Tuesday 24 October 2017

Pearse Doherty must pay his own legal costs – High Court

Tim Healy

SINN Fein TD Pearse Doherty will have to pay his own legal costs for his unsuccessful challenge to statements by the Referendum Commission during the referendum on the Fiscal Treaty.

The Commission and Attorney General, who he brought the case against, will also have to pay their costs.

High Court judge Gerard Hogan found that while the SF Finance Spokesman had raised important issues in his action, he was not entitled to his costs on the grounds including that he had delayed in bringing his challenge.

Late last month Mr Justice Hogan rejected Mr Doherty's application to have the Referendum Commission withdraw remarks made by its chairman, which Mr Doherty claimed gave the impression Ireland could not veto the European Stability mechanism (ESM).

He claimed a first statement on the veto issue by the Commission Chairman in early May attracted much media attention and gave prominence to "Yes" arguments over "No" arguments in the campaign.

A second statement issued by the Commission, which suggested it was still open to Ireland to use a veto with regards to the ESM as Mr Doherty had argued, may have aided the "No" side but was not given prominence, he claimed. During the proceedings it had been claimed that second statement was made "under the radar."

The Commission and the Attorney General rejected these claims.

Following the dismissal of his case Deputy Doherty sought his costs as the action had raised important issues of public importance.

His lawyers argued while the court had rejected the challenge, it had also said there was "unquestionably" room for legitimate legal and political debate on that issue.

The AG and the Commission sought their legal costs of the action and argued that no point of exceptional public importance had been raised.

In his ruling on legal costs of the action today, Mr Justice Hogan said he was satisfied that Deputy Doherty had raised "serious, worthy and bona fides" legal issues which allowed the court depart from the normal rule that costs follow the event.

These legitimate issues which were ventilated before the court were, the judge said, "a call to the people of Ireland to engage in a vigorous debate to issues raised in last month's referendum on Fiscal Treaty."

On that basis the Judge was not prepared to make costs orders against the Donegal TD in favour of either the Commission or the AG.

However the Judge said that he had to temper this with the fact Deputy Doherty had delayed in bringing the action, which the Judge held to be prejudicial against both the State and the Commission. The action was brought on the eve of the referendum and required a late night sitting to consider the issues.

In addition in his proceedings had made claims in relation to the second statement made by the Commission was made "under the radar".

That claim the Judge he said were "unfair, unfounded, and without substance," and was something he had to tale account of when considering costs.

When all matters were taken into account he was not prepared to award Deputy Doherty his costs against the Commission. Deputy Doherty had not sought his costs against the AG.

The Judge further told the court that he did not take into consideration Deputy Doherty's assertion that any costs orders made against him would cause the TD hardship.

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