Tánaiste denies telling McEntee to appoint Woulfe

Minister for Justice says Varadkar told her former AG would make ‘a good judge’

 Minister for Justice Helen McEntee  arrives at the Convention Centre to face questions over the appointment of Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee arrives at the Convention Centre to face questions over the appointment of Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

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The Tánaiste has denied instructing Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to appoint Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court, after the Minister said Leo Varadkar had told her the former attorney general would make “a good judge”.

In an admission that places the Fine Gael leader at the centre of the controversy, Ms McEntee said Mr Varadkar made the remark before she considered other candidates for the vacancy but that she ultimately made her own decision.

During a Dáil debate on the appointment, Ms McEntee said she did not believe the Tánaiste was telling her what to do when he made the comment.

However, the admission was seized on by Opposition politicians as evidence that Mr Varadkar wanted to “look after” Mr Woulfe by appointing him to the Supreme Court after he was not reappointed as attorney general.

When asked about the matter last night, Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said the Tánaiste did express “an opinion that Séamus Woulfe would be a good judge”.

He said this was in line with the recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, which is chaired by the chief justice.

“The Tánaiste did not instruct the Minister for Justice to propose Séamus Woulfe,” he said.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny said that the appointment was “a done deal”.

“A Fine Gael-supporting attorney general was on his way out and Fine Gael needed to find a job for him,” he said.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said that the idea that Ms McEntee had decided alone, without reference to her party leader or the other leaders of the Government, to make a Supreme Court appointment was “absurd”.

Ms McEntee also told the Dáil that there were five expressions of interest in the Supreme Court vacancy from sitting judges. The Irish Times reported earlier this month that at least three sitting judges had shown interest in the role.

Ms McEntee said: “I did have a conversation informally with my colleague, with the Tánaiste. He informed me himself that there was a vacancy, that Séamus Woulfe had come through the JAAB [Judicial Appointments Advisory Board] process.

“I informed him that I was already aware of that. He also informed me, or I suppose gave a view, that he thought Séamus would be a good judge.”

The Minister later told TDs that “of course I took that on board”.

But she said: “I did not make a decision then because at that stage, I did not have all of the other names” of those showing an interest in the position.

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