Final arguments made in appeal against Callely decision
Seanad Committee appealing upholding of former senator’s challenge to expense findings
Former Fianna Fáil Senator Ivor Callely at Dublin Circuit Court earlier this month. Photograph: Collins Courts
The seven-judge court had heard the appeal earlier this year and reserved judgment, but later asked the sides to make final submissions in relation to the meaning of two particular provisions of the Constitution - Article 15.12 and Article 15.13.
Having heard submissions today on those provisions, the Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, said the court was again reserving judgment. Mr Callely (54) was in court for the hearing.
Article 15.12 provides “..all official reports and publications of the Oireachtas or of either House thereof and utterances made in either House wherever published shall be privileged”.
Article 15.13 provides the members of each House of the Oireachtas “..shall, except in case of treason as defined in this Constitution, felony or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest in going to and returning from, and while within the precincts of, either House, and shall not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself”.
In his arguments, Conleth Bradley SC, for the Seanad Committee on Members’ Interests, argued those sections should be read harmoniously with Article 15.10, which provides each House of the Oireachtas shall make its own rules and standing orders, “with power to attach penalties for their infringement”. A harmonious reading of the relevant Articles would lead the court to find the committee was entitled to act as it had, he argued.
Mr Bradley submitted there was a high threshold to be overcome before the issue of the committee’s findings was justiciable and there would have had to be a “clear disregard” by the committee of its powers and duties under the Constitution.
Michael O’Higgins SC, for Mr Callely, argued any act of the Oireachtas is justiciable. The scheme under which the complaints against former Senator Callely were decided was a statutory one from start to finish and the relevant statute permits court intervention, he submitted.
In the High Court, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill had made orders overturning the committee’s finding that when dealing with then Senator Callely’s expenses claims, he had misrepresented his place of residence as west Cork.
Mr Justice O’Neill ruled the then senator had complied with the applicable definition set out by the Department of Finance of “normal place of residence” when he made his expenses claim, and the committee and Seanad had misdirected themselves in law on this definition.
He also found a breach of fair procedures in that the former senator was not afforded a reasonable opportunity to defend himself on a charge of breach of political ethics.
The committee’s decision, later confirmed by the Seanad itself, had censured Senator Callely by suspending him for 20 days with consequent loss of pay of nearly €17,000. After the High Court ruling, the sides agreed an order quashing the committee’s findings, providing for Mr Callely to be paid for the 20 days he was suspended and his legal costs.
In its appeal, the committee had argued it was entitled under ethics in public office legislation to make adverse findings against the former senator over his expense claims. It contended this was a political matter concerning the regulation of politicians and the committee had “a wide discretion” under the ethics in public office laws.