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Justice minister agrees to appear before the Dáil to answer questions on Woulfe appointment

Micheal Martin says the Oireachtas Business Committee should meet to discuss the matter.

Image: Sam Boal

JUSTICE MINISTER HELEN McEntee is willing to give a statement and answer questions in the Dáil on the appointment of Seamus Woulfe, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheal Martin says the Oireachtas Business Committee should meet to discuss the matter. 

Yesterday, opposition parties withdrew from the committee due to the ongoing refusal of the minister to come before the house to answer questions.

The Taoiseach said McEntee was “taken aback” that her proposal to answer questions on Woulfe controversy was turned down by the opposition. He told the Dáil “she wants to deal with this”.

Micheál Martin said McEntee was “anxious” to answer questions on the appointment.

He reiterated that he could not “stress enough” just how anxious the minister is deal with the matter tomorrow afternoon.

A spokesperson for the minister said the minister has already offered to bring forward her ministerial questions in order to be accountable to the Dáil. 

“In recent days, the minister has answered parliamentary questions and the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have answered questions in the House on this issues.

“The Minister also addressed the process around the appointment of Seamus Woulfe in the Oireachtas Justice Committee and in numerous media appearances in recent days.

“The Opposition have already rejected the Minister’s offer to bring forward her oral questions.

“The Government continues to have grave concerns around the manner of debate the opposition is seeking and the effect it could have on the independence of the judiciary.

“However, in order to address this issue promptly the Minister has asked that time be made available in the Dáil this week for her to come before the House.”

Earlier, the Oireachtas Justice Committee released a statement rebuking claims that  McEntee “answered questions” on Woulfe’s appointment when she appeared before it.

It maintained the minister appeared before the committee for the purposes of considering the annual estimates. 

“Towards the end of the estimates consideration, a question was put to the Minister on the judicial appointments process. Whilst the Chair directed that the question was out of scope for the meeting agenda, he allowed the Minister to offer a brief response which she did. No further questions on the matter were put or taken,” said the statement.

Previously, the government has insisted that McEntee’s offer to take priority questions on the issue is sufficient, but opposition parties have described such a suggestion as “a charade”. 

The deterioration of relations between the government and other parties over the issue resulted in the opposition parties and groupings withdrawing from the Dáil’s Business Committee. The committee meets each week to agree the agenda of the Dáil for the following week. 

Woulfe was nominated to the Supreme Court in mid-July, a number of weeks after the Fianna Fail-Fine Gael-Green Party government was formed. 

Today, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if the government was made aware that a Circuit Court judge, who was appointed on the same day as Séamus Woulfe, once worked in former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan’s solicitors firm.

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The Taoiseach did not offer a reply, much to the anger of the opposition, such as Labour’s Alan Kelly. He called on the Taoiseach to answer the questions posed to him. 

Martin said he was disappointed with Kelly’s remarks that his answers were “rubbish”. He said “no impersonation of John Wayne is going to phase me”, and accused Kelly of creating a “melodrama”.

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