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Taoiseach told blocking questions to justice minister on Woulfe appointment 'stinks to the highest heavens'

Micheal Martin rejected allegations of “horse trading” in relation to the appointed of the Attorney General.

The Taoiseach said Justice Minister Helen McEntee should not have to answer questions on the appointment of Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court.
The Taoiseach said Justice Minister Helen McEntee should not have to answer questions on the appointment of Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

“INCOHERENT GIBBERISH” IS how Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the Taoiseach’s response to calls for the Justice Minister Helen McEntee to answer questions in the Dáil in relation to the appointment of Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court. 

Questions have been raised about the process by which Woulfe, who is facing calls to resign from the Chief Justice over his attendance at the Golfgate dinner, was appointed by the Cabinet last summer.

The Opposition have called on the justice minister to answer Dáil questions after it emerged that three serving judges wrote to the government expressing an interest in the vacancy earlier this year. 

McDonald said today that it “stinks to the highest heavens” that government is blocking Dáil questions to McEntee.

The Sinn Féin leader said McDonald said McEntee needs to outline the events between 27 June and 16 July that led to the four names for the Supreme Court vacancy becoming one. 

McDonald accused the government of “circling the wagons” referring to Minister for Arts Catherine Martin stating today that it “would set a dangerous precedent” if the justice minister was obliged to answer Dáil questions on the appointment of a Supreme Court judge.

The deputy Green Party leader said it would be “unprecedented” to do so, but she called for more transparency in the appointments process.

She told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “I would fear there would be a risk there, it’s unprecedented for a minister of justice to be brought before the Dail to answer questions on judicial appointments like that.

“I believe it would set a dangerous precedent to go into such detail on an individual appointment. I don’t believe that would serve the separation of powers well.

“There needs to be more consistency and transparency with this process. Reform is needed. The Green Party would be seeking more transparency in relation to this.”

The argument it jeopardises the separation of powers is “utter nonsense”, said McDonald in the Dáil today.

The Taoiseach said he doesn’t believe politicians should be embroiled in discussions about who should be a judge and who shouldn’t be a judge. When he learned the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) process deemed Woulfe was suitable “that was good enough for me”.

The appointment process of the Attorney General was central to the “horse trading” in government formation talks and in relation to the appointment of the current Attorney General Paul Gallagher, said McDonald.

The decision to appoint the AG on a rotating basis, similar to the role of Taoiseach in this Government, was “central to your horse trading”, she said.

Micheal Martin rejected allegations of “horse trading”, stating it was “historic precedent” that the Attorney General is appointed by the Taoiseach of the day.

He accused Sinn Fein of creating a false narrative around the appointment of Woulfe, and for this reason he felt Minister McEntee should not appear before the Dail.

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Speaking on the matter for the first time yesterday, the justice minister said said she adhered to a “clear process” in recommending that former attorney general to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

“Following that, I spoke with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Minister [Eamon] Ryan and the AG, and on foot of that a recommendation was made and a name was given to Cabinet,” she said.

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