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Whatever is happening to that 'dog's dinner' of a Bill?

Ministers signed off on 50 proposed amendments to the Judicial Appointments Bill today.

Image: Shutterstock/Gladskikh Tatiana

THE GOVERNMENT is set for a Dáil showdown within the next two weeks as it attempts to salvage a landmark law on judicial appointments.

Transport Minister Shane Ross has been told that the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will be brought back before TDs in the next two weeks, when the government will attempt to fix problems which have seen it labelled as an unconstitutional “dog’s dinner”.

Ministers today signed off on 50 proposed amendments to the Bill, which will be formally tabled by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan when the Dáil debate takes place within the next fortnight.

Attorney-General Seamus Woulfe says the amendments are needed to fix contradictions created by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin in the Bill’s committee stage.

However, given the government’s minority status within the Dáil, it will need one of those two opposition parties to approve the amendments – effectively requiring one of those parties to perform a U-turn on certain areas.

Precondition to forming a government

The Bill has been progressed at the behest of Shane Ross and his Independent Alliance colleagues, who made it one of the preconditions for forming part of the minority government.

If neither opposition party is prepared to accept the government’s amendments – some of which affected the substantial contents of the new law – Woulfe may still consider the Bill to be unconstitutional, leaving question marks about whether the government can continue to support it.

Woulfe’s concerns were highlighted in controversial remarks made last month at a lunch hosted by the Association of European Journalists.

Following the comments, Fianna Fáil called on the government to scrap the Bill, but Flanagan said he would describe it as a case of “too many cooks have somewhat spoiled the broth here”.

So, what amendments are the government proposing in order to “fix” the Bill?

One amendment seeks to expand the composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission to 17 members with a lay majority.

It will comprise the Chief Justice and all four Court Presidents, the Attorney General, a nominee from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and other nominees.

The lay members will be appointed by the Public Appointments Service with the exception of the IHREC nominee who will also be a lay person.

The government will also table amendments to retain the ranking order of preference of selected candidates and reinstate the Senior Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee as a separate process for the three most senior judicial posts, which was in the Bill to begin with.

It also seeks to reinstate the requirement for the Commission to give the Justice Minister the names of all eligible applicants, as well as the results of any interviews or tests conducted by the Commission.

The Irish language proficiency provision has also been put back in to encourage more judges to be proficient in Irish.

Fianna Fáil, which has long been critical of the Bill, said it remains opposed to it.

The party’s Justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan said:

We will give consideration to any amendments that will improve what is widely recognised as a poorly drafted piece of legislation that does not serve the public interest.
It needs to be re-emphasised that at no stage has the government explained the public benefit in having a chairperson and majority of people on this advisory commission who have no knowledge of the qualities required to be a judge.

A government spokesperson said Transport Minister Shane Ross is “satisfied” with the legislation being put forward.

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