Monday 19 February 2018

Kenny to deliver verdict on vital new AG

Sam Smyth

It raised more than lawyers' eyebrows when reports emerged that Mr Kenny proposed appointing senior counsel Maire Whelan to the position

THE Taoiseach's relationship with the Attorney General will be more important than any he will have with any of his ministers.

They even have offices within a minute's walk of each other in Government Buildings.

One former cabinet member said last night that Enda Kenny will see his AG more than his family -- maybe several times a day as issues arise.

So it raised more than lawyers' eyebrows yesterday when reports emerged that Mr Kenny proposed appointing senior counsel Maire Whelan to the position.

With the State facing into its most grave crisis since its foundation, many questioned the wisdom of having a relatively inexperienced lawyer in the AG's office.

However, last night senior legal sources were convinced that senior counsel Brian Murray, who has appeared in many of the epic legal cases in recent years, would get the call. The announcement of the new appointee will be made later today after the new Cabinet is appointed.

Mr Murray would be in the same league as the three most recent AGs but would take a huge drop in earnings if he accepted the post.

Like the past three AGs, he is worldly as well as lawyerly, and has had a very varied practice.

Critics say that would give him an advantage over Ms Whelan who, they say, has lived a more sheltered legal life.

"Another chapter in crisis management is written every day in government," said a former minister. "And the buck stops with the Taoiseach and the AG."

Fine Gael barristers could scarcely contain their surprise when the news that the State's first female AG may be appointed today was leaked yesterday, on International Women's Day.

But there was an added insult for FG grandees: Ms Whelan is a card-carrying member and financial secretary to the Labour Party.

The selection of the new AG and a super junior minister was compensation for Labour getting just five cabinet seats when Fine Gael took 10, as they divvied up the spoils of office.

However, it is up to the new Taoiseach to make the appointment.


It is a potential concession to Labour that the Fine Gael barristers in the Law Library didn't see coming.

It was widely assumed that the post would go to Fine Gael -- the then Taoiseach John Bruton appointed Dermot Gleeson SC as AG for the Rainbow coalition in 1994.

Last night, some sources questioned Ms Whelan's experience as an expert on property law, conveyancing and children's rights as a fitting legal background for an AG.

But others pointed out that she has recently written a textbook on NAMA and that property and banking are inextricably linked in the current crisis.

And her specialist knowledge would be useful for the upcoming referendum on children, according to a leading counsel.

But Ms Whelan's absence from the rollcall of big name senior counsels collecting fees of up to €2m a year would make her a curious choice.

The current AG, Paul Gallagher SC, is expected to assist whoever is appointed through the deluge of legal actions arising from the current crisis.

Mr Gallagher was a big earner before he replaced the late Rory Brady, who like his predecessor Michael McDowell, was among the most experienced counsel at the bar.

Enda Kenny would have to personally agree to Ms Whelan's or Mr Murray's appointment with Mr Gilmore because the relationship between Taoiseach and AG is unique.

Other names mooted for the position were senior counsels Frank Callanan, Maurice Collins and David Barniville.

Irish Independent

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