IT is far easier to remember the times when the use of Dáíl privilege seemed an abuse — and that is always a subjective assessment — than it is to remember the many occasions the principle served our democracy well.
Comments made in the Dáil this week by Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, in which he accused gardaí of perjury during the Jobstown trial, have been referred by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl to the parliamentary legal adviser.
Mr Murphy was advancing, even if in a far more confrontational way, a suggestion made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who, arguing that people should be able to trust what gardaí say in court, said that Garda management should “look into” the evidence given by members of the force in the trial.
In another declaration of institutional independence, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan yesterday told the Public Accounts Committee that an internal Garda review will not include the court process but focus on the events that led to the case. So much for open accountability.
Among the issues in play here are Dáil privilege which should be protected but maybe deputies should distinguish between licence and latitude. Another core question is who can initiate a perjury charge? At the moment, that option is available only to the DPP or the gardaí. It’s time to offer that option to another, independent agency, one not so deeply embedded in our policing and judicial systems.
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