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Former Justice Minister criticises Fianna Fáil TD for writing letter to judge on behalf of three brothers

Ex Minister said move 'potentially blurs the clear constitutional lines' which separate the legislature and the Judiciary

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Former Minister Charlie Flanagan

Former Minister Charlie Flanagan

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Former Minister Charlie Flanagan

Former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has criticised a Fianna Fáil TD for writing a letter to a court on behalf of three brothers whose homes were this week raided as part of a major Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) investigation.

Longford-Westmeath TD Joe Flaherty described the three men as "extremely capable, very sharp and more than familiar with hard work" in a letter submitted during a trial for violent disorder.

He has not commented since the homes of Thomas (40), Denis (39), and Willie Hannafin (35) were this week raided by gardai. Fianna Fáil has also refused to comment on the letter.

However, Mr Flanagan said it is "dangerous" for TDs to try "influence judicial decisions" as it "potentially blurs the clear constitutional lines" which separate the legislature and the Judiciary.

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‘Not a character reference’: TD Joe Flaherty, left, pictured in 2016 with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

‘Not a character reference’: TD Joe Flaherty, left, pictured in 2016 with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

‘Not a character reference’: TD Joe Flaherty, left, pictured in 2016 with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"The courts must at all times remain independent of politics and the political system," the former justice minister said on Twitter.

On Monday, the homes of all three men were among 12 residential properties, three commercial premises and one business raided by gardaí. CAB seized €110,000 and £14,000 (€15,570) in cash along with three caravans and 11 vehicles including a Mercedes, Skoda Kodiaq, Isuzu D-Max, Ford Ranger and a Toyota Land Cruiser. Two Rolex watches were seized, as were designer handbags and shoes.

In June, it emerged Mr Flaherty submitted a letter to Longford Circuit Court during a trial involving the three Hannafins. It related to an assault which resulted in 18 year old receiving a knife wound. The three brothers were given suspended sentences.

In the letter, the Fianna Fáil TD said he was "deeply disappointed" by the actions of the three brothers and said local feuds were having a negative impact on Longford.

Mr Flaherty said he knew the men before the court and "many members of their family".

"Ordinarily, they are likeable men, very committed to family, and I am aware that a shadow of tragedy has hung over them in recent years,' he said.

"All three men are extremely capable, very sharp and more than familiar with hard work. I would like to think and hope that the actions before the court are not likely to happen again but, unfortunately, feuding has been a huge problem and stigma for Longford town," he added.

Mr Flaharty previously insisted the letter was not a “character reference” and said he was not trying to influence the outcome of the case. The letter was written on the TD’s personalised headed note paper and listed his Dáil address.

Online Editors