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Justice Minister agrees to take Séamus Woulfe questions as PQs, but no Dáil debate

The opposition has rejected this offer as “laughable” and “circling the wagons”.

Image: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Helen McEntee has said that questions about the appointment of Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court can be asked as Parliamentary Questions (PQs), rather than as a Dáil debate.

The opposition has already rejected this offer as insufficient, with Labour leader Alan Kelly pointing out that “she has no choice but to answer her normal PQs”.

This comes after days of requests from the opposition for the Minister to answer why and how she came to appoint Fine Gael’s former Attorney General Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court, the highest court in Ireland. It is understood that judges in other courts applied for the vacancy. 

Writing to the Ceann Comhairle this evening, McEntee asked for the Business Committee to “reschedule my next session of oral ministerial questions, currently due to take place on December 15, to a date that meets the satisfaction of members”.

McEntee said that the “process of oral questions will ensure that members can raise concerns across numerous issues within the parameters of normal parliamentary procedures”.

The Minister said that although she and her government colleagues have “grave concerns” about a Dáil debate on the matter, that she is “conscious of the responsibility of ministers to be accountable to the Dáil”.

The Government has argued that a Dáil discussion of how Woulfe was the preferred candidate over sitting judges, and recommended to Cabinet by McEntee, would be a breach of the separation of powers.

Opposition reject the offer

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the government was “circling the wagons”.

“A full statement from the Minister followed by questions is what is required. Nothing short of this will suffice,” she said.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said the offer was “a completely spurious suggestion from the Minister and changes nothing. It’s laughable”.

“The Minister for Justice and the Government must now end this charade and agree to make a statement to the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon followed by a Q&A with opposition spokespeople.
It is highly misleading for the Minister to present her request for the rescheduling of her standard Oral Question session which covers all matters under her brief as some kind of concession to the calls from the Labour Party for nearly a week now for her to answer specific questions in the Dáil on the Supreme Court appointment process.

The deadline for priority oral questions for next Tuesday was at 11am this morning.

This means that any decision to reorder the rota of Ministerial oral questions now has to be agreed by motion in the Dáil, and questions must be submitted four days in advance under Dáil Standing Orders.

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The earliest day by which Minister McEntee could answer oral questions then would be Tuesday 1 December; she’s currently scheduled to answer oral questions on 8 December, and a motion was to be moved next week to switch those to 15 December.

With reporting from Christina Finn.

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