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Sunday 25 February 2018

Whelan move clears the way for FG to choose new Attorney General

Máire Whelan Photo: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie
Máire Whelan Photo: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Attorney General Máire Whelan SC is set to become a judge of the Court of Appeal, paving the way for a new Fine Gael appointment.

Although initially a Labour appointee, she had a good working relationship with Enda Kenny, which was said to have been a major factor in her reappointment last year.

But she has also been criticised over advice given to the outgoing Taoiseach over the garda phone recording scandal.

Speculation regarding her replacement has centred on Frank Callanan SC, a Fine Gael trustee who is seen as a strong supporter of Mr Varadkar.

Also regarded as a front runner is Seamus Woulfe SC, a Fine Gael member who has represented the party in legal proceedings in the past

A third name being mentioned in legal circles is Patrick Leonard SC, who is regarded as being close to junior minister Eoghan Murphy.

Mr Murphy was director of Mr Varadkar's campaign for the leadership of Fine Gael.

Sources said Mr Varadkar had not confided his intentions to ministerial colleagues.

In a statement, the Government said it has taken the necessary steps to formally advise President Michael D Higgins of the nomination to the Court of Appeal.

Ms Whelan's move to the bench now fills the vacancy left by the retirement of Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan in March.

Ms Whelan's time as Attorney General was not without controversy.

Her position was undermined in 2016 when Transport Minister Shane Ross said he would vote in favour of a private members bill on fatal foetal abnormalities, despite advice from Ms Whelan that the proposed bill was unconstitutional. Mr Ross said the Attorney General's advice was "simply an opinion".

Ms Whelan's position had been regarded as being shaky in the aftermath of the Fennelly report on the use of recording equipment in garda stations.

The report made implicit criticism of her, pointing out that she "presented an alarming picture" that left Mr Kenny "shocked".

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

Irish Independent

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