Taoiseach to meet opposition leaders to discuss Seamus Woulfe controversy

Taoiseach to meet opposition leaders to discuss Seamus Woulfe controversy

Pictured in 2018 are Chief Justice Frank Clarke and Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe. File Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin will meet opposition leaders today to discuss the ongoing situation around Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe.

Mr Woulfe has been told by the Chief Justice Frank Clarke that he should resign but is refusing to do so following his attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in August.

The Chief Justice has no legal power to ask for the resignation of Mr Woulfe, but emphatically said that he should in correspondence between the two published on Tuesday.

"It is not part of my role to ask, let alone tell, you to resign," wrote the Chief Justice, something which Mr Woulfe rejected.

"I do not consider it in any way appropriate that I should resign," wrote Judge Woulfe.

"I do not think it is fair to criticise me by saying I did not respect such guidelines in circumstances where I was simply not aware."

While opposition politicians have criticised Mr Woulfe and indicated that they may move to impeach the former Attorney General, it is understood that Friday's meeting will not come with demands for action from Mr Martin.

"This is a very unique and complicated situation," said one opposition source.

"We won't be demanding anything, but will be listening to the Taoiseach has to say. We hope that we will leave the meeting satisfied that he is taking the matter seriously enough."

Mr Martin told the Dáil on Tuesday that the issue is "very serious".

"It is fundamental to the separation of powers. It is at the very heart of our Constitution so we have to respond in a very serious, sensitive and proper way."

Labour leader Alan Kelly agreed that the meeting will largely be a "listening brief", he reiterated his call for all correspondence between Mr Woulfe and the Chief Justice to be published. 

Speaking on Tuesday in the Dáil, Mr Kelly said that there had only been "partial correspondence" made available.

"It is quite obvious that there is other correspondence between the Chief Justice and Mr Justice Woulfe and that we have only partial correspondence," he said.

"In fact, Mr Justice Wolfe says the publication of all correspondence cannot be good for 'either of us or for the Court or the public interest'.

"In fairness, the Chief Justice states, 'Unfortunately, further serious issues now arise out of both aspects of the transcripts of your interview with Ms Justice Denham and elements of the correspondence between us.' 

"Therefore, we have only partial correspondence."

The leaders of the three coalition parties met with Attorney General Paul Gallagher on Thursday ahead of the Friday meeting.

This morning Mary-Lou McDonald said there is a clear issue around the tenability of Mr Woulfe's position ahead of a meeting of leaders today.

The Sinn Féin president said: "I hope that we will be fully properly briefed, and that all of the information including the Attorney General's advice will be shared with us. I'll go in with a ready ear and an open mind.

"I want to hear what the government has to say, and more importantly what the attorney general has to say," she said.

Ms McDonald pointed to a letter sent by the Chief Justice that suggested that Justice Woulfe should resign.

"I think that creates a problem and an issue around the tenability of Justice Woulfe's position."

Pressed on whether she still believes Judge Woulfe's position is untenable, Ms McDonald said: "I think that the Chief Justice has lost confidence in him, yes, I would have thought that is manifestly the case.

"The issue now is, it seems to me how do you, within the rules and respecting and recognising the division of powers and so on, how do we actually navigate that, that's the question isn't it?

"And another question: how does this all happen, how did we land in a mess like this?" she asked.

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