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Thursday 22 February 2018

Varadkar: 'Politicians and judges alike need to respect separation of powers'

Taoiseach Leo Veradkar visits Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh Dublin to mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan. (Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos)
Taoiseach Leo Veradkar visits Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh Dublin to mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan. (Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos)

Robin Schiller and Shane Phelan

The Taoiseach has hit back in the simmering row over judicial appointments, warning their judges must keep their noses out of Government business.

As the heated debate over separation of powers continues, Leo Varadkar responded to criticism from senior judges including the Chief Justice and President of the High Court.

But Mr Varadkar’s claim that "respect" for the separation of powers must go ways risks escalating the ongoing stand-off which has put a rift between Government and judiciary.

The two sides have become embroiled in a series of exchanges which centre on the separation of powers and the new Judicial Appointments Bill.

President of the High Court, Justice Peter Kelly, criticised the new legislation which will see an independent committee set up in relation to judicial nominations.

Mr Justice Kelly described the proposed legislation as "ill informed" and "ill advised", while the Chief Justice Mary Denham has criticised the Government on the separation of powers.

Chief Justice Susan Denham spoke pointedly about the separation of powers amid the fallout of former Attorney General Máire Whelan’s appointment to the Court of Appeal.

But responding yesterday Mr Varadkar said: "I’m conscious of the separation of powers that exists between the Oireachtas and the judiciary and am minded of the Chief Justice’s comments on that very matter only last week.

"I think that really has to apply in both directions and I think that judges and politicians need to respect the separation of powers to ensure there is a decent distance between the judiciary and the Oireachtas."

He added that the Judicial Appointments Bill has the backing of the Government. "It will bring about a major reform in the way judges are appointed in Ireland. It will be much more transparent and it will also be ensuring that all appointments go through the new appointments board, which isn’t and hasn’t been the case in the past."

The Taoiseach was speaking at the Clonskeagh Mosque in Dublin at the beginning of Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Much of the current controversy stems from the appointment of Ms Whelan to the Court of Appeal which was described as "stroke politics".

Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath has also warned that any further controversies involving Fine Gael could lead to an early general election. "We can’t afford for any more examples like this to emerge or else inevitably we will be moving towards a general election if that were to take place.

"We don’t believe it’s necessary," Mr McGrath told RTÉ’s ‘The Week in Politics’.

It has also emerged a number of other senior judges have privately expressed alarm at the new Bill and the fact its passage through the Oireachtas will be accelerated.

One told the Irish Independent he believed it would be "a serious mistake" to relegate the Chief Justice to a simple membership role of a proposed new board that will advise the Government on appointments.

"Why would you construct a board where the most experienced person is relegated to a mere supporting role?" he asked.

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