Ministers notified of two jobs when they approved of Woulfe

Other Supreme Court vacancy likely to be filled in next few months

The Department of Justice has confirmed the Government  appointed five other judges apart from Mr Justice Woulfe since taking power. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Department of Justice has confirmed the Government appointed five other judges apart from Mr Justice Woulfe since taking power. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Ministers were told there were two vacancies in the Supreme Court when they were asked to approve the appointment of Séamus Woulfe in July, The Irish Times understands.

While only one name was presented to Ministers, the accompanying Cabinet memo specified that there were two vacancies. It is expected that the second vacancy is likely to be filled later this year, or early next year.

In addition, the memo stipulated that for judges applying to fill the Supreme Court position, it was not necessary to go through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

In practice, because almost all Supreme Court vacancies are filled by sitting judges, this suggested to Ministers that there may have been judges considered for the post. However, Ministers and party leaders were supplied with just one name – that of Séamus Woulfe – for the position.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has confirmed that he has not discussed possible alternative candidates in advance of several other judicial appointments made by the Government since it took office in June.

‘Consultation took place’

A spokeswoman for the Taoiseach declined to respond to detailed queries but said that “consultation took place . . . in line with procedures”.

In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Mr Ryan said: “The Minister was not made aware of other applications in relation to the Supreme Court appointment or other appointments.”

The Department of Justice confirmed the Government had appointed five other judges apart from Mr Justice Woulfe since taking power. Two of those appointments were to the District Court, and therefore would not have been positions that sitting judges would apply for. However, the department said “there were expressions of interest for all of the appointments made by the Minister to the courts above District Court level”. Three such appointments have been made – to the Circuit Court, Court of Appeal and High Court.

Cabinet protocol

The normal procedure, multiple well-placed sources have told The Irish Times, is that senior colleagues in Government – usually at least the Taoiseach and Tánaiste – would be involved in discussions on higher court vacancies before a name was brought to Cabinet. According to the Cabinet handbook, “the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, any other Party Leader in Government, the Minister for Finance and Attorney General should be informed, in advance, of proposals to make [judicial appointments].”

The Taoiseach has said he was not informed of the names interested in the Supreme Court position, and the Tánaiste has also said he did not know the names. A spokeswoman for Mr Martin did not respond to detailed questions on the extent to which he was consulted prior to other judicial appointments, but said that “consultation between party leaders took place in advance of all judicial appointments [the Government] has made in line with procedures.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Justice said that “The Minister for Justice informs all relevant Ministers of any proposals to make judicial appointments. The Minister has at all times acted in accordance with procedures.”