Annoyance in Cabinet over McEntee silence on  Woulfe saga

Annoyance in Cabinet over McEntee silence on  Woulfe saga

Justice minister Helen McEntee.

There is increased "annoyance" among Cabinet ministers as to the ongoing refusal to allow justice minister Helen McEntee address the Dáil on the Seamus Woulfe affair.

Senior ministers, speaking to the Irish Examiner, have voiced concern at the failure of Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to "shut this matter down" before now.

"Why not simply state what went on here and move on?" one minister told the Irish Examiner. "Woulfe was appointed to the Supreme Court because he was no longer Attorney General."

Several ministers, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, voiced their annoyance at what they saw as Mr Varadkar "throwing Helen under the bus" in the Dáil when he said she did not inform him of the other candidates who sought to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil he did not know the names of the three other candidates who sought the vacancy in the Supreme Court, which was filled by the former Attorney General.

He told TDs that Justice Minister Helen McEntee followed due process, but only presented one name — that of Mr Woulfe — for consideration.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly accused Mr Varadkar of offering a “bogus” explanation as to Mr Woulfe’s nomination to the Supreme Court in July.

Mr Varadkar was under fire after both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan have said they did not know about the other candidates, who were sitting judges.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said: “Let us call a spade a spade. People believe that it was the Tánaiste, as leader of Fine Gael, who reduced the number from four to one and brought that name before Cabinet. It is for that reason that he is avoiding the Minister for Justice coming in here, being held accountable and asking questions about the process. Is that not the case?” 

In response, the Fine Gael leader said he only told his Coalition partners that Justice Woulfe applied for the Supreme Court role after it was decided he would not be reappointed as Attorney General. He revealed a conversation occurred between the leaders the “week before” the new Government was formed on Saturday, June 27, where it was agreed the position of Attorney General would rotate with the position of Taoiseach.

“This specific vacancy arose in February," said Mr Varadkar. "I was, at the time, the Taoiseach of what people described as a caretaker government. We decided not to fill that vacancy. We thought it was appropriate to wait until a new government was formed to fill that vacancy. We could have if we wanted to.

“I knew those lists existed, I didn't know how many people are on them. I didn't know the names.” 

As justice minister, Ms McEntee has steadfastly resisted answering questions from the Opposition as to how a list of four candidates became one — that of Mr Woulfe.

Mr Kelly said that until the questions were fully addressed, the Government’s legitimacy is in jeopardy.

Earlier, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said it would have "no problem" with having Justice Minister Helen McEntee come before the Dáil to answer questions around the appointment of Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court.

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