Charlie Flanagan will not respond to Ross’s judicial demands

Minister for Justice known to have some reservations about proposed new system

“I am not saying I am open to amendments but I will be listening to the concerns of TDs,” Mr Flanagan said. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has signalled to colleagues he will take direct control of proposed legislation on the reform of judicial appointments amid Fine Gael concerns over the influence of Independent Alliance Minister for Transport Shane Ross.

Mr Flanagan is due to introduce the Judicial Appointments Bill in the Dáil this week, which has been sought by Mr Ross since the Government was formed last year.

The Bill would reform the way judges are appointed, introducing a new appointments board with a majority of non-lawyers and a non-legal chairperson.

But Mr Flanagan, who previously practised as a solicitor, is known to have reservations about aspects of the proposed new system.


Government sources said Mr Flanagan and Mr Ross had a difficult meeting last week in which the new Bill was discussed. Both Ministers declined to comment on Sunday but The Irish Times understands that Mr Flanagan has told colleagues in Government that he intends to take responsibility for the legislation himself and will not be subject to demands from Mr Ross.

Highly critical

Writing in today's Irish Times Mr Flanagan strongly defends the judiciary and is highly critical of those are "seeking to place the judiciary in the dock".

“The legislation that the Government is introducing this week is wrongly seen by some as righting a wrong rather than modernising an aspect of Government administration,” Mr Flanagan writes.

His comments are likely to be interpreted as a criticism of Mr Ross, who has frequently been highly critical of the system of appointing judges.

Speaking over the weekend Mr Ross said that “all judges are currently politically appointed” and insisted the forthcoming Bill would “finally end this rotten system”.

Although he is the Minister for Transport, Mr Ross has prioritised the reform of judicial appointments since he entered Government, and he has exerted constant behind-the-scenes pressure to advance the bill, at one stage blocking the appointment of any judges until the new system was put in place.

He has since consented to the appointment of some judges – including the controversial appointment of the former Attorney General Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal – but only on condition that the new Bill was brought forward.

But Mr Flanagan – appointed to the Department of Justice in the reshuffle following the election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach – has signalled that he intends to take a position much more independent of Mr Ross's concerns.

‘Full debate’

Although he is committed to introducing the Bill, Mr Flanagan said on Sunday that he was “keen that there will be a full debate, an open-ended debate. I’m keen to ensure that parliament will have its say on the legislation.”

"I am not saying I am open to amendments but I will be listening to the concerns of TDs," Mr Flanagan told The Irish Times.

The Dáil is due to debate the legislation on three days this week.

Mr Flanagan said that the goal of having the legislation passed before the Dáil’s summer recess – as reiterated yesterday by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – was “ambitious”.

Fianna Fáil strongly opposes the legislation and will vote against it. Yesterday, the party's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan said that if Fianna Fáil was elected to Government, it would repeal aspects of the bill. However, Sinn Féin will support the Bill, which will mean that it should have enough votes in the Dáil to pass.

Senior judges have made their opposition to the Bill clear in public as well as in private. On Friday, Mr Justice Peter Kelly who as President of the High Court holds the State's second most important judicial office, openly criticised the proposed new laws on judicial appointments.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the separation of powers between the judiciary and the Oireachtas worked "in both directions".

“Both judges and politicians need to respect the separation of powers and ensure that there is a decent distance between the judiciary and the Oireachtas,” he added.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times