seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Susan Denham, First Female Chief Justice of Ireland

Susan Jane Denham, SC (née Gageby), Irish judge who is the first woman to hold the position of Chief Justice of Ireland (2011-17), is born in Dublin on August 22, 1945. She serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland (1992-2017), and is the longest-serving member of the court on her retirement. She also serves as a Judge of the High Court (1991-92).

Gageby is the daughter of the former editor of The Irish Times, Douglas Gageby, the sister of another barrister, Patrick Gageby, and maternal granddaughter of Seán Lester. She is from a Church of Ireland background. She is educated at Alexandra College, Dublin, and attends Trinity College Dublin, the King’s Inns, and the Law School of Columbia University, New York City (LL.M. 1972). She is involved with the Free Legal Advice Centres while studying in Dublin and is a founder and president of the Archaeology and Folklife Society at Trinity College.

Gageby is called to the bar in July 1971 and becomes a Senior Counsel in October 1987. She is the fourth woman to enter the Inner Bar. She becomes a senior counsel on the same day as future Supreme Court colleague Mary Laffoy. She works on the Midland circuit until 1979, following which she is based in Dublin. She is involved in a number of leading cases while a junior barrister and a Senior Counsel particularly in the area of judicial review. She becomes a High Court judge in 1991.

Gageby marries paediatrician Dr. Brian Denham in 1992. Also in 1992, at the age of 47, Denham is the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. She is considered for appointment to the role of President of the High Court in 1994, but declines to have her name put forward. She makes two dissents early on in her period on the Court. Throughout her tenure as a judge she is seen by commentators to be a “liberal” judge.

In Kelly v Hennessy in 1996, Denham outlines criteria for a court to consider the evidence of the existence of nervous shock in Ireland. In 2001, she is the sole member of the Supreme Court to dissent in TD v Minister for Education. The court overturns a decision of Peter Kelly in the High Court to direct the government to build secure care units for certain children.

From 1995 to 1998, Denham chairs the Working Group on a Courts Commission, which is responsible for a significant reform of the organisation of the courts since the foundation of the state. It leads to the establishment of the Courts Service. She is on the Interim Board of the Court Service and serves on the Board of the Court Service from its inception, and chairs the board from 2001 to 2004. She chairs the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure which recommends in 2002 the establishment of a commercial court within the High Court.

From 2006, Denham chairs the Working Group on a Court of Appeal. The report of the group is published by the government in August 2009 and recommends the establishment of a general Court of Appeal. This is ultimately established in 2014, after a referendum in 2013.

Denham is part of the Irish delegation which, with the Netherlands and Belgium, establishes the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) and she continues an involvement in this Network. From January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016, she is President of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union which is an association of Supreme Court Presidents and Chief Justices of EU Member States.

Denham writes the judgment in McD v. L (2009), upholding the parental rights of a sperm donor.

On July 4, 2011, Denham is nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to become Chief Justice of Ireland, and is appointed as Chief Justice by President Mary McAleese on July 25, 2011. She is the first woman appointed to the office and as a member of the Church of Ireland, she is the first non-Catholic to hold the position. She is also the first graduate of Trinity College Dublin to have been appointed as Chief Justices have largely been graduates of University College Dublin. She succeeds John L. Murray.

During Denham’s tenure as Chief Justice, the Supreme Court issues suspended declarations of unconstitutionality for the first time. The possibility to delay the effect of a court declaration that a piece of legislation is contrary to the Constitution is first explored by Denham in A v Governor of Arbour Hill Prison. The court first adopts this approach in N.V.H. v Minister for Justice & Equality in May 2017.

As Chief Justice, Denham oversees changes in the operations of the Supreme Court and the courts generally. She oversees the removal of the requirement for judges to wear wigs while hearing cases. In 2015, the Supreme Court sits outside Dublin for the first time since 1931, sitting in Cork. She corresponds with the Office of Public Works over the lack of heating in the Four Courts, threatening to cancel sittings if the issue is not resolved. She advocates for the inclusion of a new courtroom for the Supreme Court in plans to develop a new family court complex on Hammond Lane.

In her capacity as Chief Justice, Denham oversees the administration of the Presidential Declaration of Office at the inauguration of President Michael D. Higgins in Dublin Castle in November 2011.

Denham retires from the position in July 2017, and is succeeded by Judge Frank Clarke. She is the third-longest serving Supreme Court judge ever at the time of her retirement. In her remarks on her retirement, she draws attention to the government’s failure to institute a judicial council, having first attempted to persuade the government to establish one in 1997.

In 2019, Denham is made an honorary fellow of Trinity College Dublin, where she was a Pro-Chancellor from 1996-2010.

The Courts Service announces on August 24, 2020 that the Supreme Court has appointed Denham to review the attendance of Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe at a dinner organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society. She is appointed on a non-statutory basis as the relevant section in the Judicial Council Act 2019 on judicial conduct has not yet been commenced.


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Death of Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman

Adrian Hardiman, Irish judge who serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland from 2000 to 2016, dies in Portobello, Dublin, on March 7, 2016. He writes a number of important judgments while serving on the Court. He also presides, as does each Supreme Court judge on a rotating basis, over the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Hardiman is born on May 21, 1951, in Coolock, Dublin. His father is a teacher and President of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI). He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and University College Dublin, where he studies history, and the King’s Inns. He is president of the Student Representative Council at UCD and Auditor of the Literary and Historical Society (UCD) and wins The Irish Times National Debating Championship in 1973.

Hardiman is married to Judge Yvonne Murphy, from County Donegal, a judge of the Circuit Court between 1998 and 2012, who conducts important inquiries relating to sex abuse including the Murphy Report and the Cloyne Report. She serves as chair of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. They have three sons, Eoin, who is a barrister and has been a member of the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee, Hugh, who is a personal assistant to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell, and Daniel, a doctor.

Hardiman joins Fianna Fáil while a student in University College Dublin, and stands unsuccessfully for the party in the local elections in Dún Laoghaire in 1985. In 1985, he becomes a founder member of the Progressive Democrats, but leaves the party when he is appointed to the Supreme Court. He remains very friendly with the former party leader and ex-Tánaiste, Michael McDowell, who is a close friend at college, a fellow founding member of the party, and best man at his wedding.

Hardiman is called to the Irish Bar in 1974 and receives the rare honour of being appointed directly from the Bar to Ireland’s highest court. Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court in 2000, he has a successful practice as a barrister, focusing on criminal law and defamation.

Politically, Hardiman supports the liberal side in Ireland’s debates over abortion, being active in the “anti-amendment” campaign during the 1982 Abortion Referendum and later represents the Well Woman Centre in the early 1990s. After his death, he is described by Joan Burton as a liberal on social issues. But he could be an outspoken opponent of Political Correctness, such as when he rejects the Equality Authority‘s attempt to force Portmarnock Golf Club to accept women as full members. He also believes that certain decisions, such as those involving public spending, are better left to elected politicians rather than unelected judges, regardless of how unpopular that might sometimes be in the media (which he tends to hold in low esteem) and among what he describes as the “chattering classes.”

Hardiman’s concern for individual rights is not confined to Ireland. In February 2016, he criticizes what he describes as the radical undermining of the presumption of innocence, especially in sex cases, by the methods used in the UK‘s Operation Yewtree inquiry into historical sex allegations against celebrities, and he also criticizes “experienced lawyer” and then United States presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for allegedly declaring in January that “every accuser was to be believed, only to amend her view when asked if it applied to women who had made allegations against her husband”, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

In a tribute following his death in 2016, President Michael D. Higgins says Justice Hardiman “was one of the great legal minds of his generation”, who was “always committed to the ideals of public service.” He is described as a “colossus of the legal world” by Chief Justice Susan Denham.

One commentator writes that “Hardiman’s greatest contribution …was the steadfast defence of civil liberties and individual rights” and that “He was a champion of defendants’ rights and a bulwark against any attempt by the Garda Síochána to abuse its powers.”


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Funeral of Economist Dr. T. K. Whitaker

The funeral of Dr. T. K. Whitaker, former civil servant and economist, takes place in Dublin on January 13, 2017. Regarded as the architect of the modern Irish economy, he dies at age 100 on January 9. President Michael D. Higgins, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Chief Justice Susan Denham, and Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin are among those attending the requiem mass for Dr. Whitaker at Donnybrook Church.

Whitaker is born in Rostrevor, County Down, to Roman Catholic parents on December 8, 1916, and reared in Drogheda, County Louth, in modest circumstances. His mother, Jane O’Connor, comes from Ballyguirey East, Labasheeda, County Clare. His father, Edward Whitaker, hails from County Westmeath and is assistant manager of a linen mill. He receives his primary and secondary education at the local CBS in Drogheda. He studies mathematics at University College Dublin.

In 1956, Whitaker is appointed Secretary of the Department of Finance. His appointment takes place at a time when Ireland’s economy is in deep depression. Economic growth is non-existent, inflation apparently insoluble, unemployment rife, living standards low and emigration at a figure not far below the birth rate. He believes that free trade, with increased competition and the end of protectionism, will become inevitable and that jobs will have to be created by a shift from agriculture to industry and services. He forms a team of officials within the department which produces a detailed study of the economy, culminating in a plan recommending policies for improvement. The plan is accepted by the government and is transformed into a white paper which becomes known as the First Programme for Economic Expansion. Quite unusually this is published with his name attached in November 1958. The programme which becomes known as the “Grey Book” brings the stimulus of foreign investment into the Irish economy. Before devoting himself to poetry, Thomas Kinsella is Whitaker’s private secretary.

In 1977, Taoiseach Jack Lynch nominates Whitaker as a member of the 14th Seanad Éireann. He serves as a Senator from 1977–81, where he sits as an independent Senator.

In 1981, Whitaker is nominated to the 15th Seanad Éireann by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, where he serves until 1982. FitzGerald also appoints him to chair a Committee of Inquiry into the Irish penal system, and he chairs a Parole Board or Sentence Review Group for several years.

Whitaker also serves as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1976 to 1996. He is also President of the Royal Irish Academy and as such, a member of the Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland, from 1985 to 1987. He has a very strong love for the Irish language throughout his career and the collection of Irish poetry, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed 1600–1900, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, is dedicated to Whitaker. From 1995–96 he chairs the Constitution Review Group, an independent expert group established by the government, which publishes its report in July 1996.

Whitaker receives many national and international honours and tributes for his achievements during his lifetime, most notably the conferral of “Irishman of the 20th Century” in 2001 and Greatest Living Irish Person in 2002. In November 2014, the Institute of Banking confers an Honorary Fellowship on Whitaker and creates an annual T.K. Whitaker Scholarship in his name. In April 2015, he is presented with a lifetime achievement award by University College Dublin’s Economics Society for his outstanding contribution to Ireland’s economic policy.

In November 2016, to mark his centenary year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council acknowledges Whitaker’s “outstanding and progressive contribution to Irish public service and to society.” The Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Cormac Devlin, presents a special award to Whitaker which is accepted by Ken Whitaker on behalf of his father.