Golfgate 'not sufficient grounds' for Woulfe to resign

Golfgate 'not sufficient grounds' for Woulfe to resign

Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins golfgate

Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe’s attendance at the Oireachtas golf dinner is "not sufficient grounds" to warrant his resignation, a report into the event has concluded.

The report, conducted by former Chief Justice Susan Denham, has found that while he erred in his decision making to attend the dinner, a number of mitigating factors also need to be considered.

Such mitigating factors, she has concluded, means he should not have to consider his position.

The matter was discussed at a meeting of the Supreme Court this morning and at a meeting of the Judicial Council at lunchtime which has approved the publication of the report later this afternoon.

The Irish Examiner has confirmed that Ms Denham found that it was reasonable for Judge Woulfe to rely on the assurances of the organisers of the event and his own observations about compliance with Covid-19 regulations.

However, Ms Denham concluded that Mr Woulfe did not separately consider the propriety if there would be an appearance of impropriety for a judge of the supreme court to attend a celebratory dinner in a public place and there is a pandemic in the State.

However, in spite of the views set out above, it is the opinion of Ms Denham there are a number of significant mitigating factor including the fact that Mr Woulfe did not break any law or knowingly breach any guidelines on August 19 2020.

The failure of Mr Woulfe to reflect upon whether his attendance as a judge of the supreme court might cause controversy or bring the court into disrepute should be seen in the light of the following; he is a newly appointed judge; he has not yet sat on the bench as a member of the Supreme Court; He has not had the benefit of any introductory programme for judges and there was no judicial guidelines or code of conduct.

Ms Denham has recommended that judicial code of conduct and ethical guidelines be introduced as a matter of urgency.

It is the opinion of the former Chief Justice that had there been an introductory programme for newly appointed judges and had such guidelines existed on August 19 as they do in most other jurisdictions, it would have greatly assisted Judge Woulfe and it is highly unlikely the situation would have occurred.

It is Ms Denham's opinion, based on the evidence she has received, she is of the view that Judge Woulfe did nothing involving impropriety, such as would justify cause for his resignation from office, such a move would be disproportionate. In light of the mitigation referred to above, the reviewer is of the opinion it is open to the Chief Justice to deal with the matter by way of informal resolution.

The presence of Mr Woulfe, Attorney General to the last Government, at the event in August, revealed by this newspaper, has been the source of considerable controversy and he has resisted calls for him to resign.

It is believed Judge Denham’s report will be published later today and Mr Woulfe is said to have defended his decision to attend the event on the grounds he was assured it was in compliance with Covid-19 regulations.

The Supreme Court said it met on Wednesday primarily to decide to forward the report to the Judicial Council.

In a statement, it said it had sent the report to the recently established Judicial Council to enable the council to consider publishing it in furtherance of its statutory function of maintaining confidence in the judiciary.

This morning’s meeting of the Supreme Court was to consider in-depth the findings of Ms Denham’s report.

Legal and political sources believe Mr Woulfe is “digging in".

The board of the Judicial Council agreed to indemnify Ms Denham.

Mr Woulfe, the former attorney general, was among more than 80 guests who attended the dinner on August 19 after two days of golf.

The event at the Co Galway hotel went ahead despite Covid-19 public health guidelines placing limits on indoor gatherings. It was attended by several TDs and Senators, along with former TDs and senators.

In the course of her review, Ms Denham met Judge Woulfe, accompanied by Michael Collins SC, who he had retained as his legal counsel.

A draft of the report was provided to Mr Justice Woulfe prior to Ms Denham finalising it.

On August 24, the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented move, requested Judge Denham, to consider certain questions arising out of the attendance of Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe at an event in the west of Ireland and to report her conclusions and recommendations to the Chief Justice Frank Clarke.

Ms Denham was asked to consider whether Mr Woulfe should have accepted the invitation to dinner.

In addition, whether he should, in all the circumstances, have left the hotel in the light of the situation prevailing.

Furthermore, whether he should have attended the golf event without attending the dinner.

“In the context of those questions Ms Justice Denham has also been asked to consider whether there are any relevant codes of practice or guidelines and to make any recommendations in that regard which she considers appropriate. This non-statutory approach has been necessitated because of the fact that relevant sections of the Judicial Council Act, 2019 have not yet been commenced,” the Supreme Court said.

The controversy surrounding the event has led to the resignation of Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary as minister for agriculture and European Commissioner Phil Hogan.

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