Legislature ‘will have to act’ over Woulfe impasse, says Kelly
Updated / Tuesday, 10 Nov 2020 12:56
Labour Party leader Alan Kelly has said the legislature will have to act if an impasse continues over whether Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe should resign due to his attendance at a golf dinner in Galway in August.
The Attorney General has been asked to advise the Taoiseach and the Government on the controversy surrounding Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe and his attendance at the event despite Covid-19 public health guidelines placing limits on indoor gatherings.
Then agriculture minister Dara Calleary and EU commissioner Phil Hogan both subsequently resigned as did Jerry Buttimer who stepped down as Seanad Leas-Cathaoirleach as they had attended the dinner.
Opposition politicians have called for the matter to be addressed by the Oireachtas, following the release of correspondence showing that Chief Justice Frank Clarke told Mr Justice Woulfe he should resign.
Sinn Féin said it was untenable for Mr Justice Woulfe to remain in office and the Minister for Justice should make a statement without delay.
Justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said it is a difficult and unprecedented situation but while we need to be respectful of the judiciary and be careful not to undermine it, this situation cannot continue, and a clear pathway needs to be set out to deal with the matter.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Kenny said this is not just an issue for the opposition, but one for the entire Oireachtas.
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said Mr Justice Woulfe has displayed an incredible lack of judgement for a Supreme Court judge and his position now is surely untenable.
Labour’s Justice spokesperson has said we “cannot do nothing” about the controversy.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Brendan Howlin said since there are no judicial mechanisms left to resolve the issue, it will fall to the Oireachtas.
However, he warned that this must be done in a very public, clear, transparent and unbiased way.
This, he said, is a situation where every member of the Oireachtas will have to make an independent decision and it will not be a matter for party whips or party positions.
He added that anyone who has been involved in pre-determining the issue by making a call one way or another should recuse themselves from making any decision in this matter.
Mr Howlin said no member of the Oireachtas wants to be involved in the process because they are very mindful of the separation of powers.
Meanwhile, an Assistant Professor of Law at Trinity College Dublin says Chief Justice Clarke has made it clear he has no power to require, or even ask, Mr Justice Woulfe to resign but he has expressed his personal view that the administration of justice has been undermined by his behaviour and this “is an extraordinary and unprecedented step” that highlights the seriousness of the matter.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr David Kenny said there are only two ways for a judge to leave the bench before retirement – to resign or to be impeached for stated misbehaviour.
The second procedure, he said, can only be done by the Dáil or the Seanad so “the ball is very much in the court of politics now”.
He added that there is no definition for stated misbehaviour and pointed out that Judge Denham’s report found that attending the dinner in Clifden alone should not be grounds for calling for Mr Justice Woulfe’s resignation.
Dr Kenny said Mr Justice Woulfe would be entitled to fair procedure if there was any sort of investigation by an Oireachtas committee and, ultimately, if he felt he was treated unfairly he could bring a case to the courts, which would be a very difficult situation.
A retired judge says he cannot see the controversy reaching impeachment.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Michael Patwell said that he condemns the golf dinner in Clifden but that “it is just not serious enough”.
However, he added that Mr Justice Woulfe (and Mr Hogan) handled the situation badly.
He said he believes the Chief Justice has backed himself and the Supreme Court into a tight corner.
Judge Patwell said if Mr Justice Woulfe has brought the judiciary into disrepute, then impeachment procedures should start.
He said that there is no legal sanction available and the Chief Justice would have been better keeping his opinion to himself.
Michael Patwell said that if he was in Mr Justice Woulfe’s position, he would stay there.
Speaking on the same programme, former Minister for Transport Shane Ross said it is an absolutely incredible situation and the Supreme Court has backed itself into a corner.
He said that Judge Denham had recommended that Mr Justice Woulfe should stay in his position, which has now directly been contradicted by Chief Justice Clarke.
Mr Ross said the Supreme Court has been spooked by the situation and sent it across to politicians who “do not want to touch it”.
He said that Mr Justice Woulfe should go and the situation would be resolved, adding that judges should be subject to the same standards as politicians and others.
Laura Cahillane, Law Lecturer, University of Limerick, said she was very shocked and surprised to see the publication of letters yesterday.
Dr Cahillane also said there is a big difference between Mr Calleary resigning as a minister and retaining his job as a TD, and while it might be possible for Mr Justice Woulfe to return to practising as a barrister, he has experienced huge reputational damage and may not wish to do so.