Respected judge who led bomb inquiries

Sat, Mar 6, 2010, 00:00

HENRY BARRON;MR JUSTICE Henry Barron, who has died aged 81, was a long-serving member of the judiciary and a prominent member of the Jewish community.

Despite the fact that he served for 18 years as a judge of the High and Supreme courts, he will be remembered best for his role in conducting the inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings after his retirement in 2000.

Henry Barron was born in 1928, his father worked as a civil engineer on the railways in India and he was sent to the Protestant boarding school Castlepark, in Dalkey, at the age of six. Later he attended St Columba's school in Rathfarnham and then Trinity College, from where he graduated in 1950 with a first-class honours degree in legal science. He had also won the prestigious Trinity scholarship.

His education was not a Jewish one, but during school holidays he stayed with his mother's aunt and uncle. He told The Irish Times in 2000 they were quite Orthodox, so he was immersed in Jewish culture then. His parents moved back to Dublin when he was 11, but he remained in boarding school.

Speaking of his schooling, he said: "It seems barbaric now, but when you go through the system you don't mind." Although working in Dublin, he sent both his own sons to boarding school.

He was called to the bar shortly after his graduation, and had a mixed practice, taking silk in 1970.

His life-long friend, Mervyn Taylor, said at his funeral that his contribution to law would be found, not only in his judgments, but in the law reports recording the cases he had been in as a barrister. Among them was a case striking down an adoption order for a six-year-old child, which led to a change in the law.

He was appointed a High Court judge in 1982, and to the Supreme Court in 1997, the first member of the Jewish faith to be appointed to this court.

He was known for "sensible" judgments, and for championing the rights of the individual against bureaucracies and big organisations.

In his last major judgment, when he found domiciliary midwife Ann Kelly had her rights infringed by An Bord Altranais, he spelled out a number of conditions that must be met by regulatory bodies in holding inquiries in the conduct of those being inquired into.

"Matters which may have a serious adverse effect on the rights, let alone the livelihood, of the person affected should not be considered behind closed doors and without notice to such person," he said.

He also granted Ireland's first divorce, following the passing of the constitutional amendment permitting it, but prior to the enactment of divorce legislation, ruling that the Constitution itself gave jurisdiction to do so.

His commitment to the rights of ordinary people, combined with his sensitivity and courtesy, won him the trust and respect of the relatives of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, when he was appointed to inquire into those atrocities.

There he was tenacious in pursuit of the truth, though he acknowledged that some information was withheld from him, particularly by the British authorities. He did not flinch from stating that the Irish government in 1974 could have done more to help further the investigation into the atrocity, defending his conclusions against ministers who were members of the government at the time.

He told the Oireachtas committee which discussed his report that the disappearance of the Garda intelligence file on the bombing and the failure of the British authorities to provide original intelligence information had hampered his work.

In 2005 he also inquired into the facts surrounding the abduction and murder of Seamus Ludlow near Dundalk in 1976.

No one was ever charged with the murder and there were rumours at the time that he had republican associations.

Mr Justice Barron found there was nothing whatsoever to connect him with any subversive organisation and his report was welcomed by the Ludlow family, who called for an apology from the Garda Síochána, who had failed to investigate the abduction and murder adequately at the time.

A keen sportsman, he played hockey, cricket, tennis and golf, and, especially in latter years, was an enthusiastic bridge player. He was a committed member of the Jewish community, and was president of the Irish Jewish museum.

He is survived by his children Jane, Harrie, Robert and Anne, two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, and 10 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Rosalind 13 years ago.


Henry Barron: born May 25th, 1928; died February 25th, 2010