You will be reading a lot about Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins in the next few days.
The 41-year-old Limerick TD and has landed himself in hot water because he wrote to a judge seeking leniency for a convicted drug dealer.
Collins, a scion of the famous Fianna Fáil Collins clan in West Limerick. His grandfather James Collins was a TD from 1948 to 1967. His uncle Gerry Collins is a former government minister who held several different portfolios in a career spanning 30 years; another uncle Michael J. Collins was elected a Fianna Fáil TD in 1997 also representing Limerick West until he retired in 2007 after it emerged he was on a list of tax defaulters. It was revealed that he had set up a bogus offshore account to evade paying tax. Fianna Fáil can trace their political ancestors all the way back to Wolfe Tone if you let them.
Niall Collins, 37, is a former accountant having worked with Ernst & Young and is a former lecturer at Limerick Institute of Technology. He was first elected in the 2004 local elections and previously served as Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesman before being moved to the justice portfolio.
Collins is seen as a close ally of Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and this will be seen as major embarrassment to them both. Collins regularly criticised former justice Minister Alan Shatter for his failings as minister for justice. He even went so far as to accuse Alan Shatter of not doing enough about the ‘scourge of gangland crime which is having a huge effect on society? We see the activities taking place on O’Connell Street in Dublin, on the Luas and along the boardwalk, including drug dealing.’
Niall is so worried about drug dealing; he writes a letter to a judge seeking clemency for a man who pleaded guilty to possession of almost €18,000 worth of cannabis for the purpose of sale or supply. Luckily for Niall the Fianna Fáil front bench is so feeble there’s no one that can replace him, unless Micheal Martin is planning a reshuffle of his own.
Defence Counsel Michael Collins BL argued that the family circumstances of the accused man placed the case in the “exceptional category”.
The defence presented a letter, which was not read out in court, was dated last month and was written on personalised headed paper and included Niall Collins’ photograph and contact details.
Collins stated that he wrote the letter outlining the exceptional circumstances of the family as the mother of the man’s four children had died earlier this year. Jailing the father vs keeping the children with a drug dealing father who has previous conviction for assault where he produced a broken glass. That’s one for the moral theologians.
Personalised paper is bog standard correspondence from TD’s when writing letters.
As can be seen below – when Niall Collins; in his role as Fianna Fail treasurer used Seanad envelopes to raise money for Fianna Fáil with personalised paper.
This looks like parish pump politics at its ugliest. Collins said today, “I truly believed that the judge should be made aware of these tragic circumstances so that they could be taken into consideration when sentencing.” Something defending counsel would surely have done?
But the bigger problem now for the Fianna Fáil leadership and Collins is the charge of hypocrisy. Collins was a thorn in Shatters side over his handling of the various Garda scandals, especially the Garda Ombudsman scandal. You can’t question the integrity of a justice minister while at the same time sending a letter of clemency for a drug dealer. It’s just bad political public relations.
Collins is not he first politician to write a letter to a judge on behalf of a defendant.
In 2002 it was revealed former Pogressive Democrat junior minister Bobby Molloy wrote over fifteen letters on behalf of a serial rapist who abused his daughter from she was nine until she was 18. Even after he was convicted by a jury, Molloy, as a minister, sought temporary release for the child rapist.
Controversy erupted in 2008 when it emerged that Labour TD Kathleen Lynch had written to a judge in a rape case. The rapist received a 14-year jail sentence, with the last year suspended, for the rape of two teenage sisters in Cork. During Mr Casey’s trial, his defence counsel presented a letter to the judge from Cork North Central TD, Kathleen Lynch. She said she regretted writing the letter if it had prolonged the agony of the victims. Lynch’s actions forced the then Labour leader Eamon Gilmore to outline guidelines for TD’s on how to deal with approaches from families looking for character references in court cases.
The 2011 presidential campaign was all about clemency letters. Senator David Norris wrote a clemency letter on Oireachtas notepaper for a lover who’d been convicted of statutory rape; and Gay Mitchell sought clemency for a convicted double murderer on death row in America.
In 2009, it emerged former Fianna Fáil TD Tony Killeen sent two letters to the Minister for Justice urging that a convicted child rapist be freed. Killeen was promoted as Minister for Defence not long after the incident. Proving resilience is one of the most underestimated political virtues.
There’s hope for Niall yet…..Up to today, he was touted as a future leader of Fianna Fáil.