Using Constitution as a mask for self-interest


OPINION:The lawyers opposing the Criminal Justice Bill are being alarmist: Limerick needs this now, writes KEVIN O'CONNOR.

THE SHOPKEEPER went pale as we spoke. It was a social call, but now his entire attention shifted sharply from me to the two man and stout woman who had entered his shop.

“Christ!” he said, as he closed the front entrance, locked the door and waited for the gang to take what they wanted from his rails. They defiantly inspected items before deciding which to stuff into bags, part of Limerick life. “What can I do?” the shipkeeper asked me, as the gang chortled and left. “Them’s the Xxxx family. It’s more than my business is worth to stop them . . .”

That little vignette is repeated in parts of Limerick and variations occur in towns and in the housing “estates” a generation of ignorant politicians allowed to fester into slums of intimidation. Of course, the politicians don’t live in such places. Neither do the well-paid lawyers, who yesterday made alarmist invocations of the Constitution’s alleged “protection of the jury system”, to defeat this Bill. Excuse me while I yawn, but is this the same Constitution which failed to guarantee the “right to life” of some 20 of its citizens this year – three citizens a month gone to graves, failed by the Constitution of this little state of anarchy?

Or maybe the lawyers have in mind another Constitution, which does not protect that shopkeeper and the hundreds of people, similarly oppressed, who took to the streets of Limerick – and were filmed and recorded by the gangsters the opponents of the Bill seek to protect. That Constitution did not protect three decent men in that city from the ultimate sanction of the gangs.

Let us name them: Collins, Geoghegan and Fitzgerald.

Men, whose deaths, in my view, are sullied by lawyers who deliver obstruction of a Bill designed to convict gangsters more speedily. The Bill would allow the Special Criminal Court to hear “opinion” police evidence and deliver sentencing without recourse to a jury.

Oddly, the opponents seem not to reason how the Special Criminal Court was brought about by fear of the IRA.

Why is it, when the little Republic was rampaged by armed groups who murdered its servants, it was alright to have a non-jury court – but not alright when the citizens of Limerick are threatened?

Is it because lawyers and politicians, sheltering comfortably in well-paid careers, feared militant republicans – who might remake their lives totally had they succeeded in controlling the State – more than gangs of drug dealers. Odd is it not?

Odd, too, they have amnesia about the acquittals before the non-jury courts – because judges in their collective wisdom felt it unsafe to convict, even when presented with a weight of evidence that a jury might be disposed to accept.

Being lawyers, the round-robin writers of yesterday’s letter to this newspaper are “judicially” selective in their evidence. In spite of their high moral ground, this is a game to them and they know how to play it, as shown by their inflated language about Ireland “being shamed before the international community”. What? The “international community” does justice better than Ireland?

Altogether self-regarding in my opinion, is their opposition to a Bill designed to protect the majority – at some cost, it must be conceded, to the civil liberties of a minority charged with serious criminal offences.

Lawyers’ arguments are essentially technical, exploiting pedantry and linguistics to oppress the other side. In other words, lawyers make arguments separate from morality or fair play, on behalf of their customers.

On the rare occasions they invoke “morality” or “fairness”, it’s with a client’s interest in mind and not with the meaning of such concepts as understood by ordinary people.

So then, with some weariness, I regard this lobby rather on the same level, as say, publicans pitching for changes in licensing laws. By all means let their views feed into the debate in the Dáil, the peoples’ forum, with all its faults of mediocrity and silliness. But spare us their assumptions of superior morality or infallible knowledge about law and democratic process.

Kevin O’Connor is a former RTÉ correspondent based in Limerick