Ian O'Donnell

in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

Published in print November 2017 | ISBN: 9780198798477
Published online December 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780191839467 | DOI:

Series: Clarendon Studies in Criminology


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By deciding whom to execute and whom to spare, the fledgling Irish state was asserting its sovereignty and flagrantly displaying its power to deflect the law from the lethal outcome it was otherwise bound to reach. The unregulated nature of executive clemency stood out against a background of bureaucratic decision-making which strove to be open, consistent, and dispassionate. This chapter examines what can be learned about how executive clemency was debated around the cabinet table, to what extent it was vulnerable to public opinion and petitions for mercy, other factors which affected the exercise of discretion (including the role of Department of Justice officials), and the relevance of the make-up of the government, in particular, the character of the Minister for Justice. (e.g. P.J. Ruttledge versus his successor Gerald Boland). The concept of groupthink in relation to government decision-making is explored.

Keywords: discretion; public opinion; Department of Justice; groupthink; petitions; Gerald Boland; P.J. Ruttledge

Chapter.  6463 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

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