Ahern rejects pleas from TDs to cut fines
JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern has cracked down on TDs who are pleading for leniency for constituents with court fines.
According to a Freedom of Information request, he has denied the requests of three TDs who wrote to him pleading for leniency in relation to road traffic fines imposed on voters.
The rejections are:
- Former junior minister John McGuinness wrote to him pleading for leniency for a voter who had a road traffic fine of €750, but his request was refused.
- Fianna Fail Galway West TD Noel Treacy had his request for leniency for a voter with a road traffic fine of €2,160 commuted refused.
- Fine Gael Laois-Offaly TD Olwyn Enright had her request for leniency in relation to a €1,500 fine for a voter's road traffic offence refused.
In the past, previous justice ministers slashed the size of court fines in response to petitions from TDs. But Mr Ahern is now sending a standard rejection letter to all TDs to inform them that he will only grant petitions to reduce or amend court fines in exceptional cases.
"The power of clemency which I may exercise in relation to penalties imposed by courts exercising criminal jurisdiction was restricted significantly by a 1995 High Court judgment," he said.
The power of the Justice Minister to grant petitions to reduce court fines had been designed to help the poor and needy in cases of extreme hardship.
But it rapidly became a method for some politicians to curry favour with constituents who had been incurred court fines.
The High Court described it as a "parallel system of justice" with up to 5,000 petitions being made to the minister by TDs annually. It effectively put an end to the practice with a 1995 ruling.
The Department of Justice refused to release copies of the letters sent by the TDs seeking to have court fines commuted on the grounds that they contained the personal and financial information of individuals.
But in his standard response letter, Mr Ahern said the High Court judgment required him to use the power of clemency in relation to court fines "sparingly and only in special cases and exceptional circumstances".
Mr Ahern is also refusing to accept one of the most common reasons for a waiver -- financial hardship -- by telling TDs to get in contact with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service instead.
The three requests he turned down were all made in June 2008, shortly after he took up the job as Justice Minister.
But the Freedom of Information request shows that his predecessor, Brian Lenihan, refused all 19 requests made to him between January 2007 and May 2008. Mr McGuinness and Fianna Fail Cork East TD Ned O'Keeffe made the highest number of petitions (three each).
Mr Lenihan refused Mr O'Keeffe's plea for leniency for a voter with a €565 fine for not having a TV licence.
Fine Gael Mayo TD Michael Ring's request to have a €1,500 fine imposed under the Control of Dogs Act commuted was refused.
Junior Minister Michael Finneran had a request to have a €1,500 fine, for a Revenue offence, commuted refused.
The remainder of the requests were in connection with court fines imposed for road traffic offences.