Sheedy Case: Statements (Resumed).

Wednesday, 5 May 1999

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 159 No. 5

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Mr. Ryan:  I welcome the Minister. I appreciate that he has made time available in what is a busy period for him. This issue has a number of aspects, one of which is judicial. The least that has been learned at this stage is that we did not anticipate the capacity of senior members of the Judiciary to make extraordinary errors. It makes one wonder about the quality of judgments in the courts. If senior members of the Judiciary can make mistakes of this nature, one wonders about other influences. I do not mean improper ones, rather injudicious. I love the slight implication of a pun on “injudicious” in the context of the Judiciary, it being, I presume, from where the term came.

Another aspect of the issue is the manner in which events have unfolded. I accept the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform behaved impeccably in terms of the circumstances in which Mr. Sheedy was released. I have no reason to dispute that matter and I will not attempt to make any implications. I am more than capable of doing so, but I prefer to do so where there is a case to answer and not where there is a convenient coincidence of two events. If the opposite turns out to be the case I will change my mind. Nevertheless, I accept the overwhelming evidence regarding the Minister's role in the early release of Mr. Sheedy.

Questions arise regarding communications and command and control systems. That a prisoner could be released under these circumstances is not the Minister's fault, but it is his responsibility. I have read the reports and accept that a succession of strange things happened. In addition, many of the “whats” have been explained.

A scandalous and fairly high profile offence was committed. Two youngsters in my adopted city each received prison sentences of ten years for similar offences. The allegedly severe or lengthy sentence of four years in this case contrasts more than favourably with the sentences imposed on them. I am not sure if it is any worse to steal [361] a car and kill somebody than it is to drive one's own car and kill somebody. While I do not suggest that the young men did not deserve a severe punishment, the four year sentence in this case was not excessive.

Given the profile of the individual and the extraordinary publicity that surrounded the case from the outset, I am surprise there is no system covering the courts, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Office of the Attorney General and the DPP which would ensure that events of this kind do not happen.

While I do not believe the Minister was involved in what happened, questions arise as to why the Offices of the Chief State Solicitor and the DPP were not properly informed and regarding the mysterious circumstances in which psychological reports which were well out of date were used and suggested to be contemporaneous. Questions also arise as to why judgment was made when the representative of the Chief State Solicitor was out of court and why this case was treated in the way it was. At this stage we mostly know the “whats”, the “hows” and the timescale.

Not for the first time the DPP, who is sometimes heavily criticised for some of his decisions, behaved impeccably. In immediately seeking to have the matter rectified he did what the citizens of the county would have wished him to do. Once the matter was brought before the courts it was dealt with correctly and expeditiously.

Issues arise in connection with judicial decisions, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, social justice and the concept of equality before the law. While it would be wrong to make an imputation, it is extraordinary that this individual had family members who were able to meet a judge of the Supreme Court and discuss with him a topic I would not dream of raising with a member of that court. I would have been on nodding acquaintance with former Mr. Justice O'Flaherty and was on better terms with some previous members of the Supreme Court who swore to me when they were in the humour to be frank that they had voted for me in Seanad elections. However that may have had something to do with my pleasant company rather than the realities of politics.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  That was most injudicious of them.

Mr. Ryan:  Does the Senator mean it was injudicious of them to vote for me or to tell me?

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  They were injudicious to tell the Senator. I am sure it was judicious of them to vote for him.

Mr. Ryan:  I would not have raised such an issue had I met a member of the Supreme Court because I would have had the wit to realise it was most improper to do so. I am prepared to argue cases and have done so. It is incorrect to say that [362] decisions of the courts cannot be criticised. In debates in which I have been involved outside the House various members of the High Court and the Supreme Court have said that is nonsense. One cannot impute improper motives to judges but one can freely criticise the quality of their decision making. This is still a free society and journalists are wrong if they believe they cannot criticise judicial decisions. I have heard members of the High Court and the Supreme Court say so and I have also seen them criticise judgments in vigorous and colourful terms. Former Mr. Justice O'Hanlon has criticised decisions of members of the Judiciary in language that could only be described as colourful. My one time rival for the seat I occupy, Professor William Binchy, has criticised decisions of the Supreme Court saying they were wrong, mistaken, misguided and so on.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  He only speaks to suit himself.

Mr. Ryan:  While there is no problem in criticising judicial decisions, I accept it would be wrong of me to raise a specific case with a Supreme Court judge. Former Mr. Justice O'Flaherty made a mistake in entertaining and pursuing such a request. If one takes that approach one does it for every single case or one is left open to the accusation that the background of the individual is the motivating force behind one's compassion. While I accept that the former judge was motivated by compassion, I am still not sure what lay behind former Mr. Justice Kelly's decision. We await further information on this.

What is clear is the degree to which social class was a factor in this case and the extent to which the moderately affluent middle class background of this individual influenced a succession of people to take a greater than usual interest in it. I include the Taoiseach in this. The best part of a third to a half of the population of Mountjoy Prison, the biggest prison in this city, comprises natives of his constituency. I am certain that for most of them there is no letter in the files of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform inquiring about their release, early release or anything else. Such prisoners included some who committed suicide. There have been a number of suicides in Mountjoy Prison, including that of a young woman.

Why would the Taoiseach pick this case among many representations on behalf of his constituents? The easy answer is that there was a roundabout Fianna Fáil connection. That may appear later, but I am not sure if that is the case. It was because Mr. Sheedy was from what would be called a good family that people saw it as different.

This happens in court all the time. Say, for example, I commit an offence and somebody tells the court that I am from a good family and, therefore, apparently deserve to be treated more humanely or less severely than Mr. X from a bad family. Why should I, with all the opportunities, good fortune, etc., at my disposal be treated more [363] leniently by a court than a misfortunate wretch from the inner city who, from the moment he or she was born, never had a chance? Yet, our entire system works like that because the Minister knows that if I was to be committed to Mountjoy Prison I would most likely end up in Glengarriff Parade or be moved to a more benign institution, perhaps Shelton Abbey in Arklow, because I am a good middle class citizen and I would give my word I would not run away. I would work my way through the system, albeit not very pleasantly, in such a manner.

Class, the influence and sympathy that goes with class and the perception that some are more deserving of sympathy than others is at the base of this affair. People commit suicide in prisons but because they are from the wrong class humanity and compassion do not operate with the same intensity. Unfortunate wretches from the centre of this city in Mountjoy Prison will not have family who will be either in a position geographically or in terms of nerve to, for instance, walk up to a Supreme Court judge while out shopping, meet and make representations to the Taoiseach in a pub or make contact with the Taoiseach. If they do so, I do not believe that the Taoiseach's private secretary will contact the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's private secretary. The Minister may contradict me by stating that he has many letters in his files about prisoners in Mountjoy Prison from the Taoiseach's constituency, in which case I will happily correct myself. As the Minister is nodding, I take it that he will tell me that is so or else he is saying that I am wrong. I do not know what he means.

The fundamental problem about this case is that we do not know why Judge Kelly did what he did, why a judge of the High Court attempted to procure psychological assessment post hoc, why this particular case received so much attention when there are so many other cases of people suffering appalling trauma in prison, why the county registrar, who is now retired, felt obliged to do what he did although we know what he did, why the Taoiseach and his private secretary showed such urgency, and why the Taoiseach's memory on this issue was so bad. There is a succession of questions, one of which perhaps will be answered in the other House shortly. The appalling fact which arises out of this and which is more clear than ever is that justice and penalties are not impartially administered in this State and that who you are and where you come from will determine the degree of compassion and concern for your well-being which will be manifest through the judicial, political and administrative systems.

Ms Cox: Information on Margaret Cox  Zoom on Margaret Cox  I have no difficulty in keeping my contribution short to allow as many people as possible to speak. Indeed, it was not my intention to contribute on this matter. It is only because of the way the situation has gone in the past couple of [364] days that I, as a Member of this House who has recently joined the political world, felt I should say something. Nobody Shouted Stop is a well-known book title. It is time people shouted “Stop” and we stopped running this country to the tune of the media, which is what is happening. With all due respect to the Opposition and to the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party who were represented on the radio this morning, the kind of carry on, in which they are trying to create mountains out of molehills, smoke screens and fires when there are no fires, cannot go on.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  The Senator cannot be proud of her Chief Whip's contribution on the radio.

Ms Cox: Information on Margaret Cox  Zoom on Margaret Cox  Anybody who is, and wishes to remain, involved in politics and is here for the good of the country is ashamed to be called a politician when he or she sees the kind of conniving and stupidity which has been put in front of us by the Opposition. That is the reason I stood up to contribute. I am sick and tired of this kind of bickering. It started in Leinster House when Deputy Owen spoke of the Cahirciveen connection because three little people came from County Kerry.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  It became worse.

Ms Cox: Information on Margaret Cox  Zoom on Margaret Cox  That is ridiculous. Some 40 per cent of the people vote for Fianna Fáil. Does that mean every time I make a representation, make a statement or knock on the door of a house that it is possible the person involved may see their name linked with mine in a newspaper report which in some way takes away the person's good name or my good name? This carry on must stop.

The Taoiseach did nothing wrong. Perhaps it was not handled in the best possible way. Everybody has agreed that it was not a problem of political interference which caused the release of this man. A woman is dead. Her death is being used and abused by politicians to scaremonger and make statements which have all the members of the media running around. It is only succeeding in selling newspapers and selling time on radio and television.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Finneran): Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  Senator Connor has ten minutes.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  I am a spokesperson. I thought I would have 15 minutes.

Acting Chairman:  Your party's spokesperson already received 15 minutes.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  This morning the Leader stated that there would be 15 minutes allowed for spokespersons. He said that there was one spokesperson to speak and I felt that he was referring to me.

Acting Chairman:  That was necessary because the Labour Party spokesperson did not contribute the last day.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  I do not wish to waste time.

[365]Acting Chairman:  The Senator has nine minutes remaining.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  By any standard, this Sheedy case is extraordinary. It is the greatest judicial earthquake we have ever seen in this country and of course it is also causing a political earthquake. We do not know whether the political earthquake may yet be greater than the judicial earthquake.

To listen to Senator Cox one would think that this was the sole creation of the media. This case arose out of the most extraordinary sequence of events in relation to Mr. Philip Sheedy, who was sentenced in 1997 for a serious offence. The re-entering of his case for hearing in the Circuit Criminal Court was extraordinary. I do not know if Senator Cox read what the Chief Justice had to say about this in his lengthy report. It is extraordinary that Mr. Staines, the solicitor acting on behalf of the defendant, Mr. Sheedy, pointed out that he had nothing to do with the request to have the case relisted.

Having read everything and having participated in most of the discussions in this regard at the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Right as a member of that committee, I am not satisfied that there is no link between all the events in this case. Nobody could be satisfied. The events are well set down in the Chief Justice's report and in the report prepared by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

For the true definitions, we must return to what the Chief Justice had to say about the case in his report. It is extraordinary that he winds up by stating:

I also conclude that Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's intervention was inappropriate and unwise, that it left his motives and action open to misinterpretation and that it was therefore damaging to the administration of justice.

A Chief Justice could not make a more damning statement about another member of the Judiciary. I remind my colleagues on the benches opposite that that was not invented in the media. These are the words of the Chief Justice.

Ms Cox: Information on Margaret Cox  Zoom on Margaret Cox  Did it mention the Taoiseach's name? It did not.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  We will come to the Taoiseach in a moment.

In relation to former Mr. Justice Kelly, about whom he was rightly much more harsh, the Chief Justice stated:

I conclude moreover that, having entered on the review, he failed to conduct the case in a manner befitting a judge.

It became inevitable that these two members of the Judiciary would have to resign. The Government had clearly indicated to both of them that they would have to resign and that if they did not, the Government would initiate impeachment [366] proceedings in both of these Houses which would lead to their removal from office.

To come forward to the recent happenings which are causing the current political earthquake, that is the Taoiseach's involvement, I want to put a number of direct questions to the Minister. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and the Taoiseach discussed the latter's involvement, that is the representations he made on behalf of Mr. Philip Sheedy to have him released on day release. What advice did the Minister give the Taoiseach? Did he advise him not to tell the House of his involvement or did he advise him that he must tell the House of his involvement? What other conversations took place between the Minister and the Taoiseach in this regard? From what has been said by both the Minister – last Sunday I listened to him on the radio – and by the Taoiseach, they had extensive discussions about the Taoiseach's representation to the Minister's office on Mr. Sheedy's behalf. I ask the Minister to clear the air in the House today. People are making accusatory statements about him also. Perhaps we should not listen to hearsay but it is part of the public mood on this issue. We have a duty to raise these points in the way they have been raised with us by the public.

I urge the Minister to come clean and to provide a comprehensive statement on the matter. In view of the connections which exist in this case, we cannot escape the suspicion that something akin to Fianna Fáil family incest seems to be in operation – I use the term “incest” in the political sense.

Mr. J. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  That comment should be withdrawn.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  How dare the Senator make that comment.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  That is the position.

Mr. J. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  The Senator should withdraw his comment.

Acting Chairman:  The Senator, without interruption. The Senator should not draw fire.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It is easy to see how the Senator lost his seat in the Dáil.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  I cannot but comment in this way. There is the reported involvement in the case of Deputy Brian Lenihan who provided a character reference for Mr. Sheedy. We have heard of the involvement of the former Deputy, Mr. Jim Tunney, who, it is said, met with Mr. Sheedy's wife. It is also reported that a Member of this House was involved in the preparation of the psychological report on Mr. Sheedy.

Acting Chairman:  The Senator should not name people who are not present in the House.

[367]Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  As an elected Member of the House, I have a duty to raise the issues which are being raised with me by the public. The Acting Chairman also has that responsibility. I am entitled to raise these issues and I want the Minister to comment on them.

It is clear the Taoiseach wished to conceal his involvement in this case. The Tánaiste told the Taoiseach on two occasions that he should clear the air, go before the Dáil and make a full statement. There were two occasions on which the Taoiseach could have dealt with the matter comprehensively but he did not avail of the opportunity to do so. I do not know what he is saying in the other House as we speak but we have another main character in this case in this House. I am delighted the Minister is present and did not shirk his repsonsibility to appear here as Ministers often do. I have suspicions about this matter as have tens of thousands of others. It is up to the Minister to comment on those suspicions.

Senator Cox spoke about comments made on the radio this morning. The most evasive person on radio this morning was the Government Chief Whip.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  The Senator has two minutes remaining.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  I have already had a disagreement with the Acting Chairman; I maintain I should have had 15 minutes.

This case has caused a national outcry and is of great concern. It behoves the Members on the Government side to show some concern about it too. The very foundations of the State were rocked by this case. Never before in our history has a Supreme Court or High Court judge had to resign. That is a huge blow to institutions at the very core of the State. We cannot avoid the suspicion that there was political involvement in this matter. At risk of boring Members of the House, I again urge the Minister to comment directly on the issues I have raised.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  They are not worthy of comment.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  I expected that reply.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I wish to share my time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I welcome the Minister to the House. We have had democracy in this country since the foundation of the State 77 years ago; we may well have had it even before that. This is the most traumatic event we have witnessed during that time in regard to the Judiciary, although it is probably a cleansing event.

I am of the opinion that a four year sentence was not outrageous to hand down to someone who killed another person, although not willfully. [368] Why do we put people in prison when they commit crimes? We do it to rehabilitate the criminals, to protect society and to serve as a deterrent to others. However, we would like to believe that our sentencing structures are tempered with compassion. Do we want those in high office always to act in accordance with the letter of the law to the extent that we will have a nation without sympathy and compassion and that we will never act in a humanitarian, sincere or sympathetic manner? I do not think so.

Having read the Chief Justice's report, it seems to me that Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's error was to become involved in a case in which he had no prior involvement. I reject any suggestion that discrimination was made on the basis of social class. Mr. Justice O'Flaherty has given of his time to people across the class divide. This is a man whose valuable expertise, experience and intelligence we are losing because of an error. Although I regret the loss of his services to the State, I understand that Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's resignation was inevitable.

If there was an error in his display of sympathy to someone who sought his advice, it derives from the position which Mr. Justice O'Flaherty held. This matter was not his concern, yet he offered advice on it. I do not believe it is a crime for someone in a position of authority, such as a High Court or Supreme Court judge, to call a registrar to his or her chamber and point out that certain precedents exist for certain steps to be taken in a certain case. I do not believe that is a worthy reason for someone to lose his or her future. If anything, it was perhaps the respect which Mr. Justice O'Flaherty displayed for his position which made the registrar act in a manner in which he might not otherwise have acted.

It seems to me that the Taoiseach also acted in a normal and sympathetic manner in this case. As far as I know, he merely scribbled a note on receipt of a request to see whether the case was being looked after or something to that effect. It seems that if anyone in a position of authority displays any kind of sympathy, it is his or her very position of authority which creates suspicion. Even a mere question is in danger of being interpreted as an interference with the course of justice. That should not be the case.

I regret that this case has resulted in the loss of Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's services to the State. I believe he resigned because he felt it was the correct thing to do. Perhaps the State and Judiciary are healthier now because of his immediate action. I hope we learn from this trauma and do not experience anything similar again.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  It has been said that because this unfortunate young man came from a middle class background, he received better treatment than many of those in prison from a less privileged background. Perhaps he did not receive better treatment because of his connections but certainly his money helped. I refer to his ability to have not one but two psychology reports to sup[369] port him when he came before the courts for sentencing. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong in this. This is the way things should be, but unfortunately this is not how the situation is. I wonder if any other drivers involved in such incidents have come before the courts with even one psychological report in recent years. I doubt it very much. Fewer than ten psychologists are employed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the entire prison service. This young man was fortunate enough to be able to employ a top of the range psychologist. There was a bizarre suggestion about having a post-operative psychological report after he had been released. This was so strange I will leave it. I do not see how it could have entered into any court case.

We pass legislation in the Houses of the Oireachtas which requires psychological reports to be available for judges when they are sentencing people, even when they are dealing with cases which involve little children. Section 46 of the Family Law Act, 1995, and the Divorce Act, 1996, made it essential that children involved in divorces or family law cases have a psychological assessment so the judge, when making his or her determination on what should happen in the case, would have the benefit of these reports before deciding what to do. This is not happening. Mr. Sheedy could get reports but little children cannot. What sort of justice is that? It is very serious when we are reduced to a situation where those whom we claim to cherish most in the land are in such an invidious position.

We are now in so bad a position that the probation officers who used to carry out these reports on a grace and favour basis stopped doing so nearly a year ago because they were so overloaded with work. Each person was trying to supervise approximately 80 cases when it is recommended that it should be about 30 cases. The Minister knows only too well that the report his Department received last November recommended an immediate increase of 75 probation officers so that some effort could be made to deal in a proper manner with the cases which are in need of the probation services. The Minister knows we have one of the highest prison populations per capita in Europe, yet our probation service is one of the worst. I believe the probation officers are now going to take industrial action and work to rule, which would further curtail the amount of time given to the service.

This unfortunate young man seems to have led an exemplary career until he became involved in this tragic accident by which the Ryan family have suffered dreadfully. His notoriety will be an additional suffering for him. His connections and ability to pay show that our justice system is two, three or four tier.

I am sure the Minister has noticed prisoners in Mountjoy who are segregated from the other prisoners. I will not name them by the nickname they are given. These people have such serious mental illnesses and in many cases such serious [370] mental handicaps that when I asked why they were not in with the other prisoners the warden replied that it was not possible as they would be killed. In our prisons there are people with serious mental illnesses and handicaps. It is no wonder Mr. Sheedy did not want to stay with them because they should not be in prison at all. They are not even receiving psychiatric care. I am not surprised he wanted to go to Shelton Abbey or anywhere else. To be in Mountjoy is a terrible experience for anyone. I applaud the Minister for what he has done with the Curragh and other prisons but there are people who are in no position to get out of Mountjoy while Mr. Sheedy got out. I am glad he did because no one should have to experience what is going on in there.

I would like the Minister and Senators to think seriously of all those with serious psychiatric conditions and mental handicaps in Mountjoy who should not be there and who are receiving ill-treatment. They should also remember all those children I mentioned who do not have one psychological report, let alone two.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I reiterate my regret that I was not in a position to attend the Seanad discussion on this matter on Thursday, 29 April. I am grateful to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Moffat, for attending on my behalf. I assure Senators that my attention has been drawn to the contributions made in this House on that occasion. As is usual, many pertinent observations and comments as well as constructive proposals were made by Senators. Equally, many probing questions were raised.

A number of Senators expressed their concerns that fair procedure and due process may not have been properly followed in the various inquiries conducted into the circumstances of the case. Senators observed that the persons concerned were forced to resign by virtue of the conclusions reached in the reports of the Chief Justice and my Department. I understand how such an observation can arise. Nevertheless, from the outset – and my statements to the Dáil will bear this out – I have been most sensitive to the need for the application of exemplary standards of fairness in this issue.

Members of this House will recall the intense pressure which was exerted for an explanation of the events surrounding this matter. Such pressure reflected the deep concern which was shared across the board. At the same time it challenged and still challenges us to remain conscious of the need for fair procedure in our ongoing treatment of the issues.

The seriousness of the concern warranted reports of the nature which were produced. While findings were reached, they were not conclusive and this fact was admitted freely in both reports, that is the reports of the Chief Justice and the Department in the matter. Questions raised were not answered, disputed facts were not resolved.

No proposals were made in either report on the [371] question of any disciplinary action which should be taken in response to the findings where they affected the performance of individuals. It was clear that any disciplinary procedure arising from these events would require some process other than the inquiries which had been pursued. In that event, due process would have had to be applied rigorously. The Government considered this matter and concluded that the only avenue open to it to facilitate fair procedure in addressing the position of the judges in this case appeared to be the moving of resolutions for the consideration of the two Houses of the Oireachtas under Article 35.4.1 for their removal. If the resolutions had been moved it would have been necessary for procedures to be agreed in relation to the handling of the resolutions which would meet the requirements of natural justice in respect of the two judges who were named.

The need for such a grave step was obviated when both judges resigned. The sequence of events in this case cannot, in my view, be interpreted as akin to constructive dismissal of the individuals concerned. I believe their action could more accurately be viewed as an honourable response to the most unfortunate circumstances in which they found themselves and a disposition on their part not to wish to see the whole judicial system subjected to opprobrium. In taking the action they did they remained consistent to the highest standards of their profession and to the oath of office which they took on appointment to the bench. The county registrar also displayed the same qualities in his resignation. I believe the appropriate action in relation to the severance arrangements for these individuals is for the Oireachtas now to approve the pension payments proposed by Government in the wake of their resignations. I have already commended these terms to Dáil Éireann and communicated them to this House.

Senator Manning posed the question of whether it was appropriate for the Judiciary to investigate themselves. In the current constitutional context it is difficult to see who else could have carried out the inquiries on judicial involvement in the Sheedy case.

The principle of self-regulation is not unique to the legal profession. It also applies to doctors and Members of the Oireachtas. That said, there may be a case for lay involvement. However, I note Senator Hayes's caution against over-reacting with hastily considered responses. He offers the view that the courts should regulate themselves and should be seen to do so. Generally speaking, I agree with this view. I also agree that every effort should be made to build on the valuable work which Judge Denham's working group on a courts commission has done on this subject.

It was certainly opportune and appropriate that the working group's report dealing with the issue of judicial conduct and ethics was published in recent weeks. I welcome the Chief Justice's announcement last week that he had appointed [372] a judicial committee to prepare the way for the establishment of a judicial body which would contribute to high standards of judicial conduct and establish a system for the handling of complaints of judicial conduct and other related activities. I have confirmed to the Chief Justice that my Department will co-operate with this committee in its important work. I look forward to hearing the views of the committee and I will give serious consideration to any requests or recommendations it makes to me.

An overriding concern permeating all discussions on the Sheedy case has been the “why” question. I do not have the answer to that question. It would be most helpful to have the full picture. In that context, I note that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights is now considering the matter. I welcome its efforts to address the outstanding “why” question and I know it will have the benefit of legal advice as to its manner of procedure in this respect.

Senators have questioned whether the committee has adequate powers or the wherewithal to pursue this matter. However, I do not wish to pre-empt what the committee may conclude and wish it well in its deliberations. The Government has from the outset acknowledged the value of the committee in addressing this job. I have assured it of every co-operation for my part and that of my officials. Both the report of the Chief Justice and the report of the Department in the case were forwarded to the committee immediately following their consideration by Government. The committee has written to the two judges and the country registrar inviting them to appear before it. The responses received to these invitations will be considered by the committee shortly.

In the course of his contribution on the debate Senator Norris invited me to write to him seeking papers on another case which he would like to have examined. If the Senator wishes to bring this matter to my attention I do not think it is necessary for me to write to him. I suggest that he considers my reference to his concerns here as an invitation to him to submit the papers concerned to me if he still considers them to be relevant.

Senator Norris also referred to his experiences of the legal system and offered trenchant criticisms of various features with which he was personally familiar. His criticisms of the operation of existing Circuit Court procedures involving the county registrar were of considerable interest. My Department's report also profiled shortcomings in Circuit Court procedures and made recommendations that the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure should examine this area. The Government is currently considering this and other recommendations of that report.

One notable recommendation made by my officials dealt with the method of appointment of county registrars. I have already taken appropriate action in this regard with the support of Government. At present there are two vacancies [373] for county registrar to be filled – one in Carlow and one in Dublin.

In order to provide greater transparency in the selection of candidates for these positions I have arranged for an advisory appointments board to consider applications received in response to the advertisements for the posts which were placed in the media last week. The board will ensure that the applicants to be considered for appointment by Government are qualified and suitable. The board is drawn from key legal offices in the State – that of the Attorney General and the Chief State Solicitor as well as my Department and the Courts Service Transitional Board. I have also included the chair of the Employment Equality Agency on the board to reinforce the profiling of transparency and fairness in the appointments system.

Senator Norris had other comments to make about the courts system. His concern about plea bargaining in chambers and inconsistent sentencing will be examined in the context of my Department's ongoing review of such issues.

Senator Caffrey also expressed concern about difficulties with the jury system. This is an area which has not been highlighted to date. It is nonetheless a most important aspect of the courts system and if there are specific difficulties which need to be examined, I invite Senators to bring them to my attention.

It is evident that this matter will not go away. However, I will soon be here again to deal with proposed legislation required to provide for pension arrangements for the members of the Judiciary and the county registrar who have resigned. I also look forward to the outcome of the Oireachtas Joint Committee's deliberations to which I am sure its Seanad members will make a constructive contribution.

I thank Senator Ryan for the magnanimity of his statement. However, the inference that the Taoiseach would not make representations on behalf of a poor constituent is incorrect. For the past 20 years the Taoiseach has consistently topped the poll in the north inner city of Dublin, one of the poorest constituencies in Ireland. The Senator, when he reflects on it, will realise that the Taoiseach could not top the poll in that constituency unless he was accessible to his poorer constituents at all times.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  The Taoiseach has been accessible to the poor of this country as well as his constituents since the day he entered political life.

I thank Senator Cox for her comments. They were worthy of her and she was correct in everything she said. I also thank Senator Quinn for his remarks. I agree that the accusation of class bias against Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty could not be further from the truth. Senator Quinn's analysis was measured and generous. Again, I thank him for his contribution because it restored a balance [374] in this afternoon's debate. I thank Senator Henry for doing likewise. It is something that she always does and comes as no surprise to me.

Unfortunately, I must refer to Senator Connor's remarks. Since the Houses of the Oireachtas became aware of this affair Members will be aware that I have been accused by various people of inappropriate activities. In the Dáil Chamber the deputy leader of the Fine Gael Party accused me of perpetrating what was essentially a criminal offence. She later apologised for it and I accepted her apology in the spirit of magnanimity in which it was given. Nonetheless, this morning on public radio she accused me of being involved in a conspiracy. It is a sad day for our democracy if we have reached the stage where people are deemed guilty and obliged to prove their innocence or if the burden of proof is reversed by Members of the Oireachtas. I am well accustomed to being called names by people like Deputy Rabbitte and one or two of his camp followers in the Dublin print media. Do I now have to become accustomed to having the traditional burden of proof reversed in my case? Will I always be deemed guilty unless I prove my innocence? Am I obliged to reveal facts which I consider to be irrelevant? Why am I alone asked to do that? I do not seek anyone's pity, I never did and I never will. However, if people like Senator Connor are allowed roam this country with the type of contribution he made here then political life will be debased forever. Not only will it be debased here but the people who look to all Members to uphold the integrity of our democracy will lose confidence in it. That is not and never was the way to proceed.

To those who suggest that I would interfere with the judicial process, one of the great abiding loves of my life has been jurisprudence. There are no circumstances under which I would do anything that would adversely affect it. Under no circumstances would I interfere with democracy or any of its arms. If Deputies Bruton, Rabbitte and Owen and Senator Connor want to return to Government on foot of conspiracy theories, smears, innuendo and misrepresentations then they are welcome to it but it is not a road that I would travel.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I have heard statements to the effect that in this House and elsewhere, over a protracted period of time, that I unjustly attacked the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen. It is true that I had robust exchanges with her. It is also true that I put forward constructive proposals but I never accused her nor anyone else of a conspiracy or of committing a crime without a shred of evidence. Accusations like that are unworthy of a Deputy or Senator and tarnish our democracy.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  What will be done about the Taoiseach?

[375]Sitting suspended at 5.35 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.

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