The facts are known and admitted. Frank Shortt, now aged 72, an accountant by profession and the owner of a nightclub in County Donegal, was framed by senior police officers on charges of facilitating drug dealing in his nightclub, for which he was convicted and sent to jail for 27 months in 1995. See HERE for a journalist’s account of the affair and its consequences.
Mr. Shortt appealed his conviction but the conviction was affirmed by the Court of Criminal Appeal (a fine element of IR£10,000 was remitted). Ultimately, due to events elsewhere, Mr. Shortt’s new lawyers gained access to evidence by which he could prove he was innocent and again appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal where the State did not contest the appeal, See HERE for the fall-out.
In the events that happened, Mr. Shortt applied, as was his right and entitlement, to the High Court for compensation under statute for the miscarriage of justice of which he was the victim. He was awarded €1.9 million. See HERE for the judgement and HERE for evidence of his reaction.
Meanwhile his family, including his wife settled their claim for compensation against the police force and Ireland for the suffering they experienced as a result of the wrong done to Mr. Shortt. See HERE for a report. Significantly, the damages were expressly paid without any admission of legal liability by or on behalf of the police or Ireland.
The police officers are at large. They have not been arrested, although they are no longer in the police. The most senior of them was permitted to retire and is currently in receipt of his pension.
The Supreme Court remarked caustically on the absence of any real apology from the State and particularly the police force. Now one has emerged; see HERE.
The Supreme Court referred to the wrong done to Frank Shortt by the State. In fact the wrongs done to Frank Shortt were done by persons. No State can act other than by persons. Like commercial corporate bodies, a State is an abstraction, a myth.
For misplaced, but deeply human, conceptual reasons abstractions tend not to be judged by the same standards as persons. By a process of association, the agents of such abstractions often get the benefit of the privileged standards applied to their principals, the abstractions.
If the Irish State were to be undermined or destroyed, we could replace it. The State is not the fundamental element of social life; the community is.
Within the community there are differing and contending forces seeking, often, their own interests. In a democracy there is a concession from its members not to have resort to force to protect the interests being assailed by the opponents. Despite this, or because of it, on the part of the opponents there is a perennial drive and effort to co-opt the State, the highest secular abstraction, to the purpose of copper fastening the benefits of any such assault. This is, in effect, an assault on the State. The abstraction will be undermined if it is bent to that purpose.
On this view, it is not the State that is to be castigated when its mechanisms are abused; it is the individual members of society seeking to, or facilitating, such abuse.
Furthermore it is not possible to hold the State to account. We see this in Frank Shortt’s case; the compensation he is to get will be paid by the taxpayer. The taxpayer is not the State.
The real work in the Frank Shortt case is left undone; it is essential to, at a minimum, pass judgment on the persons who perpetrated the wrong done to Frank Shortt and any persons who became accomplices after the fact. To date, private persons, Frank Shortt and his lawyers, have done all the work. That should now be taken up and concluded by the Government.