Supreme Court judge threatened to sue State over RTÉ interview

State Papers: Hardiman said action was based on accusations of him acting ‘maliciously’

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, writing in 1985, said: “The content of that statement was grossly defamatory.”  Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, writing in 1985, said: “The content of that statement was grossly defamatory.” Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Current Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman threatened to sue government press secretary Peter Prendergast following a row over an RTÉ radio interview in October 1985.

Hardiman, then a barrister, was interviewed on Morning Ireland in relation to a Belfast High Court decision to release INLA terrorist Dominic McGlinchey, who was extradited from the Republic for trial in the North. Hardiman rejected the view the decision would embarrass the legal establishment in the Republic.

“I think that the person who would be very considerably embarrassed if he were still around to be embarrassed is the former attorney general Mr Peter Sutherland, ” Hardiman said. “He was the attorney general at the time this charge was brought against McGlinchey.” Sutherland had recently been appointed European commissioner by the Fine Gael-Labour government.

“It looks very much as if Mr Sutherland, who presumably could have had access to the evidence, allowed the case to go forward through the Irish courts knowing that there was practically no evidence,” said Hardiman.

After the interview, Prendergast rang RTÉ with a statement. It read: “It was said by Mr Adrian Hardiman, a Fianna Fáil candidate in a recent election, supposedly speaking as a barrister, that the previous attorney general Peter Sutherland could or should have checked the case against McGlinchey which the Northern Ireland authorities had.

Dangerous

“Under the 1965 Extradition Act . . . Irish courts extradite against a sworn warrant that a case exists rather than having the capacity or the right to explain the case. That is the law; the attorney general has nothing to do with it. The courts decide. Mr Hardiman, as a lawyer, knows that. One can only assume that his words this morning were quite malicious and dangerous.”

RTÉ broadcast an edited version of Prendergast’s statement leaving out the reference to Fianna Fáil and the “malicious and dangerous” allegation. The following day, however, the Irish Daily Mirror published the claims.

A week later, the Department of the Taoiseach received a letter from Hardiman’s solicitors, Michael Hanahoe and Co, addressed to Prendergast. It threatened him with legal action, describing his statement as “malicious and spiteful”.

The letter called on Prendergast to say who authorised him to issue the statement and if Sutherland was consulted.

The letter appears to have gone to the secretary general of the taoiseach’s department, Pádraig Ó hUiginn, rather than to Prendergast, and it was passed to the attorney general’s office for consideration.

On October 21st, the head of the office wrote to the attorney general, John Rogers, saying he expected to be pressed about the availability of an indemnity for civil servants arising from the letter. He suggested Prendergast should make a statement about why he intervened.

Nothing appears to have happened, and later in December, Hardiman was one of the lawyers who joined Michael McDowell in helping Des O’Malley launch the Progressive Democrats.