Privilege judgment may not apply now
Published 12/02/2008 | 00:00
TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern is citing Dail privilege as the reason why the Mahon Tribunal cannot question him about statements he made relating to his personal finances.
His bid to stop the Mahon Tribunal questioning him about anything he said in Leinster House is based on a 1993 judgment of the Supreme Court.
But the 15-year-old ruling that supported the then Tanaiste Dick Spring was in a very different context. Mr Spring, with Pat Rabbitte and Tomas MacGiolla -- both in the Workers' Party at the time -- had refused to name their informants to the Beef Tribunal.
Mr Ahern is relying on that ruling to stop questions arising from statements about his personal finances and tax affairs that he had made in the Dail -- and repeated subsequently outside the privilege of the House.
The ruling of the Supreme Court was clear in relation to Article 15.13 of the Constitution: no member of either House of the Oireachtas can be made amenable to a court or a tribunal.
The previous sentence in the ruling says no member of the Dail or Seanad "can be forced to give evidence at any tribunal in relation to any utterance made by them in either House".
But other senior lawyers say the courts could decide that the 15-year-old judgment doesn't necessarily mean that the tribunal can't ask questions; just that the Taoiseach doesn't have to answer them.