Varadkar told McEntee 'Woulfe would make a good judge'

However, justice minister admits the system for appointing judges is not perfect
Varadkar told McEntee 'Woulfe would make a good judge'

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told the Dáil that Seamus Woulfe was the best candidate and the only name brought to Cabinet. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told Justice Minister Helen McEntee that Seamus Woulfe would make a good appointment to the Supreme Court, the minister has told the Dáil.

Ms McEntee was giving a statement on the issue to the house this afternoon after declining to do so for the last three weeks.

Ms McEntee told the Dáil that Mr Woulfe, whose attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society event in August led to Chief Justice Frank Clarke suggesting he step down, was the best candidate and the only name brought to Cabinet.

She said that after being informed of the vacancy in June after her appointment, she spoke informally to Mr Varadkar, who told her that "Mr Woulfe would make a good judge".

Ms McEntee said that she had not had a similar conversation with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Ms McEntee said that while the process for appointing judges is not flawless, it had been followed in this case.

"The practice by Government is that only one name is brought to Cabinet," she said, adding that this was "a strength" because it avoided the debating of the merits of one person against another, thus avoiding the politicisation of the judiciary.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said he made Ms McEntee aware of a vacancy on the Supreme Court after he had informed the other party leaders.

“As the Minister for Justice has said, the Tánaiste expressed an opinion that Seamus Woulfe would be a good judge. This was in line with the recommendation of Seamus Woulfe by JAAB - which is chaired by the Chief Justice.

“As Minister McEntee has said, the Tánaiste did not instruct the Minister for Justice to propose Seamus Woulfe, and he was not aware of the names of the five other judges who expressed an interest, then or subsequently.

“Some weeks later, Minister McEntee contacted the Tánaiste and the other Party leaders to say she was recommending Seamus Woulfe. The Tánaiste and the other leaders agreed,” the spokesperson said.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Varadkar said: "Her recollection is similar to mine and I said that I thought that Séamus would be a good judge or an appropriate judge or something of those lines. I think all of us agreed that or we wouldn't have made that appointment. As she said - and she's right I didn't instruct her, I didn't tell her to make that recommendation to Cabinet and she said she didn't inform me of the five other names."

Sinn Féin's justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said that much of Ms McEntee's story "did not add up".

He said that Mr Woulfe was "a long-time Fine Gael activist" and his appointment was "miraculous".

"None of this stacks up and that's why we're here today. This was a done deal. A Fine Gael Attorney General was on his way out and you needed to find a job for him. He was one of Leo's cronies and that's the Fine Gael way of doing business.

"This was a Fine Gael appointment, it was boxed off before you ever took office."

His party colleague Matt Carthy said that it was "wasn't a case eeny meeny minie mo, it was eeny, eeny, eeny, Woulfe".

The Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said that there had been no transparency about the process, saying that the criteria for appointing judges was not made clear. Independent TD Catherine Connolly called the system "opaque". Rise TD Paul Murphy said that Fine Gael governments "appoint Fine Gael judges", while Labour's Brendan Howlin said that the idea that the appointment was a personal decision was "an absurd position".

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