán Guerin, loom­ing. It's an is­sue about which, dur­ing the in­ter­view, he ex­presses an in­cen­di­ary out­rage.

Un­der the shadow of those events, Alan – first elected to the Dáil in

1981 – lost his South Dublin seat in the 2016 Gen­eral Elec­tion. Since then, he has turned his hand to writ­ing. An old pro at the scrib­bling game, he is the author of four ma­jor aca­demic books on Ir­ish fam­ily law. He also wrote the satire Fam­ily Plan­ning Ir­ish Style, pub­lished in 1979 and Laura, a novel about a TD who gets his sec­re­tary preg­nant and ca­joles her into go­ing to Eng­land for an abor­tion.

The 66-year-old started to write a mem­oir on the con­tro­ver­sies of 2014, the back­drop to them and sub­se­quent events. But he de­cided to change tack, work­ing in­stead on a pow­er­fully hon­est ac­count of his Ir­ish Jewish child­hood, en­ti­tled Life is a Funny Busi­ness. He plans now to fo­cus on fin­ish­ing his po­lit­i­cal mem­oir. It’s a book that will have his po­lit­i­cal foes quak­ing in their boots, if it’s as forth­right as this Hot Press In­ter­view.

Ja­son O’Toole: Will you throw your hat into the po­lit­i­cal ring again?

Alan Shat­ter: I don’t know. I’m cur­rently – apart from one or two hon­ourable ex­cep­tions – some­thing of a pariah to the lead­er­ship of Fine Gael! I’d hoped that there might be a change of at­mos­phere with Enda Kenny’s de­par­ture, but there’s no ev­i­dence of that. It’s highly un­likely that I’ll be a Fine Gael can­di­date in the next elec­tion – for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons I won’t bore you with (laughs).

Would you con­sider jump­ing ship to a dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal party?

It isn’t some­thing that’s even crossed my mind.

But you wouldn’t rule out run­ning as an in­de­pen­dent? I’ve made no de­fin­i­tive de­ci­sions. And that’s not a smart an­swer. It’s un­likely that I will. But life changes, cir­cum­stances change. I doubt if my wife would be hugely en­thu­si­as­tic for me to re­turn!

ON ABOR­TION, LEO VARAD­KAR AND THE PUR­POSE OF FINE GAEL

As a pri­vate cit­i­zen will you cam­paign to re­peal the 8th Amend­ment?

I’ll do what I can – pro­vided what’s pro­posed is some­thing I be­lieve is right.

You’d agree that what we need to do is trust women to man­age their

bod­ily au­ton­omy? In 1992, I put on the Dáil record that at the very min­i­mum the law should be changed to fa­cil­i­tate ter­mi­na­tions by women who are vic­tims of rape or fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­ity, or as a re­sult of in­cest. If there’s an is­sue sur­round­ing not just the fu­ture life but the fu­ture health of the mother, I think the women must make that de­ci­sion as to whether a preg­nancy should be dis­con­tin­ued. I don’t think oth­ers have a right to say to a woman who’s preg­nant, ‘You must have this child, even though we know med­i­cally you’re fu­ture health will be per­ma­nently dam­aged’. Men shouldn’t be mak­ing those de­ci­sions for women be­cause men never will find them­selves in those cir­cum­stances.

Should the abor­tion pill not be avail­able – end of story?

I be­lieve it should be avail­able.

There’s a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween the pro-choice and the anti-choice cam­paigns, in that the lat­ter want to im­pose a regime on ev­ery­one, whereas the pro-choice peo­ple are forc­ing noth­ing on any­one... Yeah. It’s also im­por­tant that a ref­er­en­dum is suc­cess­ful. My con­cern is that if there’s a ref­er­en­dum held it is likely to be con­fined to al­low­ing a ter­mi­na­tion only in the cur­rent cir­cum­stances and fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­ity – that it may not be ex­tended to vic­tims of rape; or to cir­cum­stances where there’s a very se­ri­ous risk to fu­ture health of the mother if a preg­nancy is main­tained.

The Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar hasn’t said much on Re­peal­ing the 8th. I think, from my ex­pe­ri­ence, Leo’s main fo­cus in pol­i­tics is self-pro­mo­tion. Leo would adopt what­ever view he thinks will ben­e­fit his own self­pro­mo­tion. He was pre­sent­ing him­self as pro-life in the con­text of be­ing in favour of the 1983 Ar­ti­cle as re­cently as 2010. He had a par­tic­u­lar mi­nor­ity view that he was ex­press­ing then in Fine Gael. Frankly, I don’t know what his cur­rent view is. But I’m sure when he’s tested the opin­ion polls, and hav­ing worked out what might re­sult in some level of both me­dia and pub­lic ap­plause, he’ll then de­clare what his view is.

Are you say­ing that if Leo felt it was in his in­ter­est to keep the ref­er­en­dum very lim­ited – to only in­clude fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­i­ties and ex­clude cases of rape – that he'd do so? I think he’ll make the de­ci­sion based on his best in­ter­ests – not nec­es­sar­ily on women’s best in­ter­ests. I hope I’m proved wrong. I do think it’ll be very dif­fi­cult for any politi­cian to re­tain cred­i­bil­ity and pro­pose a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that didn’t also ex­tend the pos­si­bil­ity of a ter­mi­na­tion to vic­tims of rape. But I’m not con­vinced that it will go any fur­ther.

When we checked back, we saw that in his last Hot Press in­ter­view, Leo said he was against same sex mar­riage. Haha! It was my job as Min­is­ter for Jus­tice (and Equal­ity) to bring the pro­posal to Cabi­net to hold a mar­riage equal­ity ref­er­en­dum. There was some re­sis­tance within Fine Gael. In the au­tumn of 2013, I brought to Cabi­net the pro­posal that we hold a ref­er­en­dum in the spring of 2015. Leo was one of the peo­ple I thought on that oc­ca­sion would be likely to

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