THE Government has snubbed one of the country's longest-serving judges – who comes from a celebrated Fine Gael family – for renomination to the General Court of the European Union.
Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins (66), whose six-year renewable term on the General Court (EGC) runs out in August, was informed by an official acting on behalf of Justice Minister Alan Shatter that the Government would not renominate him for the prestigious post in Luxembourg.
Mr Justice O'Higgins, who resigned from the High Court in 2008 to take up the role as Ireland's judge on the General Court – the "High Court" arm of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) – wrote to the Government to say he was available for another term.
His judicial career now hangs in the balance as he has not been offered a return to the High Court, where there are currently two vacancies.
Mr Justice O'Higgins's predecessor on the General Court, John Cooke, was appointed to the High Court on his return to Ireland.
The decision has upset some members of the judiciary who already fear that the "third arm" of government is being weakened by a series of cuts to their pay, pensions and status.
This morning, Mr Shatter will come face to face with many of the country's judges when the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, delivers a keynote speech.
Last night, Mr Shatter said there was no "usual convention" of offering a return to the domestic courts for judges who had retired to serve abroad.
He said Mr Justice O'Higgins received a lump sum of €364,620 for his time in the Circuit and High Court when he reached 65 and was now in receipt of an annual judicial pension.
Mr Shatter added: "The replacement to the General Court is a matter for the Government, as are any future decisions regarding appointments to the Supreme and High Court."
Efforts to contact Mr Justice O'Higgins were unsuccessful.
He is "steeped" in Fine Gael, according to former Law Library colleagues. Mr Justice O'Higgins is a first cousin of the late Fine Gael politician Tom F O'Higgins, a former chief justice, whose father Tom is regarded as the "founder of the blueshirts".