Thursday 17 October 2019

By-election delay 'offends spirit of the Constitution'

The Government has offended the spirit of the Constitution by failing to hold the long-awaited Donegal South-West by-election, the High Court ruled today.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns supported Sinn Fein's claim that the writ for the vote should have been moved some time in the 16 months since the seat became empty.

But the judge stopped short of ordering the Government to set a date for the crucial by-election.

"I am satisfied that the delay in this case is so inordinate as to amount to a breach of the applicant's constitutional rights to such a degree as to warrant the court granting some form of relief," Mr Justice Kearns, High Court President, said.

"Far from the court 'tearing asunder' the provisions of the Constitution by adjudicating on this application, it is the ongoing failure to move the writ for this by-election since June 2009 which offends the terms and spirit of the Constitution and its framework for democracy."

Sinn Fein Senator Pearse Doherty has repeatedly called for the by-election since former TD Pat "the Cope" Gallagher won a seat in Europe.

Despite assurances from the Government that the vote would be arranged in the spring, the battle went to judicial review last month.

The party said it will move a writ in the Dail tomorrow calling for a date to be set for the poll.

The judge said the delays in Donegal South-West were unreasonable.

And, in a veiled threat, he said the issue was not far short of a case requiring draconian action.

He added: "The court might, in another case following on from this one, feel constrained to take a more serious view if any Government, not just necessarily the present one, was seen by the courts to be acting in clear disregard of an applicant's constitutional rights in continually refusing over an unreasonable period of time to move the writ for a by-election."

Mr Doherty said the judge had delivered a fatal blow to the Government.

"I was forced to bring the Government kicking and screaming before the courts over its denial of democracy," the Sinn Fein representative said.

"With three other by-elections now due, the Government has little if any prospect of survival. The game is now up.

"The Taoiseach should now do the right thing and call a general election."

Other constituencies awaiting a new TD include Waterford, after former minister Martin Cullen resigned on health grounds, Dublin South, left empty by journalist George Lee, and Donegal North-East, vacated by Dr Jim McDaid.

PA Media

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