Friday 24 March 2017

By-election delay longest in our history, court is told

Tim Healy

THE Government yesterday denied there had been an unreasonable delay in holding a by-election in Donegal South West.

But the High Court was then told it was the longest delay in holding a by-election in the history of the State.

The Government reiterated a statement made last month by its chief whip, John Curran, that it intended moving the writ for the by-election in the first quarter of next year.

The claims came on the opening day, yesterday, of Sinn Fein senator Pearse Doherty's High Court challenge over the refusal by the Government to move the writ for the by-election, caused by the election of Pat the Cope Gallagher to the European parliament in June last year.

Mr Doherty is seeking a declaration that there has been an inordinate delay in moving the writ. The Government and the Attorney General say Mr Doherty's claims of delay and constitutional breaches are fundamentally misconceived.

The constitution does not impose any timeframe within which vacancies must be filled and it is a matter exclusively for the Dail to determine, the Government argues.

Unreasonable

Mr Doherty claims there are constitutional requirements, affirming a "democratic state", whereby there should not be less than one TD for every 30,000 of population.

The court heard yesterday that Mr Curran swore an affidavit, outlining a statement he made to the Dail on September 29, about the Government's intention to hold three by-elections, including Donegal South-West, in the first quarter of next year. This could not be done any sooner because of the financial situation facing the country, Mr Curran said.

Mr Doherty asked the court to make a declaration that the delay in holding the by-election was unreasonable.

The court heard that the longest previous delay in holding a by-election was just over six months in Galway in 1935.

The only previous time during which a by-election was held in a time of national crisis was following the murder of Justice Minister Kevin O'Higgins in 1927 -- and the by-election to fill the vacancy caused by that was held the following month, counsel said.

The case continues.

Irish Independent

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