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The Club of One

The mark of a good court judgment is its intellectual quality. Some, unquestioned on delivery, are revealed as dubious with the passage of time.

There is nothing compelling about the decision of the Supreme Court in Attorney General v Hamilton [1993] 2 IR 250.

In that case, the Supreme Court decided that the collective responsibility of the Cabinet (the Government) under Article 28.4.1 implied a constitutional bar on the disclosure of dissenting views in Cabinet.

The one does not follow the other of necessity. It may be the norm that dissent is not disclosed; it may be better that disclosure not take place, generally; but it may sometimes be a good thing to make disclosure of dissent. The Supreme Court closed that off. It did so with no significant history of disclosure by Cabinet members (other than selective “leaking” by, usually, the Government itself).

The Taoiseach has adequate powers of discipline to control the members of the Cabinet. If he (or she) cannot use those powers effectively, that is evidence of a political crisis and indicates there ought to be an election. For good reason, the Courts should steer clear of situations like that.

The decision has had bad effects. It endorses a damaging idea of Government; one where the freedom of the Executive to act without challenge and with impunity is put at a higher value than the principle that the interests of the electorate are paramount.

It is a deeply anti-democratic view.