Justice portfolio ‘appealing’ to Minister for Transport Shane Ross

Changes in how judges appointed piloted by Minister but Bill may not pass before election

Shane Ross said he has been ‘fighting the battle of judicial appointments for three years’. File photograph: The Irish Times

Shane Ross said he has been ‘fighting the battle of judicial appointments for three years’. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said the idea of becoming Minister for Justice to oversee reforms to how judges are appointed, an issue championed by him in government, is “appealing”.

Mr Ross has pushed the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill since entering government with Fine Gael in 2016, and it was passed in the Seanad before Christmas.

It had been stalled in the Upper House for almost 18 months after a filibuster led by Independent senator Michael McDowell, who has repeatedly called elements of the legislation unconstitutional. It returns to the Dáil this month for completion but faces a challenge to be passed before the general election.

The Bill aims to restrict the role of politicians and the judiciary in the appointment of judges and commits to the introduction of a new commission to advise the Government on appointments, chaired by a non-lawyer and with a non-legal majority. It will be able to propose a maximum of three names to the Government for each judicial vacancy.

The proposals met with resistance both inside and outside Government and Mr Ross, in an interview with The Irish Times, said he had blocked the appointment of judges “pretty rigidly” because he thought the speed which the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill was progressing was “appalling”.

When asked if he would like to be Minister for Justice to oversee the actual implementation of the measures contained in the Bill, the Dublin Rathdown TD replied: “I don’t have any ambition to do it. But it’s a very appealing idea to be able to implement the judicial appointments Bill. That would be worthwhile and challenging.”

Such a statement will likely be met with alarm from those, such as many in the legal profession and within Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who have accused Mr Ross of being hostile to legal interests.

Can Ross hold his seat?

Mr Ross said he has been “fighting the battle of judicial appointments for three years”.

“It’s pretty well through, it is nearly through now, but it’s taken a long time. That’s very, very difficult in a minority situation. And so to some extent, it’s been pretty frustrating for a lot the period of time getting that legislation through. But we always had our eye on it and reckoned we would get it through in the end. I know other people doubted it. But we always reckoned it would come through.”

He said his first aim at the next election is to hold his seat in the three seat constituency of Dublin Rathdown, where Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan and Catherine Martin of the Green Party are also hoping to retain their seats.

Mr Ross said he hopes the Independent Alliance – whose four members are Mr Ross and Ministers of State Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Kevin Boxer Moran – will be in a position to negotiate participation in government after the next election.

He did not rule out entering government with any parties, including Sinn Féin.

“If we’re lucky enough in the Independent Alliance to get a number of seats, which a government would require, we will negotiate. And that would be great, you know, to be able to do that and get back to government and maybe complete some of the things that we haven’t completed.”