Taoiseach defends appealing byelection judgment

 

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen defended the Government’s decision to appeal the High Court’s byelection judgment during heated Dáil exchanges yesterday.

The House was adjourned twice amid uproar as the Opposition rounded on the Government on the issue.

In his High Court judgment on Wednesday, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns criticised the Government for the delay in filling the vacancy in Donegal South West, which arose in the summer of last year.

Yesterday Mr Cowen said the decision to appeal to the Supreme Court was on the advice of the Attorney General.

“The importance of an appeal is underlined by the fact that yesterday’s judgment is the first time the courts have interpreted the Constitution to give rise to an obligation of this nature.’’

In the case of Dudley v. An Taoiseachthe High Court had merely held that there was an arguable case that the Government was under an obligation to move the writ for a byelection which had been outstanding for almost 14 months.

When Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty, who launched the legal challenge, received leave from the High Court in July of this year, it had been 11 months since MEP Pat “the Cope’’ Gallagher had vacated his seat, said Mr Cowen.

The judgment, he said, gave rise to important constitutional issues regarding the separation of powers and the boundaries of the court’s role in the important matter of elections and its power to make declarations that had the effect of requiring government to exercise its voting power in a particular manner.

He said there was also the the need for certainty on the legal position with respect to future byelections.

Mr Cowen insisted that the Government had a constitutional obligation to appeal the judgment.

“Like other litigants before the courts, it is fully entitled to await the determination of the matter by appeal.’’ Pending the appeal’s outcome, the Government’s decision remains unchanged regarding other Dáil vacancies.

“In the interests of ensuring we respond in an appropriate manner to that which emerged yesterday from the High Court, the Government will proceed with the holding immediately of the Donegal South West byelection,’’ he added.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the State was in the throes of preparation for a budget and fiscal plans at a time when special needs hours had been reduced and home help care was under pressure. Yet the Government was going to appeal to the Supreme Court at a considerable cost to the taxpayer.

Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan, he said, had published a Bill last May imposing a time limit of six months to fill Dáil vacancies.

Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk said the House would debate the issue later when the Order of Business had been disposed of.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said if the Government appealed the High Court decision it would prevent, he expected, the possibility of legal challenge to its refusal to hold the remaining three byelections.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin accused the Government of using the judicial process to thwart the democratic process.

As the exchanges continued, Mr Kirk adjourned the Dáil for 10 minutes.

The Government later won a division on the Order of Business by 75 votes to 68.

When the exchanges resumed, Mr Kirk told TDs that the standing orders would have to be obeyed and could only be changed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

He later suspended the House for a further 10 minutes. When it resumed, it moved on to the debate on moving the writ for the Donegal South West byelection.