Friday 15 December 2017

O'Callaghan denies conflict of interest over the changes to way judges are appointed

Jim O’Callaghan speaking to the media outside Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Jim O’Callaghan speaking to the media outside Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan has denied his work as a barrister means he has a conflict of interest in relation to proposed changes to the way judges are appointed.

The Dublin Bay South deputy, who continues to work as a senior counsel in the courts despite being elected as a TD last year, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the new Judicial Appointments Commission, which will have a lay majority and a lay chair.

However, his legal work is not relevant to his criticism of what he has described as "illogical".

"My job is as a barrister, and I've never hidden the fact I'd remain a barrister as well as being a public representative," said Mr O'Callaghan.

"My job as a barrister is to represent the interest of a client on the basis of whatever their instructions are in accordance with the law. I've no conflict of interest in respect of it."

He said that many "decent members of Fine Gael" were not supportive of the plan but felt obliged to back the Government.

Mr O'Callaghan said the reform was part of a deal made at a time when Fine Gael would have "drained the Shannon" to remain in power.

While the Transport Minister Shane Ross is the driving force behind the bill, it was brought before the Dáil by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan last night.

Fianna Fáil will oppose the bill but it is supported by Sinn Féin meaning that it is likely to progress through the Dáil.

Read More: Flanagan offers olive branch to end Government's row with judiciary

"It always surprised me that Fine Gael claimed to be supportive of this bill. I can see why Shane Ross is supporting it. He's mentioned it for a number of years. I understand in a way why Sinn Féin is supporting it, but I could never understand why Fine Gael was supporting it," Mr O'Callaghan said.

"Part of the reason must be that at the time it was agreed with the former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fine Gael would have agreed to drain the Shannon in order to get back into government.

"I think most decent members of Fine Gael are not supportive of this proposal."

He said the Government had failed to explain why it was reducing the judicial influence over appointments.

"It's never been explained why there has been a reduction in relation to the judiciary on this and a contrast in the increase in lay people," Mr O'Callaghan said.

At a minimum, Fianna Fáil wants the Chief Justice to chair the new commission and that the presidents of the five main courts sit on it.

This was echoed by former Supreme Court judge and president of the Law Reform Commission Catherine McGuinness yesterday, who told RTÉ Radio that not appointing the Chief Justice as chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission was a "deliberate kick in the teeth" that says "you're not good enough".

However, Government sources said this issue was "not up for debate".

Read More: Fine Gael's alliance with Ross and Sinn Féin risks enraging its lawyer supporters

During last night's Dáil debate, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the new system was being pushed for "shoddy reasons to sustain this Government in office".

"I don't believe that it would be this bill that would be advocated by Fine Gael in any other circumstances," he said, adding that the party of Collins and Cosgrave was being assisted by a party that in the past had an unusual view of the courts.

Sinn Féin's Jonathan O'Brien said his party was not offering "unqualified support".

Irish Independent

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