Politicians’ social media output could be part of any impeachment process against Woulfe
Previous remarks could prevent a politician from taking part in impeachment committee
Séamus Woulfe: attended Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in August. Photograph Nick Bradshaw
The social media accounts of TDs and Senators would be examined in any potential Oireachtas impeachment process against the Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe, politicians have been warned.
At a private meeting of the Dáil’s committee on procedures, TDs were told that if a motion to impeach Mr Woulfe were made, members of both Houses would be scrutinised to determine what they said in public on the topic.
This could include comments online on the so-called golfgate dinner and would mean that any politician who made remarks on the issue would not be in a position to form part of an impeachment committee. One source present at the meeting said it was also unclear if a TD or Senator could even vote generally on the issue if they had spoken out before.
“This is extremely problematic,” one TD said after the meeting.
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith told the meeting that she had four different pieces of legal advice which all said that only utterances made after any impeachment process was initiated would be relevant.
A briefing was given by the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisors about how an impeachment process could operate. Politicians were told that there would be significant problems around compelling witnesses.
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said it was up to the procedures committee to decide whether an impeachment process should be triggered and said she was “disappointed” that the Government had pre-empted this.
The Taoiseach on Tuesday said the Coalition would take no further steps over Mr Justice Woulfe who has been at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in August. The controversy moved to the political sphere after Chief Justice Frank Clarke expressed a view that the Supreme Court judge should resign and Mr Woulfe refused. The Oireachtas must decide whether to impeach him.
Ms Smith and other members of the PBP group are continuing to “seriously examine” triggering an impeachment process in the coming days, it is understood.
Discontinue the practice
Earlier in the Dáil Taoiseach Micheál Martin indicated the Coalition may discontinue the practice of judicial appointments being discussed by the most senior figures in government before a person is nominated to the Cabinet.
It emerged last week that at least three judges had written to the Government seeking to fill the role but the Cabinet was not told of their applications before the former attorney general Mr Woulfe was selected in July.
However, in the Dáil on Wednesday, Mr Martin said he didn’t believe “politicians should be embroiled” in who should be a judge or not be a judge. He said that when he learned that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) and Chief Justice Frank Clarke found that Mr Woulfe was a suitable candidate “that was good enough for me”.
The Taoiseach rejected Sinn Féin claims of “horse trading” in Government. He said it was an “untruth” and a “false assertion” as he called on Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald to withdraw the claim.
Ms McDonald renewed her calls for Ms McEntee to address the Dáil and answer questions about the appointment.
Elsewhere the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party heard calls that Ms McEntee should come before the Dáil to answer questions on the appointment of Mr Woulfe.
Marc MacSharry, the Sligo-Leitrim TD, said the Taoiseach had done the right thing in deciding not to seek an impeachment. However, he told his party colleagues that Ms McEntee should answer questions to ensure the process is clear, and that the party should not block Opposition attempts to seek time for that to take place.
Separately and speaking privately, some Coalition TDs indicated Ms McEntee should answer questions in the Dáil, if only to attempt to draw a line under the ongoing controversy. “I honestly think she should, she’d get over it,” said a senior Fianna Fáil TD. “It would be easier if she just went in,” the TD added.
A Fine Gael TD said: “It would just be more straightforward to answer a few questions on it and move it on. It seems that’s where most colleagues believe it’s at.”