Noel Whelan missing the point on Dáil privilege

 

Sir, – The attempt by Noel Whelan to portray points made by me as “using Dáil privilege in [my] own interest” (Opinion, October 27th) manages to miss – or misrepresent – the entire matter.

Despite your columnist’s assertions, I have not made any comment about the details of my case before Naas District Court, namely one of driving at a speed of 59km in a 50km zone.

That matter is under appeal and any public comment would be wholly inappropriate.

Instead, during a Dáil discussion on judicial appointments, I used my personal experience to show that when judges behave in an irrational and inconsistent manner, this has serious consequences for citizens and the State.

I was not hiding behind any “wall of parliamentary privilege”. I have no hesitation in repeating every point I made in the Dáil outside the Dáil. They are matters of fact, which occurred in open court.

I pointed out that I had been present in court for the case, which was not scheduled for a hearing; that I had seen the judge deal with similar cases where other defendants were not present or represented; and that being number 188 – the last case on the court list – I decided to return to the Dáil and employed a solicitor to act on my behalf. Later that day the judge, having reached case number 175, requested that my case be called. He then spent considerable time telling the court of my disrespect and issued a bench warrant because of my “non-attendance”.

Mr Whelan says “like every citizen”, I have “the right to challenge it”. Of course he knows that in these matters the judge has “discretion” so a legal challenge would be very unlikely to succeed, which is exactly the gap in oversight that I was highlighting.

There is no remedy or penalty in cases where judges exercise their discretion disproportionately or conduct themselves poorly.

There is an urgent need for a Judicial Council to deal with complaints and fitness to practice concerns.

This is a matter of public importance. This was not about me. Vacating the bench warrant tied up Garda resources; jumping the list to deal with my “disrespect” meant that the cases next in line, including cases of domestic violence where women needed the court’s help, were not dealt with on that day.

Radical reform of this area is long overdue.

– Yours, etc,

CLARE DALY TD

Leinster House,

Dublin 2.