An interesting opinion piece in today’s Irish Times titled “Lowest standard once again wins the day” is penned by barrister and former Green Party councillor Vincent Martin.
He sets out the background to the case and highlights the relevant clauses of the Electoral Abuses Act (1923) which gave rise to the original court case involving Sinn Fein council candidate Maurice Quinlivan and Government Minister Willie O’Dea.
Possible penalties facing Minister O’Dea had he been found by the High Court to be in breach of that Act include:
“Section 15 provides that on conviction, a person will be barred from voting in all State elections for a period of five years.
Section 16 provides that on conviction, a candidate for election to the Dáil or Seanad shall be incapable of being elected to such office for a period of up to seven years and if elected that election shall be void.”
This would suggest that, had Minister O’Dea gone into court and admitted his guilt, he would have been facing very dire political consequences – the ending of his political career.
Much has been made by Minister O’Dea himself, his party colleagues and, indeed, some media commentators, of the fact that O’Dea knew the interview in question had been taped and that, consequently, it was highly unlikely that he would knowingly swear an affidavit which contained a blatant lie, given that the tape record was probably still extant (as has proven to be the case).
However, could it be possible that, faced with a choice of owning up in the High Court and facing the dire penalties of the Electoral Abuses Act, the minister decided to gamble on the interview tape either no longer existing or, alternatively, never being discovered by his court adversary?
Did he make the choice between certain political disaster now versus possible political disaster later – with maybe a better than 50:50 chance of getting away with it?
After all, his sworn affidavit was accepted in the High Court, the local elections went ahead and Maurice Quinlivan was duly elected in Limerick. Minister O’Dea might well have expected matters to rest there, the false accusation of brothel-keeping being just part of the normal cut & thrust of local Limerick politics.
It was only when Councillor Quinlivan issued defamation proceedings against both Minister O’Dea and The Limerick Chronicle that the interview tape surfaced and proved conclusively that O’Dea’s sworn High Court affidavit was very misleading.
Even then, it looked like O’Dea had gotten away with it, having won a confidence vote on the issue in the Dáil yesterday. Then the Greens wobbled the other way….
If Willie O’Dea did make such a judgement, it almost paid off.
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