Confusion over judicial appointments branded ‘farce’

Ceann Comhairle suspends Dáil debate on Bill over contradictory amendments

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: said co-operation between the Government and Sinn Féin did not mean the two parties are preparing to go into government. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: said co-operation between the Government and Sinn Féin did not mean the two parties are preparing to go into government. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A day of Dáil confusion over controversial legislation to reform the way judges are appointed has resulted in TDs making laws “in the dark”, the Opposition has said.

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will now be subject to further amendments in the Seanad after its passage through the Dáil was delayed amid widespread confusion over a number of votes held earlier this week.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl suspended a debate on the Bill – championed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross – on Tuesday night because of scenes which the Opposition described as a “farce”.

The Bill sets up a new process for judicial appointments, with a new body given responsibility for recommending candidates to the government. Mr Ross has insisted on a non-legal majority and a non-legal chair for the new body.

The confusion arose because a number of contradictory amendments were passed through the Dáil. One such amendment, to increase the membership of the proposed commission from 13 to 17, did not pass.

However, other amendments to include the presidents of the Circuit and District Courts, as well as the Attorney General, on the proposed new body to appoint judges was passed. In effect, it meant the Dáil appointed 16 people to a 13-member committee.

Anomalies

Mr Ó Fearghaíl and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the discrepancies and anomalies in the Bill could be dealt with by the Seanad.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, one of those who highlighted the contradictions in the amendments, said the Dáil was being asked to send flawed legislation to the Seanad.

“We don’t know what the composition of the commission is. How do I make up my mind when I don’t know what the nature of it is? We are now legislating blind. I think it shows a real problem in Cabinet, between Minister Ross and the rest of the Government.”

It had initially seemed as if the Bill would easily pass the Dáil following a deal reached between Sinn Féin and the Government.

Sinn Féin committed to voting for the Bill after the Government agreed to introduce sentencing guidelines as part of an accompanying package.

Lay majority

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, the Sinn Féin justice spokesman, said his party will continue to support amendments to the Bill to ensure there is a lay majority. He said the new body should not, however, include the Attorney General, which could lead to further difficulties.

“It will be our view that we will continue to support amendments to ensure there is a lay majority,” Mr Ó Laoghaire. “There will be a lay majority and the bill will pass.”

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the co-operation between the Government and Sinn Féin did not mean the two parties are preparing to go into government.

Fine Gael will not be going into government with Sinn Féin,” he said.