Green had demanded overhaul of 'lobbying by letters'
Published 24/02/2010 | 05:00
TREVOR Sargent called for the controversial system of political representations to be overhauled as far back as 2002, amid the furore over a junior minister who contacted a judge.
Progressive Democrats junior minister Bobby Molloy resigned his position in April 2002 after it emerged that someone representing him had made approaches to a judge in connection with a rape case.
Although insistent there was nothing dishonest in his action, Mr Molloy admitted there had been a "human error of judgment" and resigned.
The swift resignation of Mr Sargent prompted opposition parties to draw comparisons with Mr Molloy's 2002 resignation. As the then-Green Party leader and a member of the opposition benches, Mr Sargent described the episode as a "cause of sadness" for both the rape victim and the junior minister when commenting in 2002. But, he said, he hoped the whole "sorry saga" would lead to the introduction of new measures by the Justice Minister and help avoid a repetition of the debacle.
"The time is long overdue when representations which jeopardise or may jeopardise the separation of the executive from the judiciary should be ruled out of order," Mr Sargent said in 2002.
"Any representation relating to a court case ought to be acknowledged with a warning about the need not to interfere in any way with due judicial process.
"It is shocking that this should occur after Deputy Molloy's 37 years of experience as a TD and minister and this highlights that this warning cannot be repeated too often."
At the time, the justice minister was John O'Donoghue, who last year resigned as Ceann Comhairle following controversy over his expenses. He had also just dealt with the 'Sheedy affair', which led to the resignation of both a Supreme Court judge and a High Court judge.
"The shock is compounded by the fact that Deputy O'Donoghue, as a solicitor as well as a minister, knows the seriousness of the Sheedy affair and knows the further seriousness of this case," Mr Sargent said in 2002. Yet in his speech he did not make reference to the need for reform within his department. The flaws in the system which came to light during the Sheedy affair have now been further exacerbated by this lack of reform in the department. This sorry saga should probably be called the Shoddy affair."
Despite Mr Sargent's 2002 appeal for reform, none has been forthcoming.
Former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea called for a ban on politicians making representations to the Justice Minister on behalf of prisoners in 2008. But political parties argued that while strict rules were required, a ban was not appropriate.
Many TDs claimed an outright ban would prevent them from making legitimate inquiries on behalf of prisoners and their families and the idea of a ban was abandoned.