"Claudia" case man refused damages


A LOCAL authority engineer who lost his job following the Claudia arms affair in 1973 failed yesterday in his High Court action for damages for alleged breach of constitutional rights against the State.

Mr Philip Gerard Murphy was appointed assistant county engineer with Waterford County Council on March 31st, 1970, said Miss Justice Carroll in a reserved judgment. He was convicted on May 22nd, 1973, on four counts connected with importing firearms and explosives in March 1973 in the MV Claudia, was sentenced to two years imprisonment, concurrent on each count, suspended on his entering into a bond and getting an independent surety and on condition that he kept the peace for two years.

The Department of Local Government wrote to the Waterford county manager on September 12th, 1973, notifying the council of the "forfeiture" by Mr Murphy of his position, pursuant to Section 34(1) of the Offences Against the State Act.

The county secretary notified Mr Murphy of the forfeiture on September 14th. Mr Murphy appealed to the Government but his request for reinstatement was refused in November 1973.

Mr Murphy found different employment over the years, said the judge. He was now employed by the South Eastern Health Board as project co ordinator for the new Regional Hospital at Ardkeen, Waterford.

After the Supreme Court gave a decision in July 1991 in another case that Section 34 of the Act was unconstitutional, Mr Murphy issued pro in May 1993, almost 20 years after he had been notified of the forfeiture of his position.

Mr Murphy gave some evidence of damage suffered but by agreement any question relating to proof of damage was left over until the question of the liability of the State was established.

Miss Justice Carroll said the present case was similar to a case Fin which she gave judgment last month. In that, a man issued proceedings 16 years after his position with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was forfeited in similar circumstances. He was unsuccessful. She held hat the Statute of Limitations, 1957, Section 11(2), applied to a breach of constitutional right in the nature of a tort.

The State had submitted it would suffer an enormous prejudice if the claim was not disallowed. The amount claimed for damages alone was very large, amounting to over £500,000. If the matter had been litigated within a reasonable time the actuarial calculations would have been very different. The acquiescence of Mr Murphy over such a long period must disentitle him from recovering damages, it was submitted.

The judge said there was no substance in Mr Murphy's argument that there was no cause of action until he knew section 34" had been held to be unconstitutional. He had the right to bring proceedings once he was notified that his job was forfeited.

If Mr Murphy did nothing for 20 years, resulting in an extremely large claim for damages based on actuarial evidence, that in her view was sufficient proof that the State had been prejudiced.