Row erupts in Dáil after Micheál Martin disparages Máire Whelan

Cabinet meeting hears criticisms over nomination of former attorney general

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: said trust between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had been damaged by the events of the past few days. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The process of former attorney general Máire Whelan’s nomination as a judge on the Court of Appeal drew criticism from Ministers at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Sources said a number of Ministers felt the appointment should not have been dealt with at Enda Kenny’s last Cabinet meeting a week ago. While there was no direct criticism of how Mr Kenny handled the nomination, which was added to last week’s agenda at the last minute, sources said there was an acknowledgment that it was badly handled.

“It was said that it shouldn’t have happened last week,” said one source.

Martin Fraser, the secretary general to the Government, is to review how Cabinet conducts its business with a view to future changes.

Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke. Máire Whelan is no Adrian Hardiman,' Mr Martin replied

Tuesday’s was the first substantive Cabinet meeting chaired by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is understood to have warned his Ministers about the need for Cabinet confidentiality, and there was a discussion at the meeting about it.

A row also erupted in the Dáil after Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin disparagingly compared Ms Whelan to others who had been appointed by previous governments to senior judicial positions.

Past appointments

Mr Varadkar said that Fianna Fáil had in the past appointed people such as Supreme Court judge Frank Clarke and former Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman, who died last year.

“Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke,” Mr Martin replied. “Máire Whelan is no Adrian Hardiman.”

Mr Varadkar replied that he thought Mr Martin’s concerns were about the process of Ms Whelan’s appointment, rather that Ms Whelan herself.

Some Fianna Fáil TDs acknowledged that Mr Martin had allowed himself to be goaded by Mr Varadkar and felt their leader’s comments went too far, while others said it was perfectly legitimate for him to question her competence.

Fianna Fáil withdrew a Private Members’ Bill on the issue on Tuesday night in an attempt to pursue a question-and-answer session in future.

Earlier, at a Fianna Fáil frontbench meeting, Mr Martin said trust between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had been damaged by the events of the past few days and the dynamic between both parties had changed. However, he insisted the party should be allowed to question the Government without it automatically leading to threats of a general election.

Not showing respect

Earlier on Tuesday, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the Minister of State at the Department of Education, accused some of her Fine Gael colleagues of not showing her respect.

The Dún Laoghaire TD was demoted last week from the full Cabinet rank position of Minister for Jobs to a so-called “super-junior” with responsibility for higher education who sits at the Cabinet table.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor made her comments at the meeting of Fine Gael Ministers that takes places in advance of the weekly Cabinet meeting. Although she did not name anyone, sources said the nature of her comment was aimed at criticisms that had been made of her over the past week.

“I wouldn’t call it a complaint,” said one source. “She said she heard some things back that weren’t pleasant, and asked were we a team or were we not. She must know, or have heard something back about what someone said.”

Another source said Ms Mitchell said people had not shown “respect” for her, and maintained she was well qualified and had worked hard.