Niall Collins defends leniency letter on grounds of compassion

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman faces widespread criticism for letter to judge

Niall Collins: defended the letter he wrote to a court seeking leniency for a convicted drug dealer

Niall Collins: defended the letter he wrote to a court seeking leniency for a convicted drug dealer

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 01:00

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins has defended a letter he wrote to a court seeking leniency for a convicted drug dealer in the face of a stream of harsh criticism yesterday from politicians including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

After initially making no comment, Mr Collins was left with little alternative but to respond yesterday after the disclosure of the letter led to widespread condemnation from all other political parties. As the Taoiseach accused him of trying to influence the court and the Tánaiste said it was inappropriate for Mr Collins given that he was justice spokesman for the party, Mr Collins argued that there were “exceptional circumstances” in the particular case.

He had been compelled to write because the drug dealer was the sole carer of four children after they lost their mother through suicide earlier this year.

The letter was presented to court during a sentencing hearing following a man’s conviction for possessing cannabis resin worth over €18,000 in 2011.

“My decision was based solely on compassion and concern for the four children,” he said.

‘Very serious’

Earlier, Mr Kenny described the matter as “very serious”. “I think this constitutes direct intervention in the administration of justice,” he said. “I think this is an issue where not only just a public representative but a shadow minister for justice has written directly to a judge seeking to influence his decision in the administration of justice as the judge thinks fit.”

Mr Kenny called for an “immediate explanation” of the intervention from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. “It is not good enough to say that the matter has to wait until sentence is finally passed in October.”

Mr Martin responded that on principle he did not believe Oireachtas members should involve themselves in criminal proceedings. He said Mr Collins’s intervention had been made because of the exceptional circumstances in this case.

The issue arose at a sitting of Limerick Circuit Criminal Court on Monday where Judge Carroll Moran was asked not to attach any weight to the letter written by the TD. The letter was presented by lawyers representing Hugo Porter (40), Castleconnell, Co Limerick. He pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis and cannabis resin for sale or supply.

Exceptional cases

Sentencing expert Prof Tom O’Malley of NUI Galway said such interventions should as a rule be made only in exceptional cases and Mr Collins’s letter in this case was unnecessary as it would have been raised prominently by defence lawyers during the sentencing hearing.