Three judicial appointments were only approved by Cabinet yesterday following “an almighty dust-up” between Fine Gael and Independent Alliance ministers, the Irish Examiner can reveal.
The appointments — one to the High Court and two at district court level — had been delayed for three weeks amid growing tensions within Government over the lack of progress in the passage of the Judicial Appointments Bill.
While the Independent Alliance had no issue with the new judges appointed, members are irate at the continuing delays in the passage of the bill, which has been in progress since 2016.
The bill is seeking to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, creating a commission with a lay majority and a lay chairperson. It also limits the number of nominees for a position to three to be put before government.
Transport Minister Shane 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.
It is understood that 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.
He is said to have demanded the introduction of the bill into the Dáil by next week or else a major crisis within Government would erupt.
“This is in the programme for government, this is also a big deal for the Independent Alliance and it needs to be acted upon,” Mr McGrath is said to have told his colleagues.
In response, Mr Flanagan reportedly said a number of amendments made at committee stage make the bill constitutionally problematic but that he is committed to seeing the bill through.
Confirming the stand-off, a government spokeswoman who represents the Independent Alliance said its support for future appointments is dependent on the progress of the bill.
“There was a delay in these appointments, that wasn’t an accident. There was a lot of back and forth between the Independent Alliance and the Department of Justice,” said the spokeswoman.
“It was nothing to do with the individuals involved, but rather to do with progress of the Judicial Appointments Bill. It has passed committee stage and is in Dáil report stage. But any future appointments will be dependent on the progress of this bill.
“From the [Independent Alliance] side, any further delays will be looked upon very seriously. Our support for future appointments cannot be taken for granted.
“In this instance, a very good case was put forward by the courts, so they have let it go through.”
Asked if Fine Gael was deliberately slowing the bill’s progress, a government spokeswoman for the party said “no”.
The Irish Examiner understands that senior counsel Denis McDonald is being appointed to the High Court while Geraldine Carthy and Mary Cashin have been appointed to the district courts.
The Judicial Appointments Bill has been the subject of much controversy and antagonism within Government since the first day of its existence in 2016. Mr Ross has staked a huge amount of his political capital in seeking its adoption.
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