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30 July 1998 Edition

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Double standards on Haughey judgement

BY NEIL FORDE

So Charles Haughey pulled off a partial victory in the 26-County Supreme Court this week. The judges accepted his contention that the procedures used by the Moriarty Tribunal were unfair and his rights were infringed.

The consequences of the Haughey judgement are twofold. On the one hand the Dublin Government is now incurring additional costs because of the delay in the Moriarty and Flood tribunals. On the other hand there are yet again question marks about a Dublin government's ability to rush through legislation without considering the civil rights consequences of such legislation.

It is impossible to dredge up any positive empathy for Haughey's victory. He was acting solely in selfish self interest and is only putting off the inevitable disclosure of his unique financial dealings.

Worse still, Haughey's proving that his rights were infringed only highlights further inequalities. It was Haughey's political status, however tarnished, his access to resources and top level legal representation that put him in a position to challenge the infringement of his rights.

What about those citizens who do not have access to such resources and representations? How will they ensure that their rights are not being infringed, especially in the context where successive Dublin Governments frequently rush legislation through Leinster House without considering the civil rights implications of such new laws?

The Moriarty and Flood Tribunals were set up on the basis that the common good was being served. Wrongdoing would be exposed and the world would be a bettter place as each tribunal went about its business. Any costs such as the financial ones would be worth it when the Tribunals published their reports.

However, it seems the failure to follow fair procedures have shown that legal short cuts have wider implications. It shows an attitude that pervades modern government in the 26 Counties. It is part of the same mentality that believes the right to silence is holding up the fight against crime, that the bail laws have to be changed to stop repeat offences, that non-jury courts help secure quicker convictions, that defendants should not be given prosecution evidence.

It is the mentality that believes basic civil rights are negotiable when in fact they are clearly not. Yes, Charles Haughey won a hollow victory this week. But he has only put off the inevitable. Worse still, it is the taxpayer who will have to pick up the bill for the government's ineptitude.

The unanswered question is how many other people's rights are being infringed but cannot take cases to the Supreme Court. The Haughey case cost around £300,000. The costs of the Tribunals will run to six and possibly seven figures.

It is no wonder there is such disillusionment surrounding the Tribunals. Not only do people expect value for money - they also expect to get real answers about how the political leaders of the 26 Counties went about their business. It is fair to say that Haughey was only part of a much wider culture which still exists today. There is a political class who see elections as the chance to get voted into a lucrative position.

Meanwhile others - the poor saps who vote for these people - are left to pick up the expensive pieces in Tribunals.

The only real winners this week were the lawyers and solicitors who can only foresee more of these constitutional cases coming their way. This is in itself a terrible indictment of Irish society - where you have a society run for the benefit of the legal classes. Haughey's assertion of his civil rights only shows how many others cannot assert theirs.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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