Tuesday 6 December 2016

Ross demands judges declare interests but Fine Gael jury is out

Published 15/11/2016 | 02:30

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Fine Gael has yet to decide whether it will give in to a demand from Transport Minister Shane Ross for the introduction of a declaration of interests for judges.

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The move is not in the Programme for Government but Mr Ross has now said he wants it included in a forthcoming bill relating to the legal profession because judges "might forget their oath".

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is working on a series of reforms relating to the way in which members of the judiciary are appointed on foot of complaints from the Independent Alliance TD that judges have led a "charmed life".

As part of the deal between the Alliance and Fine Gael when the Government was formed, it was agreed to set up an independent body with an independent chair and a non-legal majority to select shortlists for appointment.

But the Irish Independent understands the idea of a creating an annual declaration of interests for judges was not discussed at the time.

Sources confirmed the demand falls outside the May agreement and therefore Fine Gael is "not obliged" to take it on.

Officials in the Department of Justice are examining whether it is even possible as the role of judges is very clearly defined in the constitution.

"There's a limit to what you can do so all these things will have to be studied," a source said.

It is understood there is no major opposition within Fine Gael to the proposal, although there is some annoyance at the way in which Mr Ross waited until after work on the Judicial Appointments Bill began to make his demand known.

The bill is understood to be around a month to six weeks from publication.

Speaking on RTÉ yesterday, Mr Ross said: "If they're making judgements on issues and say they hold property, or they've received gifts, or they hold land, or they hold shares, and they have a conflict of interest - we don't know anything about it, they never declare those interests."

He described a similar bill published by Fianna Fáil in recent weeks as "an amazing step forward" but defended his decision not to vote in favour of it because the new appointments commission would have a legal majority.

Retired Supreme Court justice Catherine McGuinness said Mr Ross should have accepted the Fianna Fáil bill.

She said she was "extremely concerned" there could be delays in the appointments in new judges.

While she told 'Newstalk Breakfast' that some changes to the system are "desirable", the new legislation will take some time to pass through the Dáil.

The Programme for Government promises to introduce legislation to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a new Judicial Appointments Commission.

The new structure will include a reduction in its membership, an independent chairperson selected by the Public Appointments Service and a lay majority including independent people with specialist qualifications.

Irish Independent

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