Mr Molloy and probity in politics

 

Have they learned nothing? We have had the Philip Sheedy affair, requiring the resignation of two judges. And we have seen the growing public criticism of the Catholic Church's attitude to child abusers require the resignation of a bishop.

How then could an experienced and senior member of Government and his political masters believe that he could continue to hold office as Minister of State? Mr Bobby Molloy made the correct decision to resign, having acknowledged that he had initiated contact of a most improper kind with Mr Justice Philip O'Sullivan. The most junior TD would know that what was done trespassed upon the separation of powers between the Executive and the Judiciary.

He was lucky, in fact, that he resigned at dawn yesterday. This was before the full sequence began to unfold of the inappropriate representations which he made on behalf of a constituent, Ms Anne Naughton, the brother of the Connemara man convicted on 18 sample charges of raping and buggering his daughter. He was jailed for 11 years the previous day.

When Mr Justice O'Sullivan first raised the question of a "quite improper" approach being made to him in the Central Criminal Court on Tuesday, Mr Molloy said that his involvement was to ask an official in his office "to inquire from the judge's secretary as to whether or not the letter had been received". That was wrong, he admitted, but that was all.

The clarification given by Mr Justice O'Sullivan at a special court sitting yesterday, however, revealed that two separate phone calls had been made on Mr Molloy's behalf on the issue: one from an official in the Department of Justice and the second from an official in the Department of the Environment. It looked for some hours yesterday as if the imminent plan to call the general election could be scuppered by the resignation of a second Minister.

The statement subsequently made by the Minister for Justice - and confirmed by the judge - seems to put Mr O'Donoghue in the clear. Yes, there are questions to answer about the political culture permitting contacts with judges sitting on cases in the wake of the Sheedy affair. But the most striking aspect of these revelations is the persistent attempt, made by Mr Molloy over the period of a whole year, to intrude into the administration of justice before and after a trial.

The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste demonstrated appallingly poor judgment in their initial response to this controversy as it unfolded. They sought to help Mr Molloy to ride it out. After all that has gone before, they were extraordinarily blind to a gross impropriety. On the eve of an election, they played down the integrity of the judicial process and the separation of powers. The whole episode reflects a continuing clientilist culture which permits an abuser to have higher access than a victim for the sake of a vote. It reveals an arrogance and a lack of propriety which many thought to have disappeared from public life. And it augurs poorly for the way in which the State could be run after the general election unless those in elected office get serious about standards.