The leader of the Rural Independents Group, Mattie McGrath TD has questioned the intervention of Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue in court case involving a senior Department official.
The official was given a four month suspended prison sentence and fined a total of €2,000 having been convicted of breaching animal welfare regulations.
The Minister has made the unusual attempt to have the sentence handed down in June by Justice Kilrane brought to the High Court for review.
When asked by Agriland about this last week, the Department claimed that this was to ensure the “integrity of the overall conviction.” Apparently on the basis that the sentences were not provided for under the relevant legislation.
Deputy McGrath described the intervention as “bizarre,” and called on Minister to “clarify his actions.”
“The intervention by this Minister is rather puzzling and frankly unethical. This is especially true, when one considers that the official concerned was also responsible for enforcing animal welfare regulations for the Minister.
“The animal neglect and welfare convictions, given by Sligo District Court in June, were on foot of the Minister’s prosecution.
“In fact, in the original case, Judge Kilrane criticised the department’s management of the entire case and questioned how the official concerned was still in their position within the department. The judge also accused the department of being too lenient against the senior official, in relation to its internal handling of the case.
“It is now completely unbelievable that the Minister would do an about face to have the sentence set aside or quashed, particularly for a senior official in the department who is meant to be overseeing the very matters for which he has pleaded guilty.
“In all other cases of individuals feeling wronged by the courts, the freedom to appeal to the higher court, in this case – the circuit court, is present.
“However, it appears the Minister’s unprecedented intervention of judicially reviewing a case, involving his own senior official, means the department official will not have to lodge such an appeal.
“Last week, while the Minister remained silent on this issue, his officials issued a statement, painting the picture that the Minister was somehow obliged to take this action to ‘protect the integrity of the overall conviction.
“If this was, in fact, the case, then we would see many other Ministers taking legal proceedings against court rulings on a continued basis. Yet, we know that that is not the case. Furthermore, what sets this case apart is that one of the Minister’s own employees was the convicted party.
“So far, the Minister’s silence regarding his actions is totally unacceptable. Therefore, we are calling on Minister Charlie Mc McConalogue to come clean and make a public statement on the rationale and full intent of his high court challenge.
“After all, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the Minister’s intervention. As such, this episode should be fully transparent, and vital animal welfare must not be undermined by the Minister’s actions here,” concluded Deputy Mc Grath.
In response, the Minister said he was “happy to clarify that he has not sought to challenge the conviction of a Dept of Agriculture official over animal welfare issues or instituted these Judicial Review proceedings to confer an advantage on the Department Official concerned. Rather, the Minister has brought proceedings before the High Court in order to protect the integrity of the overall conviction as the suspended custodial sentences handed down by the Court in respect of two of the four offences were not provided for in legislation. These proceedings have been taken to ensure that the State can enforce – without question – the penalty handed down by the Court in this case. The Department Official concerned will remain convicted of all four offences and will have to serve the four month suspended sentence imposed on him by the Judge irrespective of the outcome of these proceedings. Any neglect of animals or cases of animal cruelty will, where warranted by the evidence, be pursued through the Courts by the Minister and the persons responsible held publicly accountable for their actions.”