By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Dail will consider what new moves are available to it this week to try to establish the full facts behind the Sheedy scandal — when a Dublin architect was released after serving just a year of a four-year jail sentence imposed for drunk driving causing the death of a mother of two.
The row led to a constitutional crisis which resulted in the resignation of Supreme Court Judge Hugh O’Flaherty, High Court Judge Cyril Kelly and Circuit Court Registrar Michael Quinlan.
The judges resigned as they faced unprecedented impeachment
proceedings before both houses of the Oireachtas under a provision of the constitution that has never been used before.
Most of the details of how Philip Sheedy received preferential treatment have emerged but it is still not clear why the three men risked their careers in the controversy and, with some aspects, there is a direct conflict between judges about what happened.
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Efforts by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice to have the three men appear before it have failed. Only Quinlan has agreed to give evidence.
A request to the Chief Justice Liam Hamilton to carry out further
inquiries in behalf of the Committee has also been turned down. Hamilton said it would be "constitutionally impermissible" for him to do that.
Justice Minister John O’Donoghue said he had been advised that it would be unconstitutional to include any measure in the pension bill to make payment to the three men on their agreeing to cooperate with any inquiry.
O’Flaherty, 61, is estimated to have lost earnings of £500,000 and is to get a £40,000-a-year pension. Kelly, 50, who is estimated to have lost £1.1 million is earnings, is to get a £30,000-a-year pension. Quinlan, 45, who has lost earnings estimated at £800,000, is to get a £15,000-a-year pension.
"The government did take the view that on the information available that the errors of judgment by the individuals involved were very serious. However, the government did take into account in looking at the pensions that all three individuals had taken the honorable course in resigning and collectively helped to avert what was a very difficult if not unprecedented situation from a constitutional point of view," the minister told the Dail.
To put a clause in the pension legislation to compel the men to assist an inquiry was not legally possible. "There is nothing I can do about that," O’Donoghue said.
Fine Gael spokesman Jim Higgins claimed the legal difficulty could be avoided by not introducing or passing the legislation until the judges agreed to cooperate and fulfill their civic obligations. It was a "golden opportunity" to get at the full truth, he said.
"We have got to ensure that some kind of inquiry is put in place which digs out the unexplained aspects of the case," according to Higgins. "We still don’t know why the Sheedy case was jumped up the list."