Thursday, 13 April 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
11. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has received any reply from the Chief Justice to the approach he made, following the recent remarks of the Taxing Master, Mr. James Flynn, regarding the operation of tribunals of inquiry established by the Oireachtas, to suggest that the new judicial ethics regime should cover officers other than members of the Judiciary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11191/00]
Mr. O'Donoghue: I wrote on 21 March to the Chief Justice in his capacity as chairman of the judicial committee which is examining the question of judicial conduct and ethics. In that letter I asked the committee to consider including in its remit the question of the accountability of those statutory principal officers of the superior courts who exercise judicial functions. I await the committee's response.
Ms O'Sullivan: In a reply to a parliamentary question on 23 March, the Tánaiste indicated that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would contact the Chief Justice and also that the Attorney General would contact the President of the High Court in regard to this matter. In view of the fact that no responses appear to have been received in either case, does the Minister intend to raise this matter again to ensure that a response is received as the Taxing Master's comments on tribunals have clearly caused public concern about the operation of tribunals and the importance of their role?
Mr. O'Donoghue: I wrote to the Chief Justice and asked him whether it might be appropriate for the committee to consider whether the position of the Taxing Master and other principal officers of the superior courts who exercise quasi-judicial functions should come within its remit. The Taxing Master issued a written statement to the President of the High Court in which he expressed regret for any offence he caused to members of the Judiciary or Members of the Oireachtas. He fully accepted and acknowledged the entitlement of the Oireachtas to establish tribunals of inquiry. In those circumstances, the Government felt that while the Taxing Master's comments were inappropriate, we should accept his statement and let the matter lie. It was felt that it was not necessary in the light of all the  circumstances to demand, in Shakespeare's words, a pound of flesh.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Will the Minister clarify whether he regards tribunals as very necessary vehicles for the establishment of facts in regard to fundamental issues and that we acknowledge the contribution of the McCracken tribunal to the establishment of facts in regard to one former and one current Member of this House? Does the Minister wish to put on record his absolute faith in the ongoing work of the two tribunals established by this House, namely, the Moriarty and Flood tribunals?
Mr. O'Donoghue: Yes, there are obviously circumstances in the course of public life where it is unfortunately necessary to set up tribunals to examine serious matters. Far be it from me to criticise tribunals or their membership. I must await their reports in the same manner as everyone else.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I assume Mr. Flynn, the Taxing Master, decided to express his regret in his own inimitable way. The Government decided not to take any further action, as stated in the press release of 28 March last. I do not doubt that Mr. Flynn's regret is sincere and we should accept what he said. The last thing we need in regard to any individual who makes a mistake is a witch hunt.
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