Supreme Court judge resigns over Sheedy controversy

Saturday 17 April 1999 18.45
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Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty, Accepts Chief Justice's conclusion
Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty, Accepts Chief Justice's conclusion
Bertie Ahern TD, "regretted the circumstances that led to the resignation"
Bertie Ahern TD, "regretted the circumstances that led to the resignation"
Jim Higgins TD, "resignation is regrettable but necessary"
Jim Higgins TD, "resignation is regrettable but necessary"

The Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty, has resigned. His decision follows the publication yesterday of the Chief Justice's report into the Philip Sheedy court case. In the report, Liam Hamilton concluded that Mr. Justice Cyril Kelly's handling of the matter, and Mr. Justice O’Flaherty’s intervention had damaged the administration of justice.

In his resignation statement, the former Justice, Mr. O'Flaherty, said that he did not believe or consider that he had done anything wrong, but he accepted the Chief Justice's conclusion that what he did was open to misinterpretation. Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's announcement that he had decided to resign was faxed to newsrooms this afternoon from his office in the Four Courts. He repeated that he did not believe that what he did in contacting the County Registrar about the Sheedy affair was wrong. However, he accepted the Chief Justice's conclusion that it was open to misinterpretation and therefore damaging to the administration of justice. His son, also Hugh read out his father's statement to media gathered outside the family's Dublin home. Mr. Justice O'Flaherty had clearly thought deeply about his position and indeed the reputations of all his judicial and legal colleagues in the last 24 hours. Just last night, in the face of enormous pressure to resign, he insisted that he was not considering this option.

However, he placed his resignation in the hands of the President today and has now asked for privacy for himself and his family who have undergone enormous strain. It is understood that Mr. Justice O'Flaherty made his decision to resign this morning, having reflected overnight and wrote his letter of resignation to President McAleese. He then informed the Taoiseach. Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's resignation will increase the pressure of Mr. Justice Cyril Kelly, the second judge involved in the Sheedy controversy. In his report, the Chief Justice said that Mr. Justice Kelly had failed to conduct the case in a manner befitting a High Court judge and had compromised the administration of justice.

The Taoiseach said that he greatly regretted that the circumstances that had arisen had led to the resignation for such a senior and distinguished holder of judicial office. He said that Mr. Justice O’Flaherty has served this country with such distinction at the highest level in his profession for the past nine years. The Tánaiste said that he had done the decent and honourable thing. The former Justice had previously issued a statemnt that he had no intention of resigning. The second judge in the controversy, Mr. Justice Kelly said that he would not be making any comment or statement at this stage.

Jim Higgins, the Fine Gael spokesman on Justice and member of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality and Womens rights, said that he believes the resignation is regrettable but necessary. He said that the important constitutional role of the judiciary, its independence and integrity must supercede, however, any personal interest. He added that judges have a central role in protecting the principle of equality for all citizens before the law, and even the appearence of improper influence cannot be tolerated in a democracy. “We simply cannot permit a situation where there is any doubt in relation to compromise, influence or preference," he said.

The Labour Party Justice spokesperson, Brendan Howlin TD, praised Mr. Justice Hugh O’Flaherty for the swift and decisive manner in which he confronted the finds of the Chief Justice Hamilton’s report. He said that he accepted the word of Judge O’Flaherty and the conclusions of Chief Justice Liam Hamilton that Judge O Flaherty’s actions was motivated out of humanitarian considerations. “Nonetheless, and regrettably,” Mr. Howlin said. “He had placed himself in a very difficult position in which those actions were wide open to misinterpretation.”

A statement from the Bar Council said that it greatly regrets the circumstances that have led to the resignation of Mr Justice Hugh O'Flaherty. He has taken a very honourable decision at great personal loss to himself and to his family, friends and colleagues, and this will be widely acknowledged. By his actions, they said, Mr Justice O'Flaherty has ensured the integrity of the bench on which he served with such distinction and public confidence in its administration. However, they added, the loss to the Irish judicial system cannot be underestimated.