Thursday 14 December 2017

FF accuses FG of cronyism as Leo faces first crisis

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: PA News
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: PA News

Niall O'Connor and Shane Phelan

Leo Varadkar is facing his first major crisis as Taoiseach after Fianna Fáil threatened to withdraw support for the Government over what it described as "stroke politics".

Fianna Fáil is adamant that Máire Whelan's controversial appointment to the Court of Appeal this week "stinks to the high heavens" and amounts to a clear example of cronyism.

Senior figures close to party leader Micheál Martin last night told the Irish Independent that the move represents a clear breach of the Confidence and Supply Arrangement that is keeping the Government afloat.

But Mr Varadkar moved to defend the decision taken at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, insisting that the former attorney general has an "outstanding legal mind".

As the row over Ms Whelan's appointment threatens the stability of the Government, it emerged:

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was aware that three other judges had expressed an interest in the post.

Fine Gael and Independent ministers lashed out at the Tánaiste for keeping the Cabinet "in the dark".

The Independent Alliance said it wanted a review into Ms Whelan's appointment.

There is growing speculation within political circles that Ms Whelan may decide to step aside as a result of the controversy.

While there is consensus that Ms Whelan's appointment was completely legal, even senior Fine Gael figures admitted it had painted the Government in a damaging light.

The Department of Justice dodged questions on the controversy last night, insisting that the process of promoting judges is protected by a confidentiality clause enshrined in law.

But in a statement, Mr Varadkar indicated the Government was to forge ahead with the appointment, which could be finalised within two weeks.

"I am satisfied that the correct procedures were followed," Mr Varadkar said.

"Under Article 13.9 of the Constitution the Government and only the Government can appoint judges. The Tánaiste recommended Máire Whelan to Cabinet as the stand-out person for the vacancy."

The Taoiseach said he reviewed the Confidence and Supply Arrangement and he did not believe there had been any breach.

But Fianna Fáil figures pointed out that the arrangement states there should be no "surprises" between the two parties.

"This was a surprise even to members of Cabinet", said one senior figure.

Publicly, front bench Fianna Fáil were scathing of the move.The party's jobs spokesman Niall Collins said the appointment "stinks to the high heavens" and called on Ms Whelan not to accept the role while questions remain unanswered.

Justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan told RTÉ's 'Today with Seán O'Rourke' programme the nomination should be withdrawn.

"It is now a significant political issue and if we can't find answers to the questions raised, then the nomination must be revoked," he said.

Last night, Independent Alliance Ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath said they wanted the process behind the appointment reviewed.

Mr McGrath clarified that the proposed review means "implementing in full the bill on judicial appointments quickly to prevent these problems (reoccurring)". He said he had "total confidence" in Ms Whelan.

Mr Ross claims he was the only minister to voice concern at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, chaired by Enda Kenny. Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin suggested the appointment was part of a deal that involved Stepaside garda station being reopened in Mr Ross's constituency. However, Mr Ross has denied any link between the two events.

Irish Independent

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