Category: Archive

Harney’s gaffe helps Haughey pull another Houdini

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — In a major political embarrassment to the leader of the Progressive Democrats, the criminal trial of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey for allegedly obstructing a judicial tribunal has been postponed indefinitely by a judge who cited remarks by Mary Harney as one of the reasons.

In the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court Monday, Judge Kevin Haugh said a number of recent events had made it impossible for Haughey, 74, to get a fair trial.

The former taoiseach is facing charges that he hindered and obstructed the 1997 McCracken Tribunal that investigated £1.3 million paid to him by businessman Ben Dunne in 1987-91.

If found guilty, Haughey could face a fine or two years in jail.

Haugh said that at present there was a "real and substantial risk" that Haughey would not receive a fair trial at the moment. He said recent comments by Harney were an attack on Haughey’s character and were liable to influence potential jury members in a way that would dilute or diminish the presumption of innocence.

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The risk of a jury member being influenced was enhanced, Haugh said, because of Harney’s high standing and reputation for integrity.

In a brief statement, Harney said she had read the judgment and it would clearly be inappropriate for her to comment further.

In an Irish Independent interview last month, Harney was quoted as saying the former taoiseach "should be convicted. That [the argument that he’s too old to go to jail] doesn’t wash with me."

The tanaiste later said she had not been referring to the Circuit Court case but to the revelations at the Moriarty Tribunal that Haughey may have received as much as £8.5 million over 17 years in public office.

If the charges were not struck out, Haughey’s lawyers argued, they should be postponed until such time as the unfairness created by adverse pre-trial publicity abates.

They cited the "phenomenal hostile publicity" in the media and gave evidence of about 100 examples from newspapers, magazines and radio to the court. They also cited 40,000 copies of a publicity leaflet being circulated for a protest rally in the city center on July 1.

The judge said the leaflets, which promoted a GPO rally calling for corrupt politicians to be jailed, had similar potential to prejudice the trial. He rejected claims that media comment was also prejudicial.

He did not grant a permanent stay on the trial as circumstances may change.

The director of public prosecutions, James Hamilton, can go back to court to seek a new date for the trial or appeal the judge’s ruling. He could also transfer the trial to the three-judge, no-jury Special Criminal Court, but this would almost certainly lead to a further appeal by Haughey.

Labor spokesman Derek McDowell described it was a "deplorable state of affairs" that justice was not being done, at least for the moment because of remarks by Harney.

"I think people will judge the tanaiste very harshly on the result of what she said. Quite clearly, she has made a very serious mistake here."

It is ironic that the great Houdini of Irish politics has escaped a trial, at least for now, because of a gaffe by his long-standing political foe.

As a Fianna Fail TD, Harney defected from the party and formed the Progressive Democrats in 1985 with Desmond O’Malley. He had been thrown out of the Haughey-led party for what was described as "conduct unbecoming."

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