Maguire & ors -v- Ardagh & ors, [2002] IESC 21 (2002)

Docket Number:324, 326, 333 & 334/01
Party Name:Maguire & ors, Ardagh & ors
Judge:Keane C.J. / Hardiman J. / Geoghegan J. / Denham J. / Murphy J. / McGuinness J. / Murray J.
 
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THE SUPREME COURTKeane C.J.

Denham J.

Murphy J.

Murray J.

McGuinness J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

324, 326,333, 334/01

BETWEEN/

MARTIN MAGUIRE, FRANK McHUGH, TOM DOOLEY, MARY

MANGAN, DAN MONAGHAN, ANTHONY FOLEY, JAMES QUINN,

ALAN MURRAY, MAEVE GORMAN, JOHN GIBBONS, COLIN WHITE,

JACK KILROY, GERRY BARNES, EUGENE DUNNE, JUSTIN BROWNE,

EUGENE BOLAND, JAMES CAMPBELL, MICHAEL JACKSON, GERRY

RUSSELL, MICHAEL O'SULLIVAN, AIDAN McCABE, WILLIAM SISK,

RONAN CAREY, TONY RYAN, JOSEPH FINNEGAN, OLIVER FLAHERTY,

DESMOND O'MALLEY, PETER EARLEY, OLIVER CASSIDY, DAVID

MARTIN, MARY ANN O'BOYLE, TURLOUGH BUREN, JOHN BOYLE,

BLAITHIN MORAN, SÍNEAD CONNIFFE AND FRANK REYNOLDS

Applicants/Respondents

AND

SEAN ARDAGH, MONICA BARNES, BRENDAN HOWLIN,

MICHAEL MOYNIHAN, MARIAN McGENNIS, ALAN SHATTER,

DENIS O'DONOVAN, THOMAS ENRIGHT, BEVERLEY

COOPER-FLYNN, FRANCES FITZGERALD, JOHN McGUINNESS,

JAN O'SULLIVAN, BILLY TIMMINS, EDDIE WADE, GEORGE

V. WRIGHT, EDDIE BOHAN, HELEN KEOGH, TONY KETT AND

KATHLEEN O'MEARA, MEMBERS OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE

ON JUSTICE EQUALITY, DEFENCE AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS

BEING THE MEMBERS FOR THE TIME BEING OF THE

OIREACHTAS JOINT COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE, EQUALITY,

DEFENCE AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS, IRELAND AND

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

Respondents/Appellants

JUDGMENT delivered on the 11th day of April 2002 by

MURRAY J.

Introduction

This is an appeal from the judgment and order of a divisional court of the High Court in proceedings in which the Applicants/Respondents (hereafter Respondents) successfully challenged the establishment and conduct of a parliamentary inquiry by a joint sub-committee of the Oireachtas known as the "sub-committee on the Abbeylara incident" hereafter 'the sub-committee'. At the time of the commencement of these proceedings the inquiry being conducted by the sub-committee concerned the circumstances and events which occurred at Abbeylara, Co. Longford on 19th and 20th April, 2000 which culminated in Mr. John Carthy, who was armed with a shotgun, being shot dead by the Garda Síochána. All of the Respondents are members of the Garda Síochána who had been required to attend before the sub-committee for the purpose of giving evidence concerning these matters, some of whom were directly involved in the events including the member who shot Mr. Carthy.

The sub-committee was formed by a joint committee of the Oireachtas known as the "Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights" hereafter 'The Joint Committee'. All of the Appellants, with the exception of the last two, are members of the Joint Committee, the first seven of whom are also members of the sub-committee.

The issues in the appeal are concerned with each of the declarations or orders made by the Divisional Court. These were as follows:-

"(1) A declaration that the conduct of a public enquiry with the aid of the power of the State and conducted by members of the Oireachtas under the aegis of the Houses of the Oireachtas and with the authority thereof liable to result in findings of fact or expressions of opinion adverse to the good name, reputation and/or livelihood of persons not members of such Houses is ultra vires the powers of such Houses.

(2) A declaration that the sub-committee of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights purportedly convened by resolution of the said Joint Committee in purporting to report on and investigate the Abbeylara incident has acted ultra vires the powers conferred by the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act, 1997.

(3) A declaration that the sub-committee of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality Defence and Women's Rights purportedly convened by resolution of the said Joint Committee in purporting to report on and investigate the Abbeylara incident has acted ultra vires the powers conferred by the resolution of Dáil and Seanad Éireann of the 25th October 2000.

(4) An Order of Certiorari quashing the resolution of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights of the 10th April 2001 whereby the said Committee purported to extend the terms of reference of the sub-committee purportedly established on the 8th March 2001 by the said Joint Committee and whereby the said sub-committee was purportedly empowered, if it considered it necessary to do so, to hear evidence in accordance with the provisions of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997 and to report to the Joint Committee thereon and to include its findings and conclusions and recommendations, if any.

(5) A declaration that the submission of the sub-committee on the Abbeylara incident to the Joint Committee on Compellability of Committees of Procedure and Privilege of Dáil and Seanad Éireann made about the 11th April 2001 was made in breach of the terms of reference as comprised in the Order establishing the said sub-committee and without jurisdiction.

(6) An Order of Certiorari quashing the directions to the applicants requiring them to attend before the Abbeylard sub-committee, there to give evidence and to produce documents in their possession.

(7) A declaration that the procedures adopted by the Abbeylara sub-committee do not comply with the requirements of natural and constitutional justice."

The sequences of events and facts concerning the establishment of the sub-committee, the procedures which it adopted and followed in proceeding with its inquiry as well as the submissions and arguments of the parties have been helpfully set out in detail in the judgment of the Chief Justice.

As is reflected in the various orders made by the Divisional Court the Respondents relied to a significant extent on the contention that there were procedural defects and a want of fair procedures in the establishment and conduct of the inquiry by the sub-committee which were fatal to its legal status and its power to proceed further with the inquiry. However, there is a much more fundamental issue raised in these proceedings which concerns the contention of the Respondents that the Oireachtas had no power, deriving from the Constitution or statute, to establish a committee to conduct an inquiry of the nature which the sub-committee was conducting in this case. The Respondents succeeded on this point also in the High Court which is reflected in paragraph 1 above of the order of the Divisional Court. The Appellants for their part, in appealing against the findings and order of the High Court, contend that the power of the Oireachtas to establish a committee to conduct such an inquiry is an inherent power deriving from the constitutional role and functions of the Oireachtas as the National Parliament established by the Constitution.

It is not in issue that the Houses of the Oireachtas have the right to inform themselves on matters relevant to their parliamentary functions and to conduct, or authorise committees of the Oireachtas to conduct, inquiries for that purpose. What the Respondents have objected to is the extent or ambit of the powers of the sub-committee in this case. It is submitted that in so far as the sub-committee has considered itself entitled to make findings of fact or express opinions adverse to the good name, reputation and/or livelihood of persons not members of either House of the Oireachtas the establishment of the committee is ultra vires the power of the Oireachtas to do so.

Before considering whether the powers being exercised by the sub-committee are powers which are inherent to the Oireachtas I think it is important first of all to examine the nature of the inquiry being conducted by the sub-committee in this case, having regard to the powers which it is seeking to exercise.

Nature of the Inquiry

Leaving aside for the present any issue as to whether the powers conferred on the sub-committee were properly so conferred the actual powers conferred or which the committee purported to exercise are not really an issue. On the question of inherent jurisdiction the issue between the parties focuses on the consequences which flow from the conferring of such powers on the sub-committee. Thus the powers which were conferred or which it was purported to confer, on the sub-committee included the following:-

(a) Power to take oral and written evidence and to publish the evidence taken in public;

(b) power to invite and accept written submissions from interested persons or bodies;

(c) power to direct the attendance of witnesses and to direct such witnesses to produce documents in their possession or power;

(d) Power to examine or cross-examine witnesses and put to them allegations made against them by other witnesses.

(e) power to address possible conflicts of fact arising directly or indirectly from oral or documentary evidence;

(f) power to make such findings of fact as are necessary to enable the sub-committee to reach conclusions and make recommendations;

(g) power to make findings of fact or conclusions which could adversely affect or impugn the good name of any person.

I do not think it is necessary for present purposes to describe in detail the source of these powers since these are set out comprehensively in the judgment of the Divisional Court. In summary the powers were conferred on the committee by virtue of the Order of the Joint Committee establishing it and in particular sub-paragraph (e) of that Order, the resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas of 4th April, 2001 granting it power to sent for persons, papers and records and the amendment to its terms of reference made by the Joint Committee on 12th April, 2001. The sub-committee applied to the Compellability Committee pursuant to section 3 of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privilege and Immunities of Witnesses) Act, 1997 for the grant of a consent to the sub-committee to give directions and exercise compellability powers...

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