Mr Justice John Murray retires as Supreme Court judge

Tributes paid to former chief justice who ‘was passionate about the Irish nation’

Mr Justice John Murray, who has retired from the Supreme Court. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Mr Justice John Murray, who has retired from the Supreme Court. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times


The Attorney General has lead tributes to a former chief justice, Mr Justice John Murray, on his retirement as a Supreme Court judge.

Mr Justice Murray served as chief justice from 2004 until 2011 and twice served as attorney general.

He is chairman of the panel of experts on the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights, chancellor of the University of Limerick and chairman of the university’s governing authority.

The judge’s wife Gabrielle, his two children, Catriona and Brian, and his grandchildren were in the Supreme Court to hear tributes paid to him by Attorney General Máire Whelan and others, including the Chief Justice, the Bar Council, Law Society and the Courts Service.

The Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, said Mr Justice Murray was “passionate about the Irish nation” and that this was “infused throughout his work”.

The Attorney General said Mr Justice Murray, during his 24 years as a judge, had made a significant contribution to jurisprudence and the people of Ireland were in his debt “for his years of service to the State”.

The Chairman of the Bar Council, David Barniville SC, said Mr Justice Murray was “a staunch defender of the Constitution and the rule of law”.

Mr Justice Murray said he had approached this day with mixed feelings, mostly with “a feeling of gratitude” at the privilege of having had an opportunity to serve on “this great institution of State”, the Supreme Court of Ireland.

“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,” he said.

He said that there seemed to be “a palpable reluctance nowadays to openly praise our country for what it has achieved, to express pride in our institutions of State, and to praise and respect our collective endeavours and successes as a nation”.

He said that respecting the democratic institutions of the State was “essential to maintaining their integrity”.

“One is only too well aware of their frailties, which can come from within and without. As a legacy from previous generations, we must remember that we should pass them on intact as a legacy to the coming generations.

“Certainly, one is only too well aware of our weaknesses and failures, but a collective endeavour and pride in our nation, where diversity is respected rather than regarded with prejudice, will allow us to better overcome them.”

Murray’s upbringing

Born in Limerick, Mr Murray (71) attended Crescent College, Rockwell College, University College Dublin and the King’s Inns. He was twice-elected president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

He was called to the Bar in 1967 and became a senior counsel in 1981. He had a substantial practice in civil and constitutional matters and defended the late Neil Blaney in the 1971 Arms Trial.

He also acted in cases before the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Commission on Human Rights and Court of Human Rights.

He represented the State in opposing the action by Independent Senator David Norris aimed at decriminalising homosexuality.

He served as attorney general in 1982, and again between 1987 and 1991.

He also drafted the wording of the 1983 anti-abortion amendment to the Constitution.

His refusal to extradite Co Tipperary priest Fr Paddy Ryan to the UK on the grounds that comments in the British media and the House of Commons prejudiced his right to a fair trial caused considerable controversy in the UK.

From 1991 to 1999, he was a judge of the Court of Justice of the EU, until he resigned in 1991 to accept a nomination to the Supreme Court.