Saturday 17 November 2018

Same story, different script as plot thickens and political whodunnit thriller unfolds

Karl Brophy Political Correspondent

THE Bobby Molloy controversy is not the first time the Opposition has united to demand the resignation of a justice minister over a controversy involving departmental correspondence.

In late 1996, just seven months before the last election, Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats rounded on Nora Owen over the Dominic Lynch fiasco.

There was a crisis in the Special Criminal Court when it emerged that a Cabinet decision to replace Judge Lynch with Judge Kevin Haugh was not communicated to the retiring Dominic Lynch.

This meant a number of cases over which Dominic Lynch presided, during a three-month period, had to be urgently re-appraised. It emerged the Department of Justice then found a letter on file which proved they had failed to contact Judge Lynch and inform him he had been de-listed.

The FF/PD opposition identified an immediate political opportunity to embarrass the government and tabled a motion of no-confidence in Minister Nora Owen.

Over the period of one week in November 1996, Bertie Ahern, John O'Donoghue and others maintained their attack on the government and Nora Owen in particular.

These are some of quotes made in the Dail at the time:

BERTIE AHERN:

"From the beginning, the justice minister has given the impression she is not in charge.

"If something went wrong, it was corrected. There was no attempt to evade responsibility. Fianna Fail Ministers did not need extravagant and unbelievable testimonials from their colleagues and their civil servants.

"The minister clearly forgot to ask about the matter. A minister who paid more attention to what was happening in her office might not have so readily forgotten.

"The minister is clearly guilty of covering up the truth and the extent of her failure in the matter is now clear to everybody. Revelation by drip-feed is totally destructive of confidence in government.

"When I was a minister I insisted I be immediately shown all letters from the Taoiseach, other government departments and senior officers of State. With my private office, I developed a system of tracking such correspondence when it went through the department for advice and further consideration. The minister obviously has no such system in operation despite being nearly two years in office. She has had ample opportunity to instruct her private office about what she needs to see and does not need to see immediately.

MARY HARNEY:

"Accountability means a minister must take charge, must exert authority over his or her department, and must avoid doing certain things because they are wrong but must do other things required of them. That is what duty is all about: Ministers must take charge and discharge their duties. A minister cannot become a prisoner of his or her staff.

"If we accept that a minister who 'does not know' is able to get away with it then what we are saying is a minister can abdicate his or her duty to this House and the public by simply not knowing."

JOHN O'DONOGHUE:

The events of recent days have shown the minister in her true light. Not alone is she not in charge of her own department, she is not even in charge of her own private office. She enjoys the trappings but not the substance of power."

"It appears the government will investigate every official in the minister's department who knew anything about the matter, find out where they went wrong and abdicate its responsibility. However, neither the minister nor the Taoiseach, nor any member of the Cabinet, is entitled to escape responsibility.

"The minister's speech contained a tremendous amount of obfuscation. It was an attempt to construct a smoke screen around this sorry saga and a blatant effort to ensure that the Minister for Justice would escape accountability and responsibility.

"The minister has blamed the officials in her department and has said there will be an investigation. Who will investigate her role, the most abysmal of all, in this matter?

"The minister must carry major responsibility for the matter because of its grave seriousness, because she is charged with the administration of her department."

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