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Leo Varadkar 'didn't know the names' of the other people interested in Seamus Woulfe role

The Tánaiste faced numerous question on the ongoing controversy today.

Varadkar speaking in the Dáil today.
Varadkar speaking in the Dáil today.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has told the Dáil that he did not know the names of other judges who had expressed an interest in the Supreme Court position that ultimately went to Seamus Woulfe.  

Facing questions in the Dáil today about the appointment of the former Attorney General as a judge in the State’s superior court, Varadkar rebuffed suggestions that the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee should take Dáil questions on the matter. 

Varadkar said it would be “a bad idea” to discuss the matter in the Dáil as it could lead to a debate on “the merits and demerits of individual candidates”. 

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty TD asked Varadkar to acknowledge that Woulfe is a “close political ally and friend” of the Tánaiste and asked about Varadkar’s role in Woulfe’s appointment. 

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. 

In response to Doherty’s questions, Varadkar said that the previous Fine Gael minority government he led could have filled the vacancy on the court but decided not to 

“The vacancy arose in the Supreme Court, I think around February of last year, it rose in the spring, I was at the time the Taoiseach of what people described as a caretaker government. We took a decision not to fill that vacancy,” Varadkar told the Dáil.

When the new government was being formed, I’m pretty sure it was the week before the new government was formed, the party leaders discussed whether or not Seamus Woulfe would be reappointed as Attorney General, or whether there’d be a new Attorney General. And we decided collectively that there would be a new Attorney General, and that Seamus Woulfe would not be reappointed as Attorney General. And at that point, for transparency and for information, I informed the other leaders that there was a vacancy, that Seamus Woulfe had been recommended by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) as suitable for that vacancy, and that was the end of the conversation.

Opposition parties have raised concerns about the selection process after it emerged last week that Cabinet was not told in July that a number of other judges had expressed interest in the vacancy on the Supreme Court before Woulfe was selected.

Speaking today, Varadkar said that he was aware there were other lists of names potentially suitable for the role but he “didn’t know how many people were on them and didn’t know the individual names”. 

He said it is normal that only one name would come before Cabinet. 

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy took issue with Varadkar’s choice of wording in saying that JAAB had recommended Woulfe, stating that the board does not rank individuals based on suitability.  

“It’s not the role of JAAB to recommend appointments, nor do they put them in pecking order where there are multiple applications. Yet the Taoiseach (sic) has told us repeatedly that there was one recommendation made to the Cabinet and the recommendation came through the JAAB process,” she said. 

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Taoiseach/Tánaiste

Murphy was one of a number of deputies to mistakenly refer to Varadkar as ‘Taoiseach’, during Leader’s Questions today, including Alan Kelly, Michael McNamara and Bríd Smith, the latter two of whom corrected themselves. 

Varadkar responded to this ongoing error, which has even been made by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, saying that he is “very much the Tánaiste”.

“I’m very happy to clarify that for anyone who hasn’t worked that out by now,” he said. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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