Taoiseach refuses to bow to pressure for McEntee to address Dáil on Woulfe

Uproar in House after 90 minute row and three votes over questions on judge’s appointment

Mr Justice Woulfe has been at the centre of controversy over his attendance at the Oireachtas golf society dinner in Clifden in August. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Mr Justice Woulfe has been at the centre of controversy over his attendance at the Oireachtas golf society dinner in Clifden in August. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has refused to bow to sustained opposition pressure that the Minister for Justice should make a statement to the Dáil on the controversy over the appointment of Supreme Court Judge Séamus Woulfe and answer questions.

After 90 minutes of repeated questioning and three Dáil votes Mr Martin held the Government line that Helen McEntee would deal with the ongoing controversy through normal parliamentary questions.

Amid noisy protests Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghaíl pleaded for Order. “Please do not reduce the House to a Ballymagash situation.

Labour leader Alan Kelly claimed the Taoiseach was creating “the most dangerous precedent” and “no Minister will be accountable to the Dáil if this is what you allow to happen”.

Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín warned Mr Martin that “you’re now giving the impression that there is something to hide”.

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall warned the Taoiseach that he was “playing into the false narrative that his Fine Gael colleagues have been peddling for the past couple of weeks” that Mr Woulfe had been appointed through the proper process with one name brought to Cabinet,

She said they had to “end the charade” over Ms McEntee answering questions through the regular arrangements for question time.” That just does not wash.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Martin of using Dáil time to “fabricate a fairy tale”. She told the Taoiseach: “You are behaving in a way that is an abuse of your office.”

Mr Kelly, Ms McDonald and a number of TDs warned that the issue would move on from Mr Justice Woulfe and become about the Taoiseach himself and his office if he did not ensure Ms McEntee addressed the House and answered questions.

Mr Justice Woulfe has been at the centre of controversy over his attendance at the Oireachtas golf society dinner in Clifden in August amid Covid-19 restrictions.

Separately questions have been raised about the process of his appointment after The Irish Times revealed that three sitting judges also expressed an interest in the position.

In the Dáil Mr Martin rejected the Opposition’s call and insisted that Mr Justice Woulfe was “appointed appropriately in accordance with the Constitution and with the law”.

He said that he followed the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) recommendation “so that I would not embroil myself in the appointment”.

He said the JAAB met on March 9th and they recommended Mr Justice Woulfe for appointment long before the Government was appointed.

Opposition TDs reiterated that Mr Martin had demanded a full debate and questions and answers in 2017 following the appointment of the then attorney general to the Court of Appeal.

But Mr Martin said that was a different situation because the Attorney General had not applied through the JAAB process.

The Taoiseach said of Mr Justice Woulfe’s appointment that “I had no interest in embroiling myself in the politics of this good, bad or indifferent.

“It goes to the Attorney General and Minister for Justice and then it goes to the Cabinet it has always done.”

TDs warned that what had happened in the Dail over the past three weeks would continue until “we get the truth” and the Sinn Fein leader raised the matter again later during Taoiseach’s questions.