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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 4, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

    Slow off the mark on Donegal South-West

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    You can run but you cannot hide. That was the subtext of yesterday’s dramatic events in relation to the holding of the Donegal South West byelection. It is fair to say that the judgment of the High Court came as a surprise to most observers.

    The interaction between law and politics is a complex one. It is normal for a separation of powers to exist between the courts system of a country and its elected institutions.

    As a rule of thumb for following that relationship, the concept that the citizen is supreme is not a bad one.

    That was the background to a judgment which was a rare and sensitively worded intervention in political matters by the High Court. The Government’s initial reaction was less than graceful. Surely contingency plans should have been drawn up for a possible defeat at the Four Courts? At the very least, a statement could have been issued that “subject to formal Cabinet approval” it was hoped the court’s recommendation would be accepted.

    It has been truly said that, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans, but one would have thought a set of alternative responses could have been prepared. Had the Government won the day, there would have been no problem: a diplomatically worded version of “we told you so” would have been sufficient.

    Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter raised the issue in the Dáil yesterday afternoon and, while he was at it, could not resist a jibe at the Green Party for having its “traditional dance on the plinth” with the news media.

    Word was coming out unofficially by lunchtime that the Donegal vote would go ahead but there was no formal declaration other than the hastily arranged press conference by Dan Boyle, Mary White and Trevor Sargent of the Green Party to say that they wanted the byelection held immediately.

    This came across as a damage-limitation exercise or, in more traditional terms, closing the stable door after the horse had bolted, but it also served to narrow down Fianna Fáil’s room to manoeuvre.

    Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns ruled that “the delay in this case is so inordinate as to amount to a breach of the applicant’s constitutional rights to such a degree as to warrant the court granting some form of relief”.

    Rejecting the notion that the court was “tearing asunder” the Constitution, he declared instead that “it is the ongoing failure to move the writ for this byelection since June 2009 which offends the terms and spirit of the Constitution and its framework for democratic representation”.

    This was a carefully worded assessment but it must still have stung Ministers to be portrayed as breaching a citizen’s constitutional rights and effectively thumbing their noses at Dev’s Bunreacht na hÉireann.

    It was announced that the Government would be meeting at 5pm where the Attorney General would brief Ministers on the outcome of the case.

    This suggested that the ruling from Justice Kearns was a form of rocket science. Surely common sense should have dictated that, since a court decision had been made and the Government had lost, it was time now to let the good people of Donegal South West have their outing at the polls.

    A similar leaden-footed approach was evident in the appearance of Chief Whip John Curran rather than Minister for the Environment John Gormley to take special-notice questions on the matter.

    It was a scenario that looked even more inappropriate when Gormley appeared in the Dáil chamber immediately afterwards to debate the legislation on the Dublin mayoralty.

    Just after 8pm, Curran emerged to inform the media that although the Cabinet had decided to appeal the judgment, the writ would be moved today and the byelection held during the last week of November.

    As for the other three byelections, the Government seems intent on holding them off until April or thereabouts. The vacancy in Donegal North East is only a few days old but Dublin South has been short a TD since George Lee’s resignation in February, which was followed by Martin Cullen’s departure as TD for Waterford in March.

    Whatever chance this shaky Coalition has of surviving until then, the likelihood of three defeats at the polls will make the numbers game unwinnable for Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

    Oddly enough, the chances of a Fianna Fáil victory in Donegal South West are good, provided the party can get the right candidate.

    There is near-universal agreement that Pat “The Cope” Gallagher fits that description but he told The Irish Times last night that he would not be a candidate. There has also been speculation about retired soccer star Packie Bonner as someone who could save the day for Fianna Fáil.

    By taking the case, Senator Pearse Doherty has enhanced his own prospects for a good electoral performance.

    Naturally the young Sinn Féin politician was jubilant in the wake of the court ruling. He and his party had stolen a march on the rest of the Opposition by deciding to take the case despite the possibility of considerable financial outlay.

    It is not that long since Doherty’s republican forebears were refusing to recognise the courts and denouncing the “Free State Constitution” but yesterday the Senator was proudly proclaiming that he had used the same document to promote the rights of the people of Donegal South West. How times change.

    He also spoke of his appetite for “the battle of ideas” with the other parties in the byelection: there was a time when the republican movement was committed to a very different kind of battle and even chose the Four Courts as a battleground, so, in an indirect way, yesterday’s outcome could be seen as yet another offshoot of the peace process.

    NOTE: The above article appears in the print edition of The Irish Times today.

    • Kate says:

      “This was a carefully worded assessment but it must still have stung Ministers to be portrayed as breaching a citizen’s constitutional rights and effectively thumbing their noses at Dev’s Bunreacht na hÉireann.”

      But have they not in fact done that consistently since the foundations of the State but in particular over the last 15 years? Article 45 of the Constitution states clearly that:

      * Justice and charity must inform national institutions.
      * The free market and private property must be regulated in the interests of the common good.
      * The state must prevent a destructive concentration of essential commodities in the hands of a few.
      * The state should ensure efficiency in private industry and protect the public against economic exploitation.
      * Everyone has the right to an adequate occupation
      * The state must supplement private industry where necessary.
      * The state must protect the vulnerable, such as orphans and the aged.
      * No one must be forced into an occupation unsuited to their age, sex or strength.

      There is no ‘justice and charity’ in a state where the Executive can legislate to protect themselves and cronies (bankers, developers, politicans) from due process whilst incarcerating penniless individuals for failing to buy a dog licence, or others for petty crime and small debts.

      Far from ‘regulating the free market’ in the interests of the ‘common good’, FF/PDs are proven to have regulated against the ‘common good’ and in favour of a ‘golden circle’.

      Equally, the state stands guilty of “destructive concentration of essential commodities in the hands of a few” – the Minister for Private Health and the cabinet who support her have the blood of public patients on their hands.

      When 14% of an electorate is denied “an adequate occupation” as a result of government policies, the government stands guilty of “breaching a citizen’s constitutional rights”, BIG TIME.

      “The state must protect the vulnerable, such as orphans and the aged” EXCEPT (in FF/PD parlance) when that ‘protection’ interferes with lining the pockets of government ministers, bankers, builders, developers, lawyers….

      I think there must be a case for a Class Action against this government on the grounds that they have corrupted all national institutions, lined their own pockets, and breached the constitutional rights of the majority of citizens. The concept of; ‘justice and charity’ are unknown in the institutions of this state.

    • Wethepeople says:

      This is what the White house is trying to do to President Obama:

      Defamation- is making a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm.
      Slander- involves the making of defamatory statements by a transitory (non-fixed) representation, usually an oral (spoken) representation.
      Libel- involves the making of defamatory statements in a fixed or medium, such as a magazine or newspaper.

      How to Sue for Defamation of Character

    • cockneyrebel says:

      Defamation is notoriously one of the most expensive forms of litigation…presumably that’s why newspapers moderate any potentially defamatory material before it is posted…to avoid being sued or joined in any potential action…
      There’s a reason why it takes years to qualify as a lawyer…and longer to gain the expertise to specialise in a particular area…
      If you needed micro surgery would you consult a website for advice on how to perform the task yourself…

      What has a DIY defamation link got to do witn Obama..?

    • minXie says:

      @ Kate
      I get the impression one would be more at home reading out The Communist Manifesto.
      Lord help us if the Shinners ever get to coat Leinster House with RED ‘paint’

    • barbera says:

      @ 1 – That comment is propaganda at its most manufactured/contrived and would be laughable were it not for the fact that the less fortunate in society are implicated in your anti-government tirade. There are “good” and “bad” people right across the political spectrum and even amongst the “less fortunate” and your comments indeed are bordering on slanderous since you paint everyone in government with the same brush.

      As far as I understand it, it would have been in the Government’s interest to have the Donegal SW byelection before now, since it has a better than good chance of winning there; however this Government is primarily focusing all attention where it should be focused, on making the very difficult decisions re finance and the budget, etc. and within the very tight time-frame it has been given; and certainly it would have been more prudent to have any local elections in the Spring when the precarious financial situation vis-à-vis the country’s creditors is stabilized. But self-serving politicians from the opposition parties (and by their deeds shall ye know them) are putting themselves and their political ambitions first, even risking great expense to the State and even at the expense of our sovereignty. Given the circumstances the government has no option but to appeal this decision to a higher court in the interests of the State and wouldn’t it show great largesse and patriotism on the part of the “courts system” to take on the case pro bono

    • @minXie: Any chance of a more serious and considered response to Kate’s thoughtful contribution?

    • Ray D says:

      No surprise at all. I believe that democracy required that this was the only decision that could have been taken. If lost, an appalling vista would have arisen. Government takes out opponents, Government never fills such a vacancy during its whole term, and so on. The non-holding of a by-election as the Government intended was a basic attack on representative democracy and our constitution..

      However once more SF will not reap the rewards of its efforts. It will top the poll and get no transfers and so lose. Like the economy SF is a dead duck in our overwhelmingly right wing country.

    • cockneyrebel says:

      Hello kate…welcome to my world…I’ve had the same since last January…
      You come to realise minXie/barbera likes to give the impression of being well read/informed but it’s really she just scavenges other people’s ideas/material and presents it as her own…after consulting wikipedia…
      Good to have another ‘critical’ woman thinker on the forum… keep posting…!

    • minXie says:

      @ 8 — I am sure even the very tolerant Deaglán would advise Kate to stay well out of the pseudo-world of bitterness and envy of “cockneyrebel” (latest nom-de-plume). But I’m actually flattered by cockneyrebel’s attempt, albeit pathetic, to discredit my minXie self – who has never “scavenged” an idea her life. It is well known in psychology that an angry accusation made by one person against another (such as that which cockneyrebel made against minXie) is often a projection of the accuser’s own faults – in this case the scavenging of ideas – on to the accused.

      With regard to Kate’s comment, I’m sorry but this comes across to me as a party political propaganda pamphlet.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      I think Kate’s comments are idealist, but I also find them anti-political and anti democratic too. The voters vote for the people that sit in the Dail and each and every one of us is equally accountable at the ballot paper and each and everyone’s vote is equal too.

      There has been much social justice and charity administered by the State and it is quite dangerous to believe otherwise. We forget the progressive things our political system has achieved at our peril.

      The problem is that some the policies of those that were elected in the greatest number, in otherwise by most voters, in the 1997, 2002 and 2007 elections have turned out to be hugely mistaken and those policies were underpinned by the ideology of the parties that implemented them. The way to address that is not through a class action but by using the power of the vote at the ballot box in the next election.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      I just wanted to add to my last comment that I am overstating my case by saying that Kate’s comments are antidemocratic and antipolitical but what I am getting at is that the things that Kate would like to see implemented need to be voted for by the voters. And if they vote otherwise, which it is a historical fact the majority of voters did in the last 3 general elections, then their prerogative to do so must be respected too.

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