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Prospect of judicial resignations over Seamus Woulfe controversy a ‘concern’

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy questioned the appropriateness of the Oireachtas getting involved in an impeachment process.

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Attorney General Seamus Woulfe insisted his actions do not warrant him losing his job (Niall Carson/PA)

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe insisted his actions do not warrant him losing his job (Niall Carson/PA)

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe insisted his actions do not warrant him losing his job (Niall Carson/PA)

The co-leader of the Social Democrats has voiced concern about the prospect of Supreme Court judges resigning in protest if their judicial colleague Seamus Woulfe does not quit.

Catherine Murphy’s comments come as political parties in Leinster House continue to deliberate over whether it would be appropriate for them to trigger impeachment proceedings against judge Woulfe.

“I certainly have a concern,” said Ms Murphy of the chances of judicial protest resignations.

“You would be foolish not to be paying attention to that.”

Chief justice Frank Clarke has urged the former attorney general to resign for his handling of the controversy surrounding his attendance at a golf society dinner in Co Galway which was organised in variance with strict Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings.

Justice Woulfe has insisted his actions do not warrant him losing his job.

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Catherine Murphy admitted she has concerns (Niall Carson/PA)

Catherine Murphy admitted she has concerns (Niall Carson/PA)

Catherine Murphy admitted she has concerns (Niall Carson/PA)

Former chief justice Susan Denham, who carried out an investigation into the “golfgate” episode, also found the judge’s conduct did not justify calls for his resignation.

Nevertheless, Mr Clarke has expressed his own personal view that his colleague should quit, raising concerns not only about his attendance at the dinner but also subsequent comments he made to the Denham probe in which he questioned the Government’s handling of the pandemic response.

Correspondence between the two judicial figures was made public by the chief justice last week – a move that deepened the crisis engulfing the Supreme Court.

With the chief justice powerless to remove Justice Woulfe from his position, the focus has shifted to the Oireachtas and whether politicians will pursue impeachment proceedings against the judge.

However, there are doubts among several political parties whether the ex-attorney general’s actions were sufficiently grave to justify such a move – especially given it could set a precedent for interventions in future judicial controversies.

A meeting of party leaders on Friday was inconclusive. Opposition parties are seeking independent legal advice on the issue and another meeting between all the leaders is due early this week.

Justice Woulfe, who was appointed in July, is not due to sit in the Supreme Court until February.

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The crisis has prompted speculation that other Supreme Court judges may refuse to sit alongside him, raising the prospect of protest resignations.

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Chief Justice Frank Clarke (left) and Justice Seamus Woulfe (Brian Lawless/PA)

Chief Justice Frank Clarke (left) and Justice Seamus Woulfe (Brian Lawless/PA)

Chief Justice Frank Clarke (left) and Justice Seamus Woulfe (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms Murphy questioned whether the Oireachtas was the appropriate forum to deal with the issue.

“My concern is that this is in the area of judgement and character and moral authority, and that is more of the responsibility of the judiciary to enforce that kind of process themselves,” said told RTE Radio One’s This Week programme.

“The unfortunate thing is that the judicial conduct committee is not in place and won’t be in place for another year to 18 months. So, there’s no mechanism to do that and that’s why this is such a difficult decision because the only available option that appears to be available is the impeachment process.

“And whether or not Leinster House should be involved or is where the solution will happen is, I think, a very open question.”

Ms Murphy also questioned the chief justice’s handling of the affair.

“I think that he’s certainly made a bad situation, I think a lot more difficult,” she said.

Meanwhile, opposition parties continue to ask questions around the process that led to Justice Woulfe’s appointment, with Justice minister Helen McEntee facing calls to explain why cabinet ministers were not informed that several other judges had expressed an interest in the role.

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