Row between Ross and judges shows no signs of abating

Judges angered by Minister’s presence at meeting with Frances Fitzgerald last week

Barbed exchanges between the Minister for Transport Shane Ross and the judiciary continued on Monday as the unprecedented row over judicial appointments and oversight showed no sign of abating.

Mr Ross responded to statements from Chief Justice Susan Denham over the weekend which rejected recent criticism of the judiciary as being opposed to reform. On the contrary, Ms Justice Denham said, judges had been actively seeking reforms for several years.

Mr Ross said he accepted judges also wanted to see the system changed but they wanted the process to be controlled by judges and other legal figures.

“That is a difficulty because I see that as wrong. I don’t see any point in taking it out of the hands of politicians and giving it to judges to appoint people themselves in a very inside way,” he said.


Later, in a tweet, Mr Ross seemed to suggest that reforms advocated by judges would only change one type of “cronyism” (as he has described it) for another: “Chief Justice is right: Judges want reform; Take patronage of cronies from politicians. Hand it over to judges instead! Out of frying pan ....”

Mr Ross also repeated his view that judges must not continue to lead “charmed lives” where they are unaccountable and impossible to remove from their positions.


Meanwhile, The Irish Times understands that the group of judges who met Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald last week to discuss the reform of the judicial appointments process were dismayed when they found Mr Ross was attending the meeting. The judges, led by the Supreme Court justice Donal O'Donnell were surprised and angered when Mr Ross sat in on the meeting.

It is understood that having learned of the meeting in advance, Mr Ross insisted on attending.

Two Bills which will reform the way judges are appointed, and their oversight while in office are currently in preparation in the Department of Justice. The judicial appointments legislation, which was due to be published in early draft form in November, is not now expected until the new year. The Department of Justice has repeatedly said that work is continuing on the Bill, but that it is a complex piece of legislation.

Mr Ross has said he will block any future judicial appointments until the new legislation is in place, even though this could take several months.


The Taoiseach has indicated that the Government will consider the appointment of new judges if it becomes necessary, leading many political sources to expect a showdown on the issue in the coming months.

The second piece of legislation – which will provide for a judicial council and a disciplinary and oversight procedure for judges – is more advanced, and may be published in the coming weeks. However, it is expected that the first draft of the Bill will not include provision for a register of judges’ interests. Mr Ross has repeatedly called for the Bill to include a compulsory register which would require judges to declare their financial interests every year, as politicians are currently required to do.

There is significant opposition to the idea in Fine Gael, the Department of Justice and amongst lawyers and judges.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent