Categories
Law

“Where’s your neck-tie?” judge asks architect in Limerick Circuit Court

Limerick circuit court neck-tie dress codeIt’s lucky for the Greek prime minister that he’ll probably never have to give evidence  in Limerick Circuit Court.  Judge James O’Donohue doesn’t tolerate men without neckties in his court, as architect Noel Kerley found to his embarrassment when he turned up to give evidence about a pub refurbishment.

Where’s your neck-tie? demanded the judge.

I haven’t got one, Mr Kerley responded, perhaps reasonably assuming that a man in a Victorian gown and a wig would be well versed in professional dress-codes. As everyone knows, architects simply do not wear neck-ties.  They can’t. It’s impossible. How can you patronise your fellow professionals if you’re dressed the same as them?

The closest they get to that sort of thing is the bow-tie, but even that’s reserved for the most flamboyant, theatrical luvvies of the species and it must always be accompanied by a floppy walrus moustache.

But Judge O’Donohue was having none of it.

This isn’t Ryanair, he quipped, or words to that effect. (Laughter in court).

Mr Kerley had no option but to exit the witness stand in an unseemly flurry of apologies, and go in search of a traditional Victorian item of clothing that he would never normally wear. As far as I know, the Circuit Court in Limerick doesn’t have a tie-shop but somehow he returned within minutes wearing a fetching navy tie with red and white diagonal stripes, as Jimmy Woulfe described it in De Paper.

I can’t see you is the traditional way for a judge to tell a barrister that he has turned up in court improperly attired, but at least the rules of dress for members of the profession are clearly laid down in law even if the prescribed dress is rooted in the seventeenth century. However, there are no corresponding rules for witnesses and indeed it isn’t immediately obvious how a witness’s credibility or veracity is enhanced by hanging a thin strip of fabric from his chin to his belly-button. Oddly, female witnesses are presumed to be credible without the chin-to-belly-button strip or indeed any other sartorial embellishment.

If only Mr Kerley had an enormous multi-coloured floral bow-tie in his pocket (as architects often do) he could have pulled it on there and then, allowing the learned jurist to see him. In future, he might even consider wearing a discreet inflatable neck-tie that he could pump up in court using a small compressed-air canister the size of a cigarette lighter. I think this would be a very valuable addition to any architect’s briefcase.

Thus placated, the eminent jurist listened to his evidence that the pub was extended and duly issued an order extending the licence to the newly-expanded area.  Lawyers and architects watching all over the world relaxed, loosening their gowns and their inflatable bow ties. Crisis averted, muttered the US Chief Justice with a weary rub of his forehead. For now!

There was once a similar dress rule in our national parliament. Elected members were refused entry to the chamber unless they also hung a thin strip of fabric from their chin, but only if they were men. They also had to wear a jacket, but not just any old jacket. It had to have a collar, which meant that anyone wearing the traditional Irish báinín style was excluded from the Irish parliament.

Thankfully, those antiquated rules seem to have been abandoned in favour of democracy. Perhaps in time they’ll also be abandoned in favour of justice.

In other news, a Circuit Court judge by the name of James O’Donohue was convicted and fined €600 in 2012 for failing to provide a breath sample but that was probably a different man.

Categories
Law

Goodbye, Rumpole

brendan nix

The wonderful Brendan Nix has died, to my shock and sorrow.

There was no kinder man, no more decent man and no more humble man.

Brendan confounded every stereotype of the snooty Senior Counsel with his basic, earthy grasp of life’s realities and his compassion for those less fortunate.  He was never pompous, never self-important, but always ready to defend the weak and the vulnerable, often to his own cost.

He had no love for the inflated egos of certain judges and no fear of their wrath when he called them out as the fools he perceived them to be.

Brendan cared nothing for status but valued friendship and loyalty no matter what quarters those qualities extended to.

He was a decent man and I’m sad tonight to hear of his passing, for which we are all the poorer.

Some might say he took his case to a higher court.  If so, I hope he’s giving them a hard time as always.

Goodbye, Rumpole, you crazy diamond.

Categories
Law Politics

Denis O’Brien – confusing Ireland with Haiti

Parallel universes have become quite the topic du jour lately, with Denis O’Brien threatening to sue Waterford Whispers for a satirical article.   Deducing solely from a letter written by Meagher Solicitors on behalf of Denis O’Brien, the article seems to have lampooned the mega-billionaire, describing how, in a parallel universe, a different parallel Denis O’Brien receives a 20-year prison sentence for improper payments to parallel politicians.

They assert that this satirical article is defamation which of course requires that a person’s reputation be lowered in the eyes of a right-thinking member of society.

Did the Waterford Whispers post lower Denis O’Brien in my estimation as a right-thinking member of society?

No.

I already held him in extremely low esteem after the things said about him by the Moriarty Tribunal which, found that he had paid a government minister large amounts of money and that the same minister subsequently helped him to secure the second mobile phone licence on which his fortune is based. Denis O’Brien did not sue the Moriarty Tribunal for these findings, even though they are, on the face of it, grossly defamatory if they are untrue.

He did, however, choose to issue legal threats to a bloke with a laptop on his kitchen table, which is essentially what Waterford Whispers amounts to.

He also chose to issue legal proceedings against our national parliament, for failing to discipline elected members who spoke disrespectfully about him.

Now, the fundamental law in Ireland is the Constitution.  It’s the document on which everything else is based, and it’s written in reasonably plain language, as all laws should be.

Anyone can understand this.

The members of each House of the Oireachtas shall, except in case of treason as defined in this Constitution, felony or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest in going to and returning from, and while within the precincts of, either House, and shall not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself.

Let’s leave out the bit about being stopped on the way to the House and focus on the part that annoys Denis.

The members of each House of the Oireachtas  … shall not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself.

Got that?  It’s so simple, even a billionaire could get it. Even a billionaire’s lawyer, for that matter.

Translated into even simpler language, it says that no court in the land can tell elected members what not to say in the national parliament. It says that the parliament can make its own mind up about its own rules. And by implication, it says that if angry billionaires don’t like it, they can go and get stuffed.

Ireland, despite all its flaws, is a constitutional democracy, not a country where some random oligarch can dictate the shape of the law, but Denis doesn’t seem to understand that.  Perhaps Denis has been spending too long in the land of Papa Doc and Baby Doc where no such concerns have ever applied.

Categories
Law

The Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill 2015 is deeply flawed

electronic communications bill

The Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill 2015 is an ill-conceived and flawed piece of work, even if the intentions behind it are sincere.

This is its title:

An Act to protect against and mitigate harm caused to individuals by all or any digital communications and to provide such individuals with a means of redress for any such offending behaviours directed at them.

Well and good.  All perfectly laudable on the face of it, until we read the actual text, which defines two offences:

  • Harmful electronic communication.
  • Malicious electronic communications.

Section 3 states as follows:

(1) A person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, intentionally or recklessly shares a harmful electronic communication shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) For the purposes of this section an electronic communication shall be considered harmful where it—

(a) incites or encourages another to commit suicide,

(b) incites or encourages another to cause serious harm to themselves, or

(c) includes explicit content of the other, and it intentionally or recklessly causes alarm, distress or harm to the other.

Section 4 states:

(1) A person who, without lawful excuse, persistently shares malicious electronic communications regarding another shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) For the purposes of this section an electronic communication shall be considered malicious where it intentionally or recklessly causes alarm, distress or harm to the other.

Both sections provide for a fine of €5,000 or 12 months in prison or both.

Clearly, nobody could argue with criminalising anyone who encourages another person to commit suicide or cause serious harm to themselves, unless that person happens to be an open and notorious despot, such as Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad or Osama Bin Laden, but there’s the first problem.  However unintentionally, the proposed Bill gives protection to the likes of those who lead ISIS. In theory, anyone calling for their suicide or self-harm is a criminal, even though most of us would be perfectly happy if they did away with themselves.

The big difficulty comes with the sections that criminalise causing alarm or distress to another person by means of electronic communication and the reason for that difficulty is plain.  The definition of alarm and distress doesn’t rest in my hands but in yours.  If you choose to be alarmed or distressed by anything I say on line, I am a criminal.

Thus, for example, if this Bill had been enacted prior to the Marriage Equality referendum, I could now be a criminal simply by saying that I supported same-sex marriage, since so many absolute lunatics expressed alarm and distress at the very thought of anyone suggesting such a thing.

Not only would I be a criminal, but so would the bill’s sponsors, Pat Rabbitte and Lorraine Higgins, both of whom supported marriage equality, to the great distress and alarm of many traditionalists. Not to mention more than one authoritarian ideologue.

Should I be entitled to make a criminal complaint because I’m alarmed or distressed by anything the ridiculous Iona Institute says, or the crazies from Mothers & Fathers Matter?

No I should not.

I find them offensive. I find them alarming. For that matter, I find them repellent, but I do not find them criminal.

If this bill happened to be law today, Lorraine Higgins herself might well be a criminal for sharing photoshopped images of Luke Ming Flanagan on line, but perhaps she wasn’t thinking of herself when she drafted the Bill. Perhaps she was thinking of those faceless internet trolls who aren’t real people.

Pat Rabbitte could be clapped in irons for making sarcastic remarks on line if he knew what the internet was. Luckily for Pat, as a Jurassic politician, his defence is absolute.

But still, that’s the problem with trying to define what is offensive. It places power in the hands of those who would silence us.

We can’t draw up laws based on how sensitive people are to the views of others because, apart from anything else, such a law would probably be found repugnant to Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution: Freedom of Speech. We can’t legislate based on how unstable an individual’s personality is, how badly they desire to be insulted or how deeply disordered they might be.

The thickness of my skin is not a measure of your criminality.

The lack of logic is disappointing for a Bill devised by a qualified barrister like Lorraine.  However well-meaning she  might be in proposing this legislation, the bill deserves to go nowhere until it has been properly thought out so that it no longer offers a veto to every bigot and religious maniac who chooses to be offended in order to silence you and me.

Offence is not given. It is taken.

___________

Full text here.

 

Categories
Law

Wayne Dundon and Nathan Killeen Convicted of Murdering Roy Collins

When the Dundons arrived in Limerick from England, they brought with them a vile pestilence that infected our town for years.  I don’t know what precisely was wrong with that family, but I can guess.   After all, we know for instance that their father, Ken Dundon, brought 12-year-old Wayne to witness a brutal killing.

Nobody knows how Ken Dundon became Satan.  He was from a decent, hardworking family, but he was a thug, and he married Anne “Doll” McCarthy, daughter of John the man.  Annie was the grand-daughter of Bridgie McCarthy, a nice old lady who described herself as a tinker woman.

Many Limerick people remember Bridgie with affection as a regular in Joe Malone’s pub.  She was a tough old lady who looked like Sitting Bull, but she had a sense of decency and everyone in Limerick respected her.  Many also remember that travellers were barred from Joe Malone’s, but not by the proprietor.  Bridgie the matriarch insisted that no members of her family should ever be served in the pub, in case they caused trouble, as they were inclined to do, and the matriarch’s word was law.  Every night, Bridgie’s son, John the Man, turned up with a van to collect his mother.  John peeled off however much he owed from a fat roll of notes and took the old lady home.

Anne Doll and Ken DUndon moved to London, they had six kids and Annie became a junkie.  She made the mistake of having an affair, and Ken brought his eldest son, Wayne with him to witness the brutal killing of his rival.   Wayne was twelve years old.

You get the idea.

This crowd arrived back in Limerick about fifteen years ago and imposed themselves on the local scumbags who had never seen such ferocity in their lives.  They seemed to be without sympathy, without remorse, without mercy, and they forced the local thugs to do things they had never dreamed of doing, even by the brutal standards of their ignorant upbringing.

Sadly, such stories are the life and soul of cynical reporters, who jumped all over the Limerick stereotype, and to be clear about that, it wasn’t only the Dublin media who were culpable.  All the other local hacks gleefully bought into the lazy, work-saving narrative they found dumped in their laps.  And so it happened that those who reported for the Examiner, the Independent, the Star, the Mirror and, disgracefully, the Limerick Leader, recycled every stupid criminal-related rumour that came their way because it was easier than working.

And of course, RTE lapped it up, as did the likes of Paul Williams, a man who wouldn’t know a serious criminal investigation if it shot him between the eyes.

It was a PR disaster for Limerick, a town of decent, creative people and it infected our lives for at least a decade and a half, thanks to the ignorance of the reporters who kept pushing it, including those from RTE and from local papers such as the Limerick Leader.  Nobody is guilt-free in this cynical narrative.

We marched against the bastards but it made no difference to the local and national hacks.

Thankfully, Wayne Dundon and the deranged young killer, Nathan Killeen, have now both received life sentences for the murder of Roy Collins, but we in Limerick are faced with a challenge we didn’t either create or deserve.

For the sake of our children, we have had to throw off an unfair image created to a large extent by incompetent and unprincipled journalists, many of whom come from within our own community.  Bad, cynical  journalists who used the McCarthy-Dundon story as a stepping stone to personal advancement without regard to the consequences for their friends and families.

Shame on them.

As for the McCarthy-Dundons, I feel certain that their great-grandmother would be ashamed of them too.

Categories
Banking Favourites gardai Law

Seanie Fitz Applies For Free Legal Aid

Seán Fitzpatrick, former CEO and Chairman of Anglo-Irish Bank has applied to have his defence costs paid by the State  after his recent acquittal in the Circuit Criminal Court, and guess what?  He’s right.

I hope Seánie Fitz gets his costs, because in doing so, he will have exposed the iniquity of a criminal justice system that penalises innocent people.  As anyone who reads this site regularly knows, I’m no flag-bearer for the people who ran the worst bank in history, but in this case, I think Fitzpatrick has a valid point.

If you’re arrested and charged with an offence, no matter how frivolous or malicious that charge might be (assuming, of course that an Garda Síochána would ever do anything so improper), you’ll be stuck with your legal costs even if you’re acquitted.  Unless, that is, you happen to be a useless lowlife with 87 previous convictions who never worked a day in your life.  In those circumstances, the State will be happy to provide you with a defence team free of charge, even if you’re subsequently convicted for the 88th time.

But if you’re an ordinary Joe who happens to fall foul of the system, no matter how innocent you are, you might find yourself faced with ruinous legal costs.  In Ireland, it’s not necessary to be guilty to be punished.  All you have to do is be charged and you will have a gigantic de facto fine imposed on you for the privilege of demonstrating your innocence.  You will have to  pay because you’re one of the people who work to earn a little money.

This is an everyday reality faced by people who are acquitted in court.  Despite being innocent, they have to find, somehow, the tens of thousands of euro it took to convince a court that the State had failed to prove its case.

That’s why I think Seanie Fitz should get his costs.  Not because I have any sympathy for him, but because he was acquitted and is therefore innocent.

And because I’d like to have my costs covered too, if the State should decide to charge me with a crime I didn’t commit.

Who’d have thought that Sean Fitzpatrick, of all people, would become the champion of the Squeezed Middle?

 

 

Categories
Favourites Law

Discrimination-free Reasons to To Refuse Service to a Person in a Pub

I seem to know quite a few publicans.  I don’t know why this is, but it it could be my prodigious capacity for alcohol, or it might not, since I’m now far too old to be swallowing vast amounts of beer.  It must be my magnetic personality and unbelievable levels of physical attractiveness.  Anyway, one way or another, I discovered from talking to publicans that they’re all scared shitless of refusing service to people without giving a valid reason, because they think their licences can be objected to on the grounds of discrimination.

This is bollocks.

Barring customers

Any publican is entitled to refuse service to any customer without giving a reason, provided they haven’t discriminated on the very narrow grounds laid down in law.

What are those grounds?

They are as follows:

  • Gender
  • Marital status.
  • Family status.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Religious belief or lack of religious belief.
  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin.
  • Membership of the traveller community.

Nota bene.  There is nothing in Irish law preventing a publican from refusing me on the grounds that they

– don’t like me

– think I’m ugly

– think I’m a lowlife scumbag

– find me boring

– dislike my dog

– disagree with my views on sport or any other reason apart from those listed above.

The only people who have rights in Irish discrimination law are those in the list I’ve just made.  Nobody else has any right whatsoever to be served and can be refused without even the most perfunctory explanation.  Fuck off will do fine.

In addition, if any of the people in the list behave in an unacceptable way, you are also entitled to refuse them service.

However, there’s one thing to be careful of, if you happen to be a publican and you want to get rid of people who are pissing you off.   You do not want to call the future ex-customer a lowlife scumbag in front of others because they might successfully argue that you defamed them.

Since it’s not defamatory to call a person names in private, take them aside and tell them they’re no longer going to be served in your premises.

Wish them a happy life and rejoice that they’re gone from yours.

Have no further fears about your licence.

Scumbags begone!

_______________

 

Download (PDF, 402KB)

 

Categories
Law Politics

The Council of State, Atheists and Impaired Politicians

Michael D Higgins, our esteemed President, is about to convene a meeting of the Council of State to help him decide whether of not he should refer the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to the Supreme Court for a test of its constitutionality.  If the court judges that the Act is constitutional, it becomes bullet-proof and can never again be challenged on those grounds.  On the other hand, the court might strike the Act down in its entirety and then we’re all back on the same merry-go-round yet again – the government’s nightmare outcome, and mine too, if I must be honest.  Another six months of listening to the Iona Institute people would just about finish me off.

michael d higgins

The President isn’t obliged to take whatever advice the Council offers him, but he must consult them before he sends an Act to the Supreme Court, so I thought it might be useful to explain how this Council is made up. According to Article 31 of the constitution, it consists of the current Taoiseach and Tánaiste, or, for those unfamiliar with ludicrously pompous feudal Gaelic terms, the prime minister and deputy prime minister.  Likewise, the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Chairmen of the Dáil and the Senate (soon to be abolished if Enda gets his way) and the Attorney General. All former prime ministers are automatically members, though they must be willing and able, which brings up a difficulty I’ll come back to in a minute. In addition, the President can appoint seven nominees at his absolute discretion. The current members are as follows.

Enda Kenny Taoiseach
Éamon Gilmore Deputy taoiseach
Sean Barrett Chairman of the Dail
Paddy Burke Chairman of the Senate
Susan Denham Chief Justice
Nicholas Kearns President of the High Court
Maire Whelan Attorney General
Mary Robinson Former President
Mary McAleese Former President
Liam Cosgrave Former Taoiseach
Albert Reynolds Former Taoiseach
John Bruton Former Taoiseach
Bertie Ahern Former Taoiseach
Brian Cowen Former Taoiseach
John Murray Former Chief Justice
Thomas Finlay Former Chief Justice
Ronan Keane Former Chief Justice
Michael Farrell, Presidential Nominee
Deirdre Heenan, Presidential Nominee
Catherine McGuinness, Presidential Nominee
Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Presidential Nominee
Ruairí McKiernan, Presidential Nominee
Sally Mulready, Presidential Nominee
Gerard Quinn Presidential Nominee

The first hurdle occurs with our beloved deputy Prime Minister, Éamon Gilmore.  Éamon, you see, describes himself as an agnostic, but because our constitution is so deeply mired in the confessional swamp that was the Ireland of 1937, every member of the Council must swear an oath, as follows:

In the presence of Almighty God I, Joe Soap, do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties as a member of the Council of State.

As a non-believer, Éamon found himself conflicted by this and took legal advice, but it seems he’s happy enough to swear in the presence of a deity he doesn’t believe in, and I suppose he’s right.  After all, the wording seems carefully constructed to give atheists a way out, since it doesn’t require him to swear to Almighty God, as happens in the courts, unless a witness chooses the option to affirm.  It simply requires him to promise and declare in the presence of the non-existent deity.  Look, he’s a politician, well-used to believing two different things at the same time. Besides, the preamble to the Constitution is far worse.  How’s this for inclusivity?

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial, Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation, And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity,  so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the  unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations, Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

Nice.  How does that work with Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of no religion who also happen to be Irish citizens?  The most holy trinity from whom all authority derives.  That’s a theocracy, last time I checked. How does our Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, who happens to be a Jew, feel about his constitution acknowledging his obligations to our divine lord, Jesus Christ?

That’s Ireland for you, and Britain too, where the Queen is the head of the established church, lest anyone be too quick to sneer, but let’s get on with the Council of State.

Besides the atheist who’s happy to swear in the presence of a god he doesn’t believe in, we have five former prime ministers, four of whom assiduously dodged the problem of the X Case judgement.  One of them, John Bruton, is already on record as opposing the current Act on religious grounds.  Two others —  Brian Cowen and the man in the cupboard, Bertie Ahern — are responsible for crashing our country into a gigantic brick wall while another, Albert Reynolds, declined to give evidence to a tribunal of inquiry into planning corruption on the grounds of cognitive impairment.  In other words, he couldn’t remember an Irish military helicopter ferrying him to a secret meeting with a property developer and he had no memory of the government Learjet diverting to an unscheduled rendezvous in Bermuda.  Poor man’s mind is gone, sadly.  And yet, here he is, sitting on the Council of State.

Old Liam Cosgrave meanwhile, still hale and hearty at 92 years of age, will go down in history as the Taoiseach who voted against his own government on contraception legislation due to his strong Catholic beliefs.

There isn’t any set procedure laid down for how the meeting will be conducted, however, and Michael D is a wily old guy, so perhaps it will be closely circumscribed.  He might decide simply to ask them a legal question: in your opinion, is this Act constitutional or not?

If we exclude Brian Cowen on the arbitrary grounds that he completed the crash started by Ahern, that he’s only a small-town solicitor who never practised much anyway and that I just don’t like him, we still have eight senior lawyers who should be able to advise Michael D dispassionately. What will the others advise him on?  Who knows? I suppose Da Bert could give him a tip on a horse and Cowen could offer his opinions on nude portraiture.  Bruton could entertain everyone with his famous party laugh and Cosgrave could re-enact his world-renowned Crossing of the Floor, the original Riverdance but with added hypocrisy.

Let’s not forget the ferment of rage that must be taking place in this assembly of the great and the good.  How does the chairman of the Senate feel about the current prime minister who supports this act and yet who wants to abolish the very House he presides over?  I’m only speaking personally here, but I think I’d feel tempted to shaft Enda one last time before being abolished.  Clearly, Mr Burke is a far more professional individual than I am and would never dream of sinking so low, but still, human nature is what it is.  I’d knife him.

I’m fascinated by the process, since it’s not laid down anywhere that I can find.  Where will they hold the meeting?  What time will it happen?  Will Michael D supply the drink or will they all turn up with slabs?  Will they drive or come in taxis?  Will they have a barbecue?  Will someone make a CD mix? The weather is really great at the moment although you can’t be too careful.  Lately there’s been a lot of thunderstorms but that’s to be expected with all the heat, so maybe they should set up a gazebo and everyone could huddle inside it together if there’s a sudden downpour.  It would make for a cheerful atmosphere, and they’ll get along much better after getting to know each other. I’d say they’ll make burgers and maybe put out some nachos with a cheese dip.  What do you think?  Spare ribs?  Red stuff all over your face?  Send Bruton down to the off-licence for more ice. Michael D might even read them some of his poetry before leading them to the overwhelming question: what’ll we do? Ah, I don’t know.  That’s why I’m not the president, the chief justice or even a spiv in a yellow suit hiding in a cupboard.

Thankfully.

Categories
Environment Law Policing

Lack of Political Will to Enforce Law in Ireland

I kinda like Joan Burton.  No, not in strange way, but she always seemed (at least in 2008-9-10) to have a good solid handle on the banking calamity.  It’s a pity she got the smeared end of the stick when Labour went into government.  Actually, when you think of it – Labour got the ‘go away out foreign and don’t bother us’ Foreign Ministry post for its leader, the ‘minister for hardship’ for Howlin, the ‘minister for rolling back the welfare state’ for Burton and all for what?

Anyhow, I kinda like her.

I have no animus towards Billy Kelleher TD either.  I have met the man once, over a coffee at a summer school and he seemed an affable enough version of FF V2.03, Haughey-free and not too infected with the Bert virus.

That said, the interplay between the two of them on the RTE news show “Saturday with Claire Byrne” (what used to be Saturday View when Rodney Rice ran it) was enough to cause me to begin to lose the will to live.  In fact there were two episodes, either of which would cause one to lose hope in the ability of the Irish political system to take any form of action.

The first interplay was around the Anglo tapes.  Claire Byrne asked both of them their reaction and also about the allegations (which I note here) by the Taoiseach that the main thing from any inquiry was to uncover collaboration between FF and the bankers (because we didn’t know that they were close).  All round the country people are outraged at the arrogance and petulance of the Anglo dudes and still, for we are a charmingly naive people, look to the political class for leadership and some indication that there will be justice or even vengeance.  Instead of a measured reaction from two intelligent people about the tapes, about the constitutional problems of the Dáil holding inquiries that apportion decisions and blame, about the nature of banking and finance, we got … squabbling.  Political point scoring, squabbling, polite point scoring and name calling, and a degree of disconnect from the issues that was dispiriting.  It’s a game.  What we have in politics bears as much resemblance to the concerns of the ordinary world as Kabuki theatre does to the realities of modern day Japanese life.

turf cutting_2

The second spirit-sapping discussion came at the end, neatly bookmarking a show that resembled a political sandwich with a policy vacuum as filling.  We heard about the turf cutting standoff.  Farmers had moved heavy machinery onto protected peat bogs and were engaging in strip-mining it.  Let’s be clear – this wasn’t a few auld lads with sleans and bottles of tae but commercial contractors, doing to protected boglands the same as illegal mahogany loggers do in the rainforest .  This was being done on boglands that were designated special conservation areas under EU and Irish law.  There were police present including a superintendent, a senior officer.  The reporter noted that they were leaning over a ditch observing the law-breaking — observing it mind, not stopping it, not arresting those engaging in it, looking on at it.  Again here was an opportunity for our political leaders to show leadership.  During the show we had talked about the need for the Anglo issues to be dealt with, in criminal court if needed.  We had talked about the legal aspects of the Dáil inquiry and on the need for forensic and detailed examinations of what happened when where and how.  Then we moved onto flagrant, public, mass law-breaking in front of police.  The two politicians hemmed and hawed, admitting that yes it was a breach of the law but there were circumstances, issues, complications etc.  I asked how many of those breaking the law on the bog would that evening be supping stout in the pub decrying the Anglo chaps and urging the full rigour of the law to be applied, to silence.

If we don’t get leadership, if we cant get leadership, from two intelligent thoughtful politicians, if we cannot get them to urge on national radio that the law be respected fully and it be challenged by legal peaceful means only as we are a mature and peaceable democracy, then we wont be always.  People will rightly despair that a state which allows open defiance of a senior police officer who is not then supported 100% by politicians, that that state can ever come to grips with as complex a catastrophe as the banking crisis that has engulfed us.

 

Categories
Law

A Day in Court

All human life is in the District Court, and some other life that might or might not be human.

As I walk in, the court is already in session and things are getting weird.  A well known local solicitor is strolling around with one black shoe and one brown, open-toed sandal — not a good look with a navy pinstriped suit and to make it worse, the stripes are the kind that go better with a violin case than a paper folder.  I don’t know what happened his foot, but I suppose he must have put it in the wrong place.

The TV licence inspectors are giving evidence and the judge is dividing the charge sheets into two piles.  People who turned up in court go to one side and the no-shows go to the other.  From experience, I know that’s not a good thing for them, but in fairness to the judge, he’s courteous and humane about it.  He listens to the evidence, he asks the people to explain themselves and if they’ve bought a licence he lets them off with a warning.  Even if they have a good excuse, he gives them a break, adjourning the case to January or February.  Those who don’t turn up get tougher treatment with fines up to €250 plus another €70 costs on top, and they still have to go out and buy their licence.  They have four weeks to pay, or else it’s the slammer for two days, locked up with the  skobes, lowlifes and junkies the same judge has sent on a rather longer holiday.  As a solicitor once said, when I asked him about going to prison rather than pay a parking fine, It’s not a place for civilians.

Indeed.  Which is why a Garda once told me apologetically when collecting one of those fines, Only the decent people pay.  It’s true.   The rest of them don’t give a rat’s ass about a couple of days in jail: it’s a chance to catch up with their buddies.

I’m an unrepentant, recidivist non-payer of parking fines, which is why I land myself in court too much.  I know I should just pay the thing and be done with it but there’s something in my psyche that rejects the whole notion, and paralyses me if I ever try to settle my bills with the city council, until the urge passes.

It’s a friendly court this morning.  The body language is good.  Lawyers chat with police, and police chat amiably with defendants, though there’s a distinct chill between two local lawyers who recently found themselves before a court, with one of them accused of assaulting the other.  No love lost there.

As for the defendants, it’s a pretty mild morning.  No stabbings, no assaults, no robberies, apart from two young lads.  One is a member of a notorious extended family and even though I never saw him before, I recognise his genetics by the standard-issue features he wears.  The single transferable head shared by hundreds of brothers, uncles and grandfathers.

The other is a lad of about twenty.  He doesn’t look especially menacing, or especially intelligent for that matter, but he’s  handcuffed to a cop and he’s smirking in a weak attempt at bravado.  There’s a gang of sisters of girlfriends for moral support, all spray-tanned and all with very large earrings and dyed blonde hair.  In uniform, you might say.  He gets sent away to jail on remand until his case is heard and I’d love to know what he did, but I couldn’t hear, with all the coughing and the squeaking seats and slamming doors.  It’s a noisy place, the courtroom.

Over there, I spot a well-known radio presenter who works during the day as a solicitor.  He stands up to address the judge and I’m expecting him to shout Hands in the air like you just don’t care!  But he doesn’t.  Instead he mutters something about more discussions and the judge writes something on a piece of paper.  This isn’t the X Factor.

In front of me, a young solicitor is going through his file.  There’s a page headed with the words Telephone Attendance and ten or twelve lines of text.  I wonder how much that attendance was worth in billable hours?  I once dealt with one of those fancy-dan Dublin companies who charge by the inch thickness of file, or by weight, whichever is greater.  A lawyer told me in all seriousness that people who work in these companies have a timer by their phone, and every time you call them, or they call you, the clock starts ticking.  I believe him.  I never came across a nastier, more cold-blooded lizard than the little fellow I had to deal with.

The court business is dragging on.  I slipped my summons to a solicitor buddy when I came in, and now he’s making tortured faces at me.  He crooks a finger so I slide over to him.

This fucking thing is going on far too long.

Tell me about it, I agree.

Still, I’d better stay so I settle back into my seat while they move on to the welfare fraud cases.  Oddly enough, everyone on the list has five or six children, even though they can hardly afford to feed themselves, if you believed what their solicitors tell the judge.  One guy has convictions for fraud going back years.  He’s straight out of Central Casting, with a bonehead haircut showing the scars of assorted broken bottles, knives or hatchets acquired during an eventful life.

How much is he paying back?  asks the judge.

€6 a week.

What?  He’ll be paying this for the rest of his life.  And wait, what about the previous convictions?  Has he paid back that money?

No.

What?

The judge isn’t impressed, but at the same time, it’s obvious this case is going nowhere.  The defendant might be a thief, but he’s also flat broke, and maybe he really did need the extra money.  For all I know, his appearance as a thug and a general scumbag might belie the reality of a gentle caring man who loves children and can’t have enough of them.

How much is he getting a week?

€461, says Rumpole of the Sandal.

How much?

€400, Rumpole tells him.

I thought you said –

No, it’s €400.

The judge adjourns the case so that a full statement of means can be produced and the merry-go-round carries on spinning.

The noise is getting worse and the judge is getting sick of nonsense.  Rumpole is representing some company director accused of failing to produce documents, I think for the Revenue.

He’s just an ordinary working man, says Rumpole.

Don’t give me that guff, snaps the judge, and all the solicitors stifle a nasty little chuckle.

I’m getting bored.  My solicitor is getting bored.  He’s making throat-cutting gestures at me.  What?  I mime.

You’re going down, my son, and he gestures towards the door, where a group of traffic wardens have just entered, like a bunch of dejected, unshaven, overweight, unwashed dark Jedi.  Everyone in the courtroom glares at them with barely concealed hatred.  Even the serial killers and mass murderers move away slightly and tut-tut with a tight-lipped frown.

As the cases move on to illegal dumping, the Knights of the Double Yellow Line flop down like discarded mattresses and wait their moment in the sun, but it seems that time might never come unless we can get done with all these miscreants.  Jesus, the dumping fines are pretty savage, I’m glad to say.  People who failed to pay the on-the-spot fine of €100 are being hit for that, plus another €190 in costs, though for the life of me I can’t see how each of these prosecutions cost the council that much.

I’m getting very bored.  Two or three other criminals like myself have wandered in, and I recognise one of them.

Parking? I ask him.

Don’t get me started, he hisses.

My eminent jurist is making agonised faces at me.  Come here.

What?

You can fuck off.

So can you, I tell him.   I didn’t come here to be insulted.

No, he says.  You can fuck off out of here.   I’ll deal with it myself.

Jesus.  Now he tells me.

You sure?

Yeah.  Go on.

I haven’t heard from him yet, but he’ll probably get me ten years hard labour.   He’s good that way.  I wonder if I’ll meet Sean Quinn?