Minister ‘unaware’ new judge worked for predecessor
Statement: Justice Minister Helen McEntee says she did not know a solicitor she appointed to the Circuit Court once worked for her predecessor Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
November 26 2020 02:30 AM
Justice Minister Helen McEntee says she did not know a solicitor she appointed to the Circuit Court once worked for her predecessor Charlie Flanagan.
In a statement, Ms McEntee also said she never discussed the appointment of Mary Morrissey with Mr Flanagan.
Ms Morrissey worked for Mr Flanagan’s firm of solicitors in Laois before setting up her own practice. Her appointment was cleared by Cabinet on the same day as former Attorney General Séamus Woulfe was controversially appointed to the Supreme Court.
Yesterday, Ms McEntee finally bowed to Opposition pressure and agreed to appear before the Dáil and answer questions on Mr Justice Woulfe’s appointment. Ms McEntee and Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke before he announced she would come before the Dáil.
A Fianna Fáil source said the Taoiseach asked Ms McEntee to take questions in the Dáil. However, a Fine Gael source said Mr Martin and the minister “spoke and agreed” she would come before the Dáil.
The embattled minister’s U-turn came after the Dáil’s Business Committee was almost disbanded.
Sinn Féin withdrew from the committee and insisted it would not offer Government TDs pairs for votes. Other Opposition parties said they would boycott the committee over the minister’s refusal to take questions on the appointment.
The Oireachtas Justice Committee also weighed in to the debacle and dismissed suggestions Ms McEntee addressed the Séamus Woulfe issue when she appeared before them.
The appointments controversy took a further twist when it emerged the other judge appointed on the same day as Mr Justice Woulfe worked for former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice said Mr Flanagan wrote to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) on May 29, 2020, to request a list of suitable candidates to fill two Circuit Court vacancies arising from the death of Judge John Hannan and the retirement of Judge Gerald Keyes.
The Irish Independent understands the JAAB met on June 17 to consider applications for the posts and to recommend a number of names to Government. The new Government was appointed on June 27 and Mr Flanagan was replaced in the Department of Justice by Ms McEntee.
Following her appointment, Ms McEntee was informed by her officials of the vacancies to be filled on the Circuit Court.
A Justice spokesperson said Ms McEntee recommended Ms Morrissey “in consultation” with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and the then Attorney General Séamus Woulfe. On July 15, the appointment of Ms Morrissey and Mr Woulfe was agreed by Cabinet.
In the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald asked if the Taoiseach was aware Ms Morrissey “had a previous professional relationship with the former Fine Gael Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan”.
“I don’t get into the relationships of people to any former office holders, or to Deputies,” Mr Martin said.
At a press conference, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar initially said Ms McEntee told him Ms Morrissey worked for Mr Flanagan. However, an hour later his adviser called journalists to say Mr Varadkar had been mistaken.
Last night, a spokesperson said: “The Tánaiste does not know Mary Morrissey and was not aware of her previous employment status prior to her appointment.”
Mr Ryan could not be reached for comment despite several attempts to contact him through his team of eight taxpayer-funded advisers.