Michael McDowell has shown his incompetency on many occasions in the past; he compared Richard Bruton to Joseph Goebbels, he was forced to come down on the issue of children on licences premises, he was forced to back down on café bar licences and he took the law into his own hands by publically connecting Frank Connolly to the IRA where the DPP knew there wasn’t enough evidence to convict… Frankly the last example there is and was enough for me to lose faith in this minister but in no previous case was the safety of children put at risk; now a sex offender walks the streets and runs no risk of re-arrest unless he acts again.
In 1990 the Law Reform Comission recommended changes to the law on Statutory Rape. At this point McDowell was not a TD (having lost his seat in 1989) but he was chairman of the Progressive Democrats. Mary Harney has said that the Justice Department was made aware of issues with the law in 2002; if it was before the election he was Attorney General, if it was after he was Justice Minister, either way he must have heard the concerns of the Chief State Solicitors Office.
In his own defence McDowell has said that the DPP was in charge of the Supreme Court case and it never informed the Justice Department of the risk posed; by saying that he is saying that the Justice Department doesn’t pay attention to cases which challenge the validity of Irish law, and neither does the Attorney General, he is also saying that he has either forgotten or ignored the warning given to the Department in 2002, one that he was sure to have heard.
McDowell has also said that the DPP had used the now defunct law until a few weeks ago because he had no worries of its constitutional legality, this now appears to also be rubbish.
McDowell is now frantically trying to cover his own tail and is throwing the DPP in the way to do so. He should not take full responsibility for the inaction over the past 16 years, but he should bear the brunt of the current crisis because he has had 4 years to fix it and plenty of warnings on what would happen if he did not. I don’t believe that sacking him now would solve any problems either, but as soon as this new legislation is drafted and on its way into law he should step down or be pushed; the Irish people shouldn’t have to wait another year until another election in order to have faith in their Justice Minister again.
Let us not get carried away; it’s not as if someone can now rape a child and get away with it, and it’s not as if the country will descend into anarchy until the hole is patched up but the fact is that people whom are guilty of some of the most horrific sexual crimes are within reach of freedom, why? Because our Government and those gone before it have failed its people. The so-called Justice Minister has been a chief architect in that failure.
Update: McDowell has just described the Supreme Court decision as a bolt out of the blue in a Seanad hearing; he seems set in his ways that the Supreme Court decision was a surprise to his deparment, so it must be asked why the Justice Department and the Attorney General is not paying attention to challenges made to Irish law? I doubt there are many, and even if there was one challenge a day, it’s not difficult to track them, get a briefing on what change they have and what would happen if they succeeded. That’s ignoring the fact that he was given 4 years notice, of course.
Update 2: Breakingnews.ie story; some noteworthy quotes:
“In a bid to distance himself from the controversy, McDowell said neither he, nor the Attorney General Rory Brady were personally aware of the case. He claimed the DPP had taken charge of it.
But in the Dáil Tánaiste Mary Harney, Mr McDowell’s Progressive Democrat party leader, claimed the case had been handled jointly by the DPP and the Attorney General.
The case was reported in The Law Society Gazette last October and in a national newspaper last July, but Mr McDowell claimed he first heard of it through the media.
But the Government has since taken a different view and agreed to reconvene the Dáil during next week’s holiday to debate emergency legislation.
Reports like these are usually brushed away and ignored, this probably won’t be as easily hidden.The Government begins to rally around McDowell, but all eyes are on Bertie when it comes to full support: Minister for Finance Brian Cowen today insisted Cabinet colleague Michael McDowell had the Government’s full backing as the clamour for his resignation grew. The Fianna Fáil deputy leader expressed his support for the embattled Minister for Justice as more men convicted of sexual offences against children sought freedom at the High Court and parents prepared for a protest outside the Dáil tomorrow.
Let us not forget the support that Tony Blair gave Charles Clarke just days before he was sacked from office. The opposition are true to their word (and done the right thing generally) by not getting in the way of important legislation for political gain (not that there would be any if they did), Sinn Fein want McDowell to appear in for questioning in the Dail, something he has yet to do on the matter. Opposition parties have agreed to support the Government’s proposals for emergency legislation to plug the legal loop-hole on statutory rape. It is understood that the Bill will restore the crime of statutory rape and would have a uniform age of consent for young men and women.
… Brendan Howlin of Labour said his party would be supporting the bill but claimed some anomalies still existed that would have to be teased out.
… Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin earlier called for Mr McDowell to appear in the Dáil to answer questions about the affair. Meanwhile the Government has bowed to opposition pressure by acceding to calls to cancel next week’s break and have both the Dáil and Seanad sit on Wednesday and Thursday. Cowen looks through his book of excuses too, and tells us the Supreme Court were, in his opinion, wrong. Most people with any legal knowledge would disagree with him, and even still if the Government and McDowell are to be believed it wouldn’t matter, they weren’t paying attention to the case and so couldn’t have formed an opinion on it:Earlier, the Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, said he disagreed with the Supreme Court decision that led to the current controversy and said the release of a child rapist this week flowed from that ruling and not from Government inaction.Tomorrow is set to be a day of emergency bills, appeals and protests, and what has the Government got to offer those effected by their inaction? The phone number of their nearest counselling service. The Government is to rush emergency laws on underage sex through the Dáil tomorrow in a bid to avert an unprecedented political, legal and criminal crisis. The Supreme Court will be simultaneously hearing a state appeal against the release of a child rapist who walked free after a 1935 law under which he was convicted was declared unconstitutional. Parents outraged that other sex offenders could be released via the same loophole are also holding a major protest outside Leinster House as politicians debate the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Bill 2006 inside. Breaking news details the new legislation, and McDowell claims that this “offers the best protection for the nation’s children”; really? I could have sworn dealing with this issue when it was first raised would have been the best protection: Emergency legislation to be rushed through the Oireachtas tomorrow offers the best protection for the nation’s children, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell insisted tonight. The 15-page Criminal Law Sexual Offences Bill 2006 will restore the offence of statutory rape to the statute books and maintain the age of consent for teenagers at 17 years. It will also update provisions contained in the 1935 legislation declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court 10 days ago, and offer stiffer penalties in some situations. It will be interesting to read the full text of the legislation, and while BN.ie alludes to the stiffer penalties applying in valid circumstances (if it’s a priest, teacher etc.), the conspiracy theorist in me is wondering if this was all part of the plan to get through unpopular changes? I also wonder what this means: A controversial section in the Bill will not make it an offence for a girl under 17 to engage in sexual intercourse because Mr McDowell explained he didn’t want to stigmatise teenage mothers as criminals or rape victims. So where’s the change? Before the age of consent for males was 15 and females 17, now both are 17, but one is illegal and the other isn’t? Where’s the equality in that?