The legal profession in the Irish Republic has come under unprecedented attack following the public outcry over the recent murder of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin.
Guerin was shot dead by a gunman in Dublin, reportedly on the orders of the city's drug barons and crime bosses who she was investigating.
Now solicitors and barristers have been accused by politicians and the media of having lucrative professional relationships with Dublin's criminals, either through advising them on their finances or representing them in court.
Both the Irish Law Society and the Bar Council have described the attacks as unfair and dangerous.
The most trenchant assault has come from a member of the Irish parliament, Tony Gregory, who represents a Dublin inner city constituency in which the drugs problem is particularly acute.
He claimed: “All of the main drug dealers have solicitors and accountants advising them on how to make their money anonymous. Those dealers that I know in my area have little education and they have no legal or financial expertise. However, they have the money to buy it.”
The Irish Law Society's director general, Ken Murphy, publicly challenged Gregory to pass on to the police any evidence he had of solicitors engaging in illegal activity.
The society, Murphy said, “would support the full rigours of the law being brought to bear against a solicitor in such a case”.
But he added: “However, the Law Society has no such evidence and believes that care should be taken in the current climate to avoid unsubstantiated and unfair claims.”
Suggestions that barristers in criminal trials should be condemned for complicity in the crimes alleged against their clients were described by Irish Bar Council chair James
Nugent as “ill-informed, misjudged and dangerous at any time, but particularly so in the present climate of understandable fear and confusion”.