Whelan gets AG job over stellar FG law line-up
Published 11/03/2011 | 05:00
THE historic appointment of Senior Counsel Maire Whelan as Ireland's first-ever female Attorney General has come as a surprise to many in the legal profession.
And it's not because of her gender -- the appointment of a woman to the post has been universally welcomed.
The first surprise is that Fine Gael was willing to concede the crucial role to Labour, leaving behind a stellar line-up of silks closely aligned to Fine Gael -- and others with no apparent political affiliations -- who had been tipped for the post.
The second surprise is that the role was awarded to a relatively unknown senior counsel, compared with other high-profile lawyers.
Maire Whelan is renowned for her political nous as the Labour Party's former finance secretary. Her name had been mentioned in legal circles, along with many others, as a potential candidate for the highly coveted role of legal adviser to the Government, owing to her longstanding Labour Party credentials.
But the position had been widely expected to go to Frank Callanan SC, who is closely aligned to Fine Gael and Enda Kenny. Constitutional heavyweights such as Brian Murray SC, Maurice Collins SC, David Barniville SC had all been touted in legal dispatches.
Solemn heads in the Four Courts had surmised that newly elected TDs Alan Shatter (now Justice Minister) or Alex White -- both lawyers -- could be appointed as Attorney General to create extra spaces at the cabinet table.
Such is the highly insular nature of the Bar, that there is a tendency for some lawyers to view General Elections through the narrow, law-library lens of who will be get key legal posts.
It is true to say that Ms Whelan does not enjoy the same court presence or public profile as some of her colleagues who earn over €2m a year.
The married mother of one specialises in areas such as child abduction, probate and trust law, work that is often heard in camera.
She has recently published, along with co-authors Mark Kennedy and journalist Feargus O Raghallaigh, a reference guide for the 2009 NAMA Act.
Those who have worked closely with Maire Whelan say her low-key manner should not be held against her.
"Unlike some lawyers, she doesn't sound off for the purpose of hearing her own voice," said one colleague.
"Maire should not be underestimated. She keeps to herself but she is scrupulously fair and honest, an excellent listener and, ethically, absolutely sound."
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