THE HOT PRESS INTERVIEW
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