By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Tanaiste Mary Harney faces the embarrassing prospect of being a court witness later this month when former Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s legal team attempts to have criminal charges against him postponed or dropped.
Haughey, who’s 74, is facing charges he hindered and obstructed the McCracken Tribunal that probed payments to him by former department store boss Ben Dunne in 1997.
The hearing of the charges has already been delayed by legal argument on jury selection and applications for postponement on the basis that Haughey cannot get a fair trial. The next hearing is scheduled for June 20.
If found guilty he could face a fine or two years in jail.
The latest court application follows extensive negative publicity recently about Haughey and remarks by Harney in an Irish Independent interview where she 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."
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The tanaiste later said she had not been referring to the current court case but to the recent revelations at the Moriarty Tribunal that Haughey may have received as much as £8.5 million over 17 years in public office.
If the case is truck, it would cause serious political damage to Harney, who formed the Progressive Democrats in 1985 with Desmond O’Malley after he was thrown out of the Haughey-led Fianna Fail for "conduct unbecoming."
Haughey’s legal team described Harney’s remarks as evidence of "state oppression" and also objected to other "phenomenal hostile publicity" in the media.
Ironically, Haughey found himself in a similar situation to Harney during his so-called "GUBU" government in 1982.
He was accused of prejudicing the trial of Malcolm MacArthur, who was wanted for two murders. Haughey’s Attorney General at the time had unwittingly been harboring MacArthur in his Dalkey apartment. When he was arrested, Haughey praised the gardai for "finding the right man."
Haughey’s lawyers also objected to plans by the Moriarty Tribunal to call their client as a witness in the near future as it would create further bad publicity.