Friday, September 01, 2023

Jarvey for Garvey (Contribution)

Irish Heraldry: Drogheda Town Walls

Drogheda and Louth Councils disgrace themselves by finding spurious legal reasons not to consider rescinding the 1997 award of Freedom of Drogheda to the former head of the Christian Brothers who has been making life difficult for an abuse victim who is suing them.

Brother Edmund Garvey, 73, was given the Freedom of Drogheda, where he had been born, in 1997 when he was head of the Christian Brothers. He went out of his way on that occasion to apologise for hurtful experiences people suffered because of the order, or in its schools.

However, in the last few years, he chose not to act as a nominee for the Brothers for the purpose of a High Court action for abuse, taken against the Brothers in 2019. 

Though certainly, that is his legal right, it meant that the more than 100 living members of the order at the time of the alleged abuse had to be made defendants in the case, six of whom live abroad, if the traumatised plaintiff wanted to sue the Brothers, a tall order. 

The High Court ordered judgment in default against 29 of them on 20 June.

Damian O’Farrell is an independent Dublin Councillor from Clontarf and a survivor of the widespread abuse perpetrated by the Brothers. He obtained the first-ever criminal conviction against a Christian Brother, in 1998. 

Farrell wrote to Councillors in Louth last October asking them to rescind the freedom. Alleged victims hired a hotel in the town and asked Councillor to talk to them but only five of 29 turned up.

Independent Louth councillor Maeve Yore has attempted to have the following motion tabled in the Council on two occasions: “That Louth County Council supports all victims of child sexual abuse and condemns the current litigation strategy chosen by the Christian Brothers order…and this Council calls on our members in the Borough District of Drogheda to rescind the Freedom of Drogheda bestowed on [Garvey]”.

A letter from the Council to Yore states: “your most recent Motion will not be placed on the agenda of council for May as it is considered potentially defamatory and could expose the council to litigation”. 

It’s about as defamatory as a Bridget’s cross.

On 10 May the Council replied to Yore’s solicitor, MacGuill and Company, confirming that it considered it was potentially defamatory: “It could be interpreted as making specific allegations against an identifiable person which, if unsubstantiated, could be injurious to the reputation of that person”. 

It suggested the Councillor submit alternative wording.

Yore is said to be contemplating a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission though it is unlikely to find ethics grounds on what is essentially a procedural matter.

She is also looking at a legal route.

Section 140 of the Local Government Act 2001 states that “an elected council may by resolution require any particular act, matter or thing specifically mentioned in the resolution and which the local authority or the [CEO] concerned can lawfully do or effect, to be done or effected in the performance of the executive functions of the local authority”.

Louth County Council should pass a resolution requiring its CEO, Joan Martin, to put a resolution rescinding the Freedom awarded to Brother Garvey which, whatever the Council thinks, is non-defamatory, on the ‘Clár’ or order sheet for expeditious discussion. 

Though the Cathaoirleach took legal advice that rescinding the Freedom is a matter for Drogheda Borough Council, it is in fact more appropriately dealt with by the full Louth Council rather than the legally depleted Drogheda Borough Council since, on 1 June 2014, the Borough Council was dissolved and the administration of the town was amalgamated with Louth County Council’s.

Brother Garvey has not behaved well and it is entirely appropriate to call him to account, or eject him from the honour he was, unwisely, afforded by the Council in a slightly less cynical era.

The CEO has already wasted enough of Councillor Yore’s time and legal fees. 

The Councillor might legitimately demand that if the CEO does not comply with this resolution and the law that she will hold the CEO and her agents personally liable for the costs including legal costs, of her non-compliance.

More difficult for Councillor Yore will be obtaining the necessary two-thirds majority vote for her Section 140 Resolution. 

Without the political support the legal action will not be possible. 

However, the Mayor of Drogheda, Michelle Hall, signalled last December that at least nine of the ten Borough Councillors were against bringing forward a motion to rescind Brother Garvey’s Freedom. 

It is not clear why.

What is extraordinary is, apart from one Sinn Féin County Councillor, the lack of support from the mainstream political parties, including the defiant Labour Party. 

Locally or from their national representatives, for an attempt to undo a small part of the abuse that most of them at least accept is real. 

It’s to be hoped those parties will be held to account for their heedlessness.