Shane Ross believes Seamus Woulfe position kept secret over fears Independent Alliance would block it
Rhian Sugden can’t forgive Vernon Kay because he ‘got away’ with cheating scandal‘The real heroes in fight against COVID-19 are women’ – Ellen Johnson…Shane Ross believes Seamus Woulfe position kept secret over fears Independent Alliance would block it© Provided by Extra.ie
The caretaker government led by Leo Varadkar did not fill the vacancy to the Supreme Court — now occupied by controversial Judge Seamus Woulfe –– because it feared the Independent Alliance would block it, former transport minister Shane Ross believes.
It comes as the Irish Mail on Sunday reveals that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board cleared Judge Woulfe for appointment to the Supreme Court in March — just weeks after the general election failed to deliver a government.
Then-justice minister Charlie Flanagan had written to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) on February 17 to request a suitable list of candidates for consideration for appointment to the Supreme Court vacancy that had existed since June 2019.© Provided by Extra.ie
Former minister for transport Shane Ross believes the caretaker Government kept Judge Seamus Woulfe’s role a secret over fears Independent Alliance would block it. Pic: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
This was nine days after the 2020 election at which Fine Gael had lost 14 seats and at a time when party leader Leo Varadkar was insisting that he would be leading his party into opposition.
The new details put an entirely different perspective on the timeline leading to the judicial appointment which saw Tánaiste Varadkar grilled in the Dáil this week — and concerted calls from the Opposition for Justice Minister Helen McEntee to make a statement to the Dáil on the appointment and submit to meaningful questions.
The Government had refused to confirm any definitive timeline for the process to the MoS last week or under Dáil questioning in the intervening period.
This week it insisted that the details were in the public domain, but Cabinet ministers have told the MoS that they understood the JAAB recommendation was made in June — either shortly before or after the formation of the coalition government on June 27.
Crucially, Ms McEntee has studiously avoided referencing when the JAAB recommendation was given.© Provided by Extra.ie
It comes as the Irish Mail on Sunday reveals that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board cleared Judge Woulfe for appointment to the Supreme Court in March — just weeks after the general election failed to deliver a government. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The JAAB wrote to Mr Flanagan on March 11 recommending one candidate, Séamus Woulfe, as suitable for selection.
Subsequently appointed, Judge Woulfe attended the controversial Oireachtas Golf society dinner in Clifden in August. The fallout from that; the report by retired chief justice Susan Denham into the circumstances of his attendance, and his subsequent correspondence with Chief Justice Frank Clarke, has led to an ongoing crisis in the highest court in the land. The focus has now returned to the circumstances surrounding his appointment.
Mr Ross said he was not told by Mr Flanagan or then-taoiseach Mr Varadkar, that a process had begun to select a new Supreme Court judge or that Mr Woulfe had been appointed. He told the MoS he would have opposed it.© Provided by Extra.ie Then-justice minister Charlie
Flanagan had written to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) on February 17 to request a suitable list of candidates for consideration for appointment to the Supreme Court vacancy that had existed since June 2019. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins
On Friday, Ms McEntee confirmed that she had not told the three coalition leaders of other judicial candidates for the Supreme Court role.
This backs up what the three party leaders have said – but means that Ms McEntee was the only member of Cabinet who knew the identity of all four candidates for the position.
Crucially, Mr Varadkar refused to answer questions in the Dáil on Thursday about the exact timing of a JAAB meeting that proposed Mr Woulfe as a candidate for the vacant Supreme Court position.
Ministers told the MoS last night that they had believed until this weekend that the JAAB had been convened hurriedly on the weekend of June 27 this year, when a new coalition Cabinet was formed under Mr Martin’s leadership.© Provided by Extra.ie
The JAAB wrote to Mr Flanagan on March 11 recommending one candidate, Séamus Woulfe, as suitable for selection. Pic: Gareth Chaney Collins
Mr Ross was in Cabinet as an Independent, as part of a coalition with Fine Gael between 2016 up to the formation of the new government in June 2020. His recently published memoir, In Bed With The Blueshirts, outlines his displeasure with Fine Gael’s management of judicial appointments.
On learning of this Government’s claims about the selection of Mr Woulfe as a candidate for the Supreme Court, Mr Ross wrote to the Department of Justice last week to clarify when the JAAB deliberated. They confirmed that the matter had been resolved in March.
‘We didn’t know about it then, we had absolutely no clue about it. I didn’t know about it until it was announced in July,’ said Mr Ross.
‘My view now would be that it was kept from the cabinet and from Finian [McGrath] and me for the three months, from March 11 because they knew there would be a row in cabinet between them and us.’
He says that he would have opposed the move, because it would have been perceived as Fine Gael creating an informal ‘honours list’.
‘This was exactly the type of appointment that we didn’t want to see happening,’ said Mr Ross. ‘And we would have been asking other questions and they would have to tell us there were other applicants as well and they wouldn’t have got it through.’
© Provided by Extra.ie
‘My view now would be that it was kept from the cabinet and from Finian [McGrath] and me for the three months, from March 11 because they knew there would be a row in cabinet between them and us.’ Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Mr Ross, who battled Fine Gael ministers, particularly Mr Flanagan, over judicial appointments legislation says this controversy illustrates why he wanted to change laws. His Judicial Appointments Bill is almost complete.
He said: ‘Most of them, not all of them didn’t like the idea of judicial reform of any sort. They had taken it on board because it was a condition of going into Government.’ Mr Ross says the Oireachtas should now move to pass his Bill.
Meanwhile, Labour leader AlanKelly told the MoS that: ‘It would be helpful if the AG took the opportunity to voluntarily clear up all pertinent questions with regards to the appointment process.’
Mr Kelly said that Brendan Howlin’s proposal that the Oireachtas Justice Committee would hold hearings into the process of appointment could be an appropriate vehicle. Any such inquiry would also have powers of inquiry into text messages and other forms of communication between the dramatis personae.© Provided by Extra.ie
Meanwhile, Labour leader AlanKelly told the MoS that: ‘It would be helpful if the AG took the opportunity to voluntarily clear up all pertinent questions with regards to the appointment process.’ Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Asked to respond to Mr Ross’s claims a spokeswoman for Mr Varadkar told the MoS: ‘As the Tánaiste explained in the Dáil on Thursday, the government took a decision not to fill the vacancy until the new government had been formed.
‘It is never the case that the list of candidates recommended by JAAB is made known to all cabinet ministers and when it does occur, as part of consultations led by the minister for justice in accordance with the cabinet handbook, it happens only when the… vacancy is being filled.’
When the MoS asked why the caretaker government had not followed this logic when appointing Judge Mary Irvine as President of the High Court in June, the spokeswoman did not respond.
Contacted directly, Mr Flanagan would not comment.© Provided by Extra.ie
A spokesperson for then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: ‘As the Tánaiste explained in the Dáil on Thursday, the government took a decision not to fill the vacancy until the new government had been formed.’ Pic: Tom Honan/Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire
Asked about the timeline — for the second week in a row — a Department of Justice spokesman responded this week to say: ‘The Chief Justice wrote to then-minister for justice on 4th February, 2020 requesting that the Supreme Court vacancy arising from the retirement of Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan in June 2019 be filled given emerging pressures, including the establishment of a new tribunal.
‘The then-minister for justice wrote to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, which is chaired by the Chief Justice, on February 17, 2020 to request a list of suitable candidates for this vacancy.
‘Given the ongoing election process, convening JAAB at this point was for the purpose of facilitating judicial appointment procedures at whichever point in the future that the vacancy might be progressed.
‘The JAAB has publicly confirmed it met on March 9 and this has been reported in the public domain.
‘In accordance with the cabinet handbook, government colleagues are only informed of a proposal to make an appointment to the judiciary when a proposal is being made by the Minister for Justice.
‘The cabinet considered a memorandum proposing the appointment on the July 15, 2020.’