Friday 24 November 2017

Opposition fury at handling of ex-AG's court appointment

Máire Whelan: Stayed in room as appointment was discussed
Máire Whelan: Stayed in room as appointment was discussed
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Attorney General Máire Whelan did not leave the Cabinet room while ministers discussed her appointment to the second highest court in the country, it has been learned.

The Government is facing a major backlash over the manner in which Ms Whelan was nominated as a judge in the Court of Appeal.

Fianna Fáil has said the way she was given the lucrative job "stinks" and intends to raise the issue with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when the Dáil resumes next week. Independent Minister Denis Naughten has also expressed concern saying the move came as a surprise to him.

Ms Whelan was selected as Attorney General by the Labour Party when it entered coalition with Fine Gael in 2011 and was retained after last year's General Election.

However, Mr Varadkar has now appointed a barrister with strong Fine Gael links, Seamus Woulfe, to the position.

At Enda Kenny's last Cabinet meeting as Taoiseach on Tuesday it was proposed to allow Ms Whelan fill a vacancy in the Court of Appeal.

A decision was taken even though she was not put through the normal screening process.

And it has now emerged that up to three High Court judges had expressed an interest in the job.

In the Dáil on Wednesday Transport Minister Shane Ross, who has vehemently criticised the judicial appointments process, was forced to deny he allowed the nomination go through as a trade-off for the Government approving the reopening of Stepaside Garda station in his constituency.

"When I learnt about it [Ms Whelan's nomination] there was no conversation about Stepaside Garda station. There has been no link of any sort between the two," he said.

A spokesperson for Mr Ross said he expressed unhappiness at Cabinet with the way in which Ms Whelan was being appointed but "went with it".

Ms Whelan's tenure was marked by a number of controversies - most notably the Fennelly Commission report which made implicit criticism of her, pointing out she "presented an alarming picture" of phone tapping in Garda stations.

However, Mr Kenny stood by Ms Whelan and defended her position when calls were made for her resignation.

Fianna Fáil's Thomas Byrne said the appointment "will carry with it the stain of original sin for the entire length of the rest of the Taoiseach's term, one for which I wonder if there will be any redemption".

Independents4Change Clare Daly used Dáil privilege this week to say Ms Whelan "is probably the worst Attorney General in the history of the State".

Irish Independent

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