DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s justice minister Alan Shatter resigned on Wednesday after an inquiry into allegations made by a police whistleblower criticized him and his department, in a blow to Prime Minister Enda Kenny weeks before local and European elections.
Shatter, the first senior member of Kenny’s cabinet to resign in three years in power, stepped down after a report into how the Irish police treated whistleblower Maurice McCabe, who had alleged widespread misconduct in the force.
Kenny had defended his Fine Gael party colleague Shatter through a series of scandals in recent months, including the illegal bugging of police phone conversations.
“The report is critical of the inadequacy of the actions of a number of agencies, notably the Garda Siochana (police), the Department of Justice and Equality and the minister,” Kenny told parliament in a surprise announcement.
“He made up his mind and handed in his resignation, which I accepted with a reluctance.”
The head of the police force, Commissioner Martin Callinan, stepped down in March after he was criticized for describing McCabe’s actions in releasing information about the force as “disgusting”.
In a separate incident on Tuesday, the Office of the Data Protection commissioner said Shatter had broken the law by publicizing information about penalty points given to an opposition politician.
Several more investigations into police conduct are pending, including into the police practice of making recordings of phone calls which was discontinued last year.
Shatter, a former solicitor, spearheaded legal reform during his three years in government.
In a resignation letter to Kenny published by his department, Shatter said he did not want the report to create difficulties for Fine Gael or its coalition partner Labour ahead of the elections.
Kenny said he would name a replacement by Thursday.
The policing controversies, which have dogged Shatter for months, have also hurt Fine Gael ahead of the May 23 elections, cutting its lead in opinion polls and wiping out gains made on the back of the country’s exit from an international bailout.
But analysts said the resignation was unlikely to threaten the coalition between Kenny’s centre-right Fine Gael and its centre-left coalition partner.
“It’s hard to see it affecting the stability of the government in any substantial way,” said Theresa Reidy, a politics lecturer at University College Cork.
“It probably draws a line under the controversy so that’s probably good for Fine Gael but the damage has been done in terms of public perception of how the crisis has been managed.”
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Andrew Roche