Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Courts (Supplemental Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, on Thursday, 24 June 1999:
"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a second reading until such time as the two former judges referred to in the Bill give a clear undertaking that they are prepared to make themselves available to answer questions before whatever course of enquiry is recommended by Dáil Éireann in order to establish the full truth of the involvement of both individuals in the Sheedy affair.".
–(Deputy Higgins,Mayo).

I wish to share time with Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.

I want to avoid going over much of the ground that has already been covered in the report of the committee, which was debated last night, and in the extensive question and answer session and discussions which have taken place in the House on the Sheedy affair. It is good that we reflect on these events, examine what occurred, consider the difficulties the House has experienced in discovering not simply what happened – we know what happened – but why it happened and look to the future.

The events surrounding the Sheedy case, the tragic death of a young woman in a driving accident, the resignation of a judge of the Supreme Court and of a judge of the High Court and the subsequent difficulties can only lead to one very specific conclusion, namely, that there is a fundamental democratic and constitutional deficit which the House and the country must address.

Our Constitution has provisions which allow for motions by the House, in very restricted circumstances, to remove or impeach a member of the Judiciary. In this case members of the Judiciary behaved in a manner which undermined public confidence in the administration of justice. Both members duly resigned following publication of the report by the Chief Justice, but for constitutional reasons it is clear that at least one member, the former High Court and Circuit Court judge, Mr. Cyril Kelly, cannot be required to come before a committee of the House to explain why he behaved the way he did. I believe if the House passed a motion establishing a tribunal to investigate the matter we would discover the same constitutional difficulty would impact on the tribunal as impacted on the committee of the House which sought to investigate the issue.

There are certain principles in the Constitution under the doctrine of separation of powers which are extremely important and fundamental to democratic society. It is right that the Judiciary is independent of Government and that it is largely independent of Parliament, and that decisions made by the Judiciary or decisions which it is called upon to make in cases coming before it cannot be in any way varied, changed or interfered with by the House. However, it is not right that where there is apparent judicial misbehaviour there is no mechanism in place, either constitutionally or legislatively, which ensures that those who behave improperly can be required to explain the reason for their actions. A constitutional amendment is necessary if we are to address this issue. We must put in place either a judicial commission or confirm specific but restricted powers on a committee of the House which facilitates it in carrying out an investigation into why certain conduct took place where there is a prima facie case of inappropriate judicial conduct, stated to be such by the Chief Justice. It is essential, of course, in addressing this issue that nothing is done which would allow the House to interfere in any way with judicial decisions properly made.

There is a fundamental constitutional and democratic deficit which we should not ignore. From time to time in the House issues gather great momentum with exchanges taking place across the floor and the media focusing on them for a time. However, we then move to the next agenda and the spotlight focuses on a different issue. This issue is too fundamental and important and should not be lost in the individualisation of what occurred – we must approach it from a broader perspective. As a very minimum the Government or the Attorney General must for mally request the committee of the House which is reviewing the Constitution to consider how we address this lacuna in our constitutional system so as to ensure that if there is a repetition of the events, or if in future there is a view that a member of the Judiciary has behaved in an inappropriate manner in the context of interfering with the administration of justice, that it could be properly investigated. It is necessary that not only what happened be clarified but that those who behaved inappropriately be required to explain the reasons behind their behaviour.

In her speech yesterday, the Minister of State said something which is true but unacceptable, namely, that we may never know why these events occurred. In a democratic society where people are accountable for their actions and where the Judiciary is vested with very sacred constitutional obligations, it is not good enough that we will never know why. It is not good enough for the Government to sit back, throw its hands in the air and say we can take this matter no further. The truth of the case may be that we will never know why certain things happened, but we should never again be put in a position where we cannot know the reason behind events of this nature.

As a practising lawyer, I felt a profound sense of sadness about what occurred. Mr. O'Flaherty graced the Bench of the Supreme Court for many years and made a very valuable contribution to our jurisprudence. I find the behaviour of Mr. Cyril Kelly, who was a member of the Circuit Court and the High Court and who in his work sought greater efficiency in the administration of criminal justice, as a sitting judge on the Bench completely inexplicable. I feel a great deal of sorrow for Michael Quinlan who was an excellent registrar of the Circuit Court, administering the Circuit Court in Dublin. Most Members would not be familiar with him or his work. He substantially reformed the administration of justice by the Circuit Court and sadly he is receiving and will receive no credit for doing so. To some degree he was caught in a judicial vice and it is a great shame he is not being given the opportunity to tell the committee what he said he is willing to tell it. He should be given the opportunity of coming before the committee. That the two former judges will not come before the committee should not exclude Mr. Quinlan from telling his tale and explaining his actions. I think he found himself somewhere between a rock and a hard place whereby he believed a judge of the Supreme Court was seeking certain things to happen. Certainly, Mr. Quinlan made wrong judgments – there is no doubt about this – but he should not be censored because others are unwilling to come before the committee. As we know, Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty previously volunteered to come before the committee. In the context of the constitutional issue, the former Supreme Court judge, Mr. O'Flaherty, should have had no such difficulty because his behaviour did not relate to anything he did in a judicial capacity. I understand the former High Court judge, Mr. Kelly, finds himself in a different constitutional position, but Mr. Quinlan should be given the opportunity to be heard.

There is an extraordinary contrast between the Government's generosity to these two former judges and the speed with which the Government has introduced this legislation when compared to its miserly approach to the disabled. Individuals who undermine public confidence in the administration of justice have not been forced to protest outside this House seeking their pensions. I am not suggesting they should have been put in that position but, just as they should not have been put in that position, why should they get a priority for funding over people confined to wheelchairs who have been forced for two days to protest outside this House to get a miserly sum to facilitate the continuation of a transport system which has worked so well? I do not understand the reason for that. It reflects extraordinarily badly on the Government.

This legislation is being introduced in haste. It could have been introduced in the autumn. There is a second question, the answer to which I do not understand. Many weeks ago the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform received a report which recommended that the pool of lawyers from whom we can make judicial appointments should be extended. The report recommended that when it comes to making High Court and Supreme Court judicial appointments those eligible for appointment should not be confined to practising barristers of ten or 12 years standing but should extend to solicitors who regularly practise before our superior courts. A two section Bill is required to introduce that amendment to the law but it has not been introduced. I estimate there will be eight new appointments to the Supreme Court and High Court in the next 12 months. The Government should ensure that that legislation comes before this House without further undue delay so that we widen the pool of lawyers from whom we can select these new judges. They should not be confined to members of the Bar library. My suspicion is that the Attorney General's office, which is inhabited solely by members of the Bar library, has a vested interest in delaying the production of that legislation.

I am outraged by the terms of the Bill and by the speed with which it is being rushed through this House by means of a guillotine. The basic question is: why is the Government rewarding misbehaviour on the part of judicial personages? It is all very well for the Government to claim that we are in a constitutional cul de sac in seeking explanations from the judges for their inexplicable and unexplained conduct, but there is no bar on the Government answering for its own actions and it has not given us an answer for its actions in these cases.

The background is simple. These judges have been found by the Chief Justice to have been involved in misbehaviour. The Government wrote letters to the judges advising them that it would propose resolutions for the consideration of the Houses of the Oireachtas for their removal on the grounds that the facts admitted to the Chief Justice or established by him in his report amount to misbehaviour within the meaning of the provisions of the Constitution.

The Chief Justice in his report found that the conduct of former Supreme Court Judge, Mr. O'Flatherty, was damaging to the administration of justice. He found that former High Court judge, Mr. Kelly, failed to conduct the case in a manner befitting a judge and compromised the administration of justice. In addition, a departmental report on Mr. Quinlan indicated that he obstructed and misled the Department's investigations.

My stance on this matter is a fairly basic one. In each case these people are entitled to deferred pensions, pensions to which they have contributed over their years of service which will become applicable in six, 15 and 20 years in the respective cases. Why is the State paying them now?

Six years is a long time to wait.

Why is the State giving them extra sums for misbehaviour? Mr. O'Flatherty's pension would have been £26,000 with gratuity when he reached the age of 67 but the State is giving him £40,000 from April last. Mr. Kelly's pension would have been £17,000 in 15 years and yet the State is giving him £30,000 per annum from April last. Mr. Quinlan would have worked until he reached the age of 65 when he would get £11,500. He is being given £15,000 from this year. Why? What is the explanation of the Government for this generosity? To date we have not received that explanation and this House is entitled to it?

Furthermore we have not received any explanation as to the negotiations which occurred between the representatives of Mr. Kelly and the representatives of the State before he resigned. Why were there negotiations? The Minister's statement mentioned that Mr. Kelly was inquiring about his pension entitlement. A simple inquiry to the Department of Finance by letter or fax could have informed him of his pension entitlement. These inquiries must have involved negotiations for extra pension on the basis that Mr. Kelly would resign. Why did that happen? Why did the law not take its course? Why was the Government so keen to ensure that he resigned rather than that the law would take its course? The only answer to that is that the facts would come out. Why did the Government not want the facts to come out? If there had been impeachment proceedings—

What facts?

—the facts would have come out. The reasons for their unexplained and inexplicable behaviour would have become obvious. The Government clearly entered into negotiations to ensure that that did not happen. Why did the Government engage in that course of action?

Smear tactics.

Why did it not allow the impeachment proceedings to go ahead? Were indications of a sweetheart deal given on the basis that a resignation would take place, there would not be impeachment proceedings and there would not be disclosure? The Government owes this House answers to those questions.

The answer to that is "no".

That is not an answer.

It is the truth.

Why was the Government involved in negotiations with Mr. Kelly before his resignation? Why were negotiations needed? Does the Government realise that it is creating a bad precedent? Does it realise the effect this will have on the public service? I am not saying this with particular reference to the individuals concerned. They gave good service to the State, they made their contributions and they are entitled to certain pension entitlements at retirement age. Why are we giving them sweetheart deals now?

The Deputy wants to act like the dog in the manger.

If the question is being raised that they are not able to earn money otherwise, that is not so.


Carlow-Kilkenny): Deputy Roche, you will have an opportunity to speak later and I will protect you also. The Minister of State may reply later also.

I hope you will allow me an extra few minutes. Mr. Quinlan, who was a fine solicitor, may return to such practice and I wish him every success in his career. If there are barriers to the former judges returning to practise at the Bar, that is a matter for the Bar Council. It is not a matter for the taxpayer to pay extra pensions in the meantime because they cannot return to the Bar. There are other opportunities open to them. They are both highly qualified. We should not ladle out extra money for the intervening years at the expense of the taxpayer in a situation where these people would not be entitled to pensions for many years to come. An explanation for that has not been given by the Government.

Questions have been raised about impeachment procedures and the matter will be looked at by the all-party Oireachtas committee this very day in a draft report on the Judiciary, but that is not the point. The Constitution contains a provision for impeachment and there are precedents in other countries. What happens normally in other countries when impeachment proceedings are threatened is that the people involved resign if they have any conscience about the matter. That is quite a normal practice. In the past 200 years only one impeachment, which was not ended by resignation, proceeded in the UK. In the US 13 federal justices have been impeached since 1776. There is such a provision in the Constitution and there is no reason it did not happened. I accept that the procedures and processes need to be fine tuned but that is not an explanation for paying extra money, by way of pensions, to stop the impeachment procedure. Why did the Government do that? Why has it been so free with taxpayers' money in these cases? We have not heard the full story and difficulties may be experienced in obtaining it from the judges because of constitutional obstacles. The Government is answerable to this House and to the public. What is its explanation of its conduct? Why is this money being paid? Why did negotiations take place and what occurred during those negotiations? Why are we rushing through a Bill in the last week prior to the recess with unseemly haste and under a guillotine? I suspect it is because the Government wants to brush the matter under the carpet and close this chapter. The Government's actions in this case are outrageous.

I apologise for my earlier outburst. We have just heard one excellent and one idiotic contribution. In many ways, the contrast between the two represents the extraordinary lack of logic which has informed much of the debate on this affair within this House and outside it in recent weeks. There cannot be any doubt that the case which led to this debate is one of the most extraordinary ever to come to light in this State. Friends of mine in the Bar library have suggested to me that there was evidence of odd judicial behaviour in the past but that this is the first time such behaviour came to the fore. That concerns me.

In one sense, these events should be welcomed because they will help to focus our attention on precisely what we mean by something fundamental to our Constitution and our manner of administration, namely, the concept of the separation of powers. That is not the only aspect which has been dealt with in the debate on this matter. There has been a good deal of hypocrisy and a certain degree of forgetfulness in the debate to date.

Deputy Shatter spoke about the separation of powers and the manner in which the concept is interpreted in this State. It seems that we clip around this issue, particularly the issue of the relationship between this House and the democratic voice of the people, the Judiciary and the courts. I would never suggest that this House should somehow impose itself on the manner in which a judge performs his or her judicial responsibilities. I agree with Deputy Shatter that a number of the issues which are currently being cloaked from public debate by our novel interpretation of the separation of powers doctrine have nothing whatsoever to do with the performance of judicial function. They are quite separate. The debate which has taken place in this House and in committee should have focused on that point.

Let me cite an example of how ludicrous the situation is in this State. Deputies Shatter, O'Keeffe and others will be well aware that there are some instances of absolutely disgraceful and unpardonable delays in the delivery of judgments in our courts. A case was recently highlighted in a magazine article which stated that a senior member of the Irish Judiciary was guilty of delaying the issuance of a judgment for seven and a half years. That performance would not be allowed or tolerated in any other country. Yet, it is allowed in Ireland.

Recently, the Ceann Comhairle had to rule out of order a parliamentary question which I tabled on this issue and related delays on the basis that the House does not inquire into the manner in which judges perform their tasks. We should inquire into that. If there is evidence of wrongdoing in the courts and that our courts are so burdened by responsibility that judgments cannot be delivered within a reasonable period of time, it is our business to investigate that. Yet, we have effectively prevented ourselves from doing so.

We have adopted an entirely novel interpretation of the separation of powers. It would be wrong if the House were to inquire into the manner in which a judge made a judgment in a particular case. However, if we were to inquire as to why a judge was being tardy, reticent, careless or downright slovenly in the manner in which he or she behaved, that would not be wrong. If senior judges will not make inquiries, it is right and proper that we should. As we have worked ourselves into a cul de sac because of the manner in which we interpret the separation of powers, we will not ask questions.

The interpretation strikes me as one which requires an urgent review. I hope the committee on the Constitution will address the issue. A more mature interpretation should be adopted as we currently operate in a manner which is odd, to say the least. I cannot believe that the legislature or parliament of any other country would accept that if there was clear, absolute and unequivocal evidence that the courts were operating incorrectly, it would not be possible to ask questions about the matter.

Last year a High Court judge in England was forced by his peers to leave his position because he delayed a judgment for 18 months. Yet, we tolerate a senior judge guilty of delaying a judgment for seven and a half years in one case and up to three years, on two separate occasions, in a case in which I was personally involved.

It is no harm to debate this issue as Deputy Shatter sought to do in most of his excellent contribution. He only succumbed to politics in the final part. It is obvious that there is a need for a debate on this issue. The restrictive interpretation of the separation of powers is the basis on which the two judges and the registrar are not appearing before the committee. Deputy Shatter was absolutely correct when he suggested that the committee should hear what Mr. Quinlan has to say. I cannot understand why it does not. After all, Mr. Quinlan was a functionary of the State. He was not exercising a judicial function and I cannot understand why we should be reticent about hearing what he has to say. Given that he is a man of some experience and clearly is anxious to protect the judicial system, one doubts he would say anything which would rock it.

I can understand the alternative views taken by former Mr. Justice O'Flaherty. Clearly, when he first offered to come before the committee, impeachment proceedings were in the offing. In that event, it would have been appropriate for his views to be heard. There is, after all, a constitutional right that both sides should be heard in any case. That right applies to High Court or Supreme Court judges in the same way as it applies to the most humble citizen.

It is regrettable that Mr. O'Flaherty did not feel capable of appearing before the committee. It is very interesting to note that nobody in this House has suggested the man is a liar. He provided a very fulsome explanation of his operations in this case and those are reproduced with excellent clarity in the Chief Justice's report. If we accept that Mr. O'Flaherty is a man of honour and integrity, why do people persist in asking why he behaved as he did? He has offered an explanation. He suggested he was operating on the basis of a humane inquiry. The fact that his inquiry may subsequently have been misinterpreted and that a second judge may have misbehaved as a result of the inquiry has nothing to do with Mr. O'Flaherty who has given his explanation. It mystifies me how the media and the Opposition cannot see this. Are Members on the Opposition benches prepared to say this man is a liar and that they do not accept the story he has given, the explanation as to his involvement or interference in this case, which has been reproduced in the excellent report by Mr. Justice Hamilton? Reiterating the same story before a joint committee would not add one whit to our understanding of what happened. Nobody has suggested that the man is a liar, although his behaviour was bizarre.

The Minister made an interesting observation, that one had to be happy that the administration of justice would apply equally to all citizens. It is hard to envisage a situation where a citizen from Ballyfermot or some impoverished area of my constituency would bump into a Supreme Court judge by accident while out walking his or her dog and have a serendipitous effect on a family member about whom that citizen was concerned.

We appear to have the basis of Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty's interposition in the case. That leaves us with Mr. Justice Cyril Kelly. Deputy Shatter drew distinctions in the levels of culpability. He regarded Mr. Quinlan as accidentally involved in this affair, the "sins" of Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty as lesser and the activities of Mr. Justice Cyril Kelly as difficult to understand. I agree. If we were to inquire into Mr. Justice Cyril Kelly, however, we would be trespassing into the area of a judgment. That would be dangerous. The report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights published last week makes interesting reading. When still in preparation he had not said that he had reached the end of his consideration of the matter. I agree with Deputy Shatter's interpretation, that it is unfortunate that the joint committee did not inquire further and listen to what the county registrar, Mr. Quinlan, had to say and I am not suggesting for one moment that he would have given a different story from the one given to the Chief Justice.

There were many excellent aspects to Deputy Shatter's contribution. In the last few sentences, however, he was back to his old waspish, ascerbic, vicious and poisonous self. He made a comparison between the payment of pensions and the regrettable situation in which the members of the CIS find themselves. They felt compelled to picket Leinster House to ensure continuation of the service. That is a spurious, disingenuous, dishonest and bogus comparison, although I do not blame Deputy Shatter for being concerned about handicapped persons.

Deputies Shatter and O'Keeffe as well as the leaders of the Opposition parties focused to an extraordinary degree on the principle involved in the payment of pensions. Have they been treated with a chemical substance which has affected their memory capacity? Is there something wrong with their capacity to retain and look back over the recent past? Do they not remember the gloriously generous treatment of those involved in the Blood Transfusion Service Board, the golden handshakes and pensions? Was the principle that where people do wrong it is a question of proportion not established on that occasion?

I was amused at Deputy O'Keeffe's contribution in which he suggested that there was no great hurry, that one of the individuals involved could wait 20 years for payment of a pension. He made the spurious and dishonest suggestion that the Bar Council could rewrite the rules relating to a retired judge returning to practice as a barrister. Deputy O'Keeffe knows the law. After his presentation today I would not expect him to look after my interests in a road traffic case, even if it involved a parking ticket. He knows what he said was ridiculous and nonsense; it is not possible to rewrite the rules.

I regularly excoriate the Judiciary. It is unusual for me to defend a member of what I regard as one of the most pampered and cosseted pro fessions in the State, a profession that has visited more misery on more people than any other profession I care to think of. A sense of proportion must, however, be held. Would the people be better served if we were to throw out all sense of proportionality and deny the individuals concerned a pension, having denied them the possibility of performing their professions and throwing them on the scrap heap? Is that the kind of state we wish to serve?

It is right and proper that those who make errors and behave wrongly should suffer. The three men in question and their families have suffered. In the case of the county registrar, the suffering is disproportionate. If we believe the story of Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty – I do – he has suffered extraordinary public humiliation and a fall from the heights of his profession to where he is worse than a nonentity because he is man on whom opprobrium hangs. He has suffered enough. It is extraordinary that leading politicians on the Opposition benches, who in the hepatitis case were prepared to be generous to those whose inaction and culpability led to the death of women and the destruction of families and to suggest that paying pensions and golden handshakes was not disproportionate, now wish to flog these three characters through the streets to make a mean-spirited political point. That is shameful political behaviour. We should behave as the people would wish us to behave, with some shred of humanity. I find the baying repugnant.

Some good can come from this extraordinary case. If we were to have a Judiciary which was less removed from reality, it would be good and beneficial. If we were to have a House that was more in tune with its responsibilities to ensure there is democratic control over the Judiciary, some good could come from this.

I am amazed that the joint committee did not pursue all of the avenues open to it. I would like to have heard what Mr. Quinlan had to say under cross-examination. The fault lies not with that individual but with us and the way we interpret our responsibilities and relationship with the Judiciary. It is time for a more mature relationship and to start asking questions.

I wish to refer to a judgment which was issued a number of years ago by a High Court judge in Manitoba. He suggested that carrying the torch of public scrutiny into the deepest and darkest recesses of public administration would be a good thing. If the light of public scrutiny illustrated that which was good, it would be beneficial, he believed, and if it illustrated that which was bad, the bad thing could be put right.

That also applies to the Four Courts. The musty, dusty corners of the Four Courts should not be beyond public scrutiny. If judges are willing to sit on cases and cause untold misery to families, there should be scrutiny and answerability. If judges have cosy little arrangements between themselves, there should be accountability. Where we should draw the line, to refer back to Deputy Shatter's excellent contribution, is where we would transgress into the area of judgment.

(Dublin West): This is utterly disgraceful legislation to bring before the Dáil. It speaks volumes about the double standards at the heart of the political establishment. That is the issue which should be debated rather than pursue the red herrings raised by Deputy Roche as a means of not facing what this Bill and its introduction says about the standards and values of the Government.

It is incredible that two former judges from a privileged section of society who made mistakes are being rewarded by the State. In one case the annual pension is £40,000 to which, as the Bill states, the judge "shall be entitled, for the duration of his life.". The pension is index linked and will increase in line with the salaries of sitting judges. A second judge will be awarded £30,000 for the duration of his life. This pension is also index linked. The Irish taxpayer, therefore, is forced to pay these extremely generous amounts of money to people who have no problem getting another job. It is conceivable that the younger person, in particular, may get extremely lucrative employment in the marketplace while, for the rest of his life, the Irish people will pay him £30,000 per year.

Contrast this with how ordinary workers would be treated. Imagine an ordinary worker who was dismissed or was forced to leave his or her job because he or she made a mistake and then presented himself or herself for a pension of these dimensions for the rest of his or her life. Naturally, they would not get past the front door. In that contrast one can see the double standards this Government operates. Contrast it also with how another category of people is treated. People who have worked all their lives and paid into contributory pension schemes are entitled, on reaching retirement age, which is well into their sixties, to the princely sum of £89 per week or £4,628 per year. A person on invalidity pension – let us say he is the same age as the younger of the former judges – will be rewarded by the State with £75.20 per week or £3,910.40 per annum.

This is a sickening double standard which the Government has the nerve to bring before the Dáil. These provisions are being made to people who will not tell the story of what really happened in the saga surrounding the release of Mr. Sheedy. This matter has been debated inside and outside the Dáil so there is no point rehearsing the facts of the case. In short, it was a case which had Fianna Fáil fingerprints all over it from start to finish. However, we could not get to the nub of why these events occurred. Now this Fianna Fáil dominated Government is rewarding people, who are maintaining a silence and are not accountable, with extremely generous pensions.

One must admit, at least, that this is consistent with the Government's philosophy and the way it deals with different sectors of society. It appears that people who make mistakes and are guilty of misconduct of one kind or other are rewarded above anybody else in society. One need only look at the example of the speculators, developers and house builders, the small minority who have put the right to a home out of the reach of ordinary working people. The Government has stood aside and allowed them to do that at will, irrespective of the enormous suffering that is caused to ordinary working people, the unemployed and the poor. Likewise, this Bill is brought before the House to provide for generous pensions.

The clear message being conveyed is that judges in our society are beyond accountability. That is utterly unacceptable. In a society that is supposed to be democratic, it is unacceptable that judges are beyond accountability. That must be changed.

This is related to the issue of the independence of the Judiciary. In many ways that is a sham. It is a hypocrisy that is contributed to by the major parties in the Dáil and the media. We are well aware that the main attribute people must have to be appointed judges is loyalty to one or other of the major parties in power at the time of their appointments. It is to do with their former political allegiances.

More rubbish from Deputy Higgins.

(Dublin West): Among their ranks one can find many people who stood for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in elections. Suddenly, when they are rewarded at a later stage for their service, they become untouchable and, supposedly, utterly independent.

This is just another example of how the legal system is skewed in favour of those who are privileged and away from those who do not have power and wealth. Judges are always drawn from the privileged echelons of society. That privilege is enhanced by their contacts with major political parties. When they are rewarded with well paid jobs they are no longer accountable to the ordinary taxpayers who pay their wages. Barristers virtually write their own cheques and nobody is entitled to curb the amount of money they charge. In so doing, they put legal redress out of reach of the majority who cannot afford to embark upon costly legal actions. Yet, in the District Courts in Dublin and elsewhere we see how the victims of society are treated by this privileged legal elite. Every day there is a sad parade through the courts of the poor, the ill-educated, the addicted and other victims of a capitalist society based on greed. They have not been able to get the start in life that others have. They do not have the privileged background that judges have. They do not have the clout or the ear of the major political parties, and they fall by the wayside towards crime of one kind or other. The courts deal quite sharply and trenchantly with the results of an unjust society.

The Government is now adding insult to injury by proposing this legislation which awards these people from the privileged echelons of society comfort at the taxpayers' expense for the rest of their lives, without having to answer to the people why they acted as they did and without having to provide an explanation for the extraordinary chain of events that occurred around this case. This legislation is shameful and disgraceful. It speaks volumes about the Government's double standards and how people are treated. The privileged are rewarded and the poor and others outside the circles of power will pay, while they would have nothing like the same compensation if they found themselves in difficulty.

Unfortunately, I am not in the same privileged position as Deputy Joe Higgins who seems to know these three gentlemen exceptionally well and the type of society they come from. He knows much more about it than I do. I want to make it clear at the outset that I am not familiar with any of the three individuals concerned.

I am very surprised at the manner in which the Opposition has continued to highlight this case and has tried to make such a story about it with little or no regard to the damage it has done to the lives of these people and their families. I see that Deputy Theresa Ahearn is smiling, but the way the Fine Gael Party has dealt with this matter is most unfortunate.

The Opposition did damage?

The Deputy Leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Owen, spoke about the "Cahirciveen connection", yet she later had to apologise to the House for that remark. Unfortunately, that happens on a regular basis in the House. People pick a couple of words that the press will love, catch-phrases that make good headlines, but there is no substance to them. There has been a serious attempt to associate Fianna Fáil with what occurred in this case. I am as concerned as anyone else that we do not have the full story, but at this stage we have to admit that we will never know it.

(Dublin West): Will the Deputy vote against the Bill, therefore?

I have listened to Deputy Higgins who speaks on a fairly regular basis. He is consistent in his contributions which are the most negative ones to come before the House. Week in and week out it is the same old story. I would like to see him putting forward more positive suggestions in future.

We should not forget that we are dealing specifically with three people, Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty, Mr. Cyril Kelly and Mr. Michael Quinlan. I accept they have done wrong, but they put their hands up and resigned. The Government thought long and hard about this matter, which has been discussed at some length, and it decided to introduce severance terms for these three people. In Ireland we always have a sense of fair play but for some reason that I cannot understand, the Opposition continues to press this matter and oppose the terms put forward by the Government.

The case was a sad one from the outset, with a woman losing her life. We cannot underestimate the grief caused to her family. Mr. Philip Sheedy, who was found guilty of the offence, was sentenced, but one must ask if, in view of the publicity, he has any chance of receiving justice. How do we define justice? Members of the House have been critical of the actions of these two judges and the registrar. What, however, would be the case if we were to apply the same standards to politicians and the way we have acted in the past? While it might not be as prevalent today as it was a few years ago, constituents would often come to politicians' clinics with problems such as a speeding offence and a Deputy or Senator would be able to look after it. Most of us never saw anything wrong with that. If one happened to know the right person, it could be looked after. Such cases are plentiful, although people might not admit it. I would not say we are all guilty, but I can put my hand up and say that I would have been involved in a few such cases, and I know many of my colleagues were also. If we applied the same standards to ourselves as we want to apply to these three individuals, there would not be too many of us left in the House. We must acknowledge and recognise the major admissions that Mr. O'Flaherty, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Quinlan made in tendering their resignations.

In his speech on Second Stage last Thursday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, mentioned that the position was an unusual one and the Government was not too sure if it would have to impeach these people and bring them before the House. That would have created difficulties for us in that we would have been in unfamiliar territory. It could have taken months, if not years, of our time to deal with the matter. The three people involved have admitted they did wrong. They put their hands up and admitted they acted incorrectly. The inquiries that have taken place, at the request of the Minister's Department, clearly show they acted incorrectly. However, the price they have been asked to pay is enormous. For that reason I have no difficulty in supporting the severance terms which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform presented in the House last week.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.31 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.