Shane Ross says FF spokesman is ‘voice for the Law Library’
‘I’m not going to apologise to a former stockbroker for the fact I’m a barrister,’ Jim O’Callaghan replies
“I’m not going to apologise to a former stockbroker for the fact that I’m a barrister,” Jim O’Callaghan told Shane Ross. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES
Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan crossed swords in a Dáil spat over controversial legislation to reform how judges are selected.
Mr Ross accused Mr O’Callaghan of having a “vested interest” and said he was representing “not only the people of his constituency but the voice of the Law Library”.
The Minister also claimed Mr O’Callaghan “cannot stomach having a lay majority” on the commission to consider appointments, part of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, championed by Mr Ross but the subject of division within the Government.
But Mr O’Callaghan said “I’m not going to apologise to a former stockbroker for the fact that I’m a barrister” and when he was in the Dáil he spoke for his party and constituents.
He in turn accused Mr Ross of displaying “an extraordinary lack of political maturity”.
Mr Ross was also slapped down by his Cabinet colleague Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan who has responsibility for steering the legislation through the Oireachtas.
It is rare for a Cabinet Minister to criticise a colleague publicly and especially in the Dáil. Mr Flanagan said Mr Ross was entitled to his view on the nature of judicial appointments “but I do not share them”.
Mr Ross had said the prime objective of the Bill “is to remove the rotten practice of politicians appointing friends, cronies and political loyalists to the Bench”.
But his Cabinet colleague said it was “unfair and untrue” for Mr Ross to say “that our Judiciary is comprised of friends of Government, past and present”.
Mr Flanagan believed “we have been very well served by our Judiciary, who serve our people on a daily basis without fear or favour. The Judiciary has been independent in that service since the foundation of the State.
“Our judges are highly regarded both at home within this jurisdiction and abroad.”
Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance are at odds in Government over the legislation and Mr Ross’s questioning of the independence of the Judiciary.
Mr Flanagan stressed that the reforms in the Bill “should not in any way be construed as casting any negative aspersions or otherwise on the quality of the Judiciary”. They aimed to modernise aspects of the judicial appointments system, but he disagreed with Mr Ross and did not believe the Judiciary “has been in any way compromised down the years”.
Earlier Mr Ross, who pushed the Bill, defended his decision to stay for the entire debate on the legislation and said “Ministers are not totally and utterly confined to their portfolios”.
Mr O’Callaghan said however that given the crises in transport it was “alarming” that Mr Ross stayed for debate on every report stage amendment, and it demonstrated that it was a “vanity project” for the Minister.
It is understood that Mr Flanagan and Mr Ross later had a robust exchange outside the Dáil chamber later, after a number of TDs queried Mr Ross’s presence for a Department of Justice Bill.