Monday 27 May 2019

Obituary: Judge whose one Irish rugby cap was filmed by Movietone

MODEST: John Blayney
MODEST: John Blayney
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

JUDGE John Blayney, who has died aged 93, had the distinction of scoring a spectacular try in his only appearance for Ireland at Lansdowne Road in February 1950, after running 40 yards with the ball to cross the Scottish line at a time when such exploits were rare in rugby.

Although he was never picked for his country again, his feat was immortalised in a Movietone News film of the occasion. Rugby seems to have been a lot more informal then -- the short clip shows kilt-clad Scots visitors climbing on to the crossbar of the goalpost, dancing merrily in droves after the pipe band as it marched around the ground and encouraging both teams as they emerged from the tunnel.

John Blayney, who was the first `old boy' from Glenstal Abbey in Limerick, where he boarded from 1939-1942, to get a full cap for Ireland, played his club rugby with UCD and later Wanderers. The Irish side on that Saturday, which included such greats as Jackie Kyle and Karl Mullen, won the match 21 points to 0, giving the ebullient Scots visitors little to cheer about after the game.

Born in Dublin, John Blayney was the son of surgeon Alexander Blayney, who came originally from Co Antrim. The elder Blayney was on duty in the Mater Hospital during The Rising in Easter week, 1916. Records uncovered during the centenary celebrations showed that he stayed in the hospital for that entire week, operating on the wounded and injured and sleeping only intermittently between the arrival of waves of casualties.

His son John grew up in a privileged household in Dublin 4 and was educated at Belvedere College, Glenstal Abbey and later UCD, where he graduated with a degree in classics. He then went to the Kings Inns where he qualified as a barrister.He was called to the bar in 1948, and became a senior counsel in 1974. His brother-in-law was Tom Finlay, who later became Chief Justice and his niece is Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan, a current member of the Supreme Court.

A man of deep Catholic faith, he and his French-born wife of 65 years, Bernadette, recited the Magnificat together every day. He was also chairman of an advisory committee to the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference dealing with victims of clerical abuse. It was described as "challenging work" and for this and other services he was awarded a Papal Knighthood by Pope Benedict.

When his friend Fr Christopher Dillon inquired about the ceremony, Judge Blayney, "being the modest man he was" replied that it took place in the chapel in Gonzaga with only members of his immediate family present.

In the early 1980s he was legal adviser to the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC). In June 1981, he drew up the first draft of the recently repealed Eighth Amendment, which, in his version, "recognised the absolute right of life of every unborn child from conception", a wording which was varied slightly by the government of Garret FitzGerald and inserted in the Constitution after a referendum.

He was a judge of the High Court for some years and decided the Derrynaflan hoard, now in the National Museum, should be returned to the finders or they should be compensated for its notional value of €6.28m (£5.5m). This was later overturned by the Supreme Court and the finders were awarded €57,000 (£50,000).

He became a member of the Supreme Court in 1992 and served until 1997. He was also an occasional Irish representative on the European Court of Human Rights.

Shortly after retirement, he conducted the Blayney Inquiry which was established by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI) to investigate the professional and business competence of two of the country's best known accountancy practices Deloitte & Touche and Oliver Freaney & Co. This occurred following the McCracken Tribunal investigation into payments by the grocery chain Dunnes Stories to the former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

Mr Haughey brought a successful legal challenge to the terms of reference of the inquiry, arguing that, as he was an `honorary' rather than a full member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland, it was not entitled to make findings about him.

The inquiry, which was supposed to conclude in months, dragged on until 2000 when Mr Blayney made his findings.

It was further dogged by various legal challenges and costs running into millions. When it was finally published, the report censured a number of Irish firms and accountancy professionals, but so much time had elapsed it seemed irrelevant to the general public.

Along with accountant Tom Grace, Mr Blayney also conducted an investigation into financial malpractice at National Irish Bank (NIB) which was presented to the High Court and published in 2004.

Mr Blayney, who lived in Sandymount, Dublin died on June 17.

He is survived by his wife Bernadette and his children Benedict, Martine, Marc, Anne, Philip and John-Anthony.

Among those who attended his funeral Mass in Donnybrook Church in Dublin last Thursday was the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, former Attorney General John Murray and former Chief Justice, Ronan Keane.

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