Judicial Bill will become law by summer, insists Government

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan moves to quell controversy despite admitting legislation was in ‘difficult place’

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the  Judicial Appointments Bill was a case of “too many cooks have spoiled the broth”. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the Judicial Appointments Bill was a case of “too many cooks have spoiled the broth”. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

 

The Government has insisted the Judicial Appointments Bill will become law by the summer despite the admission by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan that the legislation is in a “difficult place”.

After a weekend of heated political exchanges – following Attorney General Séamus Woulfe’s description of the Bill as “a dog’s dinner” – Mr Flanagan yesterday moved to draw a line under the controversy.

Mr Flanagan has said he would not have used the Attorney General’s “colourful language” but agreed the Judicial Appointments Bill was “in a difficult place”. He said it was case of “too many cooks have spoiled the broth”.

At the same time he acknowledged that after Committee stage, the Bill was contradictory, inconsistent and possibly unconstitutional. Mr Flanagan’s criticisms were similar to Mr Woulfe, but he put the blame on amendments tabled by the Opposition.

There are divided views within Government on whether or not the Bill will become law. Independent Alliance Ministers fully support the Bill, but privately some Fine Gael Ministers have expressed doubt about it.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Minister for Transport Shane Ross said the Bill would not be derailed and would return to the Dáil in April. Mr Ross has championed the Bill since entering Government in 2016.

Mr Ross said it was “wishful thinking from Fianna Fáil” to suggest this Bill would not be introduced.

It is within Fianna Fáil’s interest for the “rotten system” in place at present to remain, the Minister added.

‘Serious consequences’

Mr Ross has denied threatening to resign if the Bill is not passed but he has stated there would be “very serious consequences” if there are any unnecessary delays.

But several Government sources said it was becoming increasingly unlikely that the Bill to reform judicial appointments will get through in this Dáil.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said six of the amendments were unconstitutional, while others contradicted each other.

Mr Flanagan stressed he was committed to the introduction of the Judicial Appointments Bill but asked for space and time to make the Bill workable.

However, privately senior figures suggested the possibility of it passing before a general election were “extremely low”.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet is expected to unite behind the Attorney General at its meeting today after his remarks on the Bill and the Angela Kerins case were publicised.

It is understood Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was “very annoyed” to learn of Mr Woulfe’s public commentary on the Judicial Appointments Bill.

However, there is no question of Ministers not supporting the Attorney General.

‘Skin in the game’

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan yesterday reiterated his call for the Bill to be scrapped. He said nobody in Government had yet explained the reasoning in public policy terms for having a lay chair and a lay majority on the board.

He particularly excoriated the fact that the presidents of the two busiest courts, the Circuit and District, would not be members, nor would the Attorney General.

“Shane Ross says he wants to get rid of rotten political patronage. He’s identified a political problem but his solution is to get rid of the judges,” he said.

The Justice Committee chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall described the comments by Mr Woulfe as inappropriate yesterday. Ms Shortall pointed out that the Attorney General was not a bystander but had “skin in the game”.