Niall Collins’ decision to write a letter to a judge looking for leniency in sentencing a Limerick drug dealer was a serious error of judgement on the part of an ambitious politician with designs on the justice brief or perhaps beyond.
Nobody will know this better than the Limerick TD himself, who appears this week to have survived demands for his resignation.
The loudest calls came from councillors John Gilligan and Maurice Quinlivan, who pointed to the destruction drugs and those who import, peddle and abuse them have wrought on communities in Limerick. It is a fair point to make but also a politically convenient one with which to cosh Collins.
While the Taoiseach had attacked the Limerick TD for showing a cavalier attitude towards the separation of powers, it is significant that none of the calls for his head came from inside Leinster House. Were Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Fein to make such calls, who knows what other TDs might have to fall on their swords when similar letters emerge in future?
A former Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, appeared to draw a line under the affair this week when he said Mr Kenny and Micheal Martin had “adequately dealt with” the matter. It would be best for all that no such representations were made in future, he added.
That they have been so common until now is a reflection of a system where voters think nothing of calling in favours from politicians when they find themselves in a fix.
We should all be clear that there was nothing furtive about Deputy Collins’ intervention. The letter had gone through the appropriate channels of the defence before being referred to in open court.
The Limerick TD now admits that he made a mistake in writing the letter. No fair-minded person could challenge his assertion that the letter was written other than out of a sense of compassion for the four children of the accused - who isn’t even a constituent - following the tragically early death of their mother. There is no conceivable political gain to be made from writing such a letter.
It looks like this capable and industrious politician has survived the saga having learned a valuable lesson for the future. An error of judgement, most definitely, but a sacking offence, hardly.
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