In an indication that tensions had been brewing for some time, Enda Kenny told the Dáil that the Attorney General wrote to the chief justice on his behalf last month to assure her that the Government recognised that the judiciary’s independence was “indispensable”.
Mr Shatter came under criticism from opposition politicians following his clash with the judiciary over a number of issues which they claim undermine their independence.
These include cuts to pay and pensions, the appointment of county registrars as specialist judges, and the establishment of new courts.
The row took another twist yesterday when the president of the High Court said the concerns expressed by the Association of Judges of Ireland on Monday were “well founded”.
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said the situation was “highly undesirable” and he said the master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, had “no authority to speak on behalf of the High Court or its judges” when he defended Mr Shatter on radio.
Mr Honohan said the row had erupted because of “a sense of entitlement” among judges that they should be consulted on any proposed new legislation.
The Bar Council, which represents barristers, also joined the argument, saying judges had raised legitimate concerns that should be addressed and called for the government to hold talks with judges on these issues.
As the Dáil returned after the Easter break, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Mr Shatter was “playing populist politics” in his attempts to “demonise and undermine” the judiciary.
He repeated a claim by Mr Justice Peter Kelly that judicial independence was being torn down “brick by brick”.
Mr Martin told the Taoiseach: “Minister Shatter, as we know, has great self-belief. He has a sense that he is right on all occasions. While we might grant him that on 99% of occasions, he is wrong on this one. He should step back and he should stop playing populist politics with the judiciary.”
Mr Martin told government benches: “You have too much of a majority over there and you guys think you can do what you want.”
He asked Mr Kenny to intervene and create a forum of mediation to bring the “nasty row” to an end.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “The issue here is the manner in which the minister pursues his business.”
She said it was not acceptable for him to “railroad through key changes without adequate consultation with key stakeholders”.