Supreme Court judges to hold meeting on Séamus Woulfe controversy

Judge faces informal process after attending golf society dinner amid Covid restrictions

A meeting involving members of the Supreme Court is expected to be held later this week in relation to the situation of Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe following his attendance at a controversial golf society dinner.

A former attorney general, Mr Justice Woulfe was appointed to the court last July but to date has not sat on the Supreme Court bench due to the continuing controversy over his attendance at an Oireachtas golf society dinner at a hotel last August despite coronavirus public health guidance limiting indoor gatherings.

Mr Justice Woulfe was in the Four Courts for some hours on Monday and, while his attendance was not believed to involve any formal meeting, it is understood that at least one meeting relating to his situation is scheduled for later this week.

An informal resolution process arising from his attendance at the golf dinner has yet to be finalised.


On Monday, Mr Justice Woulfe was driven by his wife into the Four Courts complex at about 10am and he remained there for several hours.

His arrival at the Four Courts on Monday came about 30 minutes before a five-judge Supreme Court, presided over by the Chief Justice, began hearing an appeal via remote technology. That appeal is listed for a two-day hearing and the judges involved were hearing it from their homes and were not in the Four Courts.

Cancelled meeting

A meeting organised between Mr Justice Woulfe and the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, as part of an informal resolution process concerning his attendance at the golf dinner was deferred three times last month before being cancelled on October 13th last.

In a statement issued on behalf of Mr Justice Clarke later that day, the Chief Justice said he had received a “cogent medical report” to the effect Mr Justice Woulfe was not in a position to take part in the resolution process at that time.

The Chief Justice said he had received correspondence on behalf of Mr Justice Woulfe earlier that day and it was necessary to cancel the meeting after receiving the report.

Mr Justice Clarke added he was committed to bringing the process to a conclusion as early as it was possible and appropriate to do so.

The three previous postponements of the meeting all happened at the request of Mr Justice Woulfe, on personal and medical grounds.

The meeting was scheduled following publication of the review by former chief justice Susan Denham into Mr Justice Woulfe's attendance at the dinner in Clifden, Co Galway, on August 19th.

That non-statutory review said Mr Justice Woulfe had not broken any law or knowingly breached any public health regulations by attending the dinner. However, it expressed the opinion he should not have attended the dinner and was not vigilant about how it appeared for a Supreme Court judge to attend a celebratory dinner in a public place in the middle of a pandemic.

‘Unjust and disproportionate’

The Denham review also expressed the view that calls for the judge’s resignation over the matter would be unjust and disproportionate, and that the Chief Justice should resolve the matter informally.

The subsequent publication by the Judicial Council of a transcript of the interview of Mr Justice Woulfe by Ms Justice Denham put further pressure on the judge, as it showed what was seen as a lack of insight into the perception of his attendance at the dinner.

Two Supreme Court judges, Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell and Ms Justice Iseult O'Malley, and the president of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, met Mr Justice Woulfe on October 2nd, the day after the Denham report's publication, to outline the proposed informal process for resolving the issue. Sources have said Mr Justice Woulfe was "shocked" and "taken aback" by what was said at that meeting and about the position adopted by his Supreme Court colleagues.

The Supreme Court has no formal power to intervene concerning Mr Justice Woulfe’s position on the court.

The public outcry over the golf dinner had led to the resignation of then minister for agriculture Dara Calleary and European commissioner Phil Hogan.

Mr Justice Woulfe issued a statement on August 21st saying he apologised “unreservedly” for his attendance and had been of the impression the event organisers had made sure it would be in compliance with the Covid-19 guidelines.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times