Ross blocking McDowell’s nomination to chair Seanad committee

Minister and Senator have publicly differed in the past over judicial reform

 Michael McDowell: has clashed with Minister for Transport Shane Ross publicly.   Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Michael McDowell: has clashed with Minister for Transport Shane Ross publicly. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill


A Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil proposal to nominate Senator Michael McDowell as chairman of an Oireachtas committee on Seanad reform is being blocked by Minister for Transport Shane Ross

“There is an impasse,’’ said a Government source. “There is a bad blood between Shane and Michael and Shane is digging his heels in.’’

Mr Ross, a member of the Independent Alliance, and Mr McDowell, a barrister and former tánaiste, attorney general and minister for justice, have clashed publicly in the past over the Minister’s support for a proposed new judicial appointments board with a lay majority and a lay chair, contained in the Judicial Appointments Bill.

Mr Ross has insisted the Bill will proceed and will not be compromised.

The setting up of an Oireachtas committee on Seanad reform, with an eight-month mandate, was announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the House some weeks ago.

The committee is to implement the report of a working group chaired by Dr Maurice Manning, chancellor of the National University of Ireland and a former Fine Gael Seanad leader, and published in 2015.

Its recommendations include the extension of the vote to all Irish citizens, including emigrants and residents of Northern Ireland, in Seanad elections.

The appointment of Mr McDowell is understood to have been agreed between the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin before Mr Ross raised his objections.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald asked Mr Varadkar to confirm the Minister had vetoed Mr McDowell’s nomination in the Dáil last week.

Mr Varadkar said nobody had been nominated to the position yet.

“The matter is still under consideration,’’ he said. “I am not entirely sure if it necessarily falls to me to appoint a chair.’’

When Mr Martin said there was a view Senator McDowell would be the chairman, Mr Varadkar said he knew he was Fianna Fail’s favourite candidate.

Mr Varadkar said whoever was appointed to chair the Oireachtas committee should be independent of the Government and genuinely committed to Seanad reform.

If Mr McDowell’s nomination does not go ahead, there is speculation that former Fine Gael Seanad cathaoirleach Paddy Burke might be asked to chair the committee.

Mr Varadar is to write shortly to party and group leaders asking them to nominate committee members.