Buckley and Others (Sinn Fein) v Attorney General and Another

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
Judgment Date31 July 1950
Date31 July 1950
Buckley and Others (Sinn Féin) v. Attorney General and Another.
MARGARET BUCKLEY, SÉAMUS séamus MITCHELL, SÉAMUS éamus O'NEILL, PADRAIG POWER, MAIRÉAD mairéad McELROY, SÉAMUS séamus RUSSELL, DIARMUID ÓG ógÓ LAOGHAIRE ó laoghaire, SEÁN seán POOLE, JOSEPH H. FOWLER and SEÁN seán UA CEALLAIGH, on behalf of themselves and all other Members of the Sinn Féin Organisation established in the year, 1905, and reconstituted in the year, 1917
Plaintiffs
and
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ÉIRE éire and CHARLES STEWART POWER
Defendants.

Supreme Court

Constitution - Act passed by Oireachtas - Validity - Repugnancy to Constitution - Interference with rights to private property - Assertion of rights by action brought in the High Court - Act passed while action pending in the High Court - Act providing for determination of action in manner expressly provided by the Act - Oireachtas not entitled to interfere with exclusive right of the Courts to determine justiciable controversies - The Constitution, Preamble, Arts. 6, 15 (4), 34, 40 (3), 43 - Sinn Féin Funds Act, 1947 (No. 13 of 1947), ss. 10, 11, 12, 13.

In the year, 1924, the honorary treasurers of the Sinn Féin Organisation, as trustees, had in their hands a sum of £8,663 12s. 2d., representing the Central Fund of the Organisation. Subsequently, differences having arisen in the Organisation, the trustees, unable to determine who were the persons entitled to the money, lodged the said sum (less a sum for costs) in the High Court under the provisions of the Trustee Act, 1893. The honorary treasurers having died, the plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and all other members of the Organisation, on the 19th January, 1942, by originating plenary summons brought an action against the Attorney General (as representing the People) and the personal representative of the last-surviving trustee claiming 1, a declaration that the said sum of money (with accretions) was the property of the Organisation, and 2, an order directing that payment be made to them (or to two of them as honorary treasurers of the Organisation) of the funds then in Court. Defences were duly filed on behalf of the respective defendants and, while the action was pending in the High Court, the Sinn Féin Funds Act, 1947, was passed by the Oireachtas. By s. 10 of the said Act it was provided, inter alia, that all further proceedings in the action should, by virtue of that section, be stayed, and that the High Court, if application were made ex parte on behalf of the Attorney General, should make an order dismissing the action and should also direct that the said funds should be disposed of in the manner specifically laid down by the Act.

On the Attorney General's application ex parte to the High Court, in accordance with the terms of the said s. 10, Gavan Duffy P. refused the application on the ground that the Court could not comply with the provisions of the Act without abdicating its proper jurisdiction in a cause of which it was duly seized.

Counsel for the Attorney General thereupon applied, ex parte, by way of appeal from the said order, to the Supreme Court, for an order dismissing the action, and the Court directed that notice of the appeal should be given to the plaintiffs. On the hearing of the appeal it was

Held by the Supreme Court (Murnaghan, Geoghegan, O'Byrne, Black and Martin Maguire JJ.) that, inasmuch as the provisions of the Sinn Féin Funds Act, 1947, were repugnant to the declarations contained in Art. 43 of the Constitution as to the rights to private property, they were ultra vires the powers of the Oireachtas.

Held, further, by the Supreme Court, that s. 10 of the Act of 1947 was clearly repugnant to the Constitution as being an unwarrantable interference by the Oireachtas with the operations of the Courts in a purely judicial domain.

Held, further, by the Supreme Court, that while the Legislature may, under Art. 43, 2, 2, delimit, as occasion requires, the exercise of the rights of private property, so as to reconcile such exercise with "the exigencies of the common good" the question of "the exigencies of the common good"is not peculiarly a matter for the Legislature, the decision of the Legislature thereon being capable of review by the Courts.

The appeal was accordingly dismissed.

Ex Parte Application.

This was an ex parte application, made on behalf of the Attorney General of Eire, for an order of the High Court pursuant to s. 10 of the Sinn Féin Funds Act, 1947, dismissing the action (1942, No. 31 P.) instituted by the defendants by originating plenary summons, issued on the 19th January, 1942, against the Attorney General and Charles Stewart Power.

In the year, 1924, the honorary treasurers of the Sinn Féin Organisation were in possession, as such treasurers, of the Central Fund of the Organisation, amounting to £8,663 12s. 2d. As a result of controversies in the Organisation, the honorary treasurers were unable to determine who were the persons interested in, or entitled to, the said sum, and they accordingly lodged the said sum (less a sum for costs) in the High Court, under the provisions of the Trustee Act, 1893. The said sum, with accretions thereto, remained in Court to the following credit, viz.:—"In the Matter of the Trusts of the Funds of the Sinn Féin Organisation established in the year, 1905, and reconstituted in the year, 1917, and in the Matter of the Trustee Act, 1893." The said honorary treasurers having since died, the plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and of all other members of the Organisation, instituted proceedings by originating plenary summons, issued on the 19th January, 1942, against the defendant, the Attorney General (as representing the People of Ireland) and the defendant, Charles Stewart Wyse Power, as personal representative of the surviving trustee of the funds in Court, claiming 1, a declaration that the said funds were the property of the Organisation, and 2, an order directing the Accountant of the Courts of Justice to pay and transfer the said funds to the plaintiffs, or, alternatively, to two of them as honorary treasurers for and on behalf of the Organisation.

Defences were duly filed on behalf of the defendants and various other steps were taken in the action. On the 27th May, 1947, before the action had been brought to trial and whilst the proceedings were pending, the Sinn Féin Funds Act, 1947, was passed by the Oireachtas. By the said Act a Board (styled Bord Cistí Sinn Féin) was established to fulfil the functions assigned to it under the Act, including, by s. 9, the maintenance and management in accordance with the provisions of the Act of a Trust Fund into which all moneys received by the Board under the Act were to be paid. By s. 10 of the said Act it was provided that, on the passing of the Act, all further proceedings in the action then pending between the plaintiffs and the defendants should, by virtue of the section be stayed, and that the High Court should, if application were made ex parte by or on behalf of the Attorney General, make an order dismissing the said action without costs. Sect. 11 of the Act provided that, on the application of the Board made ex parte,the High Court should make an order directing that...

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