The Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue, has insisted his officials are blameless in the Bobby Molloy resignation controversy. Mr Justice Philip O'Sullivan revealed today that an official in the Department of Justice had had asked him for his home phone number on behalf of former Junior Minister, Bobby Molloy.
Speaking on RTÉ, Minister O'Donoghue said that in his five years as minister, there was no circumstance in which he would interfere with the judicial process. He also defended the department official who phoned the judge, saying there were many legitimate reasons in which a minister might need to contact a judge.
Fine Gael has said the fact that officials in both Mr Molloy's and Mr O'Donoghue's departments felt it possible to approach a judge suggests that an inappropriate culture prevails and that the Government has not yet learnt lessons from the Sheedy affair.
The Labour Party dismissed Mr O'Donoghue's statement as a classic example of buck-passing and a blatant refusal by the minister to accept his responsibilities as head of his department.
The Progressive Democrats in Galway says it will hold a convention as soon as possible to select a candidate to fight the forthcoming election. Dana Rosemary Scallion says she will announce within the next few days if she intends to stand.
The Taoiseach said earlier today that Minister O'Donoghue had told him that he was unaware of any official from his department making representations to Mr Justice O'Sullivan.
Mr Justice O'Sullivan this morning convened a Special Sitting of the High Court to clarify a statement he made yesterday following the sentencing of a man in a rape case.
The judge said he had been contacted on two occasions by people who said they were calling on behalf of Mr Molloy. In one of these calls from the Department of Justice, the judge's home telephone number was sought by a man. The second call came from a woman in Mr Molloy's office.
Opposition parties have welcomed the resignation of Mr Molloy. However, they said that the support given last night to him by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste raised questions about their judgement.
Mr Molloy's resignation follows his admission that he had acted improperly by asking an assistant to approach a judge in connection with a rape case. The Galway West TD also said he would not now contest the forthcoming general election, leaving Fianna Fáil with a much-improved chance of winning a third seat in the constituency.
Fine Gael leader, Michael Noonan, said it was surprising that Fianna Fáil had not handled this controversy better, given its experience of previous scandals.
Fine Gael's justice spokesman, Alan Shatter, welcomed Mr Molloy's decision. He said that, while the former Junior Minister had done the right thing, the events of the past 24 hours exposed the lack of judgement of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, who had defended Mr Molloy in public.
Labour Party's justice spokesman, Brendan Howlin, said Mr Molloy's actions had reduced the public's confidence in the authority of the State. He questioned the wisdom of the initial reaction to the controversy given by the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach.
Green Party TD, John Gormley, welcomed the resignation but said that Mr Molloy's action was prompted by media outcry, rather than a sense of right and wrong. He said that the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and Junior Minister initially hoped to ride out the controversy, signalling they had not recognised the gravity of the situation.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, Mary Harney said she was very sad for Mr Molloy. The Tánaiste said that he had made his own personal decision to resign. The leader of the Progressive Democrats added it was important to enforce standards in public office and that Mr Molloy had taken the honourable course of action.
Dana Rosemary Scallon has said it would be "totally inappropriate" at this time to discuss whether or not she will contest the general election and that her decision to run was not dependent on who may or may not stand. She said Bobby Molloy was a very respected politician who had dedicated over 35 years to the service of the people of Galway West.
The controversy which led to his decision blew up yesterday, after Mr Justice O'Sullivan said in court that he had been contacted by someone on behalf of Minister Molloy in relation to a rape case which was due for sentencing. Mr Molloy admitted the contact, but insisted that he had simply been trying to establish whether a letter had been received.
Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste said they accepted Mr Molloy's explanation, and insisted that it was not a resigning matter. However, with the Opposition demanding his resignation and a uniformly critical response in the newspapers, Minister Molloy clearly felt he had little option but to stand down.
His decision not to contest the election brings an end to a career in the Dáil stretching back to 1965. Mr Molloy had been a Fianna Fáil deputy for Galway West from 1965 to 1986, when he joined the Progressive Democrats.