Jury hears extracts from Dail committee report on Reynolds government fall

 

DIFFERENT recollections of the events surrounding the fall of the Fianna Fail/Labour coalition were shown to the jury in the Albert Reynolds libel case yesterday. It was the 11th day of the hearing which has entered its third week in the High Court in London.

More than 20 passages from the report of the sub committee of the Committee on Legislation and Security, which inquired into the fall of the Government, were read out in court yesterday morning. Selected highlights of the videotape of the proceedings were shown in court in the afternoon.

Mr Reynolds is suing the Sunday Times for an article published on November 20th, 1994, under the heading "Goodbye Gombeen Man". Published only in the paper's British edition, it said: "How a fib too far proved fatal for Ireland's peacemaker and Mr Fixit."

Mr James Price QC, counsel for the Sunday Times, said that he wanted to draw the jury's attention to certain passages and lawyers for Mr Reynolds wanted to draw its attention to other passages. He would be reading both sets and they would be put in context for the jury in the closing speeches later in the week, he said.

He said the evidence to the committee was taken orally, but not on oath. The committee did not reach or publish a conclusion after taking evidence.

Earlier, counsel for Mr Reynolds, Lord Gareth Williams QC had objected to the jury seeing copies of the lengthy report. However, during the reading of the passages Mr Price asked if they could follow them in writing, provided that they handed back the copies of the report afterwards.

Lord Williams did not object, but following later legal argument about the relevance of certain passages, the copies of the report were removed from the jury again, which then listened as Mr Price read it out.

He drew the jury's attention to a letter from the Attorney General at the time, Mr Eoghan Fitzsimons, to the sub committee late in its proceedings stating that his recollection of events differed from the evidence given by a number of significant witnesses.

He read from the transcript of evidence given by Mr Noel Dempsey, where he stated that Mr Fitzsimons was directed on the Monday preceding Mr Reynolds's resignation to talk to former Attorney General, Mr Harry Whelehan, and prepare a "definitive report" on the Duggan case.

"There was miscommunication and misunderstanding between us and the Attorney General," Mr Dempsey was quoted as saying.

He also read a number of passages dealing with the withdrawal of the Labour Party from the Government.

These showed that a Labour minister, Mr Brendan Howlin, had met a Fianna Fail minister, Mr Charlie McCreevy, and suggested a formula which could be inserted into Mr Reynolds's speech on the confidence motion on the Wednesday allowing the Labour Party to support the Taoiseach.

In making these overtures, Mr Howlin had told Mr Dempsey that "a certain part of my anatomy is hanging out the window on this one".

The Fianna Fail adviser at the time, Dr Martin Mansergh, was quoted extensively by Mr Price. He had played a major role in writing Mr Reynolds's speech for the Wednesday, and he said he felt it was not necessary to refer to the Duggan case.

"I felt that the Duggan case had been distorted out of all importance, but I kept my reservations to myself," he had said.

According to this passage, when the Labour Party entered negotiations about the formation of a new government under the leadership of Mr Reynolds's successor, Mr Bertie Ahern, the Labour Party adviser, Mr Fergus Finlay, was "not as involved as he had been two years earlier".