By Daniel McConnell
Transport Minister Shane Ross' controversial bill to overhaul the appointment of judges is a “dog's dinner” and needs significant work to be viable, Attorney General Seamus Woulfe has said.
Mr Woulfe, speaking at an event in Dublin, has said the bill – which was the cause of a major row at Cabinet earlier this week – is in a poor state because of amendments made by Opposition TDs in committee stage.
Mr Woulfe said that many of the amendments made by the Opposition were “contradictory, inconsistent and unconstitutional.”
“Among a whole myriad of amendments which they made which make the bill a complete dog's dinner at the moment because a number of the amendments are contradictory, inconsistent and unconstitutional,” he said.
Tensions are escalating within Cabinet at the slow progress of the bill despite it being in the Programme for Government and a commitment from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that it would be fast-tracked.
As a result of the amendments made to the bill, Mr Woulfe indicated that Mr Ross' demands that the bill be introduced to the Dáil next week are very unlikely to be met.
“Therefore,” he said “it makes it a challenge to get the bill to report stage, very soon, very soon and tidy up all that. I am sure under new politics a deal will be done involving various government ministers and opposition parties and we await with interest over the next few days how that will pan out,” he said.
Mr Woulfe's address was about the role of the Attorney General and was saying how traditionally it has played an important role in the selection of judges.
But at committee stage, Opposition TDs voted to remove the Attorney General from the process which Mr Woulfe said was “an absolutely crazy thing to do”.
“The Attorney has a role in judicial appointments as being a link person with the bar and knowing the people, knowing the candidates and the judges. Under the new Judicial Appointments Bill, the Opposition decided to abolish me at committee stage by 5-3, to knock the Attorney out. Widely thought, not just because it is me, to be an absolutely crazy thing to do down in the legal system,” he said.
“Because hopefully the AG is a good link person, and knows something about the candidates. But 5-3 went the votes, including my good friend Jim O'Callaghan who voted along with Clare Daly and Mick Wallace and two others against the three Government people,” Mr Woulfe said.
As Attorney General, Mr Woulfe does not often speak in public and his comments are sure to be met with some shock and hostility by the Independent Alliance who are demanding swift movement on this bill.
A Fine Gael party supporter, he was appointed by Leo Varadkar last summer on becoming Taoiseach.
As revealed by the Irish Examiner, three judicial appointments were only approved by Cabinet last Tuesday following “an almighty dust-up” between Fine Gael and Independent Alliance ministers.
Mr Ross and super junior health minister Finian McGrath became embroiled in a heated row with colleagues, especially Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, according to sources, and threatened to block any further appointments unless the bill is pushed through the Dáil and Seanad.
Mr Ross, who is the chief sponsor of the bill, was “up in arms” over the delays, while Mr McGrath strongly reminded his Fine Gael colleagues it is a priority in the programme for government.
The Independent Alliance have said their support for the appointment of any future judges is dependent on progress on this bill and it cannot be guaranteed.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said work on the bill is progressing and should be back in the Dáil for enactment "within a few weeks."
The Government is fully committed to the Judicial Appointments Bill, according to a statement issued late by a Government spokesman.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke yesterday evening to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who proposed the bill, and also to the Attorney General.