Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he did not want his first week in office to be overshadowed by the appointment of former Attorney General Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal, but insisted he stood over the decision nonetheless.
Mr Varadkar said he was at the Cabinet table when the decision was made last Tuesday to nominate Ms Whelan to the Court of Appeal, and he added he is “confident an election is not imminent”.
He was responding to claims from some in Fianna Fáil that they could not rule out an election, although such a prospect is seen as highly unlikely.
"I certainly did not want my first week in office to be affected over a controversy over a judicial appointment but equally it's not something I'm going to wash my hands of. I was at the Cabinet table when the decision was made and I stand over it," Mr Varadkar said at a press conference in London following a meeting with British prime minister Theresa May.
“I have looked into the appointment and I can say that Máire Whelan is someone who is uniquely qualified for the office she is being appointed to. What was done was lawful, in accordance with the Constitution and in accordance with the law, it had precedent and proper procedure was followed.
“The Minister for Justice had all of the recommendations and made a recommendation to Cabinet. As is the normal process and procedure, one name was brought to Cabinet. It is never the case that Cabinet discusses a shortlist. It is a good appointment, it’s lawful and therefore I stand over it.”
Three High Court judges had written to the former attorney general expressing interest in the Court of Appeal vacancy. This element of the appointment is expected to be part of the review Independent Ministers are seeking.
It is understood Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald – who was minister for justice last week – has told those who asked that Ms Whelan was the best candidate.
Ms Whelan's nomination was passed by the Cabinet and she was appointed to Court of Appeal by President Michael D Higgins at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin on Monday, which was also attended by Mr Varadkar.
Government sources said the Independent members of the Coalition were informed in advance that Ms Whelan was to be appointed by Mr Higgins yesterday.
Fianna Fáil figures said they were not told, and said this “didn’t help” relations with Mr Varadkar.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said yesterday he hoped the Government can now “move on” from the controversy.
“I hope it has been put to bed now,” he said at Stormont. “I think everybody accepts that no law was broken here, that appropriate procedures were followed. Máire Whelan is an exceptional legal mind and is suitable to be a very senior judge in Ireland. And she is now one. So I hope we can move on from it,” he said.
“The Cabinet made a decision last week and it was a good decision. I can understand how people would raise questions about it because it is high profile, and it is politics. I think she was the best candidate for that position and I wish her well with it.”