Friday 15 December 2017

FF supporters 'champing at the bit' for election after judge row

Maire Whelan pictured at her Appointment as a Judge with President Michael D Higgins and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also pictured is back left Sec Gen to the President Art O’Leary Attorney General Seamus Woulfe and Sec Gen to the Government Martin Fraser in Aras an Uachtarain. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Maire Whelan pictured at her Appointment as a Judge with President Michael D Higgins and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also pictured is back left Sec Gen to the President Art O’Leary Attorney General Seamus Woulfe and Sec Gen to the Government Martin Fraser in Aras an Uachtarain. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Niall O'Connor, Philip Ryan and John Downing

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has been warned the party's grassroots are "champing at the bit" to bring down the Fine Gael-led Government.

Senior Fianna Fáil deputies have voiced serious concerns over the party's response to the controversial appointment of former attorney general Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

The appointment, which was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins on Monday, continues to cast a shadow over Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's first few days in office.

Mr Varadkar committed that new procedures would be put in place - and that no "under the arm" appointments will be brought to Cabinet.

But the controversy dominated yesterday's meeting of the Fianna Fáil bench, which heard claims from former defence minister Willie O'Dea that the appointment is in his view "illegal".

A number of other deputies also expressed deep concern about the party's response to the move, which was agreed during Enda Kenny's final Cabinet meeting last week.

Fianna Fáil's justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil's justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan. Photo: Tom Burke

It was claimed at the meeting TDs are "getting it in the neck" from supporters who are "champing at the bit" to have a general election.

Mr Martin and the party's justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan spoke at length, warning against going to the polls on the issue.

According to sources, Mr O'Callaghan said the party was obliged to raise concerns over the issue but this did not mean forcing an election.

At the weekend, he claimed the appointment represented a breach of the 'confidence and supply' arrangement.

Mr Martin did, however, tell the meeting in Leinster House that Ms Whelan's appointment had "eroded trust".

Party TD Barry Cowen told his colleagues the issue "is not going away".

The handling of Ms Whelan's appointment also dominated discussions at Cabinet.

Read more - Taoiseach: We're not on the brink of an election over judge appointment

Mr Varadkar pledged to ministers that the legislation providing for an independent judicial appointments commission will be passed before the summer recess.

In a statement last night, the Independent Alliance said: "This new legislation will ensure that politics will be almost completely removed from all future judicial appointments."

During his first 'Leader's Questions' as Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar rejected a report that said he had put pressure on the President to ratify the appointment.

The Taoiseach was lambasted, however, after suggesting the Dáil should not even be discussing the matter of the appointment of judges.

Mr Martin dismissed the Taoiseach's arguments, saying: "You, Taoiseach, have already embroiled the judiciary in controversy. This was an insider appointment and it stinks."

Responding, Mr Varadkar cited several previous appointments made at times when Mr Martin himself was a Cabinet member.

These included Judge Frank Clarke to the High Court, and barristers Adrian Hardiman and Donal O'Donnell who were made Supreme Court judges without being judges of a lower court. The Taoiseach also mentioned former attorney general John Murray who was directly appointed a European Court judge.

Mr Martin replied: "With the greatest of respect, Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke, is no Adrian Hardiman, and is no Donal O'Donnell."

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Also in this section