Ministers did not know facts about Whelan nomination, says McGrath

Controversy over judicial appointment to be raised in Dáil by Fianna Fáil

Independent Minister of State Finian McGrath has said the “vast majority” of the previous Cabinet’s members “didn’t know all the facts” about the Government nomination of former Attorney General Maire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

Independent Alliance Ministers have asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for a review of the process at today’s Cabinet meeting and the matter is being raised in the Dáil by Opposition leaders.

The row over the appointment of Ms Whelan marked the first controversy facing Mr Varadkar’s administration and appears to have damaged trust between the Government and Fianna Fáil, which has facilitated a minority Fine Gael-led arrangement.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet on Tuesday morning, Mr McGrath said: “The missing part of the story is the vast majority of people at the Cabinet didn’t know all the facts, and that’s the reality.

“That’s something that has to be dealt with and that’s something we are going to deal with this morning.”

Ms Whelan’s nomination was agreed at the last Cabinet meeting overseen by former taoiseach Enda Kenny.

She was formally appointed a judge by President Michael D Higgins on Monday morning.

Ms Whelan’s was the sole name brought to Cabinet last week to fill the vacancy on the Court of Appeal by Frances Fitzgerald, who was then Minister for Justice.

The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) had not recommended anyone.

However, three High Court judges had expressed an interest in the position to Ms Whelan. Judges, unlike barristers or solicitors, do not apply through the JAAB, but notify the Attorney General of the day.

Despite agreeing to the nomination, Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross and his colleague Mr McGrath complained about the process at Cabinet and afterwards.

Legislation to reform the judicial appointments process, demanded by Mr Ross, has been delayed repeatedly.

Mr Varadkar said at the weekend the Judicial Appointments Bill would be brought to the Dáil within the next week or two, and that would change the rules on the way judges were appointed.

Independent Minister Denis Naughten, who has also criticised the process, said on his way into Cabinet on Tuesday he had received a commitment from Mr Varadkar that there would be no more “underarm memos” coming to Cabinet.

This refers to the process under which a memorandum is brought to Cabinet without being placed on the Government agenda or flagged in advance in any way.

Mr Naughten said it was important that a transparent system for the appointment of judges was put in place as soon as possible.

He also said the Judicial Appointments Bill should be brought through the Oireachtas quickly.