Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive

    at Aula Maxima, UCC

  • 04 Jun 2010























PROFESSOR IRENE LYNCH FANNON, Head of the College of Business & Law in University College Cork on 4 June 2010, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on THE HONOURABLE JUSTICE FRANCIS D. MURPHY









A Sheánsailéir, a Uachtarán, a mhuintir na hOllscoile agus a dhaoine uaisle. Is mór an onóir domsa, mar dlíodóir, bheith anseo chun an encomium a léamh don tOnórach an Breitheamh Prionsias O’ Mhurchú,



Chancellor, President, Colleagues, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,






Lawyers have a lot to put up with. They have been subject to harsh criticism and adverse social commentary for centuries.  Here is a short example: “The first thing we do - let’s kill all the lawyers!” – uttered by a minor Shakespearean character in William Shakespeare’s Henry 6th.  Its only merit is that it is concise and to the point!






Despite its sometimes poor public image, the law continues to thrive in Irish life.  This is not the case for many of our institutions. The Church, banks and even the notion of property ownership are, at this moment, almost unrecognisable from how we thought of them a generation ago. In contrast, the law has provided us with a compass of sorts to help guide us through the turbulence. Two examples come to mind; the first, the entire NAMA project is based on a carefully crafted piece of legislation of just over 250 sections. The legislation addresses amongst other issues, questions regarding securitisation of debts, resolution of insolvency matters and necessary adjustments to our insolvency processes, for example receivership.  Secondly, all of last year, judges of the High Court and Supreme Court have provided an independent and steadying hand in relation to the problems posed by the collapse of our construction sector, including issues arising on the valuation of property in a stagnant market and questions about whether particular companies can be salvaged or not.






These two examples illustrate that for a small country, Ireland has a strong tradition of commercial law which is extraordinary.  On a more positive note much of our success in the financial services sector is also based on this sophisticated legal foundation. Mr. Justice Francis Murphy, in his career as a lawyer has contributed significantly to the enhancement of this tradition.  He was called to the Inner Bar in 1969 and the same year took up a Professorship in the Kings Inn where he taught commercial law subjects, in particular company and tax law.  It is fitting to report in this university setting that he has been described to me by one of his students, as a brilliant teacher.  Recognised by his colleagues, he was Chairman of the Bar Council in 1974 and 1975. He was appointed a Bencher of the Kings Inns in 1975 and a Judge of the High Court in 1982. He was elevated to the Irish Supreme Court in 1996 where he served from that time until his retirement in 2002.






Mr. Justice Murphy has demonstrated the qualities of an immensely skilled lawyer in the many judgements which he has handed down from his time in both superior courts.  What are these skills which, when they are so polished, become imperceptible to the casual observer, or worse, the layman who thinks of himself as a lawyer? There is a crystalline clarity of thought, the ability to identify the crucial issues in a forest of complexities, analytical rigour which directs him to the principles of law best suited to a resolution of the issues and ultimately. Finally there is a decisiveness which is sure-footed, but never arrogant and often quite circumspect. (This latter quality indicates a willingness to focus only on the problems which require resolution in a particular case, leaving other problems for a time when they might come more clearly into view). Allow me to give you a flavour of the range of problems upon which during one year on the Supreme Court Mr. Justice Murphy adjudicated (2001-the year before his retirement); the valuation of a pension fund on the takeover by a Finnish lumber company of an Irish company/supplier; the interpretation of s.390 of the 1963 Companies Act regarding securities for costs in corporate litigation; the functions of an accountant in servicing a professional body; the damages awarded in defamation to a prisoner who argued that his reputation had been injured by the implied allegation that he was a sex offender and a case on the possible unconstitutionality of the imposition of court fees. This is just a small sample.






As with every kind of human endeavour from the poet crafting verse, to the soprano hitting her high note, to the soccer player scoring the perfect goal, the truly skilled make it all look so easy. It never is.  






We are also honouring Mr. Justice Murphy for the dedication he has displayed as a public servant in the broader sense.  In particular, following his retirement, his role as Chair of the Ferns Inquiry contributed enormously to our understanding of the problems of child abuse and of the principles which might be applied to resolve this most difficult of problems. At the time of the publication of its report in 2005, the then Minister for Children, Mr Brian Lenihan, paid tribute to Mr Justice Murphy and his inquiry group stating (November 2005) that ‘it is accepted on all sides that they have done an excellent job. The report is of a high intellectual quality and is practical and sensible in its conclusions.’ In light of recent developments regarding the publication of the Ryan Report (chaired by Mr Justice Sean Ryan) and the Murphy Commission (Chaired by Ms. Justice Yvonne Murphy) honouring Mr Justice Francis Murphy for the seminal contribution of the Ferns Enquiry is appropriate and timely. 






Other aspects of his broader service to Irish society are also significant. Mr. Justice Murphy was Chairman of the Revenue Powers Group, Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission, and Chairman of the Irish Sports Anti-Doping Appeal Panel. He is currently Chairman of the Board of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland, Chairman of the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee, and Chairman of the Financial Services Appeals Tribunal, a body which will be of increasing significance given the nature of the financial crisis we face.






Finis Origine Pendet, the end depends on the beginning. Mr. Justice Murphy began as a lawyer in the 1960s and fortunately for us, continued to hone his skills to perfection. This encomium will also end as it began, with a quotation.  This time from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the great American jurist and Supreme Court Justice who more than 100 years ago expressed his belief that no profession was as rewarding as the law.  In what other profession he asked, “does one plunge so deep into the stream of life, so share in its passions, its battles, its despair, its triumphs.” (Address in Suffolk, MA to the County Bar Association, 1885)  Mr. Justice Murphy chose this path, this stream. Today we honour the significance and depth of his achievements.












Praehonorabilis cancellarie, totaque universitas:



Praesento vobis hunc meum filium quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in utroque Jure, tam Civili quam Canonico, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo totique Academiae.


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