Paul Anthony McDermott made complicated legal issues ‘very digestible’, Dail told

Barrister remembered by TDs in debate on Bill to criminalise telling of lies on oath

 Paul Anthony McDermott  who died on Tuesday after a short illness. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Paul Anthony McDermott who died on Tuesday after a short illness. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

The contribution of barrister, public commentator and author Paul Anthony McDermott to the legal system in Ireland was highlighted as the Dáil debated legislation to make perjury a criminal offence.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan pointed to the senior counsel’s comments and contributions on the law of perjury, as the Government backed a private member’s Bill from Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh which has already been passed by the Seanad.

Mr McDermott, who died on Tuesday after a short illness “made complicated legal issues such as perjury very digestible for the public at large”, Mr O’Callaghan said, adding that he was witting and self-deprecating and his contribution to the legal system deserved recognition by the House.

“He was happy to contribute in the public sphere to share his learning and did so in a very understated, elegant and sophisticated way.”

The Dublin Bay South TD referred to an article by Mr McDermott in The Sunday Times last July, when the Government decided to take on board Senator Ó Céidigh’s Perjury and Related Offences Bill.

The articled noted that the 1729 Irish Perjury Act still applies in Ireland but Mr McDermott said “it simply allows someone convicted of the common law offence to be sent to a house of correction for hard labour or transported to one of his majesty’s plantations beyond the seas.

“Sadly hard labour has fallen out of fashion in almost every area of modern life and US president Donald Trump’s immigration policy combined with Ireland’s current lack of colonies makes transporting felons logistically challenging these days.”

Mr O’Callaghan said that “we don’t criminalise lying” and perjury has been treated as a common-law offence.

Introducing the legislation which makes it a criminal offence to tell lies on oath, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said its deterrent effect is likely to be considerable in “acting as a bulwark against vexatious and dishonest evidence”.

“Its provisions will be a welcome development, particularly in regard to the cost of insurance.

“It is a part of a package of measures dealing with insurance issues, including insurance fraud and exaggerated claims, and it will also have general application in other areas of law.”

He said it would send a clear message to everyone engaged in legal proceedings that “they must be mindful of the need to tell the truth and that any deliberate departure from the truth may have serious consequences in terms of the level of sanctions and penalties that will be at a judge’s discretion to impose in the appropriate circumstances”.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny said perjury had been prevalent for a very long time in Irish society and was now happening at a more accelerated rate especially when cases are thrown out of court when untruths are clearly being told.

But here are no repercussion or them and it was now a deterrent for people who would “chance their arm” in court claims.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the legislation had been talked about mainly in conjunction with insurance claims.

But he questioned the insurance companies’ figures about the level of fraudulent personal injuries cases.

He said insurance companies’ “spin” is widely accepted and repeated in the Dáil and the media but “there is no transparency” in how they calculate the fraudulent claims.

The Donegal TD cited AIG which he said described 18 per cent of claims as “suspicious” but only reported four cases to gardaí, which was less than 1 per cent of cases.