Ceann Comhairle writes to Bríd Smith over comments about judge
Minister for Justice says Deputy’s comments in the Dáil ‘highly personalised’ and ‘an attack on democracy itself’
Bríd Smith: “This is a war on workers, and it is time for workers to fight back”
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has written to People Before Profit Deputy Bríd Smith saying he is reviewing her comments in relation to a High Court judge “and may be in contact with you again”.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl wrote to Ms Smith in the wake of receiving a formal complaint on Thursday from Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, in which he said the Deputy’s comments in the Dáil in relation to the judge were “highly personalised” and “an attack on democracy itself”.
He said Ms Smith was also “waging something of a campaign” on social media, and called on the Ceann Comhairle to “take the appropriate steps”.
It is understood Ms Smith expects an attempt to have her censored in the Dáil, but is determined to fight any such move. It is now up to Mr Ó Fearghaíl to decide if the matter should come before the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges for consideration.
The Association of Judges of Ireland also issued a lengthy statement on Thursday criticising Ms Smith and her response to a judgment by Mr Justice Garrett Simons of the High Court, who ruled that the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 was unconstitutional.
In the Dáil on Wednesday, Ms Smith said it was “a day when tens of thousands of workers will wake up to the realisation that a learned judge of the High Court, who earns more than €220,000 per year, has decided in his wisdom that an electrician who may earn €45,000 per year is possibly overpaid, and has then struck down a sectoral employment order that will affect tens of thousands of workers already on low pay. This is a war on workers, and it is time for workers to fight back.”
On Facebook she described Mr Justice Simons as a “right-wing judge”.
People Before Profit on its website said there was “no real separation between the different branches of the ruling elite. The independence of the judiciary is a myth.”
Mr Ó Fearghaíl, in his letter to Ms Smith, said “the fundamental constitutional principle of the separation of powers mandates mutual respect between branches of Government. This obligation extends to Members when making utterances on the floor of the House.”
After referring to the rules and codes of conduct of the Oireachtas, he said the rulings of the chair “acknowledge the independence of the judiciary and prohibit Members from making a charge against, or discussing the conduct or actions of judges or their decisions”.
“An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of any democracy, and there is an obligation on Members to refrain from using their constitutional privilege to criticise judges.”
In his 69-page ruling Mr Justice Simons declared unlawful an order covering electricians which had been made by Minister for Business Heather Humphreys. The order set down minimum wage rates and other conditions for the workers.
The case was taken by a body that represents electrical contractors, and the defendants were the Labour Court, the Minister and the Attorney General. All parties asked the judge to rule not just on the actual order before the court, but also of the constitutionality of the legal provision.
Mr Justice Simons noted that under the Constitution only the Oireachtas can make laws, although it was recognised that certain secondary matters can be delegated.
However, with the legal provision before the court, broad policy choices to do with the interests of consumers, employers and employees have to be made. These interests were “not necessarily aligned”.
The legislation “abdicates” the making of “far-reaching” and significant policy choices to the Minister, and indirectly to the Labour Court, in a way that was contrary to the role given to the Oireachtas by Article 15.2.1 of the Constitution, the judge decided. This meant that similar orders affecting other sectoral areas were also invalid.