Cabinet procedure set for reform in wake of Máire Whelan controversy

Leo Varadkar expected to grant demand that former AG’s appointment be reviewed

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: wants the Dáil to sit an extra week. It is due to rise on July 13th but the Government wants to carry out an assessment of pending legislation to see what can be passed. Photograph: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: wants the Dáil to sit an extra week. It is due to rise on July 13th but the Government wants to carry out an assessment of pending legislation to see what can be passed. Photograph: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

The way in which the Cabinet conducts its business is set to be changed following the controversial appointment of former attorney general Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

Government sources said Cabinet procedures are likely to be reformed so that fewer issues can be added to the weekly agenda at the last minute, as happened with Ms Whelan’s nomination last week.

Ministers have privately expressed anger that such a controversial move was not flagged in advance, with the vast majority only becoming aware of it on the morning of last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, the final one chaired by former taoiseach Enda Kenny.

It was brought to the meeting by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who was then Minister for Justice, with the knowledge of Mr Kenny. It is understood other Ministers, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Independents, were not informed until the morning of the meeting.

Ms Whelan was confirmed as a judge of the Court of Appeal by President Michael D Higgins yesterday.

Senior Government sources acknowledge there can be concern in flagging commercially sensitive issues in advance, in case they leak, but said a mechanism can be found to share information on such proposals in advance, rather than only alerting Ministers on the day of the Cabinet meeting.

Political tests

Mr Varadkar faces a number of political tests in his full first Dáil week as Taoiseach.

He is expected to grant a demand from the Independent Alliance that the process of Ms Whelan’s appointment be reviewed. Minister for Communications Denis Naughten is also expected to question the Cabinet procedures.

Fianna Fáil intends to maintain pressure over Ms Whelan’s appointment and will attempt to bring Ms Fitzgerald before the Dáil to answer questions. Jim O’Callaghan, its justice spokesman, will ask the Oireachtas justice committee to examine the appointment.

Independent TD Mick Wallace said, however, that Fianna Fáil “huffed and puffed” over Ms Whelan’s appointment but did nothing. Mr Wallace added that the Independents in Government “didn’t even do that”.

Mr Varadkar will also have to manage internal Fine Gael politics when he announces his junior ministerial appointments today. A number of TDs who supported him in the Fine Gael leadership contest were disappointed at his Cabinet appointments, and are hoping for junior posts.

Paschal Donohoe, who is now in charge of both the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure, will be allocated two junior Ministers.

Extra week

In an attempt to defuse the row over Ms Whelan’s appointment, Mr Varadkar has promised the Independent Alliance that Minister for Transport Shane Ross’s legislation reforming judicial appointments will be passed by the summer recess.

Mr Varadkar has said he wants the Dáil to sit an extra week. It is due to rise on July 13th but the Government wants to carry out an assessment of pending legislation to see what can be passed.

Consideration is being given to allocating the entire extra week to “legislation only” and cutting out ministerial questions and Leader’s Questions.

A number of Bills that could be passed – such as the Technical Universities Bill and Mr Ross’s Bill – would be identified for passage before the recess, to show the Dáil is working.

“If it is a Dáil week as usual, there would be little value in sitting longer,” said a Government source. However, such a move would require the agreement of the Dáil business committee, and Fianna Fáil sources have already said they are “not enamoured” with the idea because Ministers would not be held to account.