Committee rejects McEntee's claims she 'answered questions' on Woulfe's appointment

Committee rejects McEntee's claims she 'answered questions' on Woulfe's appointment

The Oireachtas Justice Committee has released a statement rebuking Government claims that Helen McEntee "answered questions" on Seamus Woulfe's appointment when she appeared before it. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Justice Minister is willing to come into the to answer questions on the appointment of Seamus Woulfe, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Micheal Martin says the Oireachtas Business Committee should meet to discuss the matter, however, it will be up to the Business committee to decide what format the questions will take.

Earlier: The Oireachtas Justice Committee has released a statement rebuking Government claims that Helen McEntee "answered questions" on Seamus Woulfe's appointment when she appeared before it.

Both the Justice Minister and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar publicly claimed she had answered questions in the committee, however a statement released this morning rejected the assertion.

"On Tuesday, 24 November, the Justice Committee noted reports in media and elsewhere to the effect that the minister for justice took questions on the judicial selection process at a recent meeting of the Committee.

"The Committee notes that the Minister attended at a meeting of the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday, 17 November, for the purposes of considering the annual estimates.

"Towards the end, a question was put to the Minister on the judicial appointments process. Whilst the chair directed that the question was out of scope for the meeting agenda, he allowed the Minister to offer a brief response which she did. No further questions on the matter were put or taken."

The unusual statement was sent by the collective group of committee members, of which Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless is the chair.

On Tuesday night all seven Opposition groupings withdrew from the Dáil's Business Committee, putting its future in doubt.

The whips of the groupings co-signed a letter to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, signalling that they will withdraw from the committee in protest at the Government's refusal to put Justice Minister Helen McEntee forward to answer Dáil questions on how former Attorney General and Fine Gael member Seamus Woulfe came to be appointed to the State's highest court, while other established judges had also expressed interest.

The Government has reiterated that the Opposition is using the issue for political advantage.

"I think the Opposition are just playing politics with this," Leo Varadkar said today.

"The Minister has offered to come in to take her ministerial questions, to take questions for an hour and a half on any issues relating to justice, including judicial appointments, but they just keep saying they don't like the format.

This is just pure politics. The opposition are just trying to make a political issue out of something that really isn't.

"Helen McEntee has made a statement and she's done media interviews, and she said that she's available to answer Minister's questions.

"The opposition have rejected all of those opportunities.

"Helen McEntee answering questions on this isn't going to end it. This is a political attack by the Opposition on the Government.

"They're trying to undermine the Government. They're trying to undermine Minister McEntee and they're undermining the judiciary, no matter what she says they're not going to be happy. They will throw allegations they will cast aspersions. That is the kind of thing they do.

"They should be focusing on things that matter. You know Covid, preparing for Brexit, getting our economy back on track, but because they know the Government is doing a good job of all those things. 

They're trying to throw mud, and that's it.

On the issue of the Circuit Court judge appointed on the same day as Séamus Woulfe, Mary Morrissey, Mr Varadkar said that he had never met the woman or known that she worked in former justice minister Charlie Flanagan’s solicitors firm, but does not know if Ms Morrisey ever canvassed for her former boss.

"As is always the case only one name is put forward to Cabinet for appointments to judicial position. As I understand that appointment, again, went through the independent Judicial Appointments Board," he said.

"I think we need to be realistic about these things. It's not fair to exclude somebody from being appointed to the judiciary, just because they may have worked for a TD from any party.

"Nobody should get appointments or jobs because they have political connections, but nobody should be excluded from them just because they do, that wouldn't be fair."

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