Institutions and Ireland: Law, Punishment and Accountability


Institutions and Ireland will attempt to reframe debates surrounding such structures and address conceptual concerns that stretch back centuries and across disciplinary and national boundaries. Over a series of three one-day workshops in 2016, we will start an enduring conversation about the different institutional structures which have contributed to the makeup of Irish society.

The next conference deals with Law, Punishment and Accountability:

  • 7 June 2016
  • Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute
  • Trinity College Dublin

Keynote speaker: John Lonergan, former Governor of Mountjoy Prison

In recent years, legal institutions on the island of Ireland have investigated a series of institutional failures. The Ryan Commission, the Murphy Commission, and the Saville Inquiry—to name but a few high-profile examples—have probed the relationship of the citizen to educational, religious, and military institutions. In turn, these investigations have been subject to analysis from academic, political, and cultural institutions, as well as the media. In 2011, as part of an Amnesty International publication responding to four reports on institutional abuse, Kevin Rafter diagnosed a ‘conspiracy of silence’ as an underlying factor in such institutional failure. Legal inquiries have gone some way towards breaking this silence and the university has a key role to play in furthering this debate. How do legal institutions hold sections of society to account? Are these institutions themselves held to account? How effective are the legal systems in Ireland at administering justice?

Law, Punishment, and Accountability is a one-day conference that will critically examine the legal institutions on the island of Ireland through a thematic and interdisciplinary approach. As the second event in TCD’s Institutions and Ireland series, the conference will analyse the ways in which Ireland has been shaped by both its own legal institutions, as well as by international bodies such as the European Parliament and European Court of Human Rights.

We invite abstracts of up to 300 words from any discipline for 20-minute papers in Irish or English that shed light on Ireland’s evolving relationships with legal institutions. The deadline for receipt of abstracts is Friday 29 April at 5pm. Please send your abstract and a short bio to institutionsandireland@gmail.com.

Topics can include, but are not limited to:

  • Public inquiries and their impact
  • The law in translation
  • The study of legal history in Ireland
  • Cultural representations of law and punishment
  • Coercive confinement
  • The Irish courts systems
  • Law before and after colonisation
  • Policing and the Defence and Security Forces
  • European and international law from an Irish perspective
  • The crisis of migration
  • Restitution and retribution
  • Privacy and defamation
  • Memory, the past, and accountability
  • The impact of digitisation on the law

The Institutions and Ireland series has been developed as part of TCD’s core research theme Making Ireland, which spans fifteen disciplines within the college and explores Ireland as ‘a continuously evolving and plural phenomenon, produced through diverse media and varieties of human agency’. Further details can be found on institutionsandireland.wordpress.com and www.tcd.ie/research/themes/making-ireland.


  1. Paddoconnell blogs 2007.Juveniles In Portlaoise Prison In The 1960s

  2. paddoconnell

    Reblogged this on Paddoconnell's Blog.

  3. ‘Damaging to the very fabric of our society’: Higgins criticises Ireland’s unequal justice system
    Higgins was speaking at the opening of Flac’s new Dublin office.
    Monday 25 February 2019 18:03 19,404 38
    PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said that Ireland should not be satisfied with its current system of justice which is dependent on the ability to pay for it.

    Speaking at the official opening of Free Legal Advice Centres’ (Flac) new office in Dublin, Higgins said that effective access to justice is a basic human right arguing that access to legal aid is a crucial requirement of that.

    “A nation that aspires towards true equality, could not be satisfied with a system of justice that is reliant on the earning power of those who seek to access it, or accept a situation where those who cannot afford to pay for justice can be more easily deprived of their liberty, or for a view that a fair trial is a commodity is a right limited to one’s capacity to purchase it,” he said.

    There can be no doubt that those who are most vulnerable and marginalised in our society are also those citizens who are most at risk of encountering legal difficulties and most in need of a justice system that is accessible and that operates in the best interests of all.
    Flac was established in 1969 by four students who wanted to use their skills and knowledge to provide legal advice to those who could not afford to pay for it – an organisation Higgins says has contributed “so much to the achievement of a rights-based legal system in Ireland”.

    Speaking at the opening of Flac’s new office, the first in a series of events to mark its 50th anniversary, Flac’s chief executive, Eilis Barry, said that five decades later, justice continues to be unattainable for some groups in society.

    “We are proud of the work that FLAC and its squad of volunteers have done for the last 50 years in seeking to establish a comprehensive system of civil legal aid. However, Flac and its volunteers cannot begin to meet the current legal need it encounters on a daily basis.”

    Last year Flac dealt with over 25,000 requests for legal information and advice to its telephone information line and advice clinics.

    It recently urged the government to make free legal aid available in proceedings involving the repossession of a home.

    “It is simply not acceptable, in a state that claims to be a democracy, that the most vulnerable section of our society is unable to access our legal system or is prevented from doing so in a timely manner. That is a situation which damages the very fabric of our society, entrenching and exacerbating inequality,” Higgins said.

    The homeless, the poor, those with a disability or who suffer from mental illness, immigrants, lone parents and those living or growing up in disadvantaged communities encounter many more legal problems than the rest of our population.
    Higgins added that when vulnerable citizens are abandoned to navigate a complex legal system alone, they are experiencing a grave injustice.

    “It is, indeed, worrying to know that figures released last year by the Irish Penal Reform Trust to the Oireachtas Education Committee showed that the majority of those currently in Irish prisons have never sat a State exam, with over half having left school before the age of 15.

    “It is also revealing that prisoners in Ireland are 25 times more likely to come from deprived communities, indicating a very clear link between social disadvantage and crime and punishment,” he said.

    FLAC’s new premises on Upper Dorset Street has a special historical significance as the playwright Sean O’Casey was born on the original site in 1880.

    O’Casey’s daughter, Shivaun, was in attendance today for the opening.

  4. paddoconnell

    Solicitor Gerald Kean has told a High Court jury he was “shell-shocked” by a front page newspaper article concerning a visit by members of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) to his Dublin office three years ago.

    Mr Kean has sued for defamation alleging, among various claims, the March 11, 2016, article in the Irish Daily Star, labelled “Exclusive” and headlined “Kean caught up in CAB probe”, wrongly and maliciously linked him to gangland crime and to the Kinahan crime gang.

    The jury heard the sub-headline on the front page article said: “Gardai call to office of ‘celebrity solicitor’ for file” and the story also stated: “Sources said officers were looking for paperwork relating to the sale or purchase of a house linked to the Kinahan gang.”

    The story ran for another two pages inside the newspaper, saying, among other things, that, “as part of their probe into the Kinahan cartel, gardai obtained judicial permission to search 12 homes and seven businesses, including Mr Kean’s office”.

    It also said “it is understood Mr Kean fully co-operated with the gardai who called to his office”.

    Mr Kean has sued Independent Star Ltd over the article, published a day after two CAB officers called to his premises at Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin. The defence denies defamation and denies the article means what Mr Kean alleges.

    In evidence on Tuesday, Mr Kean said there was no “raid” or “search” of his premises by CAB members on March 10, 2016.

    He said his office represents several gardai, including CAB members, and, when two members of CAB called to his office that day, he assumed they might be potential new clients.

    He said, following a “lovely” conversation with the two about a range of matters including his late father, who was a Garda, they asked him for any documents concerning a house purchase by a Dublin man, Sean McGovern.

    Mr McGovern was described in the newspaper article as aged in his thirties and a business partner of Liam Byrne, who was shot and wounded during an incident at Dublin’s Regency Hotel when David Byrne was shot dead.

    The article said the homes of Mr McGovern and of Liam Byrne were raided earlier the same day, March 10.

    The article also said gardai took away documents from Mr Kean’s office concerning the sale or purchase of a property at Kildare Road, Crumlin.

    Mr Kean said he was unaware himself of the house purchase matter but another solicitor in his office told him she had acted in that matter and procured the relevant documents for the CAB officers.

    Because the officers had a warrant, that meant, despite confidentiality obligations as a solicitor, the documents must be provided, he said.

    At his Co Wicklow home that night, he was watching a football match when he was contacted several times by phone by journalists with the Star.

    He may have used an “expletive” when he “very abruptly”, in reply to a specific question from a journalist, said there was no “raid” on his office and had not answered further calls and texts.

    He was “shell-shocked” and “absolutely devastated” when, while later watching an item about the following day’s newspapers headlines on the Virgin Media Tonight show, he learned the CAB visit was the subject of a front page article in the Irish Daily Star.

    Because he knew he would be unable to sleep, he drove to Dublin in the early hours seeking a copy of the newspaper. When he read the full article, he was horrified and went to the office of another solicitor about it.

    He was very concerned how people, particularly his daughter, but also various charities and businesses with whom he is involved, would react to the article and whether they would believe he had no involvement in relation to the matters CAB was investigating.

    “I was genuinely very upset and very hurt and I really feared how I would recover from this,” he said.

    Earlier, outlining the case for Mr Kean, Jim O’Callaghan SC, urged the jury to award “very significant” damages, including aggravated damages, due to the “viciousness” of this “defamatory attack”.

    He said the jury may be aware of a very serious murder at the Regency Hotel on February 5, 2016, as that was the most prominent factor leading to a “murderous” feud between the Hutch and Kinahan criminal gangs.

    The article referred to CAB getting permission to search 12 homes and seven businesses but the only business named was Mr Kean’s and only it got this “extraordinary” treatment in the newspaper, he said.

    The newspaper was linking all of the CAB searches together and putting Mr Kean in same category as those subject of the CAB investigation which is “totally incorrect and unfair” to him, he said.

    The case continues before Mr Justice Bernard Barton and a jury.

  5. paddoconnell

    A Massachusetts man who served 32 years in prison before his conviction was overturned two years ago will be put on trial again, after a judge denied defense attorneys’ attempts to throw out what they argued was faulty evidence.

    In a 39-page decision, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Robert Cosgrove denied Darrell Jones’ attempt to suppress witness identifications from the 1985 Brockton murder of Guillermo Rodrigues.

    Get the latest news Boston is talking about sent to your inbox each day. Subscribe here.

    Defense attorney Paul Rudof claimed police intimidated and coerced five eyewitnesses and used improper techniques when showing them photo lineups. He also argued that some of the witnesses were high on cocaine and intoxicated at the scene of the crime.

    Cosgrove ruled that despite using outmoded methods of photo identification that would not be permitted as evidence in court today, the police did not violate due process or prejudice witnesses into identifying Jones as the shooter.

    “Eye witness identification is an invaluable law enforcement tool in obtaining accurate convictions, but also the greatest source of wrongful conviction,” the judge wrote.

    The judge said Jones’ attempt to suppress the evidence “did not meet his burden that the identifications were suggestive or conducive to irreparable misidentification.”

    The day of the murder, Nov. 11, 1985, Brockton police detectives interviewed five people who were in a parking lot on the rainy, near moonless night when Rodrigues was shot and killed.

    All of the witnesses described the killer as being several inches shorter than the victim. Jones was just an inch shorter.

    The eyewitnesses’ testimony before a grand jury frequently contradicted each other and what they would later testify at trial. In the 1986 trial, none of the witnesses could identify Jones in court.

    Jones conviction was overturned in 2017 when another judge found the lead investigator had falsely testified in the original trial about a key piece of video evidence, a recording of a witness interview that had been edited. The judge also ruled that Jones had been denied a fair trial because the all-white jury was racially prejudiced against Jones. An investigation by WBUR into Jones’ conviction led to a juror testifying that two other jurors said they thought Jones was guilty because he was black.

    Rudof, the defense attorney, called Judge Cosgrove’s ruling “shocking and wrong,” and that the decision “is based on testimony of a detective who three judges have now said intentionally lied at the first trial.”

    The ruling demonstrates “that it’s fine for the police to pressure witnesses to make an ID as long as the police themselves think they’re doing the right thing,” he said.

    The Plymouth County district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, issued a short statement repeating the facts of the case.

    “Judge Cosgrove has issued a ruling denying the defendant’s motion [to suppress witness identification] and, as a result, the Commonwealth may now present those prior identifications in evidence at the re-trial of the defendant,” the statement read.

    Jones has been out on bail since 2017, pending a new trial. He declined to comment, saying he wanted his attorney to speak on his behalf. Jones is attending a conference in Atlanta being held by the Innocence Network, an organization that provides pro bono legal and investigative services to those seeking to overturn their convictions. The meeting includes 200 people wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.

    Jones’ new trial for the 1985 murder is scheduled for May 20, in Brockton Superior Court.

  6. paddoconnell

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    The devastating impact of social class is not an abstract concept to hundreds of thousands on this island’
    Working class communities are punished for a system they had little real control over, writes Lynn Ruane.
    Sunday 12 August 2018 19:31 51,977 200
    THE IRISH PENAL Reform Trust released figures to us on the Oireachtas Education Committee earlier this year stating that the majority of the current cohort of Irish prisoners had never sat a State Exam and over half had left school before the age of fifteen.

    It was also reported that prisoners in Ireland were twenty-five times more likely to come from deprived communities. The relationship between deprivation, disadvantage and criminality was clear in the data we received and from my point of view, there for everybody and anybody to see.

    Yet in Irish society we do not adequately acknowledge and recognise the role that social class plays when looking to the number of young men in the prison system or as a broader socio-economic phenomenon which impacts on the health, prospects and well-being of the less well-off in communities across the country.

    What seems so clear and so obvious from our national data on criminality, educational attainment and deprivation and the relationship between them is often firstly denied to have any impact at all and secondly, to not even exist in the first place.


    A politician colleague said to me recently, “Do you have to bring class in everything?”
    I sharply responded, “As long as it exists I do”.

    This was not the first adverse reaction to raising the issue I had received but I refuse to be made feel like I shouldn’t. The devastating impact of social class in Ireland is not an abstract concept to me and hundreds of thousands of others all over this island. People who have had their lives determined by a class system that they wore born into; by luck and luck alone.


    ‘Institutionalised inequality of the class system’

    I often sit and read all the letters I have received from friends in prison in a shoe box. The letters are all in small brown envelopes and many of them start with “Alright Lynn, just me here on the end of the pen”. In a margin down the side there are lists of young boys’ names neatly written in columns and beside each name is the length of the sentence they are serving. This long list of boys, some still alive but many of them now dead all have a common thread in their letters, the same aspirations for their release.

    “When I get out I am going to go back to school, when I get out I am going to Youthreach, when I get out I am not going to get in trouble again.”

    But what happens to their ambition? It is as if with the first steps out of St Patrick’s Institution, Oberstown or Wheatfield; any ability they have to exert any agency, control or direction over their lives evaporates.


    It didn’t matter how much they wanted to improve their situation, they had little to no agency against the institutionalised inequality of the class system. The class system is too powerful for many young boys to exert any power over their circumstances. Decision making is coerced by the inequality of our conditions, often leading to young men from working class communities being perpetually punished for a system they had little real control over.

    Whether it be on the Micro, the Mezzo or the Marco, young men who experience poverty, deprivation and prison face challenges at every turn, making it feel impossible to manoeuvre through this interconnected web of obstacles. This may include struggles within the family home, schools refusing to lift expulsions, little access to social and financial capital, low educational attainment and all-round feeling of helplessness.

    Considering a majority of the men in the IRPT’s statistics were unemployed at the time of arrest and add in the low educational attainment of prisoners you would wonder what the logic is in pumping so much money into the prison system rather than focusing on prevention by addressing inequality of conditions. It is sad to say that it appears to be just another tool in the reinforcement of class.


    As I stated earlier, the connection between deprivation, disadvantage and criminality is clear, yet we fail to address the conditions that has contributed to this while expecting offenders to ‘learn their lesson’ and reintegrate into society as law abiding citizens.

    Maybe sometimes it is less about learning lessons and more about creating a fairer society that reduces deprivation and disadvantage, which will in turn reduce criminality and reoffending.

    Lynn Ruane is an Independent Senator in Seanad Éireann, representing Trinity College Dublin. She is also a member of the civil engagement group in the Seanad and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education & Skills

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