Ross’s judiciary Bill to be filibustered for months in Senate

Group committed to debating Bill at length at committee stage to block its enactment

Senator Gerard Craughwell: “We intend to debate it for another 70 hours at least, and that’s before the legislation gets to report stage.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Senator Gerard Craughwell: “We intend to debate it for another 70 hours at least, and that’s before the legislation gets to report stage.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

One of the main opponents of the controversial Judicial Appointments Bill has said they will string out the committee stage debate in Seanad Éireann for another few months to prevent its enactment.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell is one of a small group of Senators who have been involved in a prolonged filibuster of the Bill, which has been championed by Independent Minister for Transport Shane Ross.

Mr Craughwell told The Irish Times that the group was committed to debating the Bill at committee stage for months on end.

“There has been over 70 hours of debate at committee stage alone and we intend to debate it for another 70 hours at least, and that’s before the legislation gets to report stage.”

If Mr Craughwell and his colleagues – including former attorney general and minister for justice Michael McDowell – succeed, it will result in perhaps the longest filibuster in the Oireachtas in living memory.

The Judicial Appointments Bill has been a priority demand of Mr Ross in Government. He has said he wants to end what he has called political cronyism in judicial appointments by taking the decisions out of the hands of the judiciary and politicians, and transferring it to a new independent appointments commissions, comprising judges, legal professionals and lay people. Mr Ross has argued for a lay majority, a change that has been fiercely resisted by lawyers.

Varadkar criticism

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill was introduced in the Dáil in May 2017 but did not complete its passage through the lower House until a year later, in May 2018.

It has been in the Seanad since June and had not yet completed committee stage. The Bill has 64 sections and 191 amendments. After three months of committee stage debate, the Seanad has just completed section 36.

In December, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar criticised the extended filibuster and referred to the fact that it meant Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had not been available for Dáil business, as his presence was required in the Seanad.

“The truth, whether people wish to admit it or not, is that the ongoing filibuster of justice legislation in the Seanad is causing other legislation to back up,” said Mr Varadkar.