Saturday 24 February 2018

Noonan defends lobbying minister to have solicitor appointed judge

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan lobbied former Justice Minister Michael McDowell to have a "very well-regarded solicitor" appointed to the bench.

Mr Noonan -- who last night defended the move -- was one of a number of high-profile TDs, including former ministers and backbenchers, who made representations for judicial appointments to the Circuit and District courts.

The Fine Gael TD said that representations -- such as those he made in 2005 -- "allow the minister to make a selection from the widest field possible".

But he insisted that no judge was appointed on foot of a representation made on his or her behalf because the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB), an independent body that advises the Government on the suitability of judicial candidates, was established in 1995.

Mr Noonan states in the letter -- released to the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act -- that he is "not sure if it is appropriate for me to recommend" the unnamed male solicitor.

But he requested that the letter be put before the advisory body when they were assessing the suitability of the solicitor. The solicitor's name has been erased by the Department of Justice.

The department has also refused to release details of other people -- including lawyers and judges -- who made similar representations.

As well as Mr Noonan, former Fianna Fail ministers Willie O'Dea, Dick Roche, John O'Donoghue and former Chief Whip Tom Kitt all lobbied Mr McDowell or former justice minister Dermot Ahern to have unidentified lawyers appointed as judges between 2004 and 2008.

Ex TDs Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Noel Grealish, Fiona O'Malley, as well as senator Feargal Quinn, also made representations. There is currently no law banning lobbying by public representatives.

Independent Senator John Crown has called for laws to be introduced to criminalise the lobbying on behalf of potential judges by TDs and councillors.

The revelations come as Justice Minister Alan Shatter has ordered a comprehensive review of the judicial appointments procedure.

The letters show how public representatives lobbied the two justice ministers despite the establishment of the JAAB. The JAAB was established as a direct response to the political controversy over the appointment in 1994 of former Attorney General Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court.

It was designed to remove political interference from the judicial appointment process, but the ultimate decision of who gets to become a judge is the exclusive preserve of the Government.


Whelehan's appointment was opposed by the Labour Party because of the controversial handling of the arrest and extradition of paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth -- while Whelehan was AG -- which led to the collapse of the Albert Reynolds-led coalition. Mr Whelehan stepped down as High Court President after just six days.

Despite the establishment of JAAB, ministers and backbenchers continued to make representations to successive justice ministers.

Last night the Irish Council of Civil Liberties called on the Government to introduce transparency to the judicial appointment process.

"Judges must not only be, but be seen to be, wholly independent and impartial," said executive director Mark Kelly.

Irish Independent

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