Leo Varadkar expects Fianna Fáil to delay judicial bill further

The Judicial Appointments Bill risks not being passed until after October, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has signalled.

Mr Varadkar warned he expects the delayed legislation to be held up further by Fianna Fáil.

It had been hoped the legislation, strongly pushed by Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross, would be passed before the Dáil’s summer break.

Protracted debate on the bill — which would see judges selected by a board chaired by a lay member — put an end to those hopes.

“Any delay isn’t our delay, we would have this through already if we could but we don’t control the majority in the Oireachtas, so obviously we have to debate amendments and have votes on amendments,” said Mr Varadkar.

“If there were no amendments, we would have it through in the second week in October, I think perhaps Jim O’Callaghan [Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman] may put down a few amendments and obviously that would be the cause of any delay and not the lack of commitment on behalf of the Government.

“But we respect the fact that we don’t have a majority in the Dáil and we will have to deal with those amendments.”

Mr Varadkar denied the delay in passing the bill had put a strain on relations with the Independent Alliance.

During a briefing with media in Government Buildings, Mr Varadkar said: “My relationship with Shane Ross and the Independent Alliance, Finian [McGrath], and others, is actually extremely good and I am really pleased that we have managed to develop a really good relationship.

“The Government is absolutely committed to that legislation, to the Judicial Appointments Bill. It is Government legislation — the original idea and motivation may have come from the Independent Alliance but it’s our legislation. It has been brought through as government legislation by Charlie Flanagan.”

Separately, Mr Varadkar laid out a timeline to hold up to nine referendums over the next two years.

“The windows that we have in mind is around June or July of next year; another set in November at the same time as the presidential election; and another set in May or June 2019 at the same time as the local and European elections.

“Once we have those dates agreed by Cabinet, ministers can get on with the business of putting in place the necessary legislation.”

It is likely a vote on repealing the Eighth Amendment would be among the first issues determined. Mr Varadkar said there is a “very clear” process in place on the eighth amendment.

“We had the citizens’ assembly, they have made their recommendations; the Oireachtas committee is now established to study those recommendations and to make a recommendation to the Government, to the Oireachtas, as to what we should do next.

“And if the Oireachtas committee recommends that there be a referendum and legislation, then Government will do that and we will put in place the timeline, the pathway, as necessary to hold a referendum next year.”

Mr Varadkar said Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and the attorney general will be working over the summer to introduce a tax on vacant property.

“We have to make sure that anything that we do around a vacant house tax or vacant house levy or something along those lines doesn’t get struck down by the courts on the basis that we’re interfering with property rights.

“But property rights in Ireland are not absolute. They are limited by the public interest. So we will be balancing property rights with the public interest,” he said.

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