Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected claims that President Michael D Higgins was pushed to rush the promotion of the former attorney general to the Court of Appeal, as rows erupted in the Dáil over the move.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is also facing internal party criticism after launching a personalised attack on Máire Whelan, who has been appointed to the top court.
It also emerged, during a turbulent first few days for Mr Varadkar, that the new Taoiseach has now ordered a “fatwa” — as one minister described it — against government business leaking to the media.
Opposition TDs are incensed by the manner in which Ms Whelan was promoted and want answers as to what ministers knew about other judges interested in the role and whether a deal was agreed to allow the lawyer, without interview or scrutiny, to simply secure the €180,000 a year job.
Mr Martin said that the process “was an insider appointment that stinks to high heaven”.
Ms Whelan was formerly appointed on Monday after her approval was agreed by President Higgins. This was in advance of yesterday’s Dáil row and Mr Martin said the new Taoiseach arranged this to pre-empt any debate.
However, Mr Varadkar rejected this suggestion, insisting: “I want to refute absolutely any suggestion that I instructed the President to do anything of the sort.”
However, Mr Martin went on to question the experience of Ms Whelan for the court, dismissing comparisons of her with previous senior legal figures who were promoted as judges.
“Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke, is no Adrian Hardiman, and is no Donal O’Donnell,” he said.
Mr Martin warned his frontbench earlier in the day about ramping up his criticism of the appointment but members were shocked by the personalised attack.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has faced a mixed reaction to his junior ministerial reshuffle in which he increased the number of posts by one to 19. While loyal Fine Gael TDs were rewarded, he faces a backlash over the number of women appointed overall — just seven of the 34 senior and junior roles — as well as several deeply disappointed senior TDs who have been denied promotion.
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