Wednesday 22 November 2017

Revealed: judges and their links to political parties

One-third had connections before being appointed

Justice Minister Alan Shatter:
Enda Kenny: election pledge to end political patronage

Dearbhail McDonald and Cormac McQuinn

A THIRD of the country's judges had personal or political connections to political parties before being appointed to the bench, an investigation by the Irish Independent reveals.

Some 56 of the 168 judicial appointments made since 1995 were found to have had such connections.

They were each appointed after the introduction of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) -- an agency designed to take judicial nominations out of the political arena. In the majority of cases, the judge's links were to one or other of the parties who were in government at the time their appointment was made -- or were relatives of leading political figures.

The revelations will fuel calls for reform of the system for selection of judges, where the Cabinet picks appointments from a list supplied by the JAAB whose recommendations the Government may legally ignore.

Already this year five out of six judges appointed by the Fine Gael/Labour government were found to have close links to one or other of the coalition partners.

Today two new District Court judges, both of whom have strong links to the coalition partners, will make their declarations before the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court.

The new judges include Taoiseach Enda Kenny's four-time running mate and former Fine Gael senator, Patrick Durcan, and barrister Grainne Malone.

Mrs Malone is a sister of former lord mayor of Dublin, Labour councillor Emer Costello, who is married to Labour TD Joe Costello. She is also a sister of Labour senator Mary Moran, who was nominated by Mr Kenny to the upper house.

Solicitor Michael Coghlan, a former election agent for Labour MEP Nessa Childers -- whose nomination to the bench was announced on the same day as Judges Durcan and Malone -- will make his declarations as a District Court judge at a later date.

The trio were appointed after the referendum allowing for cuts to judges' pay. However, as the relevant legislation has yet to be made law, they will earn €12,000-a-year more than District Court judges appointed after the new pay laws are introduced.

The country's two newest High Court judges, who also have political connections, will be spared a €20,000 a year pay cut as they were appointed before the referendum on judges' pay.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter last night defended how each of these appointments was made and the impartiality of the judges involved.

"Involvement in democratic politics by an individual or by an individual's family members should not and can not render an eligible individual ineligible for judicial appointment," he said in a statement.

"The Government has taken very seriously its responsibility to nominate for appointment persons of impeccable character with relevant experience."

However, Mr Shatter confirmed a wide-ranging review of the current system was being undertaken by the Department of Justice to examine whether there was a better way to select judicial appointments.

Political patronage

The Irish Independent conducted the survey of judges' political links in the wake of criticism that the Fine Gael/Labour government had installed large numbers of people with party links to state boards. This was despite pre-election pledges to end the system of political patronage. The survey reveals the type of connection many members of the judiciary have to political parties.

These include judges who held or ran for political office, judges who were former party activists, or who were connected through family or marriage to political dynasties.

Last night Independent senator Shane Ross, who served in the Seanad with Judge Durcan, said that all appointments to the bench and state boards should be removed from the political arena, with nominees interviewed and ratified by an Oireachtas committee.

Irish Independent

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