Eight former attorneys general have come out in opposition to the proposed amendments to the Constitution on judicial pay and on the setting up of Oireachtas inquiries. The amendments will be put to the electorate on Thursday next, along with the ballot in the presidential election.
In an unprecedented intervention, which is likely to cause consternation in Government circles, the eight from a variety of political backgrounds have written to the national newspapers expressing their opposition to the proposed wordings.
They state that the proposals will seriously weaken the rights of individuals to their good name and provide insufficient protection for the independence of the judiciary.
The signatories are Patrick Connolly, Peter Sutherland, John Rogers, Harold Whelehan, Dermot Gleeson, David Byrne, Michael McDowell and Paul Gallagher.
The letter states: “We are strongly opposed to the current proposals to amend the Constitution for the following reasons.
“The proposal in relation to Oireachtas enquiries seriously weakens the rights of individual citizens, firstly to protect their good names, and secondly to have disputes between themselves and the Oireachtas concerning their constitutional rights (especially their rights to fair procedures) decided by an independent judiciary. The proposal to allow proportionate reductions in judicial remuneration (which we support in principle) provides insufficient protection for the independence of the judiciary.”
The proposed 29th amendment to the Constitution will modify the statement “The remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office” with provision to reduce judges’ pay if that of another “class of persons” receiving pay from public funds was being reduced.
The proposed 30th amendment provides for the setting-up of inquiries by the Oireachtas when it is decided to be in the public interest and for the balance between the rights of individuals appearing before them and the public interest in having the inquiry expeditiously to be decided by the Oireachtas.
Mr Sutherland was attorney general to the FitzGerald-led Fine Gael/ Labour coalition in 1981; Mr Connolly to the Haughey-led Fianna Fáil government in 1982; Mr Rogers to the Fine Gael/Labour coalition from 1984-1987; Mr Whelehan to the short-lived Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition in 1992; Mr Gleeson to the Bruton-led coalition from 1994-1997; Mr Byrne to the Fianna Fáil/PD coalition in 1997; Mr McDowell to a similar coalition from 1999 to 2002, and Mr Gallagher to the last government, the Fianna Fáil/PD/Green coalition
(The Irish Times, 24th October 2011)