#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 8°C Monday 30 November 2020
Advertisement

Seámus Woulfe controversy: Taoiseach says government will be taking 'no further steps' on the matter

The decision was taken at Cabinet this morning, which effectively rules out an impeachment motion being moved by the Government.

Pictured (LtoR): Chief Justice of Ireland, Frank Clarke; President Michael D Higgins, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; Attorney General Seamus Woulfe and former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.
Pictured (LtoR): Chief Justice of Ireland, Frank Clarke; President Michael D Higgins, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; Attorney General Seamus Woulfe and former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Nov 17th 2020, 2:25 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS confirmed that the government will be taking “no further steps” in the ongoing controversy over Seámus Woulfe’s position on the Supreme Court. 

The decision was taken at Cabinet this morning and effectively rules out an impeachment motion being moved by the government. A member of the opposition can still put down such a motion, however.

Today’s Cabinet decision also makes it unlikely that any such impeachment motion moved by the opposition would garner support from coalition parties. 

Confirming the government’s decision in the Dáil this afternoon, Micheál Martin said that the standard set down to remove a judge was “a deliberately high constitutional standard”. 

It follows on from a letter published by Chief Justice Frank Clarke to Woulfe, where he stated that his personal opinion that Woulfe should resign his position in the wake of the controversy caused by his attendance at the ‘Golfgate’ dinner. 

In the Dáil today, Martin said that the judiciary has undertaken a “transparent and comprehensive process” following Woulfe’s attendance at the dinner. 

“The government fully supports the Supreme Court and recognises the importance of protecting its collegiate nature and its concern to maintain the highest standards,” the Taoiseach said.

The government notes the important distinction between a resignation and the deliberately high constitutional standard of removal for stated misbehaviour. After very careful consideration, and having listened to the opposition leaders on this matter, the government believes the constitutional protection of the judiciary is best achieved in this particular case by taking no further steps in this matter.  

Responding to the Taoiseach’s statement, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the Chief Justice’s opinion on Woulfe’s position “remains problematic”. 

“I believe there ought to be some mediated solution to this particular issue,” she said. 

Meeting

Last week, the Taoiseach met with leaders of the opposition to discuss what approach might collectively be taken to deal with the Woulfe controversy. However, no consensus on how to break the impasse was reached.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Labour leader Alan Kelly took issue with the Taoiseach not meeting with the leaders again this week to inform then of the government’s latest decision.

“It undermines what was done, I’d be quite reluctant to get involved in another group if you were to do the same thing on another issue, because it seems like the best Friday was a fishing exercise,” Kelly said.

The decision taken by government today at Cabinet will also mean that the focus on the appointment process of Woulfe to the Supreme Court will now take prominence.

The government is facing mounting pressure from the Opposition to facilitate a question and answer session with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on the appointment of Woulfe to the Supreme Court earlier this year.

In a statement, McEntee told TDs that only one judge’s name is ever given to Cabinet where judicial appointments are concerned.

“Based on that recommendation, which came through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board – which is an independent board – that name was approved by Cabinet,” she said.

“It’s important to say that there was a very clear process. As Minister for Justice, I adhered to that process.”

A number of parties and groupings such as Sinn Fein, Labour, the Social Democrats and the Rural Independent Group are all seeking Dáil time to be set aside for questions to be answered.

Opposition have concerns about the selection process, after it emerged last week that Cabinet was not told in July that a number of other judges had expressed interest in the vacancy on the Supreme Court before Woulfe was selected.

Speaking on the matter last week, the Taoiseach said only one name is brought to Cabinet when a judge is being appointed.

Woulfe had come through the Judicial Appointments advisory board (JAB) process, he said. He said he was not told other judges had expressed interest.

He said the advisory board is made up of senior judges themselves, and they had selected Woulfe. “As far as I’m concerned, that was it from from my perspective,” said Martin, adding that he had “no difficulty in ratifying that”.

Speaking this morning, ahead of what is expected to be a heated Order of Business session in the Dail, Sinn Féin Chief Whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said:

“We don’t intend to just leave it at that there will be votes today on the order of business. But it will continue in the weeks ahead until the Minister comes into the Dáil on to account for the process that led to this decision.”

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

Meanwhile, Labour leader Alan Kelly said:

“I believe the government have to allow questions today so we can deal with this once and for all, and find out transparently. I believe the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has a very big choice today, regarding what she articulates to the houses regarding this process.”

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said McEntee should come to the Dail to outline the judicial appointments process.

“It’s not at all clear what weighting is given between the judicial appointments process and the direct application by judges,” she said.

“I think it’s absolutely essential the Minister for Justice comes in and explains that in order that we can do our job and hold them to account.”

With reporting by Rónán Duffy

Read next:

COMMENTS (91)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel