The Supreme Court has paid tribute to the “extraordinary achievements” of Ireland’s 10th chief justice, John Murray, who died at the age of 79.
Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell said Mr Murray brought to the Supreme Court bench a “deep knowledge” of the operation of the State at domestic and international levels.
His former colleagues have lost his presence but will continue to benefit from his thoughts and wisdom, the judge said. The court was grateful for his “profound and constructive contribution to the Irish Supreme Court”, he said.
“His judgments were carefully and painstakingly drafted and contained much thoughtful analysis that will continue to be consulted, and valued, for many years to come.”
Mr Murray served as chief justice from 2004 until 2011 and retired as a judge of the Supreme Court in 2015.
A fundamentally shy man with personal charm, the former judge had a “deep and penetrating intelligence”, as well as a profound understanding of the constitutional order and the role of the Supreme Court in the State, Mr Justice O’Donnell went on.
“He had a strong belief in Ireland as an independent State, pride in its achievements, a clear understanding of those areas it fell short and a commitment to making it the best that it could be.”
Speaking to a Supreme Court packed with counsel and judges, Mr Justice O’Donnell said it was a privilege to appear before him as an advocate and later to serve with him as a colleague.
Mr Justice O’Donnell expressed sympathies on behalf of the court to Mr Murray’s wife Gabrielle, the daughter of former Supreme Court judge Brian Walsh; daughter Catriona; and son Brian.
Mr Murray served twice as attorney general in 1982 and again between 1987 and 1991. During his first term as attorney general, he drafted the wording of what became the 1983 anti-abortion amendment, the Eighth Amendment, to the Constitution.
He served on the European Court of Justice from 1992 until 1999 and was highly regarded in European and international affairs.
Before this he had a substantial practice in civil and constitutional matters and defended the late Independent Fianna Fáil TD Neil Blaney in the 1971 Arms Trial.
He represented the State in opposing Independent senator David Norris’s action aimed at decriminalising homosexuality.
As attorney general, his refusal in 1988 to extradite Co Tipperary priest Fr Paddy Ryan to the UK to face explosives charges caused considerable controversy in the UK. He did so on the grounds that comments in the British media and then prime minister Margaret Thatcher had prejudiced Fr Ryan’s right to a fair trial.
On his retirement from the bench in 2015, Mr Murray spoke of a feeling of gratitude of having had the opportunity to serve on what he described as “this great institution of [the] State, the Supreme Court of Ireland”.
He said: “Democracy is a challenge and the courts are a keystone in a modern nation founded on the rule of law. The executive and legislative branches provide the process through which the noblest ambitions of a nation can be achieved.”