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'Judicial arm of government will have to deal with this': Martin says he can't call for Supreme Court judge's dismissal

Micheál Martin said the judiciary must deal with the matter.

Former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe going into a Cabinet meeting in June with now Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.
Former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe going into a Cabinet meeting in June with now Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.
Image: Niall Carson

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe should not have attended the Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifden in Galway.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme, Martin said he did not believe the Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe should have been at the event in Clifden.

It was put to the Taoiseach that the government is perhaps hiding behind the separation of powers in not commenting on Woulfe, with Byrne asking where was the separation of powers were when Woulfe was invited and attended the event with politicians.

“That’s a matter I think that the judiciary themselves have to look at. I don’t believe he should have been at that event in Clifden. The judicial arm of government will have to deal with this. The executive can’t deal with it.”

Martin was also asked if they could set up a select committee to examine Woulfe’s behaviour.

“It certainly can… It’s a slippery slope. On this issue, there’s no argument in terms of giving a clear message. But we’ve been busily criticising, at European level, countries like Hungary, Poland and others for what has been a creeping emasculation of the judiciary in their countries. These are very important concepts. They may not readily appear so, but in terms of the governments and parliaments becoming embroiled in judicial issues, that’s potentially a slippery slope to undermining our democracy,” he said.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin stated today that this is a test for the judiciary, which Martin said he agreed with.

Woulfe apologised “unreservedly” for attending the event.

In a statement released last week, Woulfe said he was of the impression that the organisers of the event had made sure that the dinner would be in compliance with the regulations.

He said any breach of the regulations by him was unintended. He said that he regrets his attendance at the dinner.

“I attended based on that understanding, that it would be within the guidelines, but do apologise for any unintentional breach of any of the new guidelines on my part.

“I would never disregard governmental or health authorities advice regarding public health, and have been at pains to follow rules and guidelines since their introduction in March. That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry. I unreservedly apologise”.

A number of ministers have been reluctant to comment on the matter relating to Woulfe and his future, citing the issue of the separation of powers.

The government’s previous regulations state that a maximum of 50 people can attend an event indoors – including staff working at the event.

Woulfe was the Attorney General when those regulations were drafted and introduced.

The golf society dinner was held a day after the Taoiseach announced new measures, which included a further reduction in the numbers able to attend an indoor event from 50 down to six.

The Irish Hotels Federation maintains the status quo remains until guidance on the new measures is issued. Fáilte Ireland issued new guidance to hotels on Friday.

Woulfe was appointed to the Supreme Court less than three weeks after he was replaced at Cabinet.

He served as Attorney General in Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael-led government.

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Former minister Shane Ross, who was keen for judicial appointment reform, said earlier this year that there is a “tendency for people of political complexions to become Attorney General and there is a tendency for them to become judges when the political party they are attached to comes into power”.

Before the current government was formed, the Green Party said it wanted an independent or “neutral” candidate to fill the role of Attorney General.

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