Monday 23 April 2018

Leo Varadkar backs process behind Maire Whelan's Court of Appeal appointment

The appointment was agreed a day before Leo Varadkar became taoiseach
The appointment was agreed a day before Leo Varadkar became taoiseach
Former Attorney General Maire Whelan after she was appointed as a Court of Appeal judge by President Michael D Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin.
Maire Whelan has been confirmed as a Court of Appeal judge

The Taoiseach has said he stands over the process used to appoint f ormer attorney general Maire Whelan as a Court of Appeal judge.

Hours after the appointment was confirmed by President Michael D Higgins, Leo Varadkar rejected any suggestion the controversy had made a general election more likely.

The furore has raised questions on the stability of the confidence and supply arrangement between Fianna Fail and Mr Varadkar's Fine Gael-led minority government.

Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are among those that have questioned the way ministers filled the job, asking if appropriate procedures were followed and whether other high court judges were considered for the role.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin last week told the Dail the process "stinks".

The appointment was agreed by cabinet last Tuesday - a day before Mr Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny as taoiseach.

Asked about the issue after his meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in London, Mr Varadkar said:

"I don't think we're on the brink of a general election. A call for a general election is not evident in Ireland for lots of different reasons."

He added: "I certainly would not have liked my first week in office to have been affected by controversy over a judicial appointment, I wanted the focus to be on the new cabinet, policy, the priority list I have for them, the important meetings I had with the leaders of the main parties in Northern Ireland yesterday and the important meeting I'm having today with the prime minister.

"It's not something I would like to have occurred in my first week in office as taoiseach, but equally it's not something I'm going to wash my hands of.

"I was at the cabinet table when that decision was made, and therefore I stand over it. And I have looked into it since then. What I can say is that Maire Whelan was appointed by the president today as a judge at the court of appeal. She's somebody who is uniquely qualified for the office which she has been appointed to. She's been attorney general for six years and is across so many different important legal questions.

"Having looked into it, I can say that what was done was lawful and according to the constitution and according to the law. It is precedented and there have been precedents of appointments similar to this in the past. Proper procedure was followed. The Ministry of Justice (then Francis Fitzgerald) made a recommendation to the cabinet. As is the normal process and procedure, one name was brought to the cabinet for approval. It's never the case that the cabinet discusses a shortlist or is informed of who may have applied for a position and didn't get it.

"This is a good appointment, it's appropriate and it's lawful."

Politicians are set to clash over the issue in the Dail on Tuesday.

Ms Whelan's appointment was one of three judicial roles confirmed by President Higgins on Monday.

Eileen Creedon and Charles Meenan were also appointed High Court judges at a ceremony at Aras an Uachtarain that was attended by Mr Varadkar and current attorney general Seamus Woulfe.

Press Association

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