Shatter: judges were appointed on merit
Justice Minister insists two men's political links were 'irrelevant'
JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter last night defended the Government's appointment of two High Court judges with political links to Fine Gael and Labour.
The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that one judge appointed to the High Court this week has political and personal links to Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
A second judge appointed by the Cabinet on Tuesday is a Fine Gael supporter, who is a son-in-law of a former party minister.
Judge Michael White is a former Worker's Party colleague of the Labour Party leader but he also represented Mr Gilmore as a solicitor in a dispute with the TD's neighbours over a plot of land where he built his house.
The dispute happened just before he was appointed as a judge to the Circuit Court in 1996 -- the last time Mr Gilmore's party was in government.
Meanwhile, Judge Kevin Cross made a political donation of €1,200 to European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton in the run-up to February's general election.
Mr Shatter said he was "appalled" by the manner in which the appointment of two individuals as judges of the High Court was reported.
"Any suggestion that either appointment is based on anything other than merit or has any base or hidden motive is completely untrue and grossly unfair to those appointed," he said.
"Perhaps those who seek to traduce others might reflect on the implications of their action and question whether the obsessive focus on undermining the reputation of decent people is in the public interest or serves any purpose other than the short-term benefit of a cheap headline."
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald queried in the Dail whether it was "depressing to see that the old boys' network is still alive and well, with people with political affiliations being appointed to the bench".
Earlier this year, Mr Shatter nominated one of his constituency workers to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB), which recommends judges for appointment to the Government.
Chartered accountant Karen Dent is a Fine Gael activist in Mr Shatter's Dublin South constituency and has canvassed for him for years. Ms Dent also has a background in financial control.
Because Mr White was already a Circuit Court judge, he did not have to go through the JAAB process. Mr Cross did go through the JAAB, but Mr White was nominated by the Government.
The JAAB board consists of the Chief Justice, the Presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Courts, the Attorney General, a barrister nominated by the Bar Council and a solicitor nominated by the Law Society. Three members are also nominated by the Justice Minister of the day.
Mr Shatter was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when the Irish Independent revealed he appointed barrister Oliver Connolly, who donated €1,000 to his campaign in 2007, as a liaison for whistleblowers in An Garda Siochana, a part-time position that pays €12,500 a year.
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