Sinn Féin: Government still avoiding accountability over Séamus Woulfe appointment

Sinn Féin: Government still avoiding accountability over Séamus Woulfe appointment

Justice minister Helen McEntee arriving at the Convention Centre Dublin for a Dáil session. Picture: Brian Lawless

Sinn Féin has accused the government of continuing to avoid accountability by cutting the time available for Helen McEntee to answer questions on Séamus Woulfe.

The Minister for Justice will face the Dáil this afternoon to give a statement and answer questions on how the former Attorney General and Fine Gael member came to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Ms McEntee's session will be shorter than other ministers who have been called to do the same.

"We have always said that what we want to do is the same as how it was done with the Tánaiste a few weeks ago," party justice spokesman Martin Kenny told Morning Ireland. 

"To have her come in and make a statement and then have sessions of questions from the various opposition parties and movements over 10-15 minutes each.

"The government proposed that there will be two hours in total. Three-quarters of that time will be taken up with statements and one-quarter of that time will be for questions, which would mean just over half an hour of the two hours will be questions and answers. 

"It's a very limited time for the question and answer session which we feel is a reverse of the ratio that we would like to see in place.

"We feel that the minister has serious questions to answer, and that she needs to have time to answer those questions and that opposition spokespeople need to have those questions, but the particular ratio that the government came up with was again an avoidance of accountability."

He added that the length of time it's taken to get the Minister to come forward for "a simple few questions" around the issue points to the possibility that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.

"That's really what people are concerned about, is the government is refusing to be accountable, they are refusing to accept that they have to come into the Dáil chamber. 

"So we're glad that we got it this far, at least we got some questions."

We often say that in opposition, getting an answer that the government is like pulling teeth, and it seems this minister is already afraid of the dentist.

Mr Kenny says his party wants to know how the minister ended up in a situation where she had four applications for the position of a Supreme Court judge and how she decided to make "one of those, when three of them were existing judges who had huge experience and would naturally be the ones that you expect getting the job".

"It was the former Attorney General (who got the job), who was at the cabinet table for four years, who had no judicial experience prior to that, and in fact it was flagged up in government formations that he had passed the Judicial Appointment process which most of us understand was code for: 'We have boxed this off for Mr Justice Woulfe'.

"Our belief is there was no process, it's a pretence that she simply nodded through an arrangement that had been put in place by her predecessors," he added.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny said that the length of time it's taken to get the Minister to come forward for "a simple few questions" around the issue points to the possibility that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.
Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny said that the length of time it's taken to get the Minister to come forward for "a simple few questions" around the issue points to the possibility that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.

He says his party will focus on the process and how the process happened and how the minister adhered to the cabinet handbook.

"The minister was new in the job, only there a few weeks, quite frankly, to be in that job that short a time, I expect would go and get counsel from somewhere, advice on how to do this.

"She tells us that she had no advice from anyone, on her own completely without any guidance from anyone in the department or from the Tánaiste or Taoiseach, or anyone else and that just doesn't stand up for any reasonable person, how she ended up in a situation where the person, the least qualified was the one who actually ended up getting the job."

The Ceann Comhairle has stressed that he feels today's session needs to focus upon the process and not Mr Woulfe's abilities.

Helen McEntee has repeatedly stated that she sought approval for Mr Woulfe's name to go forward to cabinet from the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Eamon Ryan.

The Taoiseach stated yesterday that Ms McEntee would come before the Dáil after a protracted row on the issue in which the opposition walked away from the Dáil Business Committee.

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