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How did the appointment of a judge threaten to bring the government down?

The affair has dominated the political agenda this week.

IN THE WEEK since his election as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar’s agenda, in the public eye at least, has been dominated by one issue: the appointment of Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

The affair has caused deep criticism of the government, led to a two-hour Dáil debate last night and highlighted the cracks that exist in the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

But, how did we get here?

9 March, 2011

FILE PIC Maire Whelan appointment Máire Whelan is appointed in 2011. Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Máire Whelan was appointed Attorney General by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The barrister from Kinvara, Galway, became the first woman to take up the role. She had previously served as head of the Free Legal Aid Centre.

She served in the role until June 2017.

13 June, 2017

8327 Luas testing_90515224 Transport Minister Shane Ross Source: Leah Farrell

A short government statement announced that Whelan would leave her role ahead of Leo Varadkar’s cabinet reshuffle.

She is to be appointed to the Court of Appeal, replacing Mr. Justice Garrett Sheehan, who retired in March. It was confirmed to Gavan Reilly of Today FM that she had not applied for the position.

The same day Minister Shane Ross, who had long been against political appointments of judges, announced a plan to reopen Stepaside Garda Station in his constituency had been approved.

The Social Democrats’ Roisín Shortall immediately labelled the appointment “nakedly political”.

14 June

Criticism of the deal ramped up, with Ross being challenged on it in the Dáil. Ross said that there was no quid pro quo on the issue.

I learned first about Máire Whelan’s proposed appointment yesterday morning. When I learned about it, there was no conversation about Stepaside Garda station. There has been no link of any sort between the two.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said Whelan was “an eminently qualified judge”.

16 June

0300 FF party's PMB motion_90507991 Source: Leah Farrell

Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan said there “will be consequences” over the deal. Party colleague Niall Collins had earlier called on Whelan to not accept her appointment.

Ross later said the Cabinet would “look at this again” and “see if there’s anything we can do”.

It was also revealed that instead of excusing herself from the room, Whelan was present during the Cabinet meeting when her appointment was raised by the then-Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

19 June

PastedImage-6554 Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Criticism continued over the weekend, but Whelan was appointed a Court of Appeal judge on Monday.

20 June

The Social Democrats asked for more answers about the appointment.

They asked whether the appointment now meant that Whelan would be excluded from participating in any Tribunal of Inquiry or Commission of Investigations – specifically the Charleton Inquiry.

Leo Varadkar, speaking in the Dáil, said that in the past Fianna Fáil had appointed people such as Supreme Court judge Frank Clarke and former Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman.

Martin replied: “Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke. Máire Whelan is no Adrian Hardiman.”

The Taoiseach responded that he was concerned about aspersions that were being made against Whelan and her capabilities.

He said he wanted Martin to be “mindful of the separation of powers” and that he wanted to give him the opportunity to withdraw his comments.

21 June

PastedImage-30343 Charlie Flanagan

A two-hour debate was held in the Dáil to discuss the appointment last night.

It became extremely heated.

New Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said a new bill was part of the government’s aim of “entirely reforming the judicial appointment system”.

Jim O’Callaghan dismissed the claim that Cabinet confidentiality prevented the answering of essential questions on the matter.

This is a sorry saga, but the fault lies with government.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, meanwhile, said that Micheál Martin – who wasn’t present for the debate – had serious questions to answer based on a telephone call he had with the Taoiseach on the matter last Sunday.

She questioned whether Martin attempted to use his influence on the government to prevent Whelan being appointed.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin took aim at the Independent Alliance who, he claimed, “clapped through an appointment that they now oppose”.

Clare Daly said the appointment was legal, but “political”.

Mattie McGrath said “new politics, my foot”.

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien got into a war of words with Minister Flanagan, after asking how many others applied for the role.

Today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked if the situation had affected Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s confidence and supply arrangement. “Obviously the week that has gone by I don’t think has been helpful for either party,” he said. “But we have a written agreement.”

He pointed out that the agreement does not require appointments – either judicial or public – to be run by Fianna Fáil, so he doesn’t believe there has been a breach of the agreement.

In addition, Varadkar said he doesn’t believe there is any reason the agreement should fall, but over the next couple of weeks they will need to work as parties and have “confidence moves”.

Read: ‘New politics, my foot’: Mayhem in the Dáil as TDs get heated on Máire Whelan row

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