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Micheál Martin: TDs shouldn't involve themselves in criminal proceedings

The Fianna Fáil leader has been reacting to the controversy surrounding his justice spokesperson today.

Niall Collins
Niall Collins
Image: Photocall Ireland

Updated 5.20pm 

FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin has said he has spoken to his party’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins over his writing of a letter seeking leniency for a convicted drug dealer.

Collins has been at the centre of controversy today after it emerged he wrote a letter on official headed paper urging a judge in Limerick not to impose a jail sentence on a criminal who admitted to possession for the purpose of sale of thousands of euro worth of drugs.

After initially declining to comment until the man is sentenced in October, Collins has since sought to clarify his position saying he was acting out of compassion for the man’s four young children whose mother died earlier this year.

In a statement issued this evening, Martin said: “Niall Collins has issued a statement explaining his involvement in this case.  I have also spoken to him.  He is absolutely clear on the importance of an independent judiciary.

“As a basic principle, I do not believe that Oireachtas members should involve themselves in criminal proceedings. In this case, where there are exceptional circumstances, Niall Collins has not sought to question the validity of the conviction and respects absolutely the independence of the sentencing judge.”

Martin added that he understood this was an exception case and that Collins “was acting only on the grounds of compassion for four young children”.

Criticism

Earlier, the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said it is not something he would have done, telling reporters at Leinster House: “That court case is still ongoing and I don’t think that it would be appropriate for me to comment on it until the court case is finished.

“It isn’t a letter that I would have sent but let’s wait until the court case is finished before we make comment on it.”

Adams’s reaction is one of a number to the story today with Taoiseach Enda Kenny calling for an “immediate explanation” by Micheál Martin and Collins himself prior to the Limerick TD issuing a statement on the matter this lunchtime.

The Taoiseach said that Collins’s letter “constitutes a direct intervention in the administration of justice”.

Kenny said: “I think this constitutes direct intervention in the administration of justice. I think this is an issue where not just a public representative, but a shadow minister for justice, has written directly to a judge seeking to influence his decision in the administration of justice as the judge sees fit.”

Asked why he would not have sent the letter Adams said that he didn’t think it would be appropriate.

“I do think that in the time that there used to be that letters to all sorts of agencies were almost a dime a dozen from politicians. Thankfully that has ended.

“There are occasions when it is entirely proper for an elected official to intervene and to intercede. There may be compassionate reasons, there may be family reasons, other very very good reasons for doing that.”

“But just as as matter of form, I think that it’s very prudent to be very careful about such interventions.”

The controversy has caused several TDs to comment today with Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty earlier calling on Micheál Martin to comment on the issue, saying Collins role as justice spokesperson had been “severely compromised”.

“Micheál Martin must publicly state whether he thinks it is appropriate for his Party’s justice spokesperson to seek to influence the sentencing of a convicted drug dealer. It is not credible for Micheál Martin to stay silent on this issue,” she said.

Limerick City Councillor Maurice Quinlivan also criticised Collins, saying his intervention was “a slap in the face” for gardaí in the area.

In a statement he said: “Does anybody seriously want drug criminals thinking that the way to avoid jail is simply to have Niall Collins or another TD write to the judge?”

“Niall Collins’s intervention is a slap in the face for the hardworking Gardai who devoted considerable time and resources to this case and to the local communities who have suffered at the hands of Limerick’s drug gangs.”

However, Fianna Fáil colleagues appeared to be backing their embattled justice spokesperson earlier today with several expressing support for Collins.

One Fianna Fáil deputy, who declined to be named, told TheJournal.ie this afternoon that he did not think the issue was a big deal and pointed out that Collins had not intervened on behalf of a constituent.

They said that Collins had done nothing wrong while acknowledging “it’s not the done thing”.

The deputy said Collins had concern for the welfare of the man’s children after their mother had died, and added: “He put the welfare of the kids ahead of covering his own arse.”

More: Niall Collins sent letter to judge to inform him of the suicide of children’s mother

Earlier: Fianna Fáil won’t comment on one of its TDs asking a judge not to jail a drug dealer

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Hugh O'Connell

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