News Fragments 11-01-2007

The blatherers: Henry and Ryan

Henry Kelly was a fine journalist. We worked together in Belfast in the early-1970s. Henry was a superb news reporter and a colourful writer. Douglas Gageby (the celebrated editor of the Irish Times) thought highly of him and Henry might have been in contention for the editorship when Gageby first retired in 1974.

But by then Henry had gone to London and shortly afterwards went into television, where it all went wrong for him.

Henry had/has the ‘celebrity syndrome'. A compulsion to be famous. It hardly mattered for what. He did game shows and quiz shows and other shows, all of which demeaned him and his abilities. He was always prone to blather, but the line of work he got into worsened that. Blather, blather, blather.

And what a pity because behind that blather there was – and is – a good mind and a seriousness and a very considerable journalistic talent.

These reflections came about because of an item Henry did on The Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio 1 on the morning of Tuesday, 9 January. He was asked about quiz programmes and again blather, blather, blather. Name-drop, name-drop, name-drop.

What a pity.

I had hoped Ryan would ask him the George Best question: where did it all go wrong (an Irish porter in one of London's exclusive hotels asked this of George Best after he had delivered a bottle of champagne to George's room, which he was sharing with a Miss World and around which he had strewn £100,000 he had just won in a casino).

But then Ryan himself may be headed down a similar road. Ryan is clever. He was a very good current affairs presenter and journalist. He had a future in serious current affairs broadcasting. But then he got the celebrity bug and now it seems that he too wants to be famous, part of the celebrity circuit, the conduit to which is blather, blather, blather.


Contempt of court

One of the most respected experts on constitutional law here is of the view that Sean O'Leary's remarks on the Supreme Court amount to “contempt of court”. Sean O'Leary is the late high court judge who wrote a highly critical commentary on the Supreme Court's decision in what is known as the “A” case (the case involving the paedophile who was released from jail by the high court after the Supreme Court had found the offence on which he had been convicted did not exist because it was contrary to the constitution. He was subsequently rearrested by order of the same Supreme Court on the same offence).

Sean O'Leary had remarked: “The lengths to which the Supreme Court went to obfuscate the fact that the continued detention of a prisoner in an Irish jail (in fact the rearrest of a released prisoner) for an offence that did not exist in law at the date of his conviction smacks of an attempt to curry favour with a potentially hostile media.”

The expert's view being that to suggest judges are more concerned with currying favour with the media rather than with the administration of justice is contempt of court.
The expert may well be right, for the judges who would decide whether the remarks are in contempt of court are the very judges concerned.

Were the issue to be heard first at the level of the high court however, the outcome might be different. Several of the judges of the high court thought/think that the Supreme Court decision in the “A” case was bizarre.

Fines and laugher in court

There were over 100 people crowded into District Court 51 on the site of the old Richmond Hospital, Dublin on the afternoon of Monday 8 January. Most of them were there to answer charges of speeding and not having paid the statutory fine on being invited to do so by letter. The court was presided over by William Hamill, a voluble, articulate and irascible judge, apparently relatively new to the arcane procedures of the prosecution of speeding offences.

Most of the cases, curiously, involved people saying they were not the owners of the cars involved, just the drivers – the “nominated” drivers. All of them admitted to speeding but most said they had paid the €80 fine or had attempted to pay the fine by appending their credit card number and other details to the form and then, they claimed, they had heard nothing until they sere summoned to court.

The judge couldn't understand why, when they had attempted to pay the fine, the fines office did not accept payment. He said at one stage, addressing the prosecuting garda: “All they seem to want to do is to pay the fine and they try to do that but you won't accept that.” Laughter in court.

It seems they can't pay by way of the original form, they have to await the receipt of another form.

Another curious feature was that most of the persons appeared to have had problems with the postal service. In one case, letters addressed correctly to one man, based in a small Midlands village, were delivered not to his address but to his parents address. In many other instances the letters, although addressed correctly, did not arrive at all – the first they knew of a problem was when they received a summons.

There were repeated agitated exchanges between the judge and the prosecuting garda on the issue. The judge wanted to know if the prosecuting authorities had made representations to An Post about the inefficiency of its delivery service. The garda mumbled.

As each defendant approached the bench the judge asked them, while they were still walking, if they understood the offence for which they were charged. All said yes. He asked them if they were pleading guilty or not guilty. Almost all said guilty. They then, invariably, told stories of how they had tried to pay but had failed, how they had gone into the fines office and had offered to pay there but weren't allowed, how they first they knew of a problem was when they had a summons served on them. Two had come back from abroad to be present and in both cases they had gone to considerable lengths to pay but were either refused or had failed otherwise.

One man had paid three times but to no avail on any of the three occasions. This man had come back from Germany to be in court and was not a bit pleased.

The judge asked one defendant, “Do you have trouble with your post?” “Well, I get other people's post.” Laughter in court.

Sometimes the prosecuting garda wanted to ask a question of a defendant. The increasingly agitated judge would ask: “Don't you know the answer?” The garda said he wanted to ask the question anyway, which meant the defendant had to be sworn in and the palaver started all over.

At the start of the proceedings the fine mien of grey hair on the judge (no wig) was combed tidily to either side. Halfway through, his hair was literally standing up.
There was a further problem.

At an earlier hearing, people had paid their fines by way of cheque and others by way of cash. The fines office would not accept any such payments for reasons that were not clear, certainly not to the judge anyway. The judge had a problem. He could lodge the cash in the poor-box but couldn't do anything with the cheques. The inspector from the fines office refused to accept the cheques.

The judge was not pleased.