Career at an end but calls for explanations continue

 

The Tánaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats was informed by Mr Bobby Molloy of his resignation in a 6 a.m. phone call yesterday.

He should have spent last night happily choosing winning tickets in the party's national draw in its headquarters in Dublin's South Frederick Street. Instead, his career lay in ruins. Party staff were dumbstruck at such a blow so close to a general election.

The bombshell that would end 37 years of Dáil service came shortly before lunchtime on Tuesday in the Central Criminal Court when Mr Justice Philip O'Sullivan alleged that improper approaches had been made to him by a Molloy official.

The first signal that trouble was brewing was received by Ms Harney shortly after she had left Dublin's new radio station, Newstalk 106, following an opening-day interview.

Minutes later, she contacted the Minister of State in his Custom House office and summoned advisers for the first of a series of meetings during the afternoon.

Immediately, Mr Molloy told her that he had not tried to speak directly with Mr Justice O'Sullivan, before he gathered his files on the affair and headed for the Tánaiste's Kildare Street office.

Other PD staff were also on their way to Kildare Street, some still unsure about what was going on. The party's general secretary, Mr John Higgins, was told of the judge's complaints by a journalist outside the Dáil. Shortly afterwards, Mr Molloy showed Ms Harney a contemporaneous note which had been prepared by his secretary on March 19th minutes after she had been put through (much to her surprise) directly to Mr Justice O'Sullivan.

Joined by the Attorney General, Mr Michael McDowell, and Foreign Affairs Minister of State, Ms Liz O'Donnell, Ms Harney helped Mr Molloy to draft a statement. The group still believed that the Galway West TD could survive if the explanation was sufficiently contrite.

Ms Harney went public to back Mr Molloy, followed shortly afterwards by the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, who surprised some in Fianna Fáil by the strength of his support.

Appearing on RTÉ's Six One News, Mr Molloy apologised for his mistake, looking embarrassed as he faced questions about why he should not resign. In fact, he had already begun to consider it.

He had given some the impression that his first involvement in the affair came only last month to a plea from Ms Anne Naughton, the sister of the convicted rapist, Patrick Naughton. She had contacted his constituency office in Galway, he said, to complain that she had still not got a reply to a letter she had written to the judge protesting her brother's innocence.

Yesterday, however, the Department of Justice revealed that Mr Molloy had written to the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, a year before, enclosing a letter from Ms Naughton. Emphasising the separation between the Oireachtas and the judiciary, Mr O'Donoghue wrote back on April 30th, 2001, to say that it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment on an ongoing court case.

A further letter was received from Mr Molloy on January 31st, 2002, enclosing another letter from Ms Naughton who wanted to know the date on which her brother's court appeal was to be heard.

At his home in Maynooth, Co Kildare, which he shares with one of his sons, he was joined by his wife, Phyllis. In the hours before midnight, Mr Molloy reflected on his situation. By 11 p.m., some Progressive Democrat figures received calls at home telling them that he was likely to quit. Shortly after 6 a.m., Mr Molloy rang the Tánaiste in her Ballsbridge home.

A long, often distinguished, career was over. However, the clamour for further explanations will continue for days to come.