Noonan says Ahern must investigate all contacts

 

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, must immediately investigate all contacts between civil servants, acting on behalf of Ministers, and judges following Mr Bobby Molloy's resignation, the Fine Gael leader, Mr Michael Noonan, has demanded.

During his time as Minister for Justice, Department officials clearly understood they should never contact the President, or judges.

"I would question how the protocol has changed so that they now feel free to make the most casual of contacts with judges."

The Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue's explanation yesterday was "quite thin", particularly since it was clear that Mr Molloy would have to quit from the moment Mr Justice Philip O'Sullivan described his conduct as "improper".

The letters written by Mr Molloy in 2001, before and after the conviction of Mr Patrick Naughton for raping and buggering his daughter, must have been available to the Government once the crisis broke.

"It is amazing to anybody who has been a minister that that material wasn't brought to their attention.

"If it was, then how could the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste go out and dismiss this as a minor mistake?

"There seems to have been more concern about the accused in this case of horrific child abuse than there was for the victim. It is quite clear that there was considerable traffic between Bobby Molloy and the Department of Justice.

"The Minister has confirmed that Justice knew of Minister of State Molloy's interest in the Naughton case since March 2001, just over a year ago, yet this information was not released on Tuesday in the aftermath of the judge's strong complaints.

"Minister O'Donoghue's statement confirms Judge O'Sullivan's information that there were two attempts by people acting on behalf of Ministers improperly to interfere in the Naughton case. The first attempt was by Minister Molloy's office before the case came to trial. The second attempt was by Minister O'Donoghue's office after the trial had concluded but before sentence had been pronounced.

"The affair showed that an inappropriate culture prevails within the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat government and that it had not yet learned minimal lessons from the Sheedy affair, which cost two judges their jobs," he said.

The Labour Party leader, Mr Ruairí Quinn, quoted attacks Mr O'Donoghue made in the Dáil in 1996 against the then Minister for Justice, Mrs Nora Owen.

He had said Mrs Owen had "to carry the major responsibility" for the blunders which left Judge Dominic Lynch sitting on the bench after he should have retired.

The Department of the Environment official might not have been aware of the rules, Mr Quinn said, but it "defies belief" that a Justice official "would not have been aware of the sensitivities" that were involved.

"The Minister's statement in which he attempts to explain away the totally improper approach made to Mr Justice O'Sullivan by an official of his Department is a classic example of ministerial buck-passing and a blatant refusal by John O'Donoghue to accept his responsibilities as political head of the Department of Justice," he said.

Questioning Mr O'Donoghue's account, his predecessor, Fine Gael TD Mrs Nora Owen said she believed knowledge of Mr Molloy's earlier contacts would have been immediate.

"The secretary involved would have said that she got onto Justice. So its involvement would have been flagged."

Her front bench Fine Gael TD colleague, Mr Alan Shatter, ridiculed the declaration that contacts between Justice officials and judges could include everything "from membership of tribunals, state boards, a game of golf", or other issues.

Demanding the publication of all the Molloy letters and the Minister's replies, he said correspondence sent by Ministers to departments was frequently read by the minister in charge, and not by officials.

"The statement issued is disingenuous, and economical with the truth. The implication in it is that the judge would have been prepared to take the telephone call, if Mr Molloy left the office.

"Mr Justice O'Sullivan has said the approach itself was improper," Mr Shatter said.