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Murphy’s Law [Profile of Judge Yvonne Murphy]

Sunday Business Post, 29 November 2009  By Kieron Wood

AGE: 61

APPEARANCE: fringed, brown-eyed, informal

NEWSWORTHINESS: chaired the Commission of Investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, which reported last week

Judge Yvonne Murphy has always been a high-flier.

Before becoming a Circuit Court judge - long before - she was an air hostess with Aer Lingus.

But her latest assignment brought her down to earth with a bump. Last Thursday, the government finally published the report of Murphy’s Commission of Investigation into the handling of allegations of child sexual abuse against Catholic clergy in the Dublin archdiocese.

Plans for the commission were announced four years ago, in November 2005, by former justice minister Michael McDowell and the former Minister for Children, Brian Lenihan, following persistent pressure from victims of clerical abuse.

On March 28, 2006,Murphy was appointed to chair the commission, assisted by barrister Ita Mangan and solicitor Hugh O’Neill. She faced a colossal task. Following a trawl of Dublin diocesan files, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had established that, over a period of 67 years, allegations had been made against 74 diocesan priests, while suspicions had been raised about a further ten.

There were also accusations against 61 priests from religious orders, or priests from other dioceses who worked in Dublin, and suspicions about another two. In all, more than 150 of the 2,800 priests in the archdiocese - more than 5 per cent of the total - had been accused of sexually abusing children. The commission reported that 130 complaints had also been made against priests operating in the archdiocese since May 2004,whichwas outside its remit.

While Martin was prepared to hand over almost 66,600 documents to the commission, his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, instituted High Court proceedings relating to 5,600 documents over which he claimed privilege. The documents concerned legal advice about allegations of clerical sexual abuse and insurance policies covering such claims.

In February last year, Martin visited Connell in a north Dublin nursing home, where Connell was recovering from a fall.

Following a private conversation between the two prelates, the Cardinal agreed to withdraw his legal challenge.

But that wasn’t the end of Murphy’s travails. After preliminary inquiries into all the allegations, the commission had selected a sample of more than 320 complaints against 46 priests for further inspection. But lawyers for some of the priests continued to try and block the inquiry.

‘‘She ran into fairly heavy legal challenges," said one barrister, ‘‘and there were difficulties extracting information from the Church."

Even after Murphy’s preliminary three-volume report was presented to justice minister Dermot Ahern last July, legal efforts continued to have the report edited or to delete the names of certain abusers - and lawyers for the clerics sought to have the applications heard in private. Last month, High Court judge Paul Gilligan finally ruled that the report could be published, with the exception of the name of one priest. Six days later, following representations by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to the Department of Justice, the matter was referred back to the High Court after the DPP belatedly initiated criminal proceedings against another priest.

Gilligan considered the report at three in camera hearings before clearing it for publication, with the name of the second priest removed to prevent prejudicing his trial. When the 720-page report was finally published last Thursday, its revelations were widely condemned.

Martin said that no words of apology would ever be sufficient for the ‘‘revolting story of the sexual assault and rape of so many young children and teenagers by priests of the archdiocese or who ministered in the diocese’’.

Ahern promised that: ‘‘The era where evil people could do [evil things] under the cover of the cloth, facilitated and shielded from the consequences by their authorities, while the lives of children were ruined with such cruelty, is over for good."

Murphy, a native of Donegal, has been widely praised for her work on the report. Her empathy with the abuse victims may have owed something to personal tragedy she suffered at an early age. Her mother, Sheila O’Connor from Kerry, died when Murphy was about ten.

Her father, Tom Murphy also from Kerry, remarried but, when Murphy was in her teens, he also died, leaving Murphy’s stepmother Gertie to bring her up. Murphy was educated as a boarder at the convent in Kiltimagh, CoMayo. She left in 1967 and began working as an executive officer for the estate duty office of the Revenue Commissioners in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, studying law at University College Dublin part-time.

It was there that she met her husband-to-be, history student Adrian Hardiman, who was starting an exceptional career as auditor of the Literary and Historical Society.

Both eventually went on to the King’s Inns in Dublin. Murphy was called to the Bar in 1971, three years before her husband. However, instead of practising law, she indulged her passion for travel and went to work as an air hostess on the Aer Lingus transatlantic routes for two years.

In 1973,Murphy completed a postgraduate diploma in social science at UCD, and left the national airline to become information officer - and subsequently head of information - at the National Social Service Board. During her six years there, she joined the National Union of Journalists.

In 1974, she married Hardiman who was just beginning his progression to the Supreme Court bench.

In 1979,Murphy joined RTE where she worked in the newsroom for three years. One colleague remembers an interview she did with the head of an art gallery who had just spent a very large sum on a work of art which constituted a blank canvas.

‘‘Is it completely blank?" Murphy asked.

‘‘Completely," came the reply.

‘‘Not even a signature?"


‘‘Well then, how do you know it’s not a forgery?" she asked.

From RTE, Murphy was appointed special adviser to former Labour Party Tanaiste Michael O’Leary. When he lost his seat, she did a two-year stint as editor of Industrial Relations News, before entering the Law Library in 1984.

The following year, she completed her Masters in Business Studies. Murphy initially specialised in employment law, and was vice-chairwoman of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Employment Equality Agency.

She was called to the English Bar in 1988 and to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1993. She also practised on the Northern Circuit and, in 1998, was appointed a Circuit Court judge, initially specialising in family law matters in Dublin.

Later she sat in the Circuit Criminal Court and, in 2003, she was appointed to the Special Criminal Court, of which her husband was a presiding judge. Hardiman had joined Fianna Fail at UCD, but was subsequently a founder member of the Progressive Democrats. He left the party when he was plucked from the Law Library and appointed directly to the Supreme Court bench.

He continues to be very friendly with the former leader of the party, Michael McDowell, who is now back working in the library. McDowell was best man at the couple’s wedding and has known Murphy for many years.

‘‘She’s certainly a polymath, there’s no doubt about that," he said. ‘‘She’s had an extraordinary career. It’s virtually impossible to think of any area where she does not have some expertise. But her background in social justice made her particularly suitable for the Dublin Commission job.

‘‘She’s very gregarious, as well as being immensely kind-hearted and generous. But, at the same time, she can be tough when she needs to be. I think she had a reputation for being tough as a criminal judge, but kind-hearted in the family law courts."

McDowell is also close to Murphy through her son Hugh, who was his personal assistant when he was minister for justice. Murphy and Hardiman have two other sons, Daniel who is a medical student, and Hugh’s twin Eoin, who is a barrister. Hugh and his wife, Alison, recently had a son, Vincent, so Murphy and Hardiman are also grandparents.

The family used to live in a large home in the affluent Palmerston Road area of Dublin 6, but the couple have now moved to a penthouse apartment in the Portobello area of Dublin.

They spend much of their time at their holiday home at Portnoo in Co Donegal although they may not have endeared themselves to the locals in 2007 when they objected to plans for a retirement home for local curate Fr Philip Daly,which they said would spoil the scenic views from their property.

Murphy has spoken several times at the annual MacGill summer school in Glenties in Co Donegal. The founder of the school, former RTE director of news Joe Mulholland, knows Murphy well from her visits to relatives in Ballybofey. ‘‘She’s a very likeable person and very good fun," said Mulholland.

‘‘She doesn’t stand on ceremony and is very informal. But for all of that, she has a good intellect and would be very thorough and rigorous in something like the task she has just finished."

Murphy was also founding co-editor of the Irish Times Law Reports and has written two books, one on media law and another on insider dealing with her first cousin Michael Ashe QC who, coincidentally, is also a canon lawyer.

‘‘I’ve known Yvonne since I was about three. I have lots of first cousins and I have to say, she’s one of my closest," said Ashe.

‘‘She’s a great ‘people person’, which makes her a wonderful entertainer and socialite. She’s very generous and would help anybody.

‘‘In her early days, she used to do voluntary social work in the Ballymun area of north Dublin. But she’s not afraid to say what she means. She has huge integrity and takes her job very seriously."

Murphy’s social work continues with the Bridge Project, a probation supervision scheme which provides a community-based programme for young adult persistent offenders from the Dublin area as an alternative to jail. She is a member of the board of management, along with fellow judicial investigator Mr Justice Michael Moriarty.

Although Murphy’s report was published last week, her work on clerical sex abuse is not yet complete.

She is chairing a similar investigation into allegations in the diocese of Cloyne in Cork, and additional information that came to light in the Dublin archdiocese, may require further investigation and a further report. In her limited spare time, Murphy enjoys playing golf and watching English football. It may be another while before she has time to do either.