Monday 17 December 2018

Time to go, Mr Lawlor

Gene McKenna

Defiant TD taken from jail to hear all-party 'quit' plea DISGRACED TD Liam Lawlor was back behind bars last night after a dramatic Dail appearance during which he ignored unprecedented all-party calls for his resignation.

In one of the most sensational days in the House for some time, Mr Lawlor was released temporarily by the High Court to mount his own defence during an hour-long debate.

Taken into Leinster House in a prison van, Mr Lawlor sat alone at the rear of the Chamber while the five party leaders, in turn, called on him to step down.

But the Dublin West TD made an aggressive defence of his own position during a 20-minute speech while making no reference at all to the unprecedented joint motion.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr Lawlor had repeatedly let politics down and his position was untenable.

Mr Lawlor, he said, had been committed to prison three times and political life was "cheapened" by this.

But the Independent TD, speaking from hand-written notes, told deputies he was "deeply wounded" by what had happened, adding: "I did not wish to be in this position."

The extraordinary events which saw Mr Lawlor being released by the High Court for about two hours came on only the third day of his 28-day sentence for not co-operating with the Flood Tribunal.

As the Dail sat at 10.30am, Mr Lawlor's legal advisers were petitioning the High Court to allow him make his own case to his fellow TDs.

High Court president Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan granted the request but laid down strict conditions on Mr Lawlor's release, saying he was to be taken from Mountjoy to Leinster House, stay for the debate and then be returned to jail.

The Judge said Mr Lawlor was not an ordinary member of the prison population and was not a convicted person. As he was likely to be the subject of attack during the debate, he had the right to have an opportunity to vindicate his reputation. The Judge stipulated he was not to avail of facilities like the restaurant or bars and was not to "disport" himself there or to spend any time there other than participating in the debate. If there were any abuse of these conditions, he would regard it as a very serious contempt.

Mr Lawlor apologised if he had brought the House into disrepute but added: "When you think you are slightly more than half-right, you have to stand up for what you believe."

In an often emotional speech, he said he hoped that when people came to judge this phase of the tribunal, he would be "accountable for every penny I got and that there is nobody down there in that witness box to make the slightest criticism of corruption associated with me".

The Dail, he said, should let the tribunal do the job it was given to do.

As Mr Lawlor began his speech, there were fears that he might use the occasion to make allegations against other TDs but he did not do so.

Mr Noonan, who had first raised the possibility of Mr Lawlor having to be present on Tuesday, said he deplored the TD's behaviour and its effect on the public perception of politics and the political institutions.

He accused Mr Lawlor of "playing ducks and drakes" with the tribunal and the courts in the past and now with the Dail and said Mr Ahern must be "seriously embarrassed" by the whole affair.

Labour leader Ruairi Quinn said it was time for Mr Lawlor to go, "to respect the traditions of the State, to venerate the memory of people who came here before us" and to acquiesce to the resignation request without protest.

No vote was required as the decision to ask him to resign was unanimous.

As Mr Lawlor was driven away from Leinster House and back to jail, he told waiting journalists: "Let the record stand on what I said inside."

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