Ministers uneasy at how Máire Whelan was nominated

Cabinet to discuss Enda Kenny’s decision on Court of Appeal role next week

Outgoing Attorney General Máire Whelan, who was a close ally of former taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Outgoing Attorney General Máire Whelan, who was a close ally of former taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten will raise the manner in which the former Attorney General Máire Whelan was nominated as a judge of the Court of Appeal at next week’s Cabinet meeting.

The decision, pressed by Enda Kenny in one of his last acts of office, is becoming increasingly controversial, given that it has emerged that three High Court judges had expressed an interest in the post.

“This came as a surprise to me and to pretty much all the Cabinet,” Mr Naughten told the Joe Finnegan Show on Shannonside Northern Sound radio. “It is something that will be discussed at next week’s cabinet meeting.”

Meanwhile, he is known to be unhappy that an agreement between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance to notify independent ministers in advance of judicial appointments was not adhered to.

Pressed to say if the nomination of Ms Whelan to the Court of Appeal could be rescinded, or if he was unhappy with it, Mr Naughten repeatedly said that the issue would be discussed next week.

The Irish Times understands that Ms Whelan, who has been Attorney General for six years, did not leave the Cabinet room when her nomination to the appeal court was discussed.

Close ally

Ms Whelan, who has not yet been formally appointed by the President, was a close ally of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who publicly supported her during the aftermath of the Fennelly Commission, when she was strongly criticised.

The manner of her nomination has been heavily criticised, including by the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, and is likely to be raised in the Dáil next week.

A spokesman for the Department of the Taoiseach said that she would be appointed soon, but that no date had been set.

Otherwise, however, Government spokespersons maintained a wall of silence on the nomination of Ms Whelan to the role, declining to reveal any details about circumstances surrounding the decision.

There was also silence from Independent Minister Shane Ross, who has denied accusations that he agreed to the appointment in return for the re-opening of a garda station in Stepaside in his constituency.

Spokespersons declined to say if the Cabinet had been told that other High Court judges had expressed an interest in the appointment, as reported by The Irish Times yesterday, or if Ministers were told that sitting judges do not go through the process of applying to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

All the judges of the Court of Appeal have been promoted from other judicial roles, the vast majority from the High Court.

End to informal lobbying

It is understood that Ms Whelan and the former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter set up a procedure whereby judges who wanted to make their interest in promotion known could contact the Attorney General. Legal sources say that the idea was to put an end to more informal lobbying.

Sources close to the former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald declined to comment any further on the appointment.

However, The Irish Times understands that Ms Fitzgerald brought the proposal for Ms Whelan’s nomination to the Cabinet in Tuesday.

It was previously indicated by Government sources that she had not been aware of the proposal to promote Ms Whelan until shortly before the Cabinet met.

Other Ministers confirmed that they did not know anything about the proposed appointment until the Cabinet met.

Ministers Richard Bruton and Regina Doherty confirmed yesterday that they were unaware of the appointment in advance, though both strongly backed Ms Whelan’s nomination. Other Ministers, however, are privately uncomfortable with the manner of the appointment.

A spokesman for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that there was “no one more qualified than Máire Whelan” for the job.

Mr Varadkar was “aware of the proposal to appoint the Attorney General”, he said, though he declined to when Mr Varadkar was informed, or if he was aware of other expressions of interest in the job from High Court judges.