McEntee 'probably' asked why she only had to fill one Supreme Court vacancy

McEntee 'probably' asked why she only had to fill one Supreme Court vacancy

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is embroiled in controversy over how then-attorney general and now-Supreme Court Justice Seamus Woulfe's name was put forward for the court appointment while other judges had expressed interest. 

The Minister for Justice says she "probably" did ask why she was only asked to fill one of the two vacant posts on the Supreme Court.

Helen McEntee is currently embroiled in controversy over how then-attorney general and now-Supreme Court Justice Seamus Woulfe's name was the only one put forward to Cabinet for the court appointment, while sitting judges had expressed interest in the job.

There were two vacant posts on the Supreme Court at that time, one of which is still outstanding.

Speaking to LMFM Radio, she said she "probably at the time" enquired about the fact that there were two vacancies. 

"I did not officially enquire because I was only asked again the request to fill one vacancy. It was brought to my attention that one position needed to be filled at the time so I was not asked to give two. If I had been asked to fill two, that's something that I would have done."

The previous justice minister, Charlie Flanagan, had begun the process of filling the vacancy, but, she said, due to the election and Covid there was no progress on the issue.

"My department confirmed to me within a matter of days of having been appointed but I was asked to fill one, and my own view at that time was that filling one, if that was what they had asked for, was appropriate.

There is still a vacancy there and this is something that I have to look at."

Ms McEntee repeatedly refused to say how many names had come before her for the Supreme Court post.

"I considered all of the names that came before me, there were a number of names," she said, adding it would be unfair for her to get into the details but that she considered all the recommendations for JAAB [Judicial Appointments Advisory Board]. 

"Based on the names that I had before me I then made a recommendation to the Taoiseach, to Minister Eamon Ryan, to the Attorney General, none of whom had any problems with that.

It was a collective decision here – all of the leaders agreed with me that Seamus was the best person, and then that name was brought to Cabinet."

Ms McEntee insisted there was no breach of the Cabinet handbook by only bringing one name to the Government leaders.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed he didn't have the names of other interested parties in the Supreme Court appointment. Picture: Moya Nolan
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed he didn't have the names of other interested parties in the Supreme Court appointment. Picture: Moya Nolan

"I need to be very clear of what the Cabinet handbook says, is the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and any other party leader, should be informed in advance of a proposal to make such an appointment and I, of course, did more than just inform them. I informed them of the recommendation that I had made, I sought their approval because I would never bring a name to Cabinet for a judge without their approval but also if they had concerns, if they had questions that they had, anything else that they wanted to engage on.

"I think we'd all agree and I think everybody agrees the specific process itself needs to be updated."

The Taoiseach has confirmed he didn't have the names of the other interested parties, as has Eamon Ryan.

It's widely expected a motion coming before the Dáil this week, brought by RISE TD Paul Murphy, will start a process of impeachment against Seamus Woulfe over his attendance and subsequent handling of the Golfgate controversy and refusal to resign despite being advised to do so by Chief Justice Frank Clarke.

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