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golf dinner Séamus Woulfe will sit in Supreme Court in February unless he is impeached


Former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe (Niall Carson/PA)

Former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe (Niall Carson/PA)

Former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe will begin sitting in the Supreme Court three months from now, unless the Oireachtas intervenes with impeachment proceedings in the meantime.

Despite urging the judge to resign, Chief Justice Frank Clarke has concluded he will have no option but to list the former Attorney General for hearings from February, the Irish Independent has learned.

The news comes as political party leaders prepare to meet Taoiseach Micheál Martin tomorrow to discuss a unified response to the latest twist in the ‘Golfgate’ controversy.

There is little appetite in most parties for tabling a motion to remove Mr Justice Woulfe, but there is a recognition the Government must act quickly to resolve the crisis.

The “informal resolution” process recommended in a report by former Chief Justice Susan Denham about Mr Justice Woulfe’s attendance at the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in August is now considered to be under way, sources have confirmed.

In an extraordinary exchange of letters in the past week, Mr Justice Clarke outlined steps Mr Justice Woulfe would be required to take as part of this process, before going on to say it was his “personal view” the judge should resign.

These include Mr Justice Woulfe accepting a reprimand and not being listed to hear cases until February.

The Chief Justice also urged the judge to waive or repay his salary for this period, around €52,000 before tax. These three steps were accepted by Mr Justice Woulfe, but he strongly rejected the suggestion he should resign.

The publication by Mr Justice Clarke of the letters on Monday revealed the scale of the crisis in the Supreme Court and moved the controversy into the political arena.

A Chief Justice has no power to sack judges. They can only be removed by the Oireachtas.

In one letter, the Chief Justice said Mr Justice Woulfe should resign “to avoid continuing serious damage to the judiciary”. He said the unanimous view of his Supreme Court colleagues was that the relationship in the collegiate court, which is essential to it functioning, was damaged.

The Chief Justice expressed the view that Mr Justice Woulfe’s conduct during the Denham review – where he railed against the media and politicians, cast doubt over his public apology, and appeared to not appreciate genuine public concern – had “added very substantially to the damage caused to the court, the judiciary generally and thus to the administration of justice”.

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However, in a second letter the Chief Justice emphasised that three senior judges who met with Mr Justice Woulfe last month had not indicated judges would be unwilling to sit with him.

Mr Justice Woulfe was only appointed to the court in July and has yet to hear a case.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Labour Party leader Alan Kelly is expected to suggest the Oireachtas request access to other unpublished letters between the two judges.

People Before Profit is considering tabling a motion but is holding off making a decision until after the briefing.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned Fine Gael’s TDs and senators to avoid commenting on the controversy.

There are mixed views across Government, with some sources suggesting there may be a “neat way” out of the controversy if the judges accept a compromise.

Other sources said the establishment of a select committee to hear Mr Justice Woulfe’s case was still being actively considered in anticipation of an impeachment motion being tabled.

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