Fine Gael and Sinn Féin were accused of acting in “coalition” yesterday after they joined forces to stop a Fianna Fáil change to the Judicial Appointments Bill.
The two parties united at the Oireachtas Justice Committee to stop a Fianna Fáil motion on eligibility criteria as to who may apply to sit on a selection panel to choose judges into the future.
Fianna Fáil spokesman Jim O’Callaghan sought to amend the description of what a layperson is and how former practising barristers and solicitors could be adversely affected by the bill.
He forced a vote on the committee which tied 4-4, but chairman Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said as such the amendment was lost.
Sinn Féin voting with Fine Gael led Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin West Jack Chambers to tweet: “Sinn Féin and Fine Gael in coalition over judicial appointments at justice committee today… interesting times”.
At the meeting, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan rejected a host of Opposition amendments yesterday to the Judicial Appointments Bill, as they “cut across” the Programme for Government.
Appearing before the committee, which was discussing the bill, Mr Flanagan said the bill represents a “major piece of legislation” for the Coalition.
The bill has been a pet project of Independent Alliance Transport Minister Shane Ross.
Despite amendments being tabled by Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein and Independents, Mr Flanagan told committee members that he was not proposing any amendments to the bill.
He also said he was not willing to accept any amendment which altered the agreement within Government between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance.
“The Programme for Partnership Government commits to the establishment of a new Judicial Appointments Commission with an independent chair and a lay majority. That is exactly what this bill delivers,”
“The Government is not proposing any amendments at this stage. As minister, I will not be agreeing to any amendments which cut across the basic tenets of the Programme for Partnership Government commitment.”
Mr Flanagan said the bill was a response to what he called a “widespread belief” that reform of the judicial appointments process was necessary, despite comments from new Chief Justice Frank Clarke the model proposed is “not ideal”.
Mr Flanagan did express his appreciation for all of the work which deputies have clearly put into putting together the almost 200 amendments tabled.
The high number of amendments is likely to further delay the passage of the bill through the Oireachtas, despite it being made a priority by Leo Varadkar on his first day in office.
Fianna Fáil had proposed the appointment of a retired High Court or Supreme Court judge to chair the new appointments commission.
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