Woulfe told to resign by Chief Justice three times since last Thursday

Woulfe’s ‘did not appreciate the genuine public concern’ about golf society dinner

Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe: Made remarks critical of the Taoiseach and many other office holders which ‘created further genuine controversy’. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

The Chief Justice told Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe when they met last Thursday he should resign over his attendance at the Oireachtas golf society dinner.

He set out that view in a letter the same evening and reiterated it in a follow up letter yesterday [Monday] after receiving Judge Woulfe’s reply.

In his November 5th letter, the Chief Justice said Mr Justice Woulfe’s approach to handling the issue “has, in my view, added very substantially to the damage caused to the Court, the judiciary generally and thus to the administration of justice”.

He reminded the judge of a phone conversation they had on August 21st, when the Chief Justice expressed “my considerable concern that damage was being caused to the judiciary and that the public view was being formed by reasonable people and not by a media frenzy”.


He said further serious issues arose out of aspects of the transcripts of the judge's interview with former Chief Justice Susan Denham.

That account appeared to show the judge “did not appreciate the genuine public concern about the event and your attendance at it, but rather continued to put the controversy down to a media frenzy.

“Indeed, your statement that you did not understand what you were apologising for at the time when you issued your limited apology would now significantly devalue any further apology.”


The Chief Justice noted the judge, in his interview with Ms Justice Denham, commented adversely on the Government's management of the public health crisis and made remarks critical of the Taoiseach and many other office holders which "created further genuine controversy".

He said: “It is a long-standing and important aspect of the reciprocal respect due by the institutions of the State to each other that judges do not engage in or give rise to matters of controversy most particularly involving the other branches.”

He was also critical of what he said was the judge’s implication that some of his colleagues may have prejudged him.

The "reasonable response" of a great number of people to the transcripts of the judge's interview has "caused even greater damage to the judiciary than did your attendance at the Clifden event".

His view, and the unanimous view of all of the members of the court, was the cumulative effect of all of these matters “has been to cause a very significant and irreparable damage” to the court and to the relationship within it “essential to the proper functioning of a collegiate court”.

“It is not part of my role to ask, let alone tell, you to resign. Resignation is and can only be for the judge him or herself. Regrettably, however, I believe that I should make clear my personal opinion that, to avoid continuing serious damage to the judiciary, you should resign.”

He noted the judge had said he would not resign and had offered to donate a month's salary to charity. He had followed that up with an offer, as the Chief Justice earlier proposed, not to sit as a Supreme Court judge until February 2021. He also offered to donate three months salary to a nominated charity and to sit as a High Court judge until February 2021.

The Chief Justice had expressed the view, if matters had not worsened following the Denham review, the judge should not sit until February 2021 and should waive or repay his salary until then.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times