Micheál Martin has made a surprising and highly personal attack on Máire Whelan in the Dáil, claiming she is no match to some previous judicial appointments.
Challenging Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Ms Whelan’s appointment to the Court of Appeal, the Fianna Fáil leader said: “Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke, is no Adrian Hardiman, and is no Donal O’Donnell.”
During a heated leader’s questions, he went on to say Mr Varadkar “strains credibility” by putting Ms Whelan in the “same league” as the judges after the Taoiseach named a number of individuals who had been appointed in a similar manner.
Mr Varadkar also vowed to change the system of judicial appointments and said he would be willing to sit later into the summer to do so.
In terse exchanges between the two main party leaders, Mr Varadkar drew attention to some other cases that “are not the same but bear similarities”.
“For example, Frank Clarke was appointed to the High Court without going through Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. Adrian Hardiman and Donal O’Donnell were appointed, as barristers, directly to the Supreme Court but they did not have the experience of being attorney general. They were actually appointed directly to a higher court than the Court of Appeal.
“Of course, John Murray was appointed to the European Court of Justice, moving from attorney general to a high position in the European Court of Justice and, to the best of the information we have, no application process was followed.”
He described all of these as “good appointments” but pointedly added that they all had one thing in common: “Deputy Martin was around the Cabinet table when all of those appointments were made.”
Mr Varadkar admitted in the Dáil that the controversy was not the type of issue he had hoped to begin his leadership with and pledged that there would be no future scandals around judicial appointments.
Under questioning from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and Independent TD Catherine Connolly, Mr Varadkar continued to defend the decision to appoint the former attorney general to the Court of Appeal.
He said the Dáil would now press ahead with the Judicial Appointments Bill and would sit into July and over the summer to get that piece of legislation through.
“We can resolve this matter once and for all by putting through this important legislation,” he said during first leader’s questions as Taoiseach.
He added that the Government would change the process so that any judge who wants to apply for a higher post will have to go through the Judicial Appointment Advisory Board.
Currently judges who wish to apply for a promotion write directly to the attorney general and do not go through the JAAB system.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the proposed changes were in some way an acknowledgement that the process that was used was inappropriate.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the “absence of legislation wasn’t the issue here” but instead claimed the Government had not complied with the current legislation.
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