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At last, a judge who speaks up for the victims

Tom McFeely is no stranger to the inside of a jail cell. As a young IRA man he was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the attempted murder of a Northern Ireland policeman in a gun battle, possession of illegal weapons and a post office robbery.

McFeely's Provo past may be behind him, but clearly he still has an unfortunate habit of putting innocent lives in danger. As the developer behind Priory Hall apartments in Donaghmede, he must take responsibility for the lack of fire safety precautions that left over 240 people living in a death trap.

So three cheers for Justice Nicholas Kearns, pictured above, the President of the High Court who yesterday sentenced McFeely to three months in jail and a €1m fine for being in contempt of court. In his judgment, this dodgy builder has shown an "unprecedented" level of disrespect by failing to carry out an undertaking to complete the repair works at Priory Hall by November 28. By handing down such a clear and decisive verdict, the judge has clearly spoken for the people whose lives have been devastated by this scandal -- and given hope to those who sometimes fear that the rich can get away with almost anything in this country.

As it happens, McFeely has escaped Mountjoy for now after his legal team secured a stay in the Supreme Court. It will be some time yet before his ultimate fate is known. Even so, Justice Kearns has set down a powerful marker for the battle ahead -- and left the ex-IRA gunman in no doubt that if he does lose this case, there will be a hefty price to pay both personally and financially.

It's not always popular being a judge these days. In the recent referendum on judicial pay, almost 80pc of people decided that the Government should have the power to give m'luds' salaries a substantial haircut.

This week strong links between political parties and judges have been highlighted, with the revelation that over a third of the country's bigwigs had personal or political connections to a political party before they were appointed.

When a judge gets it right, however, they deserve to be applauded for a job well done. Justice Kearns clearly falls into this category.

Instead of fudging the issue, he described McFeely's behaviour in plain language and delivered a sentence that most ordinary people will regard as fully justified under the circumstances.

Let's not forget who is ultimately paying for this debacle. Nobody can say for sure how much longer the residents of Priory Hall will have to stare at their hotel walls,.

But we do know the tab is being picked up by Dublin City Council -- which is just a roundabout way of saying the taxpayer.


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