Justice Minister Alan Shatter has apologised for his use of confidential garda information against a political opponent.
As the minister faced down multiple calls for his resignation, he was forced to defend his attack on Independent TD Mick Wallace last week during an on-air debate about the penalty points controversy.
“I believe that I acted in the public interest and my doing should have none of the connotations that some have ascribed to it,” Mr Shatter said.
“However, as I have acknowledged on other occasions, none of us have a monopoly of wisdom.
“If Deputy Wallace feels that I did him some personal wrong by mentioning it, then I have no problem in saying I am sorry.”
Mr Shatter rejected suggestions he would use confidential information to damage an opponent.
“I want to give a solemn assurance to the house that I am not in the business of receiving, seeking or maintaining confidential, sensitive information from An Garda Síochána about members of this house, the Seanad or, indeed, anyone in political life,” Mr Shatter added.
“Nor are the gardaí in the business of providing it.”
Mr Shatter and Mr Wallace clashed last week on RTÉ Prime Time over whether gardaí should be allowed to use their discretion in quashing minor motoring offences or fixed charges.
The Justice Minister revealed during the debate that Mr Wallace was caught by gardaí last year at the Five Lamps junction in Dublin’s north inner city for using a mobile phone while driving but was not fined or charged.
The Independent TD has lodged complaints with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) and the Data Protection Minister.
Mr Shatter said he believed it was in the public’s interest to reveal the information – which he had obtained from Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan during a special garda briefing.
He added that the Independent TD had been making “grossly unfair” comments about gardaí during the TV debate and that he wanted to restore public confidence in the force.
“It was wrong of deputy Wallace to pillory others for the proper exercise of a lawful discretion,” Mr Shatter said.
“It was my judgment that it was both necessary and in the public interest that I point out that deputy Wallace had himself been a beneficiary of that discretionary exercise.
“I believed that there was an extraordinary inconsistency between what deputy Wallace had to say and what actually occurred in his case. I made the point, not to make a political charge against deputy Wallace, nor for any personal benefit, but to defend the integrity of An Garda Síochána.”
The minister also insisted he is “subject to the laws of the land” in relation to how he uses information he receives from gardaí.
He said there was nothing sinister about the way in which he obtained the information on Mr Wallace from Garda Commissioner Callinan.
As opposition TDs called for the minister’s resignation, Mr Wallace said all he wanted was a public inquiry into the penalty points controversy.
He said he was not interested in an apology or resignation, but simply transparency and accountability.
The Wexford TD added: “I’m very weary of the fact that he can misuse his power in this manner. It isn’t so much that he knows this, that or the other about me. But I would be very worried about the fact he sees fit to misuse his power in this manner.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin TD Padraig MacLochlainn said he was concerned by the Garda Commissioner handing the minister “tittle-tattle” in divulging the information about Mr Wallace.
He said Mr Shatter’s relationship with the Garda Commissioner was “unhealthy”.
Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny dismissed calls for the minister’s resignation amid accusations he had abused his position of power.
Mr Kenny insisted the information given to Mr Shatter was relevant and he denied suggestions that files might be held on other politicians, public figures or journalists.
“It’s outrageous for you to make a claim or insinuation that the Minister for Justice is going around collecting files on individuals or members of this House … that’s an outrageous claim,” Mr Kenny said.