By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Irish general election is expected to be delayed until the third week in May as the government tries to distance itself from the fallout from the unexpected resignation of Progressive Democrat Minister Bobby Molloy.
Molloy resigned last Wednesday, April 10, after it was disclosed that he had approached a judge presiding over the trial of a man subsequently convicted of raping his own daughter.
Subsequent revelations about Molloy’s persistent representations on behalf of the sister of the man, who received an 11-year jail sentence for raping and sodomizing his daughter from the time she was 8 until she was 18, have drawn Justice Minister John O’Donoghue into the controversy.
With the Catholic Church already reeling from criticism over its handling of pedophile priests, the row is a serious and embarrassing blow to the Fianna Fail-led coalition government.
The PDs have been devastated by the loss of Molloy, a so-called “super junior” minister at environment who was allowed sit at the cabinet with senior ministers but not vote.
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A founder member of the PDs, the party’s only TD in the West, and a key coalition broker in the past, Molloy had been a stalwart of the party.
Tanaiste Mary Harney has denied the outlook for the party is bleak as a result of the the controversy. On the day Justice Phillip O’Sullivan described as “totally improper” what appeared to have been just one contact from a Molloy aide, apparently to check that a letter from a constituent had been delivered, Harney wrote in the Irish Times about her concerns over growing political cynicism and the need for high standards in public office.
Molloy, supported by both the taoiseach and tanaiste, initially said it was not a resigning matter.
The phone call from his staffer had been answered by the judge and he accepted that any enquiry should have gone to a court official.
“At no stage was I or my official motivated by an intention to influence the judge,” he said last Tuesday, April 9. “I full accepted that this unfortunate sequence of events should never have happened.”
But the next day, Molloy quit in a breakfast statement.
Then the judge reconvened his court to reveal there had been another contact by a Department of Justice official who had sought his home number.
The political storm worsened as the now 23-year-old rape victim went public to express her astonishment at Molloy’s involvement and O’Donoghue released 15 letters between him and Molloy concerning representations.
They dated back over a year and showed Molloy had passed on inquiries on behalf of his constituent both before and after the rapist’s conviction.
Molloy denied he had made any suggestion or request that the man should be released pending trial. But the queries he passed on from his constituent did ask why the man had been imprisoned before his sentence had been passed and if he could be released pending an appeal.
Despite attacks on O’Donoghue by the opposition, the letters show that on three occasions he had pointed out to Molloy the long-standing principle that the courts are independent and he was precluded from directing, commenting or intervening in any way.
Molloy will now not run in the general election in his Galway West constituency, where he has been a TD since 1965. He first became a minister in 1967.
He was first elected to the Dail as a member of Fianna Fail but defected to join the PD’s when the party was founded in 1986.
As former party leader Desmond O’Malley is also bowing out, only two of the four TDs will be running in next month’s general election.
Dublin South TD Liz O’Donnell, a junior minister in foreign affairs, has replaced Molloy as the “super junior” minister.