26-County democracy in the dock

Five hundred days after the seat was vacated, the Dublin government has incredibly told the High Court that there has been no unreasonable delay in holding a by-election in Donegal South West.

On Monday, the court began hearing a judicial review application by Sinn Fein Senator Pearse Doherty, to force the Taoiseach Brian Cowen to name a date for a by-election in Donegal.

The challenge follows the failure of the Dublin government to move the writ for the by-election caused by the election of Pat “the Cope” Gallagher to the European parliament in June last year.

The delay in holding a by-election is the longest in the history of the State, the court was told.

In response, the Government urged the court not to grant the declaration sought by Senator Doherty, having regard to articles of the Irish Constitution concerning the separation of the powers of the executive and the judiciary.

Mr Doherty pointed to constitutional requirements affirming a “democratic state”, whereby there should not be less than one TD for every 30,000 of population.

An analysis of the relevant statistics showed the longest previous delay holding a by-election was just over six months in Galway in 1935, counsel said.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams accused the coalition government of running scared of voters and wasting taxpayers’ money in the court fight. Mr Adams said it was a “great shame” that the government had gone to the High Court rather going to the polls.

“The government is running scared of the voters of Donegal South West, and indeed those of Dublin South and of Waterford where by-elections are also overdue,” Mr Adams said.

“These constituencies are being left under-represented at a time of severe economic crisis, with far-reaching decisions being made and a savage budget being prepared by this government.

“That is bad for the people of Donegal South West, of Dublin South and of Waterford. It is also bad for democracy.”

Senator Doherty accused the government of using taxpayers’ money to subvert democracy.

“The people are demanding an election at the earliest opportunity, not at some vague time next year that suits the government best,” Mr Doherty said.

“The government’s attitude to this case has been arrogant and dismissive and they are now intent on wasting even more taxpayers’ money defending this case when they could easily have avoided it by moving the writ for the election to take place.

“In defending this case the government has sunk to a new low.”

* The two-day case concluded today [Tuesday]. Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns reserved judgment to Friday, November 5th next.

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