For the second time in a month, a judge criticised the Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan, for failing to appreciate the present financial climate before throwing out all charges brought against a business for employing teenagers illegally.
Before the court this week (February 11 ) was prominent Moate publican, Liam Claffey, who was summonsed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment after its inspectors discovered he employed a nephew and one other youth at his premises until 3am.
However, Judge John Neilan would not countenance such a prosecution and said as much to the Department’s inspector, a Ms O’Sullivan.
“Does the Minister of Enterprise understand the difficulties in the country at the moment?” he asked.
“I don’t see the point of bringing this sort of prosecution.
“I accept the legislation is there but these are not the sweatshops of India or China.
“I can’t see why the geniuses in the accountants’ offices can’t see what’s going on.
“There never was a Celtic Tiger - there was a nit driven by bankers.
“The Minister has gone way overboard and there must be some compassion for families who don’t earn the same as a Government minister.”
Previously, Ms O’Sullivan had told the court that on six occasions in May and June last year, she had recorded the two 17-year-olds working in the cloakroom and kitchen of Claffey’s pub and nightclub up until 3am.
Defending solicitor, Ms Michele Melotte, said her client took these charges “very seriously” but had believed, in error, that if the lads were over 16 and not serving alcohol it was all right.
She explained how her client was “a good employer” with over 30 staff, and had been in business for 35 years.
Both lads were still at school and only worked late on Saturday nights.
Judge Neilan sided with Ms Melotte.
“I simply don’t understand, as one of the little people in life, why this [prosecution] was necessary,” he said.
He then fanned out the 38 summonses on his bench brought against Claffeys and another business and turned to Ms O’Sullivan.
“If that’s all you can do you should go and do something more worthwhile instead.
“This lacks compassion, innovation and objectivity - and you can tell her [the Minister] that.
“What’s wrong with young people going out and getting a few shillings? Nothing. The good old days of bacon and cabbage are gone.
“If the Government want me to resign over my comments, I’ll pop off but I have an independence in my job to say what I like.”
He dismissed all 12 charges against Claffey and, subsequently, the 26 brought against the other company.