Cabinet remain defiant over Máire Whelan selection amid 'election' threats

A defiant Leo Varadkar and his ministers are standing over the appointment of the former attorney general to a top judicial job despite mounting threats by Fianna Fáil to force a snap general election.

Cabinet members have called the opposition party’s bluff and insist no law or rule was broken in promoting lawyer Máire Whelan to the €180,000-a year Court of Appeal position.

The row over the judicial appointment will come before Cabinet tomorrow and ministers, including the former justice minister, Frances Fitzgerald, also face pressure to make Dáil statements about it.

However, the Taoiseach’s spokesman insisted last night that the appointment of Ms Whelan to the court would go ahead, despite ongoing criticism over how she was appointed and claims that it was “stroke politics”.

“He has committed to the appointment and it still stands,” said the spokesman.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said that, while it was understandable that people were asking questions, Ms Whelan should still take the role.

“I know Máire now for six years,” he said. “I think she is one of the top legal minds in the country. She has dealt with extraordinary difficult situations with the Government and in my view is excellent. And I think she is a suitable judge. And that is the job of government to make decisions on who should be judges and who shouldn’t be.”

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy also backed the appointment and said he understood that correct procedures were followed when she was nominated under the outgoing administration by Enda Kenny and his Cabinet last week.

Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring also told the Irish Examiner he approved of the appointment. Questions though have been raised about the manner in which Ms Whelan was appointed.

Her name for the position was brought before Cabinet by the new Tánaiste, Ms Fitzgerald, last week. No other candidates were considered or discussed by ministers.

Ms Whelan also remained at the Cabinet table during the brief discussion and approval for the position.

Furthermore, it has been widely reported and not denied by the Government that three judges had applied for the Court of Appeal job.

This would have been through the attorney general herself and it is not known if she had an interest in the job at the time. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board earlier this year also considered the vacancy in the court but later said that no suitable candidates could be found. There are a number of questions around how these events played out and what Ms Whelan knew about other candidates, wanting the role as well as what the former justice minister knew before she put the attorney general’s name forward last week.

Ms Fitzgerald yesterday stood over the appointment, which still must be ratified by the president and Supreme Court.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has now said that the judicial system has been “undermined” by the decision.

Furthermore, party TD and finance committee chairman John McGuinness threatened to force a general election, saying he was prepared to bring down the government and collapse the confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Mr Varadkar has responded to such threats saying such a move by Fianna Fail was up to them.

Sinn Féin, Independent, and Fianna Fáil TDs yesterday told RTÉ’s Week in Politics, the whole saga smacked of stroke politics and there were questions over the manner in which it was done.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar will be in London today for his first meeting with British prime minister Theresa May where the two will discuss ongoing developments with Brexit, as well the North.

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