FG backbenchers on warpath if Whelan row unresolved by Tuesday
TDs bypassed for ministries in mood to vent anger at Varadkar over Whelan’s elevation
Máire Whelan row: Backbenchers said on Saturday that solidarity on the issue could break on Tuesday after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announces minister of State appointments. Photograph: The Irish Times
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar could come under pressure from Fine Gael backbenchers if the controversy surrounding the appointment of former attorney general Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal is not defused by Tuesday.
Fine Gael Ministers and TDs are, so far, strongly supporting Mr Varadkar’s view that correct procedures were followed by his predecessor Enda Kenny when he announced the appointment at last week’s Cabinet meeting.
Minister for Finance Pascal Donohoe said on Saturday the process was entirely legal and appropriate.
“Máire Whelan is an excellent candidate and I look forward to seeing her become an excellent judge,” he added.
However, a number of backbenchers told The Irish Times on Saturday that solidarity on the issue could break on Tuesday after Mr Varadkar announces minister of State appointments.
“Nobody will challenge Leo until the jobs are handed out,” said a backbench TD.
“But there will be many disappointed people bypassed for jobs who may feel they have nothing to lose and express their anger at the controversy after Tuesday.”
TDs said privately they were getting a hostile response from constituents to the Whelan appointment.
“People are saying to me it is another example of more jobs for the boys and girls with an inside track,” said a Fine Gael TD.
Ms Whelan’s appointment, which was announced in her presence at the Cabinet meeting, was questioned by Independent Alliance Minister for Transport Shane Ross but ultimately agreed.
It later emerged three High Court judges had expressed an interest in the post.
The Taoiseach has insisted that under Article 13.2 of the Constitution, the Government and only the Government can appoint judges.
He said Ms Whelan had been recommended by former minister for justice France Fitzgerald as a standout person for the vacancy.
The appointment has angered Independent Alliance Ministers and threatened the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil.
Mr Ross has said he and his fellow Independent Alliance Minister of State Finian McGrath will raise the matter at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. It will also be raised in the Dáil later at Mr Varadkar’s first Opposition Leaders’ Questions as Taoiseach.
“I have no issue with the personality and it is not up to me to pick judges,” said Mr Ross. “But I have a real problem with the system.”
Independent Alliance sources said the group was angry with the response of Fine Gael TDs.
“They are blaming us for a row that was caused entirely by their own party in Government,” said a source.
Fianna Fáil is insisting the appointment broke the “no surprises” clause in the agreement with the Government, but has stopped short of saying it would trigger a general election on the issue.
It has said Ms Whelan should consider her position and apply for the post under another process.