Opposition rejects proposal for questions to Minister on 1 December
Updated / Friday, 20 Nov 2020 19:28
Opposition parties and the Independent Group of TDs have rejected a proposal by the Minister for Justice to answer questions on Tuesday week on issues around the process of appointing Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court.
Minister Helen McEntee wrote to all parties and groups early this afternoon proposing to take questions on Tuesday, 1 December at 9.47pm. Under the format proposed, TDs would have to submit their questions by Wednesday, 25 November.
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Justice, Martin Kenny, said this format “does not cut it” and pointed out that the questions will be taking place on the night that Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions are due to be lifted.
“The Minister needs to own up to this situation, needs to come in, read her statement take questions from the Opposition and clearly put this issue to bed,” he said. “As they continue to do this, the question we all ask is: What are they hiding? What is the situation here?”
The Labour Party whip, Duncan Smith, accused the Government of a “sleight of hand” and is calling for an “open Q-and-A to take place with all Opposition spokespeople”.
He said the oral parliamentary questions format involves a set rotation which means only a small number of parties will have priority while the rest go into a lottery system.
“It is totally unsuitable and is something we cannot agree to and will not agree to,” he said.
The Social Democrats have also rejected the format proposed by Minister McEntee.
Its co-leader, Catherine Murphy, has written to the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, saying the situation is “highly unsatisfactory”.
She raised concerns that questions on the issue could be ruled out of order, because similar questions she submitted on the subject in July were not accepted by the Ceann Comhairle.
She said the format of Ministerial Questions allows a wide variety of questions across the entire justice portfolio.
“Apart from the five priority questions which are controlled by those they are assigned to, the rest of hte oral questions reached may not include questions on the judicial appointment process,” Ms Murphy said.
The Rural Independents Group has also written to the Ceamm Comhairle saying anything short of a full two hour debate in which the Minister would answer questions posed would be “an affront to our democracy.”
It said: “The suggestion that questions would have to be submitted in advance of the debate is completely absurd.
“Instead, in order to deal with the issue, which has undermined the institutions of our State, in a comprehensive manner, a full scale questions and answers session on all of the issues surrounding the appointment is required.”
Earlier, Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers told the Today with Claire Byrne programme on RTÉ Radio that she was “surprised” with the format proposed and she would prefer to see a question and answer format.
She said there are genuine questions that need to be answered: “Ultimately ministers are accountable to the Dáil and ultimately to the people. I don’t know why that particular format is being taken,” she said. “It does curtail to a certain extent the ability to ask questions.”
Minister confirms she recommended one name to Cabinet
Meanwhile, Minister McEntee has confirmed that she recommended one name, that of the former Attorney General Seamus Wolfe, to the Cabinet for appointment to the position of Supreme Court Judge.
Speaking on the RTÉ Six One News she said it was her job as Minister for Justice to set out who he she felt was the appropriate choice to recommend as the best candidate for the appointment.
Minister McEntee said that there is an inference that because she had only been appointed Minister three weeks previously, that she was not capable of making a decision herself.
The Minister said that in six instances she had made six recommendations to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Minister Eamon Ryan and the Attorney General on two appointments to the District Court and appointments to the Supreme Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Circuit Court.
She said that in some instances she had recommended one name and in others had recommended more than one name.
Minister McEntee said she had taken a number of weeks to look at the recomendations that had come through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and from interested parties that come through the Aootorney General’s office.