Wednesday 20 November 2019

Justice Minister denies deal with Sinn Fein saying 'this is new politics in action'

Minister Charlie Flanagan
Minister Charlie Flanagan

Laura Larkin and Wayne O'Connor

THE Minister for Justice has denied the Government struck a deal with Sinn Fein in order to push through the controversial Judicial Appointments bill.

The bill is back in the Dail this week as the Government seek support on around 100 amendments to ensure the final legislation is workable.

Sinn Fein has agreed to support the legislation in exchange for changes to sentencing guidelines for judges.

Speaking on the News at One Minister Flanagan denied that there was a deal and said the minority government must work with people from all parties and none to promote its legislative agenda.

There is “no question of a deal” between the two parties, but rather “gross exaggeration and not a little bit of political point scoring”, he said.

On the issue of sentencing there was a “meeting of minds” on the issue of guidelines for judges and he said the proposal came from the Justice Committee, which is chaired by Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

“I did it arising out of work at a committee, there is a Sinn Fein chair of the committee, I don’t have the numbers to carry legislation. I am reliant on people of all parties and none.

“As it happens there was something of a meeting of minds on this important issue. I don’t expect anything from Sinn Fein,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said this is “new politics in action”.

“It doesn’t always work out in the way that I would like every day but I’m confident that I’ll get this right,” he said.

The Minister dismissed the Fianna Fail criticism that he was not committed to the bill, which was part of a deal made in 2016 to ensure the support of Shane Ross, as “laughable political banter”.

“I had some difficulties with the bill but this is not a Shane Ross proposal this is a government bill. I’m introducing it for and on behalf of my government colleagues and it’s government policy, simple as that,” he said.

Under the new system, the role of politicians in selecting judges will be more limited. Although the Cabinet will sign off on all appointments, a shortlist will be put forward by a board consisting of a lay majority. Mr Ross has repeatedly claimed many judges got their posts because they were the “friends or cronies” of politicians.

A key Government amendment which would put the committee membership at 17 and not 13 failed last night and the Dail was suspended amid confusion over whether a lay majority could be guaranteed with 13 members.

Speaking today Mr O Laoghaire said Sinn Fein backed both reforms and said that is why the party “sought and secured this commitment on sentencing guidelines”.

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