Micheál Martin defends Niall Collins over letter row

Justice spokesman says he does not believe he should stand down over plea for leniency

Niall Collins said yesterday: “I’ve been very upfront. I’ve said I won’t do it again. It was a mistake to do it. I’m sorry it worked out the way it did.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Niall Collins said yesterday: “I’ve been very upfront. I’ve said I won’t do it again. It was a mistake to do it. I’m sorry it worked out the way it did.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 01:00

Fianna Fáil are hoping to draw a line under the controversy surrounding an intervention by its justice spokesman Niall Collins in the sentencing hearing involving a convicted drug dealer.

More than 24 hours after it became public knowledge, Mr Collins apologised for sending a letter to court seeking leniency, but said he did not believe he should step down.

Party leader Micheál Martin backs Mr Collins’s position, but gave a reassurance it would not happen again. He also called for a code of conduct that would result in politicians never intervening in judicial matters.

In a letter to the court during its sentencing phase, Mr Collins asked the judge for leniency on the basis that the defendant was the sole carer of four children after their mother had died earlier this year.

Apology

In the wake of Mr Collins’s apology, Mr Martin said the Limerick TD was a young politician with a future and would retain his position despite the controversy.

“I’ve made it clear that as a basic principle politicians should not be involved in criminal cases in the courts, even at the sentencing stage. The motivation here was a very genuine one,” Mr Martin said.

Speaking to RTÉ, Mr Martin said Mr Collins was “obviously very concerned about vulnerable children who could end up in a parentless situation”. He said Mr Collins’s motivation was genuine.

“He accepts that it was a wrong intervention and he’s not going to do it again,” Mr Martin said.

Mr Collins said yesterday: “I’ve been very upfront. I’ve said I won’t do it again. It was a mistake to do it. I’m sorry it worked out the way it did.”

‘Tragic circumstances

’ Mr Collins emphasised the “tragic circumstances” of the convicted drug dealer’s children, whose mother had died by suicide. He said he was particularly struck by the circumstances and was asked to present the facts to the court by people close to the family.

Earlier he had faced renewed criticism as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton joined Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in criticising Mr Collins, saying the independence of the judiciary had to be respected.

However, another senior Fianna Fáil figure, John McGuinness,characterised the Taoiseach’s criticism as disproportionate and excessive.