Friday 22 March 2019

Kevin Lynch in the spotlight

Kerry Babies case put this judge in the spotlight

Judge Kevin Lynch
Judge Kevin Lynch
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Kevin Lynch became a High Court judge in 1984. Shortly afterwards, he was appointed to chair the Kerry Babies Tribunal. He held a preliminary hearing on December 28 and the tribunal began hearing evidence 10 days later. It heard closing submissions in mid-June and the report was published at the start of October.

Things happened more briskly in those days.

Lynch, who died last Thursday at the age of 85, served on the High Court for 12 years. In 1996 he was appointed to the Supreme Court and he served there until his retirement in 1999. It was the tribunal that made him a household name in the Eighties.

The tribunal arose from the arrest of several members of the Hayes family, living on a small farm outside Tralee. A baby had been found on Cahirciveen beach, stabbed to death. The family, after garda interrogation, signed confessions to the violent killing and the disposal of the corpse in the sea. The supposed motivation for the crime was shame at the birth, the unmarried Joanne Hayes's second baby.

The forensic reports, including blood analysis, came back. The dead baby was not that of Joanne and the man with whom she was having an affair. Yet, the police had somehow obtained detailed and concurring confessions that graphically described the stabbing and the disposal.

Joanne's baby had been born on the farm and was subsequently found hidden on the land. Medical evidence could not establish if the baby had ever drawn breath, but it had certainly not been stabbed. The charges against the family were dropped. Journalists Joe Joyce and Don Buckley broke the story for the Sunday Independent, resulting in the tribunal.

Lynch, born in 1928, was very much of the old Ireland. He seemed genuinely bewildered by the controversy around the case. In his report, he described what he termed "the affaire", and Joanne's "foolish dreams". Another lawyer, on hearing evidence from a woman that she had an after-hours drink with a work colleague, responded: "And you a married woman!"

Lynch was taken aback when women picketed the hearing. Joanne, being persistently grilled on intimate details, became distressed and had to be sedated. She was then taken back to the witness stand to be further interrogated, visibly in a daze. Picketers saw this as bullying, Lynch saw it as "a combination of firmness and courtesy".

The tragic death in Longford of Anne Lovett had occurred months earlier. Concealing her pregnancy, alone on a rainy night, aged 15, lying on the ground beside a grotto, attempting to deliver the baby herself, she died.

This tragedy and the Kerry Babies controversy together threw a harsh light on the realities of a land of pitiless rules about sex, gender and moral authority. Lynch, striving to accommodate the demands made on him by his tribunal duties and the conventions of a society struggling with change, became a focus for much of the anger.

The judge's report reached questionable conclusions and was criticised by both the family and several of the gardai involved. Unusually, he ditched the silence with which judges traditionally treated criticism and robustly answered his critics. The Kerry Babies case provoked bitter national controversy and marked a change in Irish attitudes towards women's rights.

The removal will take place this evening to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, Dublin, arriving at 6.30pm. The funeral Mass will be held tomorrow at 11.30am, followed by burial in Shanganagh Cemetery.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss