Taoiseach Bertie Ahern tonight admitted promoting Ray Burke to his first Cabinet was a mistake.
Mr Ahern said his former colleague deserved to be locked up for dodging tax because the law applies equally to everyone.
The Taoiseach said with the benefit of hindsight Burke would never have sat beside him on the Government front benches.
“If I had have known that Ray Burke was going to get the kind of report he got from the Tribunals of course I wouldn’t have appointed him,” he said.
“Now it’s easy looking back to say if you knew 1% of these things, but seven or eight years on I didn’t have the resources to do this.”
The Taoiseach warned, in response to challenges from opposition parties, that tough action would be used to deal with anyone who broke the law.
Enda Kenny, Fine Gael leader, had earlier claimed Burke’s elevation to Justice Minister in 1997 called into question the Taoiseach’s judgment of character.
“The appointment by the Taoiseach to Government or to Cabinet is not a matter of due process, it is a matter character judgment to pick the best people to do the job based on integrity and qualities of truth and ability,” Mr Kenny said.
“This case, it’s a case of character judgment of the Taoiseach to make the appointment in the first instance.”
Corrupt Burke was jailed for six months on Monday at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for two tax dodging offences.
The former minister also faces financial ruin over a legal bill of almost 10 million euro (£7million) for his part in the planning tribunal.
The court heard the once fearsome front bencher had deliberately dodged levies, breached public trust and abused his position as a law maker.
Mr Kenny said he was aware senior Fianna Fail personnel had warned Mr Ahern that he would face serious consequences if he handed Burke a seat in the 1997 Cabinet.
“A previous Taoiseach said that Bertie Ahern was the most cunning of them all. In the sense of his knowing Ray Burke as a person and as a public figure, and knowing of the internal Fianna Fáil discussions about this, he made that appointment as was his right,” he said.
“But I think it calls into question the essence of character judgment which is not about due process but appointment to Government and to Cabinet in the first instance.”
Mr Kenny said the least the people of Ireland could expect was for the head of Government to show his support for the workings of justice and explain the reasons why he promoted Burke.
“It’s obviously sad in any circumstances when somebody goes to jail,” he said.
“But in this case where the minister has sat at the Government table and was party to implementing the law for the tax amnesty he would have known he was outside that.”
Mr Kenny also commended the legal system and tribunal process for bringing Burke to task for dodging tax.