Seán Doherty, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann from 1989 to 1992 and Minister for Justice from March 1982 to December 1982, is born on June 29, 1944 in Cootehall near Boyle, County Roscommon. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1977 to 1989 and 1992 to 2002 and is a Senator for the Administrative Panel from 1989 to 1992.
Doherty is educated at national level in County Leitrim and then at University College Dublin and King’s Inns. In 1965, he becomes a member of the Garda Síochána and serves as a detective in Sligo before joining the Special Detective Unit in Dublin in the early 1970s. In 1973, he takes a seat on the Roscommon County Council, which had been vacated after the death of his father.
After serving for four years on the Roscommon County Council, Doherty is elected as a Fianna Fáil TD for the Roscommon–Leitrim constituency at the 1977 general election.
In 1979, Doherty is a key member of the so-called “gang of five” which supports Charles Haughey‘s attempt to take over the leadership of the party. The other members are Albert Reynolds, Mark Killilea Jnr, Tom McEllistrim and Jackie Fahey. Haughey is successful in the Fianna Fáil leadership election and Doherty is rewarded by being appointed Minister of State at the Department of Justice from 1979 to 1981. In the short-lived 1982 Fianna Fáil government he enters the Cabinet as Minister for Justice. In this post he becomes involved in a series of controversies.
Doherty’s brother-in-law, Garda Thomas Nangle, is charged with assaulting James McGovern, a native of County Fermanagh, in a public house in December 1981. On September 27, 1982, hours before the case is due to be heard in District Court in the small village of Dowra, County Cavan, McGovern is arrested by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) on the basis of entirely false Garda intelligence that he is involved in terrorism. The case against Nangle is dismissed because the principal witness, McGovern, fails to appear in court. The solicitor representing Nangle is Kevin Doherty, Seán Doherty’s brother. This questionable use of Garda/RUC Special Branch liaison, set up under the 1985 Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement, prevents meetings between the Garda commissioner and the RUC chief constable for almost three years.
After Doherty leaves office it is revealed in The Irish Times that he ordered the tapping of three journalists home telephones. The newspaper also discloses that he has been interfering in the workings of the Garda and the administration of justice for both political and personal reasons. He immediately resigns from the party only to rejoin it in 1984.
At the 1989 general election his loses his seat in Dáil Éireann to the independent candidate Tom Foxe. He is also an unsuccessful candidate in the elections on the same day to the European Parliament, but he is later elected instead to the Seanad on the Administrative Panel and becomes the Cathaoirleach (Chairman) of the 19th Seanad.
In January 1992 the phone tapping scandal returns to haunt Fianna Fáil. Doherty announces in a television interview that he had shown transcripts of the conversations to Charles Haughey while Haughey was Taoiseach in 1982 although he had previously denied this. Haughey denies the claim also, but is forced to resign from the government, and then resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil. Doherty then regains his seat at the 1992 general election and holds it until his retirement at the 2002 general election.