Taoiseach and Shane Ross clash on Máire Whelan appointment

The Taoiseach and Shane Ross have clashed over the controversial appointment of Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal as the Government comes under pressure to restart the process.

Just three days into his leadership, Leo Varadkar has found himself at loggerheads with his Independent Alliance partners after Mr Ross, the Transport Minister, called for a review of the appointment.

However, a number of Fine Gael backbenchers hit out at Mr Ross, claiming that he was simply “looking for headlines” and should have raised any concerns at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, before he voted in favour of the appointment and not days later.

Adding to the controversy yesterday was chaos among government advisers and spokespeople, many of whom passed on responsibility by claiming it was no longer their job to respond since many ministers are now in different positions than they were when they attended Cabinet last week.

It is understood that while only one name, that of Máire Whelan, was brought to Cabinet, the names of three other judges who expressed interest in the position were passed on to the Department of Justice by the then attorney general.

However, it could not be confirmed last night whether or not then justice minister Frances Fitzgerald received these names.

It comes as Fianna Fáil warn that the appointment is a breach of the confidence and supply agreement, which now could threaten the already shaky government. Opposition parties have demanded the Government revoke Ms Whelan’s appointment and begin the process again.

Mr Varadkar yesterday broke his silence on the controversy by insisting “correct procedures were followed”.

The Taoiseach maintained that the Government followed proper procedures and added that Ms Whelan was highly qualified to serve as a judge in the court.

“The issue which is attracting comment, however, is solely a matter of procedure. I am satisfied that the correct procedures were followed,” Mr Varadkar said.

“Under Article 13.2 of the Constitution, the government and only the government can appoint judges. The tánaiste recommended Máire Whelan to Cabinet as the stand-out person for the vacancy.”

Mr Varadkar also insisted he would fully respect the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil.

Calling for a review of the appointment, Mr Ross has said he was not questioning Ms Whelan but the process of her appointment.

Mr Ross insisted there was no link between the reopening of Stepaside garda station and the appointment.

One Fine Gael backbench TD said: “It’s a bit rich of Shane Ross. There is Cabinet collective responsibility which he doesn’t seem to have got used to yet. If he is looking for headlines he should look elsewhere.”

Another party member said: “The time and place to raise concerns was when the decision was being made.”

News: 6

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