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Attorney General controversy: Shane Ross calls for review of Whelan appointment

Máire Whelan is being appointed to the Court of Appeal – but she never applied for the role.

Image: Sam Boal

TRANSPORT MINISTER SHANE Ross has called for a review of the decision to appoint Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

The decision to appoint the outgoing Attorney General to the role was made at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday – one day before Leo Varadkar took over as Taoiseach.

However, it later emerged she had not applied for the role – and the Government has come under criticism from Fianna Fáil and others for the way the matter was handled.

Anyone interested in a judicial vacancy is supposed to apply to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) – of which Whelan as AG is a member – which in turn provides a list of candidates to Cabinet. It’s believed no one with the required level of experience, 12 years, applied.

Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, singled out Ross for particular criticism.

Ross has long called for the process of judicial appointments to be reformed.

Collins said he believed Ross agreed with Whelan’s appointment in return for the re-opening of Stepaside Garda Station, which is in his south Dublin constituency.

The Limerick TD described the situation as “horse-trading of a high-profile judicial appointment”.

Ross has denied this.

However, speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime this evening the Independent Alliance TD he would seek a review of the decision to appoint Whelan to her new role.

The Cabinet would “look at this again” and “see if there’s anything we can do”.

Asked whether this meant the appointment might not now go ahead, he said:

That’s completely up to other people whether it makes it to an appointment or not.

Asked whether there was any link between the appointment and the re-opening of Stepaside station, he said he “absolutely, emphatically” refuted it, and dismissed it as a “piece of Fianna Fáil fiction”.

In a statement earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Maire Whelan had “an outstanding legal mind” and was “highly qualified to serve on the Court of Appeal”.

He added:

The position of Attorney General is one of a handful which is mentioned in the Constitution. It affords Maire Whelan unique experience in terms of matters of the law. I am very pleased that nobody appears to be questioning her competence or her quality.
The issue which is attracting comment however is solely a matter of procedure. I am satisfied that the correct procedures were followed. Under Article 13.2 of the Constitution the Government and only the Government can appoint Judges.
The Tánaiste recommended Maire Whelan to Cabinet as the stand-out person for the vacancy.
I am committed to fully respecting the Confidence & Supply Agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I read the Agreement again this morning and it does not require the Government to run public appointments by Fianna Fáil, nor could it.
I am not at liberty discuss what transpired at Cabinet meetings, nor can any other Minister.

Jim O’Callaghan, the Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson, had earlier suggested that the decision breached the confidence and supply agreement his party entered into with Fine Gael last year.

He added, however, that he wouldn’t press the “nuclear button” over the matter, and said he expected it to be dealt with by the two party leaders.

Related: Fianna Fáil says there ‘will be consequences’ over judge’s appointment >

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