Judge appointment dominates Cabinet

The controversial appointment of Maire Whelan to the Court of Appeal dominated Leo Varadkar’s first Cabinet meeting as Taoiseach.

The Government’s top civil servant is to lead a review into how the Cabinet operates including the appointment of Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

Amid growing anger and frustration at the number of memos being brought to the Cabinet at the last minute, Martin Fraser, secretary general to the Government, is to conduct a review of how memos are handled in advance of Cabinet meetings.

Following Ms Whelan’s appointment, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has requested that the review take place, but some have raised surprise that Mr Fraser has been tasked with it given that he sits at the Cabinet table and was present when Ms Whelan’s nomination was approved by the Government last week.

At a briefing for political correspondents, it was confirmed that the review will be conducted in the coming weeks but no specific deadline for conclusion was stated.

“As part of a new process, this appointment to the Court of Appeal will be reviewed,” it was stated.

“The process is being reviewed at the behest of the Taoiseach and by no better man than Martin Fraser, who is answerable to Government,” reporters were told.

“With the introduction of a new Taoiseach, doing a review of processes with new people at the Cabinet table is entirely appropriate, but that is not to say what went before there was anything wrong,” it was stated at the briefing.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, senior government sources and several ministers have acknowledged their concern in flagging commercially sensitive issues too far in advance, in case they leak. However, most acknowledged that a workable mechanism must be found to share information on such proposals in advance, rather than only alerting ministers on the day of the cabinet meeting.

“Things are dicey enough without these sort of surprises. We are all a bit annoyed at the level of leaking but this thing of bringing memos under the arm as a matter of course is not one. It is supposed to be exceptional,” said one minister.

Despite mounting complaints about the level of leaking from the Cabinet table, the issue of Cabinet confidentiality has been “emphasised” in recent days since the changeover of Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar’s spokesman also defended the appointments of junior ministers and the decision to reduce the number of women at ministerial level, saying that Fine Gael was the party that introduced gender quotas.

“Criticisms about the lack of female ministers are unfair; we are the party which did more for female representation than anyone else,” said the spokesman.

He said ministers were appointed on merit and rejected suggestions that loyalists to Mr Varadkar were preferred over other candidates for promotion.

The issue of salary rises for super junior minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor was deemed not to be a key priority and no legislation will be fast-tracked to regularise her salary alongside other super junior ministers.


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