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Pearse Doherty wins court case seeking by-election

The High Court deems that the delay in holding the by-election in Donegal South-West is ‘unreasonable’.

Sinn Féin senator Pearse Doherty, with the party's Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. The High Court today ruled that the delay in holding the Donegal South-West by-election (in which Doherty will run) as
Sinn Féin senator Pearse Doherty, with the party's Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. The High Court today ruled that the delay in holding the Donegal South-West by-election (in which Doherty will run) as "unreasonable".
Image: Julien Behal/PA Archive

Updated 15:30

SINN FÉIN senator Pearse Doherty has won his High Court case in which he sought to force the government to hold a by-election in his constituency of Donegal South-West, which has had a vacant Dáil seat for 17 months.

The Court this morning declared the delay in moving the writ to hold a by-election as “unreasonable“, adding that the delay was “so inordinate as to amount to a breach of” Doherty’s rights as a constituent of the area.

As a result, the government will likely have to assent to a motion placed by Sinn Féin on the order of business for the Dáil tomorrow in which it will seek to move the writ in the constituency.

Doherty – who will be the Sinn Féin candidate in the constituency when the by-election or a general election is held – had taken the issue to judicial review after the government had twice blocked opposition attempts to move the writ in the Dáil.

One of the seats in the three-seat constituency has been vacant since Fianna Fáil’s Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher was elected to the European Parliament in June 2009 – a full 17 months ago.

Doherty had told the court that the vacancy meant that the constitutional requirement that each constituency be represented by one TD for every 20,000-30,000 of the population was being breached, as the constituency with a population of approximately 80,000 was now being split between just two TDs.

The government, through the attorney-general, had argued that the Oireachtas did not answer to the courts and it was a matter for the parliament itself to decide when it would fill a vacancy in its number.

This lunchtime the Green Party said, however, that it wanted the writ for the election to be moved immediately – meaning that the by-election would be held before the Budget is announced on December 7.


Video from the Green Party’s YouTube

In a 24-page judgement issued by High Court president Justice Nicholas Kearns, the Court said there was “ample precedent” to conclude the court had jurisdiction to act in any case where the rights of citizens were bring infringed, as they were in this case.

The constitutionally prescribed totals for the number of TDs were not aspirational, the court said, and were a clear indication of a citizen’s right to be adequately represented.

Another three ballots on the way?

The decision effectively forces the government into holding not only the Donegal South-West election, but also the by-elections in Dublin South, Waterford and now in Donegal North-West where Jim McDaid resigned yesterday.

Brian Cowen told the Dáil – which had begun today’s sittings before the verdict was issued – said the government would ‘consider’ its verdict but refused to give a concrete date on when the government would seek to take action, or whether it would appeal the decision.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said he would use allotted Private Members’ Business time next week to ‘direct’ the government not to appeal the verdict.

Doherty himself told Newstalk radio that Sinn Féin candidates in the other affected constituencies were not considering lodging similar cases with the court trying to seek new ballots in each of those areas.

The government currently holds a majority in the Dáil by just three votes, 82-79, dependent on the support of independent TDs Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry – who yesterday said he had not decided whether he would support the government’s Budget when it is announced on December 7.

If, as assumed, the government were to lose each of the four by-elections, it would lose its majority and would be forced to call a general election unless the President were to invite the opposition parties to form an alternative coalition.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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