The Government has been accused of “deliberately deciding to evade the law” by appointing Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.
During a debate on the issue, it was claimed the Government was guilty of “circumventing the law”, while questions were also raised as to why Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had a telephone conversation with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin about the position.
Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan told the Dáil the promotion was “grossly unfair” on other individuals who had applied for the post.
“Not only were correct procedures not followed but fair procedures were not followed,” he said, pointing to the fact Ms Whelan was in the room as Cabinet signed off on her nomination.
“The Government deliberately decided to evade the law; they circumvented the law and that is why it is laughable for the Government to suggest that they followed correct procedures.”
Mr O’Callaghan pointed to 1995 when the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) was established and other significant reforms were introduced in the wake of a similar controversy.
He said that in the intervening 22 years, hundreds of appointments had gone through the JAAB system except for two.
“Yesterday’s appointment was unique as it was an attorney general appointed to judicial office. Do we not remember that the reason that we got into political controversy back in 1995? Because it was an attorney general that sought office,” he said.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who was justice minister when the appointment was made, told the Dáil that Ms Whelan “does not deserve to have her character questioned in this House”.
“I have six years’ experience of working with Máire Whelan as attorney general. She is a talented lawyer and a person of the highest integrity and qualities,” she said.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he hoped the new Judicial Appointments Bill would be expedited through the Oireachtas.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said there was no suggestion the appointment was unconstitutional and there was no need “to go off on a wild goose chase in that regard”. She said the Government had “circumvented the law”.
Ms McDonald then turned to a phone conversation between Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin on Sunday, during which Mr Martin expressed concern over Ms Whelan’s suitability.
“We want an explanation from Government as to why An Taoiseach was having conversations with the leader of Fianna Fáil on the matter of appointment to the bench,” said Ms McDonald.
“We want to hear from Micheál Martin who was all consumed and concerned about adherence to the law and to the Constitution, how and why he imagines he has a special prerogative to lean on Government in any way to influence such an appointment.”
Labour leader Brendan Howlin asked that a line be drawn under the matter to ensure appropriate legislation is passed once and for all.
He said there was “a stench of political opportunism” from Mr Martin, adding that “it has become embarrassing to hear Fianna Fáil’s successive claims of outrage” over the matter.
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