Government to discuss five judicial appointments

Speculation Attorney General Máire Whelan will be assigned to Court of Appeal

Máire Whelan: Fine Gael lobbied against her appointment as Attorney General. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Máire Whelan: Fine Gael lobbied against her appointment as Attorney General. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Appointments to five judicial vacancies are to be considered by Government shortly, the Department of Justice has said.

There is one vacancy each on the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Circuit Court, with two at District Court level.

Filling the posts will be considered alongside new legislation on how such appointments should be made.

The legislation is expected to lead to the replacement of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a judicial appointments commission. The aim is to reduce political influence in the process. But the final decision on filling vacancies will stay with the Cabinet.

Speculation is widespread in legal circles that Attorney General Máire Whelan will be appointed to the Court of Appeal. Her reappointment as Attorney General (AG), when the Government was formed last week, came as a surprise to many in the legal world.

Labour nominee

Ms Whelan was a Labour Party nominee and it had been anticipated she would be replaced with a Fine Gael-nominated barrister.

Names connected with the role included senior counsels; Séamus Woulfe and Frank Callanan. Mr Woulfe represented Fine Gael last year in the case taken by Sligo politician John Perry. Mr Callanan, a party trustee, is seen as a strong supporter of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In 2011, the Taoiseach was reluctant to give Ms Whelan the AG role. According to then tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, in his memoir Inside the Room, when Ms Whelan was suggested, the Taoiseach said: “You can’t seriously appoint a political figure to such an important and sensitive position in government.”

Mr Gilmore also said Fine Gael people were lobbying against her and “there was a strong whiff of misogyny”. But he told the Taoiseach to trust him; she would make an excellent AG.

Trust

Despite her Labour roots, Ms Whelan appears to have gained the trust of the Taoiseach in her role, which involves answering directly to him.

Legal sources have said members of the Law Library were also “astounded” at Ms Whelan’s reappointment because of her record as AG, including the criticism of her by the Fennelly Commission.

The commission examined the recording of phone calls at Garda stations and its report raised concerns about inconsistencies in Ms Whelan’s evidence to it.

One legal source said that because she did not fit the “accepted profile” of an AG, Ms Whelan had had “a rough time of it” from the start, and didn’t get as much support from her colleagues at the Bar as she should have.

Since her reappointment, some members of the Bar have been speculating she is “holding a place” until she can be given a position on the Court of Appeal.

Many outgoing AGs have been assigned to the bench, and if Ms Whelan moved, the AG post would be open for a Fine Gael candidate.

But her appointment may depend on a welcome from the judiciary. And, if all new posts must await the new legislation, it could be a while before Ms Whelan can be elevated.