Apparently, the Guards received sexual abuse complaints from an intellectually-disabled youth against the Limerick solicitor relating to Devane’s appearance as Santa at a special needs school. Devane regards the episode as a ‘witch hunt’ against him that is related to a teacher he defended from abuse claims at the same school. He insists the Guards then made libellous comments to his then-partner, Allison Carty and his sister, Áine Cuddihy. The abuse allegations have no merit, and must’ve been particularly hurtful to Devane given his own abusive childhood.
Devane’s book, Nobody Heard Me Cry, published in September 2008, details a horrific succession of abuse from the age of 8 to his early teenage years in 1970s Limerick as a rent boy in public toilets on the Dock Road. He cites being on the receiving end of abuse from, among others, several Guards and priests, perhaps feeding into his present image as an anti-establishment figure.
Devane's 2008 book
Devane has represented some 125 institutional abuse victims, and was once accused of taking fees from victims who secured compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board despite the fact that the redress Board itself paid the legal costs incurred. Devane insisted fees were deducted from compensation because of the uncertainty that the Redress Board would pay solicitors. The fees were subsequently returned to clients.
Devane’s own complains of abuse were not prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions. His complicated personal life is illustrated by the 2005 Civil Circuit Court case whereby Devane sought to have his sister removed from his house, while his mother sought a restraining order against the same sister after death threats.
Devane is no stranger to controversy. As some went in to legal practice to “take on the establishment”, his efforts seem to bring him in conflict with Judges, Gardaí and the Law Society. Judge Joseph Managan once fined him the sum of €1 after Devane called him a ‘clown’ in the Kildysart District Court, County Clare, in 2003. In fairness to Devane, he was preoccupied with trying to reschedule a court case so he could visit his partner in hospital that afternoon.
Because Devane represents so many disadvantaged clients, he is left open to occasional accusations of encouraging those clients to lie. In a 2002 murder trial, Devane was criticised by some for advising his client to reply to Garda questions with “I can’t remember, but if I do, I’ll tell you.” After a 2008 trial for drunken driving, defendant Fiona Porter was quoted as saying “I am not taking the blame for John Devane. He lied in the court and now he's trying to make f**king money off me”. This followed an unusual defence whereby Porter alleged she drove under the influence only after catching her husband in bed with her mother, despite the subsequent revelation that her husband was behind bars at the time.
More recently, in August 2009, allegations were aired that Devane was being investigated for passing inappropriate information to a client. The client was Noel Campion and the text message Devane sent him was reportedly discovered after Campion was murdered in April 2007. Devane was subsequently cleared by the Law Society. Another ruling by the Law Society was not so welcome by Devane, in July 2008, when he was fined €15,000 after a disciplinary hearing for the relatively forgivable offence of late serving of legal documents.
More serious was the raid by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) on John Devane’s offices in February 2006 on Quinlan Street. At the time Devane suggested CAB targeted him because of his success at getting clients off but Gardai insisted it was part of a larger ongoing investigation.
Devane is quite litigious, even for a solicitor. Back in 1996, around the time he qualified as a solicitor, he took a case against AIB to the Circuit Civil Court. Devane had claimed he had been embarrassed in front of his partner’s parents on holiday in Asia when his credit card was declined. His court action failed after it emerged he had already accepted a £1,000 payment of ‘goodwill’ from the bank.
In 2006, after Devane contracted the MRSA bug, he invited the Limerick leader to his bedside in St. John's hospital. Devane, in a subsequent interview, threatened to have St. John’s hospital shut down, alleging his sickness cost him €500,000 in lost earnings.
The Limerick solicitor's list of class action and multiple client lawsuits range from the respected Residential Institutions Redress Board for abuse survivors (125 clients), and Army deafness cases (450 claims) as well as an MRSA 'superbug' suit (60 clients) to the more questionable mass lawsuit for prisoners who 'slop-out' (900 clients). Rather oddly, Devane also threatened legal action in 2001, when the Government announced plans to ban opinion polls for 7 days before an election.
His work in favour of pre-election opinion polls was not Devane’s only foray into the world of politics. Though it was rumoured he was to be a Fianna Fáil local election candidate in 2001, it was in the 2007 General Election when Devane finally took the plunge, but as an Independent. His efforts to get elected to the 30th Dáil were unsuccessful though, and he received 330 first preference votes – about 0.67% of the electorate.
The highlight of his campaign was his attempt to confront Bertie Ahern with a plastic sword at the Jetland Shopping Centre on the Ennis Road, but a female Garda disarmed the solicitor prior to Bertie’s arrival. Devane told Guards, “I feel like Excalibur without my sword” as he made attempts to retrieve it.
Some years earlier, Devane had another brush with Bertie as he, somewhat comically, tried to serve a summons on Bertie on behalf of anti-war Shannon protesters.
Devane wasn’t always so antagonistic to Fianna Fáil politicians. In 1998, Dermot Ahern, then the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, relaunched the Back to Education programme. John Devane was there at the launch, with the Minister, as model of the success of our adult education system.
Long time Late Late Show watchers may also remember his appearance on show in September 2004, with fellow guest Alan Titchmarsh.
Devane is undoubtedly a hard worker, primarily as a Legal Aid defence solicitor. In 2009, he earned €433,603 from the State for his Legal Aid work, placing him only 15th on the list of top earning Legal Aid solicitors. Devane estimates that 80% of his income is from Legal Aid work, giving him a healthy income of €540,000 last year.
Devane’s clients have included members of most of the families involved in Limerick’s various feuds. He has been quite close to the Kelly family in Southill, even driving Mikey Kelly home from hospital after a 2002 shooting, and remarking that Mikey Kelly, a self-confessed wife-beater, had “done a lot of good work as a public representative” and had “changed the face of politics and is a force to be reckoned with.”
In March 2006, when he represented Anthony Kelly in his attempts to have his disability payments restored, Kelly claimed Devane had even paid for most of Kelly’s holiday in Lanzarote. Devane usually acts in the role of defence solicitor but acted as a private prosecutor in 2002 when Majella Kelly, the late Alderman Mikey Kelly’s wife, complained she was sexual assaulted by Detective Inspector Jim Browne in August 2001. The private prosecution failed and Mrs. Kelly was left to pay €70,000 in costs.
Devane’s closeness to the feuding partners in Limerick led to his offer to mediate between the gangs, suggesting that, as he has “a foot in each camp”, he was ideally suited to the role. It could be argued, however, that the demand for Devane’s mediation was fuelled by the successes of the Criminal Asset Bureau against the crime gangs in Limerick.
The downside of this closeness was highlighted in August 2009, when Devane was allegedly assaulted by a senior member of the Dundon family. Despite the fact that there were reportedly about 20 Gardai in and around the District Court that day, Devane was apparently grabbed by the throat and thrown to the ground.
According to Paul Williams (Sunday World, 6 January 2010) this was not the first time Devane has been attacked. In 2003, Kieran Keane reportedly beat Devane up at his home after getting the impression that Devane bungled a bail hearing for Kieran’s brother, Christy. Though he called the Gardai, Devane refused to make a formal complaint. Similarly, after this latest attack, Devane again refused to make a complaint, despite a plea from Stephen Collins, insisting he would be ‘a dead man walking’ if he filed a complaint with the Guards.
While Devane’s fears are understandable, it is difficult to reconcile his description of himself as a “working-class solicitor”, “defending people who have acted, possibly, out of sheer desperation, out of fear and poverty, people whose lives are often a complete mess and who are completely alienated from mainstream society” with the solicitor who, for over a decade now, has gone well beyond mere legal representation to many of Limerick’s most vicious criminals.