From top; Supreme Court Justice Séamus Woulfe; Labour TD Brendan Howlin
On Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio One.
Former Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin discussed Sáamus Woulfe’s appointment….
Brendan Howlin: ” I’ve been privileged to serve in three coalition governments, two with Fine Gael. I know these things work and the notion that, for example, if we were in Government with Fine Gael that a minister would make such a strategic decision about an appointment of this nature, a really important appointment of the highest court in the land, without clearing it, politically, with the partners in government is absurd. It just wouldn’t happen, never happened.
“And I don’t believe, from what we’ve heard now, that it happened in this instance either. Unless the two other parties in Government, Fianna Fail, and remember Fianna Fail had the Taoiseach’s position and the Attorney General’s position when the decision was made. That they simple acquiesced to it and the fact that they weren’t involved, any way at all in it, is just not credible. So the Greens too, I would have assumed, even as a junior partner in a three-party coalition, there is a structure where everything, before it goes to Cabinet of a very serious nature, is cleared.
“In essence, just so that people understand how Cabinet works: Cabinet is by and large more a decision-making body than a debating chamber. You don’t go shoot the breeze and talk about things and merits and demerits. By and large, things come to Cabinet for a decision when they are politically agreed and something as important, as the appointment of a member of the Supreme Court would have to be [inaudible] by all the component parts of Government.”
Claire Byrne: “So the conversations would have happened before the recommendations were made to Cabinet?”
Howlin: “There’s no doubt about that. I mean, you see, the Minister for Justice, I think performed stoically and valiantly yesterday. And she’s right to say that the Minister for Justice would always bring one name to Government. But behind that, that decision would have been largely made at that point.
“It would be the acceptance of the agreement of the parties in Government and would have been brought to Government. That’s the way it works…..”
“If the Government actually came clean and said this is actually what it is, that some would regard as a grubby and political deal and we decided because Fianna Fail were going to get the new Attorney General’s job, that we have finalise the position for the outgoing Attorney General and that’s the deal. That would be both legal and constitutional. Now we might have something to say about it being ethically acceptable but it’s legal and constitutional currently.
“The problem for the Government is that it is concocting another version of events, that somehow all of this was left to one individual, newly appointed minister for justice to make the decision on her own.
“I’m saying anyone who know the process knows that that is not credible and that it would be better if the Government said ‘yeah that’s the way we did it on this occasion…’.”
Howlin: “Why would it be left to a newly appointment minister to determine from, we now know, five serving senior judges, plus the outgoing Attorney General with no judicial experience, and the other list which is the panel of all eligible judges, to determine that by herself without reference to anybody when we know that there are more vigorous processes now for decisions that would not be as important in the law. That would be unbelievable.”
Also on Today with Claire Byrne…
Dr Laura Cahillane, lecturer in law at the University of Limerick, said:
“Even if this was, say a naked political appointment, there’s not much you can do about it because the current process actually allows for that to happen. And that is the problem because even though this mightn’t be problematic from a legal perspective, it is problematic from a moral perspective, from a legitimate perspective and even from the perspective of the independence of the judiciary. So this is why this process needs to be urgently reformed in order to ensure fairness and transparency.”
Asked about Minister McEntee claiming that Tanaiste Leo Varadkar told her that Seamus Woulfe “would make a good judge”, Dr Cahillane said:
“I suppose people will have to draw their own conclusions in relation to what happened there but what I’m really confused about is the fact that apparently the minister hadn’t yet received the names of the judges who had expressed interest at that stage. So there was already conversations ongoing about who was potentially going to be appointed but yet apparently the whole list of candidates were not given to her at that stage. She also said that she didn’t receive those expressions of interest until she had already indicated that a nomination was to be made to Cabinet. So I’m quite confused as to the process there and when exactly did the expressions of interest from the judges were received and when they were considered.”
“….the impression was given…that somehow that JAAB was saying that this was the most suitable candidate, now the thing is the Act, the 1995 Act, does actually use the word ‘recommend’, the problem is that, in practice, that’s not what JAAB does…”