Sunday 25 February 2018

Senator has 'no right to sue', claim committee's lawyers

Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

THE long-running saga into Ivor Callely's expenses took a dramatic turn yesterday when lawyers for the Seanad committee the former Fianna Fail senator is suing raised doubts about whether he had any right to sue it at all.

Mr Callely, who resigned from Fianna Fail late last month, is seeking permission from the courts to judicially review the Members' Interest Committee which suspended him for 20 days last July after it found that he had misrepresented his place of residence for the purpose of claiming allowances.

Normally when a person seeks leave to bring a judicial review, the leave is granted without the other party being notified or attending court.

But yesterday Gerard Hogan, who is representing the Seanad committee, arrived breathlessly into the High Court moments after Mr Callely's legal team began their application, and disputed whether the judiciary had any right to intervene in the internal workings of the Dail and Seanad.

Under Article 15.10 of the Constitution, the Dail and Seanad have exclusive jurisdiction to make their own rules and standing orders, with the power to attach any penalties.

In this way, the Oireachtas retains a quasi-criminal jurisdiction to try and sentence members for breaking its rules.

The courts have, in the past, intervened -- notably in the famous Abbeylara ruling -- where litigants complained about Oireachtas committees and their procedures.

But, unlike Ivor Callely, the litigants who complained in the past about Oireachtas committees were not serving members of either the Dail or Seanad.

Thus, a complaint about claiming expenses has the potential to turn into another debate about jurisdiction and the separation of powers.

The intervention yesterday by the Seanad has provided yet another twist in the Callely saga.

Added to this sense of drama is the fact that the Seanad is due to recommence its work later this month and does not want Mr Callely to resume his duties whilst he is under investigation for alleged breaches of disciplinary procedures.

The High Court is set to fast-track a telescoped hearing, where all issues will be debated, and the case could be heard as early as October 4.

One way or another, the tale of Ivor the Engine does not look like running out of steam anytime soon.

Irish Independent

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