Shatter: AGs' referendum criticism 'nonsense'

Monday 24 October 2011 21.48
Letter signed by eight former attorneys general
Letter signed by eight former attorneys general

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has described criticisms by eight former attorneys general of the referendums on cutting judges' pay and Oireachtas inquiries as "nonsense" and "simply wrong".

The eight warned today that if the proposed amendments to the Constitution are passed on Thursday, they would seriously weaken the rights of individuals to their good name and provide insufficient protection for the independence of the judiciary.

Their arguments are outlined in letters published in national newspapers today.

The letter is signed by: David Byrne, Patrick Connolly, Paul Gallagher, Dermot Gleeson, Michael McDowell, Peter Sutherland, John Rogers and Harold Whelehan.

Responding to the criticisms, Mr Shatter said that what they had said had no credibility.

The minister said there were individuals who had signed the document who would have been involved in decision-making processes with regard to either Government economic policy or to the giving of legal advice.

He also noted that one individual was chairman of AIB at a time when AIB was lending enormous sums of money to developers in very unwise circumstances.

Mr Shatter said a lot of legal experts had an opposite view about the referendums to that of the eight signatories.

He said there was a vested interest because substantial fees had been earned by the legal profession and members of the bar library through the continuation of the tribunal system.

Mr Shatter also said there was no reason to believe that the Oireachtas was incapable of holding proper inquiries that protected people and their rights, as has happened in parliaments around the world.

In response to the minister’s comments, Mr Rogers has described Mr Shatter’s comments as "unfair".

He said that the proposal on judges' pay amounted to assailing the independence of the judiciary without safeguards.

Mr Rogers said the proposal on Oireachtas inquiries involved citizens' rights being assailed without the right of recourse to the courts.

He said the Oireachtas could make decisions and findings about people's reputations that they would be stuck with forever without any process of judicial intervention.

This was a complete departure from how the rule of law had worked in Ireland, he said.

McDowell urges No vote

Mr McDowell urged a no vote in the referendum on inquiries, saying it would give absolutely unlimited powers to the Oireachtas on any matter of public importance.

The former Tánaiste said that once these powers were conferred on politicians, they would become addicted to using them and it would never be possible to get them back.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, Mr McDowell said the wording of the amendment was very badly drafted and could send gardaí in to search people's homes.

He said the Commission of Inquiries set up under legislation he brought in as Minister for Justice were a much fairer way to investigate matters and cited the Murphy Commission as being fair to victims and perpetrators. He said it was not designed to grab headlines.

Meanwhile, Independent Presidential candidate Mary Davis has said that she will vote no in Thursday’s referendum on broadening the power of Oireachtas inquiries.

"This decision has not been taken lightly," said Ms Davis.

"Constitutional change should not be taken lightly either."

Ms Davis said that she recognised that if she were elected President, she would not able to express her opinions on future referendums, but said that her concern at the impact of the proposal was such that it was appropriate for her to comment now.

"I fully appreciate that if elected President I will not be able to express any public opinion on any future Constitutional referendum put to the people," she said.

"However, as it would suit the political system for this change to be waved through with a minimum of discussion, and given my concerns at the impact of this proposed change on all citizens, I feel that it is appropriate – and important – to voice my concerns openly."

Voting on the two referendums took place today on five islands off the coast of Donegal.