| 12.9°C Dublin

Gerry O'Carroll: How a minister tried to influence me over case of city criminal

THE race to the Aras is shaping up to be a no-holds-barred fight to the end.

What in years past would have been a genteel campaign is now turning out to be anything but.

Mind you, the recent shenanigans involving Gay Byrne have proved a welcome distraction for the put-upon people of the country.

Senator David Norris's campaign earlier came to an abrupt and sad end, following the leaking of details of a letter in which he pleaded for clemency for his ex-lover, convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.


Norris was leading by a country mile in the polls but such was the disgust and anger that the hapless senator was forced to withdraw his candidature.

No matter how altruistic Norris said that his actions were, the public consensus was clear. It was, and is, improper for a public representative to try to influence the criminal justice process.

The new frontrunners in the Aras race, Gay Mitchell and Michael D Higgins, would do well to remember this.

Norris was the latest in a line of politicians who incurred the wrath of citizens for engaging in an inexcusable practice. In the past such interference has proved the graveyard for many politicians. The most high profile was Bobby Molloy, who resigned after a phone call was made from his office to a judge over a rape case.

Just last year the Herald exposed the then Green TD Trevor Sargent after he contacted a garda superintendent over an assault case.

But this practice goes back further, and in some cases can be more insidious that a single contact.

I can testify that I was a target of a Fianna Fail minister, who plagued me with letters, as he did the Garda Commissioner, in a blatant attempt to influence the investigation and court appearance of a leading Dublin criminal. Naturally I was disgusted at this interference in the judicial system and made this clear. This criminal was later convicted of a serious crime.

Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell should bear all this in mind as he deals with the publicity concerning his appeals for clemency for two criminals in the US.

In 1998 Mitchell handed in a letter to the US Embassy protesting the death sentence handed to a man convicted of the rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl. In 2003 he wrote a letter calling for a halt to the execution of Paul Jennings Hill, an anti-abortion murderer.

Mitchell has explained his motives in recent days, on radio. He came across as a sincere opponent of the death penalty. I don't doubt his sincerity. But why was he initially reluctant to publish in full detail copies of these letters?

He says he will do so now -- as long as he can find the letters. As a supporter of openness and transparency, he should have done so before now. And will he release any other letters he has written to the courts here or abroad on behalf of criminals, if they exist?

The same applies to Labour candidate Michael D Higgins.

In the event that he has ever made pleas for clemency he must release the details of such pleas. If he has never made them then he should say so loud and clear -- it will stand to him.


It is unacceptable and undemocratic for politicians to interfere with the judicial system, in this or any other country. The legislative and judiciary are separate in our country for this very reason.

Such misguided pleadings serve to heap more misery on the families of victims, who are often struggling to cope.

It should be a criminal offence for any politician, or aspiring politician, to seek to interfere with the course of justice.

It is misguided and simply not befitting of an Irish president.