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Legal profession defends O'Callaghan over 'conflict of interest' on Adams work

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Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The legal profession is defending Fianna Fáil TD Jim O'Callaghan's stance on work he carried out for former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams amid accusations it amounted to a "conflict of interest".

The Bar Council of Ireland last night said barristers could not discriminate in favour or against any person seeking their services.

It came after Mr O'Callaghan, who has ruled out his party going into government with Sinn Féin, was criticised by Fine Gael for providing legal services to Mr Adams.

Mr O'Callaghan disputed a claim by Minister Regina Doherty that there was a "conflict of interest", saying he has also represented individuals from a number of political parties including Fine Gael and Labour during his legal career.

The Dublin Bay South candidate - who has double-jobbed as a TD and a barrister - said his politics and views were "not affected in any way" by his representation of any person.

But Fine Gael continued the pressure. Health Minister Simon Harris posted online: "Did [Micheál Martin] know that his legal adviser at the time was also providing legal advice to Gerry Adams?"

Mr Adams replied to Mr Harris on Twitter. He said: "I don't consult Micheál Martin about my legal affairs. It's none of his business.

"None of your business either Mr Harris." The Bar Council of Ireland released a statement that backed up the position Mr O'Callaghan took in his response to the criticism he faced.

The statement said barristers must "be independent and free from any influence", especially "such as may arise from their personal interests or external pressure" in the "discharge of their professional duties".

"Barristers cannot discriminate in favour of or against any person availing, or seeking to avail, of the services of the barrister," it added.

Politics was included along with race, colour and sex as grounds that cannot be discriminated against.

The statement said this was in the code of conduct of the Bar of Ireland to which all members of the independent referral bar were bound.

"It is in accordance with the provision that everyone is entitled to access to justice, which is central to trust in the Irish legal system and the rule of law," it added.

Mr O'Callaghan was initially hired by Mr Adams in 2015 to act in a defamation action against Sunday Newspapers Limited, publishers of the 'Sunday World'. He was a Fianna Fáil member of Dublin City Council at the time.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio's 'Today with Seán O'Rourke', Ms Doherty argued barristers could refuse a case if a "conflict of interest" was likely.

"Jim was desperately attempting to be a TD in 2015 and always knew he was going to be on the ticket. You have to ask yourself the question, can you trust Fianna Fáil when they tell you that they won't go into government with Sinn Féin?" she said. She listed some of Mr O'Callaghan's Fianna Fáil colleagues who haven't ruled it out in the past.

Mr O'Callaghan said: "I am not allowed to comment on individual cases. So that means I can't really dispute Regina's claim there's a conflict of interest here."

He said the public was aware a barrister was asked to represent a client and "does so without fear or favour and without any concern for the politics of the client".

And he rejected a claim by Ms Doherty that the conflict of interest was Mr O'Callaghan "saying one thing and doing another".

Mr O'Callaghan said his views on Sinn Féin were "unaffected by any representation I ever did for members of Sinn Féin".

"We have been very clear that we will not be going into government with Sinn Féin after the next general election," he said.

Mr O'Rourke put it to Mr O'Callaghan that he would have been "spared all this" if he had said he would be a full-time representative when he became a TD.

Mr O'Callagan said the issue being raised was something that happened in 2015 when he had no certainty he would become a TD.

Irish Independent