Thursday 17 October 2019

Senators told to sit late to speed up 'Ross Bill'

Ex-attorney general: Michael McDowell described the bill as a ‘solution in search of a problem’. Picture: Collins
Ex-attorney general: Michael McDowell described the bill as a ‘solution in search of a problem’. Picture: Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The Government wants senators to sit until the early hours next week in a bid to make progress on controversial legislation to reform how judges are appointed.

It is proposed the Seanad should stay in session until 1am on Wednesday amid efforts to end one of the longest-­running legislative debates in Irish history.

But the move is likely to be opposed by a group of senators, led by former attorney general Michael McDowell, who argue there are other more pressing issues such as reform of the personal injuries regime.

The passing of the Judicial Appointments Bill is one of the conditions set down by Transport Minister Shane Ross in return for his support of the minority Fine Gael administration.

However, it falls under the remit of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who told the Irish Independent is available to sit late into the night to help progress the bill. A filibuster has seen the Seanad debate drag on for more than 88 hours already.

Mr McDowell described the legislation as "a solution in search of a problem". The bill proposes to establish a new body with a lay chairperson to select judges for appointment.

Mr McDowell, a former justice minister, said the Government should fast-track forthcoming legislation dealing with compensation claims rather than judicial appointments.

"Instead of the Judicial Council Bill being dealt with as a matter of urgency so that guidelines in personal injuries can be brought forward, the Government is being forced against the wishes of most Fine Gael TDs and senators to proceed with the Ross Bill," he said.

Leader of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer said the Judicial Appointments' Bill "has to be a priority".

"We have given it an inordinate amount of the time. The Government has decided to table it for Tuesday night to see how far we can progress," he said.

The Judicial Council Bill, which deals with sentencing laws and personal injuries cases, is also due before the Seanad in the coming days.

It is expected to get broad cross-party support - but will be carefully scrutinised in light of the recent public focus on compensation culture.

The bill will allow for the creation of a seven-judge panel who will set new figures for awards in personal injury cases.

Fine Gael has been under huge pressure over the issue as a result of cases taken by two Dublin TDs, Maria Bailey and Alan Farrell. Ms Bailey dropped her claim against a hotel which was prompted by a fall from a swing.

A barrister recruited by Fine Gael to investigate the full facts around the case was expected to report back to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week.

However, sources now say it could be up to another fortnight before his report is complete.

Irish Independent

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