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Varadkar knew of Woulfe application as Martin insists it was 'no big deal'

 

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New role as judge: Former attorney general Séamus Woulfe. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

New role as judge: Former attorney general Séamus Woulfe. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

New role as judge: Former attorney general Séamus Woulfe. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Former attorney general Séamus Woulfe told Tánaiste Leo Varadkar shortly after the General Election in February that he was applying to be a Supreme Court judge, it has emerged.

The news of Mr Varadkar's knowledge of the application comes as the Taoiseach Micheál Martin insisted there was "no big deal" about appointing Mr Woulfe to the Supreme Court amid criticism of the move last night.

The Government appointed the long-time Fine Gael member and barrister to the State's highest court on Wednesday following a recommendation by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) - 18 days after Mr Woulfe's term as attorney general ended.

Mr Martin said Mr Woulfe's name was the only one recommended by JAAB and the only one brought to Cabinet by Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

The Irish Independent has learned Mr Woulfe applied to the JAAB in the days after the General Election in February and informed the then Taoiseach of his application.

Mr Varadkar's spokesman said last night: "Séamus Woulfe informed the Tánaiste following the election in February that he intended to make an application to JAAB.

"He asked Mr Woulfe to stay on as attorney general for the remainder of the Government, and informed him that he'd have to apply to JAAB in the normal way and be recommended by that independent body before any new Government could consider appointing him."

Mr Woulfe did not attend the JAAB meeting where his application was considered by the panel.

JAAB recommended Mr Woulfe for appointment to the court at the beginning of March and, it is understood, did not put forward any other names.

In line with precedent, the outgoing Government did not make any decisions on judicial appointments before it left office, while Mr Woulfe continued in the role as attorney general until the new Government was formed on June 27 - when senior counsel and former attorney general Paul Gallagher was appointed in his place.

Mr Woulfe is understood not to have had any conversations with Mr Martin prior to his appointment, which was approved by Cabinet on Wednesday evening following a memo from Ms McEntee, who later informed Mr Woulfe he had been appointed by phone.

Speaking at Stormont yesterday, Mr Martin said: "It's an appointment made independently of Government, the recommendation came to this Government, we weren't going to interfere with a decision of JAAB as it's termed."

He added that there "was no big deal about this".

However, Independent TD Michael McNamara accused Mr Martin of "hypocrisy" after it was pointed out that he had previously criticised the appointment of former attorney general Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

Mr McNamara said: "The Taoiseach needs to clarify whether Mr Woulfe applied for the job, whether the job was advertised and why the level of his hyperbole in opposition appears to be matched only by the level of his hypocrisy in Government."

Irish Independent