Community service likely for Cosgrave

A former leas-chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann who failed to declare a donation of IR£2,500 will be given community service to perform by Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, subject to a report regarding his suitability for such work.

Liam Cosgrave pleaded guilty to knowingly furnishing a falsified donation statement in which he failed to declare that he had received any donation exceeding IR£500 between May 15 and December 31, 1997.

Defence counsel told Judge Katherine Delahunt that his career had ended as a result of the offence and he had since lost friends and been vilified in the press.

Cosgrave (aged 49) of Merrion Park, Blackrock, Co Dublin, was elected to the Seanad in 1989. He is the son of former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the grandson of William T Cosgrave, who was president of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from December 1922 to 1932.

Garda Neil Clayton of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation told Mr Dominic McGinn BL, prosecuting, that legislation covering the period of May 1997 to December 1997 came into force obliging members of Seanad Éireann to furnish statements in relation to single donations exceeding IR£500 or donations from a single source that had a total exceeding IR£500.

Gda Clayton said an ELAS-1S form was to be filled in by members, who would then swear it before a Commissioner for Oaths. The form would then be submitted to the Public Officers’ Commissioner.

Cosgrave swore a declaration in January 1998 attesting that he had not received any single donation of more than IR£500 or one of an aggregate value exceeding IR£500. This declaration was then submitted to the Commissioner on January 29, 1998.

Judge Delahunt heard that the subject matter of the offence before her was a IR£2,500 cheque received by Cosgrave from a Mr Dunlop.

Cosgrave spoke to gardaí by appointment in relation to the matter on June 8, 2004, following an investigation by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He made no admissions during interview and refused to sign a memo of interview on the advice of his solicitor.

Mr Clayton agreed with Mr McGinn that Cosgrave, who had no previous convictions, was obliged under legislation to take all reasonable action to be satisfied of the accuracy of the forms he submitted in relation to political donations.

Mr Luan Ó Braonáin BL, defending, said his client was a married man with two children, had been a public representative for 21 years and had practiced as a solicitor until 2003.

Mr Ó Braonáin said that there had been media attention in relation to this offence as a result of an internal Fine Gael inquiry and due to his client giving evidence at the Mahon Tribunal.

Cosgrave’s career in public life had ended and he had "no prospect of re-engaging in it" or of returning to his career as a solicitor.

Mr Ó Braonáin said his client had been "vilified" and "pilloried" in the press, he had been "treated as an outcast" and had lost friends due to his "tainted reputation".

Mr Ó Braonáin submitted that there had been a large amount, eight volumes, of disclosure in the case and that by entering a plea of guilty his client had avoided the need for a lengthy trial, thereby assisting the prosecution, potential witnesses and the court.

Mr McGinn told Judge Delahunt that the maximum penalties for the offence were either three years' imprisonment or a fine of up to IR£20,000.

Mr Ó Braonáin said this was an unusual case and the first prosecution under the Electoral Act in respect of a breach of its provisions. He said his client’s offence was not one of corruption or bribery "and I say that pointedly and squarely", but one of failing to disclose a political donation.

Mr Ó Braonáin said the cheque for IR£2,500 was received during the 1997 election period, which involved extensive campaigning and required that Cosgrave visit every local authority councillor in the country. Cosgrave did not keep a record of the donation, which was spent on the election.

Mr Ó Braonáin said the Electoral Act had just come into force at the time of the offence and the "extent and detail of it had not been tied down". He asked that Judge Delahunt be as lenient as possible.

A letter from the Law Society was handed into court along with testimonials from Senator Mary Henry and former Lord Mayor and Senator, Alderman Joe Doyle

Judge Delahunt told Cosgrave that his position as a legislator and member of the legal profession should have made him keenly aware of the ramifications of his actions.

She said that he had an unblemished history of public service, which was now lost to him, and that he had already suffered significantly in that he was no longer a minister or solicitor.

She said a custodial sentence "may not be appropriate in all the circumstances of this case" and said Cosgrave’s expertise "may be better put to use in service to the community". A report on his suitability for such work was ordered and the sentence will be finalised on a date in May.

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