Business Irish

Friday 19 October 2018

Harry Whelehan


Having been the most popular and least controversial of barristers, Harry Whelehan became the most controversial of Attorneys-General.

In 1992, acting independently of government as guardian of the public interest, he applied for an injunction to prevent a 14-year-old girl who had been raped from leaving the country for an abortion.

The judgment of the High Court granting the injunction sparked off a ferocious public debate and was reversed by the Supreme Court. But both courts made clear that Whelehan had acted correctly in referring the case to them.

Later the same year, he intervened in the Beef tribunal to prevent Minister Ray Burke being questioned about discussions in the Cabinet.

Whelehan's plea for Cabinet confidentiality was upheld by the Supreme Court. Although he had acted independently as guardian of the Constitution he was accused unfairly if inevitably of having acted to protect Taoiseach Albert Reynolds who was under investigation.

In 1994, Whelehan allowed himself to be nominated as President of the High Court by Reynolds, though the Labour members of the government opposed him.

Revelations of tardiness in the Attorney-General's office in processing the extradition of a paedophile to Northern Ireland fuelled Labour objections. In a vain effort to appease Labour so as to stay in government, Reynolds told the Dail that he regretted having appointed Whelehan.

After six days in office Whelehan resigned, giving as his reason the need to keep the judiciary out of politics.

Since then, Whelehan has practised successfully at the Bar. Although recommended for a judgeship by the Judicial Appointments Board, he has been repeatedly turned down by Fianna Fail ministers unable to forgive him for his part in the party losing office from 1994 to 1997.

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