Irish ministers face fiasco vote

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Irish opposition parties will move a no confidence motion against Justice Minister Nora Owen and Attorney General Dermot Gleeson next week over their role in the fiasco over a judge left sitting in an anti-terrorist court after he had officially retired.

The oversight by civil servants led to 16 prisoners, including several IRA suspects, being released and re-arrested on Thursday. Irish Parliament sources indicated Fianna Fail will table no-confidence votes in Mrs Owen, Mr Gleeson and possibly also the Prime Minister, John Bruton.

Mrs Owen told the Dail on Thursday that Mr Gleeson wrote alerting her to the problem on 2 October but the letter failed to reach her. A Fianna Fail source said: "The trying of terrorists is one of the most sensitive issues in the country.

"Mrs Owen and the attorney general travel to Belfast every week together. They sit at the cabinet table together. It just doesn't make sense that he couldn't raise it with her directly."

He warned that the opposition parties will insist the minister is held responsible. "To blame civil servants will not wash. It's now almost every second month that there is another major cock-up in that department."

Mr Bruton conceded there was "something wrong" in the Department of Justice, and said "the sort of thing that had led to the release and re-arrest of the prisoners simply should not happen".

He defended Mrs Owen, deputy leader of his Fine Gael party, as the best justice minister in recent years and said he would not accept her resignation even if it were offered.

The Association of Higher Civil Servants backed her, saying she was being "scapegoated" over an administrative error "not of her making".

It said lack of resources and increased workloads of senior staff in her department meant it was now "virtually impossible to provide a service we can stand over to any minister".