Human rights commission to participate in Patrick Quirke appeal

Commission’s focus will be on the reach of search warrants in relation to electronic devices

The Supreme Court has granted an application by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to participate in the appeal by Tipperary farmer Patrick Quirke against his conviction for the murder of Bobby Ryan.

At a case management hearing on Thursday, a panel of three Supreme Court judges granted the commission’s application to be joined as an amicus curiae, an assistant to the court on legal issues.

The focus of the commission’s participation concerns legal issues surrounding the reach of a search warrant under which electronic devices were taken from Mr Quirke’s home.

Mr Quirke, represented by Bernard Condon SC, consented to the commission’s application to be joined while Michael Bowman SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), adopted a neutral position, saying it was a matter for the court.


Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, sitting with Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and Ms Justice Marie Baker, said it was appropriate to grant the commission’s application and noted that would not interfere with the scheduling of the appeal, due to open on October 25th.

The court also heard on Thursday that Mr Quirke is not seeking to physically attend the appeal in the Supreme Court and wants to participate by remote video link.

Ms Justice Dunne said the Supreme Court does not usually have people in court for their appeals and the court would do its best to facilitate Mr Quirke’s request.

In its decision last April agreeing to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court said there were two matters of general public importance raised which may arise in other criminal trials and would benefit from clarification. The issues relate to the validity of the search warrant and the DPP’s discretion to call witnesses at trial.

Quirke, who denied any involvement in Mr Ryan’s murder, sought a Supreme Court appeal after the Court of Appeal last year dismissed all 52 grounds of his appeal against his 2019 conviction.

The prosecution argued during his 15 week trial that Mr Ryan, a DJ known as Mr Moonlight, was Quirke’s love rival and was murdered by Quirke so he could rekindle an affair with farm owner Mary Lowry.

Mr Ryan’s remains were found in a disused underground tank on Ms Lowry’s farm almost two years after he went missing. He had been in a relationship with Ms Lowry and was last seen alive as he left her home to go to work early on June 3rd 2011.

The prosecution said Quirke staged the discovery of the body as he was about to give up his lease on the farm and feared he would be found out.

A core issue for determination in the appeal relates to the validity of the warrant used to search and seize material from his home. Quirke’s lawyers argue the warrant was invalid due to specific failure to inform and expressly include the intention to seize computers containing the personal data of an entire family.

Among the items seized was a computer which formed a key part of the evidence against Quirke after it was found to have been used for internet searches on human decomposition and DNA.

In a statement today, the IRHEC said it will assist the Supreme Court on the issues raised “and in particular safeguards in relation to the use of search warrants in respect of the seizure of electronic devices”.

It said the power to apply for permission to appear as amicus curiae is “an important legal power” of the commission, allowing it to address the court in a non-partisan role on issues concerning human rights and equality that have wider consequences for society in general.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner, said: “Search warrants are an important tool for effective policing. As electronic devices permeate every aspect of our lives today, it is important to explore and consider safeguards regarding the use of search warrants in the seizure and examination of these devices.”

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times