Absence of Fine Gael senators sees Government defeated on judicial Bill

Losses increase challenge to pass legislation debated in Seanad for more than 120 hours

Independent senator Michael McDowell’s amendment to the Judicial Appointments Bill was passed without a formal vote as no Fine Gael senator was present. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Independent senator Michael McDowell’s amendment to the Judicial Appointments Bill was passed without a formal vote as no Fine Gael senator was present. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

The Government was defeated on two amendments in controversial legislation on the appointment of judges because no Fine Gael Senators were in the chamber when votes were called.

The loss of the two amendments on Tuesday night, described as a “complete cock-up” by a Government senator who declined to be named, increases the challenge to pass the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill before an election takes place.

The legislation has been championed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross and steered through the Oireachtas by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

It has been subject to more than 120 hours of debate and has been delayed by filibustering by Independent senators who claim elements of the Bill are unconstitutional.

While Fine Gael senators were absent the Seanad passed an amendment proposed by Independent senator Michael McDowell to reduce the “quarantine” period from 15 years to three for former barristers or solicitors to be considered for appointment as a “lay person” to the commission to appoint judges.

Mr McDowell’s amendment was passed without a formal vote as no Fine Gael senator was present. The second technical amendment by the Government could not be moved, again because no Fine Gael senator was present.

Mr Flanagan called for a quorum because he said this was not what was intended when the House resumed debate on the issue. But acting Cathaoirleach Gerry Horkan said the Minister was not a member of the House and there was no Government senator present.

Fine Gael leader of the House Jerry Buttimer rushed into the chamber and the Minister made an effort to have the amendments put to the House again, but was told they had been dealt with.

Labour senator Ivana Bacik said the Government was not prepared to meet the Opposition halfway on the legislation.

Independent senator Gerard Craughwell claimed the lack of Fine Gael senators in the House signalled a lack of interest in the legislation on their part, despite Mr Ross’s efforts to push it through.