Varadkar 'would have preferred' if AG controversy had not overshadowed first week

Fianna Fáil question why Fine Gael has gone ahead with 'arrogant' appointment

Dara Calleary: Fianna Fáil cannot understand why Fine Gael is so determined to undermine the judiciary

Dara Calleary: Fianna Fáil cannot understand why Fine Gael is so determined to undermine the judiciary

 

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted the appointment of former Attorney General Maire Whelan as a Court of Appeal judge was in accordance with precedent, proper procedure and the law.

Asked about the controversy surrounding the appointment of Ms Whelan to the Court of Appeal in London on Monday, the Taoiseach said he would have preferred if it had not overshadowed his first week in office. But he said he stood over the decision to appoint her, which he insisted was in accordance with precedent, proper procedure and the law.

Speaking in Belfast, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney expressed his hope that politics can now “move on” from the controversy.

“I hope it has been put to bed now,” he said at Stormont on Monday evening where he was attending talks designed to reinstate devolution in Northern Ireland.

“I think everybody accepts that no law was broken here, that appropriate procedures were followed. Maire Whelan is an exceptional legal mind and is suitable to be a very senior judge in Ireland. And she is now one. So I hope we can move on from it,” he said.

“The cabinet made a decision last week and it was a good decision. I can understand how people would raise questions about it because it is high profile, and it is politics. I think she was the best candidate for that position and I wish her well with it,” added Mr Coveney.

Fianna Fáil said earlier it wanted to know why Fine Gael had “arrogantly” gone ahead with the appointment.

Enda Kenny named Ms Whelan, who has no experience as a trial judge, to the court in one of his last acts as taoiseach. President Michael D Higgins formally appointed her on Monday morning.

The matter will be discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday, as the Independent Alliance Ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath are also seeking a review of the nomination.

Fianna Fáil’s public-expenditure-and-reform spokesman, Dara Calleary, told Newstalk Breakfast that his party cannot understand why Fine Gael is so determined “to undermine the judiciary” and “politicise appointments”.

However, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said Ms Whelan was “a fantastic lawyer”.

“I’ve worked very closely with her over six years. She has immense experience both legally but also in public service. I think it’s a good appointment”, he said at an event in Dublin.

“The appointment of a judge is one of the duties reserved for government, it’s one of the areas where we take responsibility for picking the best people and in this case procedure was followed and I think we have picked the best person. She’s an outstanding talent and I think will bring great experience.”

He said the Taoiseach had “made it very clear that when it comes to the confidence and supply agreement [with Fianna Fáil] that does not cover a veto on appointments that are made”.

However, on Morning Ireland, on RTÉ Radio 1, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan, said there was a clear breach of procedures, with no explanation of why Ms Whelan’s judgeship did not go through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and why Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald did not tell the Cabinet about the three High Court judges who had expressed an interest in the position.

Mr Calleary expressed concern that questions raised by Ross and Independent TD Denis Naughten were being ignored. “I can’t understand why Fine Gael is pursuing this so arrogantly. It usually takes weeks for this process. It is arrogant to proceed when there are questions that still need to be answered.” He said Fianna Fáil will review all its options and continue to seek answers.

Mr O’Callaghan said there was now a perception that the appointment was a “parting gift” from the departing taoiseach.“There are issues here that need to be answered. They are of the utmost importance.”

The Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly said Fianna Fáil and Mr Ross had lost all credibility because they failed to halt Ms Whelan’s appointment. “After all their huffing and puffing they have failed to act,” she told Today with Sean O’Rourke, on RTÉ Radio 1.

She said it would raise questions about Ross’s credibility, and “smacked of cronyism”, as the Minister had attempted to make judicial reform part of his political legacy. “There is a high question mark over the way this was done. Maybe nothing unlawful was done, but what about the supposed new system of transparency?”

The issue was “utterly demoralising”, she said, as Fianna Fáil could have challenged Fine Gael and could have threatened to withdraw its support for the Government. “There are going to be serious consequences. This will impact on the confidence of citizens. You couldn’t make it up. It’s a banana republic.”