Tuesday 23 October 2018

New High Court judge has strong links to coalition

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

The Government appointed yet another legal figure with links to the coalition parties as a judge last night -- this time putting a former Fine Gael general-election candidate in the High Court.

Fine Gael activist Colm Mac Eochaidh was the running mate of Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald in the 2002 General Election and ran for the Seanad as a party candidate five years later. The relatively recently appointed senior counsel was one of two men who offered a reward for information about planning corruption in a famous newspaper ad that led to the setting up of the Mahon Tribunal.

He was appointed as a senior counsel in 2009 and, just three years later, he is now a High Court judge.

Scrutiny

Mr Mac Eochaidh, an expert in planning, public and commercial law, is the latest lawyer with links to Fine Gael or the Labour Party to be nominated to the bench by the coalition.

The appointments come at a time where there is ever greater scrutiny of the political appointment of judges.

Mr Mac Eochaidh joins the list of judicial appointees with strong links to Fine Gael and Labour parties since the coalition came to office last year: l Michael White, a former Workers Party general-election candidate who also represented Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore as a solicitor. l Kevin Cross, a Fine Gael supporter who made a political donation of €1,200 to European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, is the son-in-law of former Fine Gael minister Paddy Lindsay.

• Patrick Durkan, a former Fine Gael senator and four-time running mate of the Taoiseach .

And, one-third of 12 new judges nominated by the Government last March also had strong links to Fine Gael.

Friends of the barrister said that he was a talented and "independent-minded" lawyer who is "as qualified as anyone" to serve on the High Court.

But they acknowledged the appointment would attract criticism that the coalition was "packing" the bench with those with political ties to both parties.

Aspiring judges must apply to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, a body set up in 1995 to depoliticise the judicial appointment process.

Mr Mac Eochaidh (49) will fill a vacancy on the High Court arising from the appointment of Mr Justice John Mac Menamin to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Denham recently backed a recommendation that the system for the recruitment, selection and appointment of judges should be "independent of political influence".

Irish Independent

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