Wednesday 29 January 2020

AG whose hidden hands helped to shape Irish history

Dearbhail McDonald and Sam Smyth

As the coffin bearing the remains of the former Attorney General Rory Brady was carried into the overflowing Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook last Wednesday, Bertie Ahern struggled to hold back his tears.

In the last year, the former Taoiseach had attended the funerals of two close friends, Senator Tony Kett and teacher Kieran O'Driscoll, political animals who, like Brady, had succumbed to cancer in the prime of their lives.

The death of Brady (52) overwhelmed Ahern, who says that he feels "lucky" to have known the man he has described as his most trusted and closest friend at the cabinet table.

Brady, a former chairman of the Bar Council, the representative body for barristers, served as Attorney General between 2002 and 2007.

He was already one of the most outstanding and highest paid lawyers of his generation when he answered Ahern's call.

The post of Attorney General, legal adviser to the Government, is the most coveted judicial post in the State. Brady was appointed at the age of 44.

Not just admired but genuinely revered in his profession and beyond, Brady was, perhaps, an unlikely candidate to attain such legal eminence.

Born in the heart of the Liberties in Dublin, both his parents worked in the nearby Guinness factory.

The legal profession is often accused of being inherently dynastic and middle class but Brady, who was educated at Synge Street and UCD, overcame those perceived obstacles to embark on a meteoric rise in the bar.

He was a truly brilliant lawyer and, with his unaffected working-class Dublin accent, all the more prized by his clients because he didn't sound or look like what most people expect from a high-flying barrister.

In 1996 he was appointed Senior Counsel, the year he started work on the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board.

His work on the inquiry was truly astonishing; it was set up in October 1996 and reported in March 1997.

Steeped in politics, his late father John Brady contested the 1948 General Election in Dublin South on a Clann na Poblachta ticket that included Joe Barron, whose granddaughter Siobhan the young lawyer would later marry.

The couple have two teenage daughters, Maeve and Aoife.

A keen historian and instinctive Republican, it was Brady who suggested snatching back the Republican credentials from Sinn Fein when he put forward the proposal to reinstate the military parade for the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

Rory Brady was also one of the hidden hands who shaped Irish history, and his advice through the delicate and tortuous negotiations of the peace process made him invaluable.

Ahern recalls how pivotal the lawyer was during some of the darkest days, especially during the St Andrew's agreement when Brady masterminded a legal solution to keep the all-island North South implementation bodies intact, even if the talks and the executive collapsed.

His motto was "we have to battle on," says Ahern. "Many lawyers will tell you what you can't do, but nothing would defeat Rory. He would work and graft until he found a solution."

The role of Attorney General is a background one and few realise that some of the key legal innovations in recent years were masterminded by Rory Brady.

He presided over the codification of Ireland's statute laws and designed the legal framework for the smoking ban, which has since been imitated by countries throughout the world. He was also the man behind the random breath-testing regime that was introduced in 2007 and is credited with a serious reduction in road deaths.

Occasionally, the hidden hand revealed itself and Ahern says that Brady relished the opportunity to "take on the Brits" when he regularly argued his cases about Sellafield personally in the international courts in the Hague.

That the Attorney General would personally take up the case against Sellafield was something that made its mark on the British cabinet and arguably improved nuclear safety for us all.

A devout Catholic, Brady's personal motto, we have to battle on, was pressed into even more service during the final two years of his life.

It was an illness that he faced bravely, says Ahern, and one that he fought surrounded by his "angel" Siobhan and his daughters, as well as a wide circle of family and friends.

Two years ago Brady, who had returned to private practice, had the world at his feet, the door of the Supreme Court and other accolades open to him if he desired.

Ahern says he was lucky to have him as Attorney General and a friend, but Ireland was also lucky to have Rory Brady, whose huge legacy will be celebrated for years to come.

Irish Independent

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