Thursday 17 August 2017

Callely considers damages case over Seanad suspension

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor and Tim Healy

EMBATTLED Senator Ivor Callely is to consider an unprecedented damages action against his political colleagues who suspended him for 20 days without pay over his travel expenses.

Mr Callely, who resigned from Fianna Fail last year, is considering his legal options after a successful High Court challenge to his suspension from the Seanad.

The former junior minister, whose long-standing political base is Clontarf, North Dublin, had claimed €80,000 for travel from his holiday home in Kilcrohane, Bantry, Co Cork, prompting a public outcry and an investigation by the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests.

The Seanad committee ruled last July that Mr Callely -- who complained to the High Court that he had been painted as a "chancer", a "rogue" and "thoroughly despicable" -- had intentionally misrepresented his normal place of residence at Kilcrohane, Bantry, Co Cork.

But yesterday High Court Judge Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, in a ruling that could have profound implications for the separation of powers doctrine and internal Oireachtas rules, found that the Seanad committee had acted outside of its powers and breached Mr Callely's constitutional rights to natural justice and fair procedures.

The Seanad sat for 97 days last year and Mr Callely, whose basic salary is €65,621, was estimated to have lost up to €10,000 in pay as a result of his suspension.

It was the first time the High Court has dealt with a complaint by a member of the Oireachtas that his constitutional rights -- including his right to good name -- had been breached and legal sources say it is "inevitable" the ruling will be appealed.

Last night Mr Callely's solicitor, Noel Hanrahan, said Mr Callely was happy with the High Court ruling which "clearly vindicates his position".

Judgment

The Seanad committee will meet next Wednesday and it is expected the ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. "This ruling is bigger than Ivor Callely," said a source.

In his 73-page judgment, the judge said the Houses of the Oireachtas "do not have any kind of unlimited jurisdiction to govern the lives of their members" and ruled that the Seanad committee had failed to exercise its adjudicative function by "making a political judgment" on the issues that it investigated.

The Seanad inquiry was also found to have breached the senator's right to justice and fair procedures after it failed to afford him a reasonable opportunity to defend himself.

The judge also found that the Seanad committee had misdirected itself on the applicable definition of "normal place of residence".

"The standards of natural justice and fair procedure prescribed by law to which all citizens are entitled, cannot be displaced by a "political judgment" simply because the person affected (Mr Callely), is a member of the Oireachtas."

"A member of Seanad Eireann... facing an investigation... is entitled to expect no less and has the same constitutional right to fair procedure as all other citizens."

The members of the committee are Pat Moylan (FF), also Seanad Cathaoirleach; Camillus Glynn (FF); Denis O'Donovan (FF); Joe O'Toole (Ind); Alex White (Lab); Frances Fitzgerald (FG); and Dan Boyle (GP).

dearbhail mcdonald analysis, page 26

Irish Independent

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