The Taoiseach has been forced to defend controversial proposed changes to how judges are appointed — claiming they follow best international practice.
Fianna Fáil and the presidents of the five courts have all voiced concerns about the Judicial Appointments Bill which would introduce a lay chairperson and a lay majority to the commission which selects judges.
Speaking in the Dáil, Leo Varadkar claimed the bill, which has been strongly pushed by Transport Minister Shane Ross, would implement a “modern” system used both in the private and public sectors as well as in other countries.
“The rationale behind the bill is threefold,” he said. “We want these appointments to be less political in the future, we want them to be more transparent, and we do not want any profession to be self-regulating or self-appointing.”
Mr Varadkar argued that having a lay chairperson is not unusual and pointed to England and Scotland, where there are an equal number of legal and lay members.
“It is also the modern way by which people are appointed to senior positions in public office,” said Mr Varadkar.
“In the old days civil servants may have selected Secretary Generals from among themselves. In the modern world of selecting people to appointments, it does not happen that way. If, for example, in the private sector a new CEO is being appointed to a company that appointment is not made by a committee of CEOs.”
However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, claimed the Taoiseach’s use of “empty phrases like ‘the modern way’ mean absolutely nothing”. He said there is no compelling rationale for the changes and claimed that “deep down we know that the vast majority of Fine Gael Deputies do not agree with this bill”.
Mr Martin said the motivation behind the legislation is wrong, adding that it is being forced through because of the “leverage” being used by Mr Ross.
“This bill that Deputy Ross is leveraging because of the unique position he finds himself in will damage the separation of powers and the judiciary and will undermine the administration of justice,” said Mr Martin.
However, defending the legislation, which was debated in the Dáil last night and will be discussed again today and tomorrow, Mr Varadkar said no profession should be self-regulating or self-appointing.
Responding to Mr Martin’s remarks about Mr Ross, the Taoiseach said: “I want to point out that this legislation is not Independent Alliance legislation or Fine Gael legislation. It is Government legislation. It was a programme for Government supported by the Independent Alliance, Independents and ratified by my party at our special conference in Athlone. It has been our position for at least a year.”
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