Death announced of former chief justice Thomas Finlay

President Higgins leads tributes to distinguished member of the Bar and former TD

Former chief justice  Mr Justice Thomas Finlay  at Áras an Uachtaráin in 1992. Photograph: Joe St Leger/The Irish Times

Former chief justice Mr Justice Thomas Finlay at Áras an Uachtaráin in 1992. Photograph: Joe St Leger/The Irish Times


President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to former chief justice, Mr Thomas Finlay, who has died aged 95.

Mr Higgins said on Sunday he had learned of the senior judge’s death with great sadness. He noted Mr Finlay had been a distinguished member of the Bar, a former TD and also a member of the Council of State.

“As President of Ireland, may I convey my condolences to his family and friends, as well as express our nation’s thanks for his contribution to public life in so many fields,” Mr Higgins said.

“As a member of the Supreme Court and indeed as a member of Dáil Éireann, Tom Finlay left a legacy of public service, including a robust defence of the constitution and its provisions on parliamentary privilege and citizens’ rights.”

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he had learned with great regret of the senior judge’s death.

He said Mr Finlay had been “an eminent barrister and jurist, respected and popular among his peers and legal colleagues”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Justice Finlay had served with great distinction at many levels of the legal system in Ireland and paid his sympathies to his family, especially his children, who include recently appointed Supreme Court Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan.

Mr Finlay was called to the Bar in 1944 and to the inner Bar in 1961, and built a successful career as a respected advocate.

He was elected to the Dáil for Fine Gael in the constituency of Dublin South Central in 1954 but lost his seat in 1957.

He was appointed a High Court judge in 1971 and as president of the High Court in 1974. He became Chief Justice in 1985, in which office he served until 1994.

Among his most significant decisions were Attorney General v Hamilton (1992), in which the Supreme Court held that the confidentiality of cabinet discussions was absolute; and Attorney General v Hamilton (no 2) (1993), in relation to parliamentary privilege, where the Supreme Court held that TDs are not amenable to any legal process in relation to utterances made by them in the Dáil.

Mr Justice Finlay also gave the leading judgment in the controversial X case (Attorney General v X) (1992), in whicha 14-year-old girl, pregnant as a result of rape by a family friend, was allowed to travel to England for an abortion notwithstanding the Constitutional guarantee that the State would protect the right to life of the unborn.

Mr Flanagan said on Sunday that Mr Finlay’s 20 years’ service on the bench “was characterised by the clear and pragmatic thinking that lay behind his judgments in very many significant cases”.

“Following his retirement he undertook a number of public inquiries, very notably the Hepatitis C Tribunal of Inquiry.

“Over the course of that long career his fine skills of legal analysis and his humanity were always to the fore and were brought to bear in the many significant legal cases and inquiries of public importance in which he was involved.”

Mr Flanagan expressed his deepest condolences to Mr Finlay’s family, including to his daughter Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan.

“ I express also my appreciation for his great contribution to public life and dedicated service to the State,” Mr Flanagan said.

Mr Finlay’s funeral Mass will take place at the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, Dublin, on Tuesday morning.