The View from Ireland

Maurice Fitzpatrick was born in Ireland and graduated from Trinity College Dublin. He holds graduate degrees from Ireland and Japan. He lived in Tokyo from 2004-2011 where he lectured at Keio University. He has published articles on Kurosawa’s cinematic interpretation of Shakespeare, on modern novels and travel journalism. He also has interviewed many writers on their work. He wrote and co-produced The Boys of St. Columb’s, a RTE/BBC documentary film. He is also author of a book entitled The Boys of St. Columb’s which was described as “an indispensable document” by The Irish Times. He is a lecturer at the University of Cologne and he writes a columnon Irish affairs. This is his first syndicated column for Celtic Life International.

Thrown Out of Court

On November 28th, Judge Heather Perrin was jailed for two and a half years for a deception she committed while she was a solicitor. She is guilty of attempting to induce a client, Thomas Davis, to leave half of his estate to people Perrin thought were very deserving of it—namely, her children. It is the first time in the history of the state that a judge has been jailed. The fraudster judge, well known for her bling and flashy cars, will now have to slop out alongside working class prisoners in Mountjoy Prison. The Perrin case has created a very needful precedent that rocks elitism in our society.

Judge Ring, who handed down the sentence, maintained that the legal profession relies on trust and that any violation of it was serious indeed. The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, made out that Perrin’s crime was extraordinary and that he would have impeached Perrin if she had not resigned from the bench.

What is extraordinary is that she was found out—Perrin’s crime is of a piece with the ethos of her gilded class. It is notoriously difficult to prove when ‘inducing’ has occurred. If solicitors and judges behave criminally, they too can be punished for their transgressions. But in Ireland that code is more honoured in the breach than the observance. The overarching problem with the nest-feathering that Perrin engaged in is that it creates a culture of organised crime quicker than you can say Al Capone. If trust is broken where it is most required, you can forget about expecting fair dealing elsewhere. Solicitors who wobble create tenfold incidents of grease and greed in their wake. Perrin’s sentence is a strike for ordinary Irish people who, risible as it sounds in retrospect, were paying her a bloated salary.

Rewriting dead people’s wills and attempting to ‘influence’ elderly and vulnerable clients is endemic in Ireland, although the practice is seldom punished. Consider the case of the disgraced solicitor Ruairi O’Ceallaigh. He was rumbled in 2010 for acting in just as bare-faced a manner as Perrin. O’Ceallaigh embezzled over 1.5 million euro, quite a sum of money for one man to snatch, against the will and the bequeathals of his clients who intended to leave the money to the Catholic Church. O’Ceallaigh funelled the money into a considerable portfolio of property; he has not yet been stripped of it. He has been pursued even after being removed from his profession by Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. Martin secured a judgement last year against O’Ceallaigh’s brother who still runs the practice (the O’Ceallaigh family have practiced law for generations).

Why do they think they can get away with it? The first aspect that should be flagged about the bizarre world legal professionals live in (get a load of the wigs) is the way one rises in the ranks. Senior members of most professions ascend the ladder through their talent and hard work; judges rise through political connections. Take core appointments to the bench last November. Former senator Patrick Durcan, Enda Kenny’s four-time running mate, duly got his sinecure within a year of Kenny’s becoming Taoiseach. Eamon Gilmore nominated Attorney General, Máire Whealan (and a lot of egg has wound up on his face due to her lacklustre form). Other appointees, Nessa Childers and Michael Coghlan, both feature high up in the Fine Gael and Labour Party firmament. If judicial positions are given as gifts, a sense of entitlement threatens to take hold from the very start.

The Constitution ensures the independence of the judiciary from the government. That appears to be an attribute of a genuine republic. Yet judges are still political appointees in our ‘republic’, which is a deeply reactionary facet of the power structure in the country. The hubris of judges’ insisting that their salaries be ringfenced from austerity measures last year is symptomatic of the position that Perrin and her ilk have arrogated to themselves for too long.

And so to another important court case. The ill will that prevails in the country due to December’s crushing budget has made the government unstable; dissent and division is rife. The last thing Irish leaders need now is a high profile court case that flies in the face of the wishes of their European masters. So bring it on. Luckily someone has been preparing such a brief. The stars seem now to have aligned for him, and for the movement he founded. His name is David Hall, head of New Beginning. Made up of concerned citizens, New Beginning’s day-to-day business is to challenge writs that the government/banks pass off as legal.

Hall’s major assault on the government, however, will properly begin on January 22nd in the High Court over the issue of the promissory notes. Hall’s argument will run as follows. Payment to holders of promissory notes, as with senior bondholders, was not agreed during a sitting of the government, still less by the Irish people. Secondly, documentary evidence shows that the European Central Bank leaned on our former Minister for Finance to agree immediately to make the payments. That pressure breached Article 15.2 of our Constitution, which forbids bodies other than our government to legislate for Ireland. Will the High Court rule to condemn a violation of our Constitution even though such a ruling would be against the preference of Irish politicians who strive to please Europe? Either way the government will be damned. Judges, despite the jockeying that surrounds their appointments, are not politicians. They should stand with the Constitution.