Monday 25 September 2017

Obituary: John Devane

Lawyer became gangland's 'go-to' solicitor

Mission: John Devane
Mission: John Devane
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

The colourful criminal lawyer John Devane, who represented leading members of rival Limerick gangs during the murderous feuds of the 1990s and early 2000s, has died at the age of 54.

Devane grew up in the 1970s, which he claimed was a twilight world of rent boys, male prostitution, alcohol and drugs, a seedy underworld he chronicled in his memoir Nobody Heard Me Cry, published in September, 2008.

"I was eight years old when my childhood was stolen from me, 11 when my pimps first took me to the docks. By the time I was 14 all sense of self had been destroyed. I was emotionally and physically wrecked and it was only the drink that kept me numb enough to stay alive."

At the height of the gang feuds, he also offered to mediate in the various disputes but the joint efforts of the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Emergency Response Unit, which was drafted into Limerick in large numbers, proved more effective.

Despite his close links as their legal representative, it was also reported that he was beaten up by prominent 'clients' who believed he had botched their various court hearings. Although the Garda investigated the cases, Devane declined to pursue charges.

One of a family of seven, whose father died when he was young, he managed - despite his later claims of a seedy upbringing - to complete schooling and eventually became a mature student at UCC where he studied law and qualified as a solicitor.

His mission to "take on the establishment" was very successful and he soon became the 'go-to' solicitor for many of Limerick's best known criminals. Despite what has been described as a "hyper personality" he proved an effective lawyer and built a formidable client-base. In the process, he became involved in highly publicised clashes with judges, gardai, fellow solicitors and the Law Society which led to many column inches in the newspapers, an autobiography and an appearance on The Late Late Show.

It also provided him with a very lucrative career. His Quinlan Street office quickly became one of the best known practitioners of free legal aid in Limerick. He estimated that 80pc of his income came from state aid to litigants and in 2009 he earned €433,603 from free legal aid fees alone.

His advice to clients was to tell gardai after their arrest: "I can't remember, but if I do I'll tell you." In a drink-driving case, his client told the court: "I'm not taking the blame for John Devane, he lied to the court and now he's trying to take money off me." He was also fined €1 for calling a judge a "clown".

Apart from his work as a criminal lawyer, he also brought a series of class actions over army deafness, the Residential Institutions Redress Board, the MRSA 'superbug' and a lawsuit on behalf of prisoners against the practise of "slopping out".

He was also investigated by the Law Society - and on one occasion when his office was raided by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), he photographed the event and gave pictures to the local media.

He once rang local reporters to tell them of an important case he would be raising in court that afternoon - but when the case was called, he told the judge it was "of such a sensitive nature" it should be adjourned for a week.

The reporters later told him if he pulled another stunt like that, they would report him to the Garda.

In 2007, at the height of his notoriety in Limerick, he put himself forward as an independent candidate in the general election. As a publicity stunt, he turned up at an appearance in the city by Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern armed with a plastic sword, but was disarmed by a female garda. He got 330 first preference votes.

In 2006, he contracted MRSA when he was a patient in a Limerick hospital. In 2015, he underwent surgery for what he claimed was a broken neck and appeared in court for some time in a wheelchair.

John Devane was found dead at his home in Blackwater, Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, last Sunday morning, and his funeral took place last Thursday. He is survived by his wife Julieann and their children Jemma and Jessica and his four sisters. He was predeceased by his two brothers.

Sunday Independent

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