Dáil’s Committee to test the boundaries of Parliamentary privilege over Daly case

This is one to keep an eye on, not least because of how it relates to a matter that’s already a matter of controversy, ie Dail Privilege. Clare Daly used her privilege to express annoyance that a circuit court judge treated her in court, claiming she’d been singled out because she was a TD.

In fairness to the Deputy, the judge’s language does seem to have been a little melodramatic. But under the separation of powers between the judiciary and parliament, the convention is that neither each should challenge the power and authority of the other.

The rub seems to have come when Ms Daly left the court early thinking that her case would not be heard soon, but left an instruction to her solicitor to change her guilty plea to not guilty.

An instruction to which the judge, in absence of any explanation why, took some considerable exception. The Leinster Leader has a useful account of the proceedings:

Judge Zaidan said Ms Daly should have asked the court to leave. “What message is she sending to the people of Ireland? The least she could do is to tell you (Mr Finan) why she was leaving.

“If she has no respect for me as a human being… have a little respect for the office I hold.”

Mr Finan asked that the case be adjourned for one week and that a bench warrant not be issued.

Judge Zaidan said he did not adjourn cases in the absence of the defendant when they are legally represented, to protect everyone, including the lawyers and Gardai.

Now that changing of the plea seems to be what’s raised the judge’s ire. It’s a telling detail that seems to be missing from how Deputy Daly told her story to the Dail during the second read of Fianna Fail’s Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

It should be noted that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, Ireland and the Attorney General are still under a legal threat from Denis O’Brien. Now the Dáil’s Committee on Procedure and Privileges is sitting to see whether Ms Daly has crossed a line:

At a meeting yesterday evening Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghaíl circulated a transcript of her remarks to the members of the committee. He asked that the TDs consider the allegations and to examine whether they breached the House’s standing orders.

The committee agreed to write to Ms Daly to request an explanation of her comments and to outline whether she believes she abused her privilege.

For broader context, it’s worth closing with this from Alexander Hamilton in his own Federalist Journal from 1788:

…the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. [emphasis added]

As I say, one to keep an eye on…