Wednesday 22 November 2017

Major row as Fine Gael and Independent Alliance clash on abortion and judges

Mr Ross has demanded that no more judges be appointed. Picture by Fergal Phillips
Mr Ross has demanded that no more judges be appointed. Picture by Fergal Phillips
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Just days into the new Dáil term, Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance are at loggerheads over the appointment of judges and an upcoming abortion bill.

A major row developed between the Government partners yesterday over the filling of vacancies in the judiciary.

Independent Minister Katherine Zappone will oppose the bill. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent Minister Katherine Zappone will oppose the bill. Photo: Tom Burke

The dispute centres on a demand by Alliance Minister Shane Ross that no more judges be appointed until the establishment of an independent appointments commission. The commission, which is laid down in the Programme for Government, may not be up and running until late next year.

But speaking in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it was unacceptable that there would be no judges appointed until the commission is set up.

"I would put it to you that any government that is incapable of appointing judges is a dysfunctional government. And you need to rectify that, Taoiseach, very, very quickly indeed," Mr Martin said.

But Mr Kenny denied the Alliance was blocking the Government from making judicial appointments, adding that any necessary appointments will be made.

Mr Martin suggested that senior judicial figures had appealed to the Taoiseach to fill the vacancies - but Mr Kenny's spokesman last night said there was no correspondence to support this claim.

The issue has now led to serious tensions between Fine Gael and the Alliance.

At a media briefing, the Taoiseach's spokesman said Mr Kenny would fill judicial position if it was a matter of urgency and insisted any "responsible" head of state would do the same.

However, a spokeswoman for the Alliance said there is an "agreement" with Fine Gael that no judicial appointments will be made.

Asked about the prospect of appointments being made in the meantime, she replied: "It wouldn't please the Independent Alliance because they had an agreement".

Legislation for a judicial appointments body is currently at pre-legislative scrutiny phase but a government spokesman yesterday said he expected it to be passed into law before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the Alliance yesterday reaffirmed its position that it will seek a free vote in relation to a bill being tabled by TDs Ruth Coppinger and Bríd Smith.

The bill proposed to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the rights of the mother and the unborn.

The matter is currently being examined by a citizen's convention. During a vote on a similar bill in July, three members of the Alliance broke ranks with the Government - much to the dismay of Fine Gael.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach yesterday said the circumstances are now different because the Citizens' Assembly is currently up and running.

The spokesman Mr Kenny wants to see a "maximised consensus" but would not say whether he would demand collective Cabinet responsibility.

At a meeting of the Alliance in Leinster House, it was agreed that they would once again seek a free vote.

"They are insisting on a free vote as is their principle on votes of conscience," a source told the Irish Independent. Independent Minister Katherine Zappone will oppose the bill.

Irish Independent

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