Political Notebook: Judicial independence illustrates disconnect between Irish people and privileged elite

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Trust the gilded elite in Irish society to introduce a self-serving side show at a time when the country continues to reel from the challenges of the economic war.

Trust the gilded elite in Irish society to introduce a self-serving side show at a time when the country continues to reel from the challenges of the economic war.

The so-called row about judicial independence would be laughable if it did not illustrate the astonishing disconnect between the privileged elite and the Irish people.

The spat between the judiciary and the Government, which flared for a time last week, is not even a storm in a tea cup. It is a very much a storm in a thimble.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly is a highly respected member of the judiciary. He is a man of integrity. But when he accused the Government of dismantling the legal system, brick by brick, he strayed into farce.

His remarks were published after what seemed a carefully orchestrated media leak, and were later backed up by a colleague, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman. It had all the appearances of a carefully piece of media manipulation to embarrass the Government.

The real belief in political and legal circles was that their Lordships were concerned about pay, pensions and future appointments.

Indeed ! Did we hear much about judicial independence when judges were paid substantial salaries and when some enjoyed handsome holiday entitlements?

No, we did not.

Judges took a pay cut, as others, lucky to have a pay cut in the current climate did. They remain very well paid and have guaranteed pensions.

And when the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, had something to say about matters, their Lordships were apparently less than impressed.

The Master of the High Court pulled no punches, so to speak. He felt the row between the Government and the judiciary had erupted out of a sense of entitlement that judges should be consulted over any proposed legislation.

Mr Honohan made it clear that there was no question that judicial independence and integrity were under challenge in any way.

He said it was inappropriate and wrong for anyone, even a High Court judge, to suggest that there might be a question mark against the administration of justice.

And Mr Honohan added: “I’m sorry to say this, but it think Judge Kelly has got it wrong. He’s over the top here. There’s no question at all that the judicial independence and integrity is under challenge in any way. Judges, when they are appointed, leave politics behind them.”

And so it is.

It is a well known fact of political life that active membership of a political party is a considerable influence when influencing a judicial appointment.

Let us go back as far as far as the late Tom O’Higgins, Fine Gael TD for Laois Offaly, when the late Oliver J Flanagan ensured he had a quota, failed to make it to the Presidency in 1973.

He would have been a Minister under Liam Cosgrave, Fine Gael Taoiseach, in 1973, but instead he waited to contest the presidential election. And he lost to Fianna Fail’s Erskine Childers, despite having run Eamon de Valera to close on 10,000 votes in 1966 when the last surviving hero of the Easter RIsing, in a very changing Ireland, very narrowly challenged for the presidential election over a younger man.

Ireland was changing. The great hero of Irish independence, Sean Lemass, as Taoiseach, had remained on to fight Dev’s last election. And all the year’s activities, with Mr Lemass the figure head of a cult he must have found nauseating in the extreme, stood behind Dev and the GPO to talk of a new Ireland in the mould of Padraic Pearse.

He must have gone to his grave some years later a disillusioned man, as he recalled the great words of Pearse and the other signatories of that revolution on its 50th year.

And on Sunday, the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin decided to evoke the men and women and the thoughts of the 1916 leaders when he led his party to Arbour Hill.

How dare he! Does he really think think that Pearse and his follower would look remotely benignly on the legacy of the signatories of the 1916 Rising?

What was he at? Does he really think that the Ireland of today would be looked on by Pearse and Connolly, and all that so-called delirium of the brave, with a an eye that would have in any way see it as progress? To hell with them.

To hell with Fianna Fail and all that rubbish that has been part of its rhetoric for so long.

Fianna Fail-led governments destroyed this country. They were the people who led us into that dreadful world of make-belief and now attempt, God help us, to call on the men and women of 1916 to give themselves a new sense of respectability.

The men and women of 1916 talked about a new Ireland where all the children of the nation would be equal. What followed was hideous in the new Ireland. What about the scandal of Artane and the Magdalene laundries?

Would Mr Martin, as he puts the 1916 legacy talk aside, address all that?

We await his response.