Conor Lenihan: Why I wrote in praise of Judge Roe
When Mr Justice Frank Roe threw out the Flynn case after just three and a half hours, there was national outcry.
The shock result generated a wave of criticism and there were claims that justice had not been done.
One newspaper editorial declared that his decision had left the public ‘puzzled’ and ‘mystified’ because the jury had been deprived of the opportunity to view much of the evidence.
But in the midst of this backlash, one story about the judge stood out. It appeared in the Sunday Press in July 1986 and was obsequious in tone, describing Mr Roe as a man who “immediately evokes expressions of affection in legal circles”.
It went on to say that he was “easily the hardest-working judge on the bench”, that there was “virtually no criticism of him by barristers who had worked in his court”, and that he was known to “contribute to numerous charities”.
The story was written by Conor Lenihan, TD, Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, who was a freelance reporter at the time.
Mr Lenihan’s father, Brian Lenihan Senior, former Tanaiste and Minister for Justice, was an intimate friend of Richard and Theresa Flynn and had attended the wedding at Kilcoursey with his wife.
This week, in an interview with the Irish Independent, the minister was asked if he felt it was appropriate that he would write such a complimentary profile of a judge given that his court had just acquitted a very close friend of his parents of a manslaughter charge.
Mr Lenihan says that he has “absolutely no regrets” about writing the piece, which he claims is not “universally positive” in tone.
The 16-paragraph article includes 11 paragraphs whose contents portray the judge in a positive light.
“Yes, my parents attended the wedding,” he says. “They were very close friends with the Flynns growing up.
“I was a freelance journalist and was asked by the Sunday Press to write a profile of Judge Roe on the basis that I had previously had experience of him when I was a reporter working for the Leinster Leader in Naas.
“I felt it was certainly within my professional impartiality to do so.
“I regarded myself as a professional journalist who could put my family involvements of a political or social kind aside. The commissioning editor would have been fully aware of my parents’ relationship with two of the characters involved in this.
“I did extensive research for the article and the overwhelming views of those interviewed were hugely positive about the judge in question.
“I am not my father’s keeper. I was not a friend of the Flynn family. I wasn’t at the wedding. I was acting as a proper, impartial journalist.”
In this week’s interview, Mr Lenihan also revealed that the late Justice Roe was perceived to be “somewhat more lenient in his approach to people who found themselves in difficulty