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Remembering Kevin Haugh

Titles create a culture of hierarchy

About ten years ago I visited Ring College, Co Waterford, where I had done my sixth year in primary school, when aged eleven. Our teacher then, Muiris de Buidhléar, was still living in the vicinity and he arranged for us both to view the roll-book for my year in Ring. We went through the list and came on the name Kevin Haugh (or whatever the Irish version of the name was). Muiris recalled that in class Kevin would scratch himself repeatedly, yawn regularly and spend most of the time looking out the window. But whenever he was challenged it emerged he always had been listening.

A few weeks later I went into one of the circuit criminal courts and Kevin was presiding there as judge. He scratched himself repeatedly, yawned regularly and spent a lot of time looking out the window. But when it came to summing up the case, he did it lucidly and coherently, without notes or transcripts.

After Ring College, Kevin and I both went on to secondary school at Castleknock College and then to UCD and along the way we went to Lough Derg to do the pilgrimage for three days. I don’t remember why we did that but I assume we had decided we would do reparations not just for the sins we had committed – for in both our cases I think we had had little opportunity up to then for sinning – but for sins we hoped to commit. We were accompanied by another friend from secondary school, Neil McFeeley, who certainly had not committed any sins by then and, I suspect, committed none since either. So perhaps we had another motive.

Kevin was very bright and his languid demeanour disguised that. He did hardly any study at school but was one of the best in the class. The same at UCD and the Kings Inns. I wasn’t surprised at his decision to become a circuit court judge for circuit court judges, in the main, don’t have any homework and Kevin didn’t like homework. His decision to become a circuit court judge was made all the more understandable when it emerged that he was to serve twelve weeks of the year (I think it was twelve weeks) either in Geneva or New York or both as a judge of some administrative tribunal of the United Stations. He liked that.

Indeed Kevin liked to travel as much as the late Frank Cluskey loved to travel when he was leader of the Labour party from 1977 to 1981, and afterwards. Frank went on almost all the junkets on offer to the Labour Party – as a member party of the Socialist International – and that was the cause of deep resentment among his parliamentary party colleagues. John O’Connell, then a member of the Labour Party said of Frank at the time: “whenever Frank gets within a five mile radius of an airport he goes rigid with excitement”. I don’t know if Kevin went rigid with excitement in similar circumstances.

I was astonished when the announcement was made that he was appointed a judge of the High Court and presumed he had been given a guarantee that he would feature only on the central criminal court, where, again, no homework is required by the judge. I met him around that time and he explained he was about to be appointed chairman of the Ombudsman Commission. This also surprised me for I thought there would be heavy lifting there, but Kevin seemed unconcerned.

The highlight of his funeral was the address delivered by his son, Ben, who told a hilarious story about Kevin and a gun. Kevin had asked Ben never to repeat the story so Ben said he would tell it only once! The lad inherited his Dad’s humour.

But there was a feature of the funeral and of its reporting which raised an issue which I think is of some importance. Kevin Haugh would have been irritated by the point which he would have regarded as of no consequence.

The priest at the funeral mass (who was otherwise insightful) on several occasions referred to Kevin as “Judge Kevin” and as “Justice Haugh”. Newspaper reports of the funeral referred to the judges attending as Mr Justice (whatever).

Titles – whether Mr Justice or Mrs Justice or Minister, or Fr or Archbishop or Your Excellency, or Sir or Doctor, or Your Holiness or Your Majesty or Mr or Mrs or The Right Honourable – are instruments of domination. They delineate some people as important and others, by necessary inference, as not important. They are subversive of the idea of the equality of humankind. Their repetitious use helps create a culture of hierarchy.

The use of titles is always insidious, aside from formal occasions when democratically sanctioned institutions, such as courts and Parliaments, may be facilitated in their functioning by the use of titles (but even there their use may be suspect). But otherwise their use is obnoxious (although one might be tempted to allow the use occasionally of the title, The Right Dishonourable, especially in current circumstances).

Allied to this is the use of certain language forms: the use of words and syntax not familiar to people generally. But that is for another occasion.