Junior Minister to raise case of jailed GP with Taoiseach
Public meeting hears criticism of judge who jailed Dr Bassam Naser for tax evasion
Minister of State Finian McGrath is pictured speaking at the meeting in Howth yacht club. Photograph: James Forde
Minister of State Finian McGrath is to raise with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar the case of the jailed, tax evading north Dublin GP Bassam Naser.
At a public meeting on Monday night in Howth Yacht Club to protest the jailing of Dr Naser, Mr McGrath also disclosed that he had sought the advice of the Attorney General Séamus Woulfe.
Mr McGrath, an Independent TD for Dublin Bay North, said Mr Woulfe told him that under section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act, the Minister for Justice had powers to commute a prison sentence on humanitarian grounds.
At the weekend, Mr Flanagan was reported as saying that he would not intervene in the case.
Mr McGrath, Minister of State for Disability Issues, told approximately 120 people at the meeting that he would talk to Mr Varadkar on Tuesday during a scheduled meeting to discuss Government business.
The law needs to be fair and seen to be fair. . . Why should a whole community be punished?
Dr Naser was jailed for 16 months on June 6th by Circuit Court judge Martin Nolan. He had pleaded guilty to evading tax in 2006 and 2007 by failing to pay approximately €100,000 owed to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of 1,686 cheques, amounting to €159,951 from patients, that he lodged to undeclared bank accounts.
The prison sentence has angered many people in the Howth and Sutton areas, including patients of a GP known there as Dr Sam. Some 6,000 people have signed a protest petition and say that while they did not condone tax evasion, a prison sentence was not warranted.
Mr McGrath said justice should be “fair, compassionate and [be based on] common sense”.
He told the yacht club meeting that he had gone to visit Dr Naser in Loughan House open prison in Cavan, and informed the Taoiseach of his trip. He found the doctor to be a man of compassion who was held in the “highest regard” by other prisoners and also by fellow doctors.
“I’m going to raise that issue within that meeting,” Mr McGrath said of the Taoiseach, “and I’m equally going to raise that [Dr Naser] has a son that is ill and a child with disability. . . there is a strong humanitarian case and I firmly believe that he should not be in prison.”
Dr Naser is Palestinian-Irish and has received strong support from Independent Senator Frances Black, who recently sponsored a Seanad bill seeking to outlaw importation of goods produced in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank.
“I believe in justice,” Senator Black told the meeting. “I don’t like injustice and when I see injustice, I speak out about it.”
Describing Dr Naser as “a kind, lovely gentle man”, she said, however: “It’s really important that we pay our taxes but I am really concerned at the inconsistency in sentencing.”
She mentioned a man who “had been pouring boiling water over his wife” but was not jailed. There was “something wrong with that picture”, she said.
“The law needs to be fair and seen to be fair. . . Why should a whole community be punished?... He did mess up and there’s no doubt it but I just think that this sentence is not fair.”
Riverdance director John McColgan said Dr Naser had looked after his wife and children for 25 years. His work was of enormous importance to the community.
He tried to give the keys of the car to his wife and he wasn’t allowed. He had to throw them to her
He criticised the 16-month prison sentence, in contrast to the fine handed down to Michael Lowry.
“Lowry’s a man with a colourful past,” said Mr McColgan. “He pleaded not guilty and he was found guilty. He came out and said it was a great victory for him.”
By contrast, he said, Dr Naser pleaded guilty, came to court with €100,000 for the Revenue Commissioners but was taken immediately to jail.
“He was standing in the court and two warders took him away,” said Mr McColgan. “He tried to give the keys of the car to his wife and he wasn’t allowed. He had to throw them to her.”
Two Palestinian doctors addressed the meeting, speaking of the value their community placed on Dr Naser, who had lived in Ireland for over 35 years, because of his superior understanding of the country.
One of them, Dr Muath Atmeh, said Dr Naser was known to Palestinians here as “the son of Ireland”. But “after just one mistake, all these 35 years of hard work, has been wiped off. We feel actually insecure after the hard punishment of Dr Sam”.
Another member of the audience, Nicky Clarke, became animated and urged everyone to march on the Dáil and the Minister and tell him to “sack this judge ... Is he beyond the law?”