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Taoiseach accused of setting ‘dangerous precedent’ over handling of Woulfe case

Social Democrats TD Roisin Shortall said the Dail and the public are entitled to know the process behind the appointment made to the Supreme Court.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Taoiseach has been accused of setting a “dangerous precedent” over his handling of the Seamus Woulfe controversy.

Micheal Martin faced further criticism from the opposition over his decision not to ensure Justice Minister Helen McEntee comes before the Dail to answer questions relating to the appointment of Justice Woulfe to the Supreme Court.

Ms McEntee has offered to answer questions about the appointment of Justice Woulfe on December 1 through the process of ministerial parliamentary questions whereby members of the opposition have to submit questions to the minister in advance.

Social Democrats TD Roisin Shortall said the Dail and the public are entitled to know the process behind the appointment made to the Supreme Court.

No minister will be accountable in here if this is what you as the Taoiseach of Ireland allow to happenAlan Kelly, Labour leader

She said: “Regrettably the Minister for Justice has refused to outline that process to us and has refused to abide by that long-established tradition where a minister comes into the house and explains his or her actions to ensure accountability to this house. I’m saying to you now, Taoiseach, respectfully, you need to ensure that your minister for justice abides by that tradition.”

Ms Shortall added: “We have to end the charade of the minister talking about coming in and answering questions under the regular arrangements in respect of oral questions. That just does not wash. It is not acceptable by any standards. You need to end that charade.”

She said: “You are continuing to damage the relationship and the reputation not only of this house, but the judiciary also.”

Labour leader Alan Kelly said: “Let me call a spade a spade here. You’re creating the most dangerous precedent I have seen in this house since I came in. No minister will be accountable in here if this is what you as the Taoiseach of Ireland allow to happen. Who will be the next minister who has questions to answer who is struggling on something. He won’t be coming before the Dail. They won’t want to come before because the Taoiseach of the day decided that Helen McEntee didn’t come before the Dail.”

He added: “This will get sorted out one way or the other.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said there were very serious and pressing questions that needed to be put to the Justice Minister.

My overarching objective in the context of this entire situation and particularly the publication of letters between the Chief Justice and Justice Woulfe has been to uphold the separation of powers between the Oireachtas and judiciaryTaoiseach Micheal Martin

“The fact that the Minister for Justice will not make herself available to make a statement and take questions is shocking and unacceptable but what is much worse is that the Taoiseach would facilitate that behaviour,” she said.

“Taoiseach, the elected representatives and members here have not only a right but a duty to put the necessary questions to the Minister for Justice, and I for the life of me cannot understand why you are continuing to block that legitimate parliamentary work.”

The Taoiseach told the Dail that he had already answered questions on the matter, as had the Tanaiste, and that anything beyond that would be a breach of the separation of powers.

He added that Justice Woulfe had been recommended by the JAAB, which had a “significant body of opinion” behind it.

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Mr Martin said the minister would be coming in to answer “normal questions” on the matter.

He also defended his own handling of the controversy, saying: “My overarching objective in the context of this entire situation and particularly the publication of letters between the Chief Justice and Justice Woulfe has been to uphold the separation of powers between the Oireachtas and judiciary.

“I take that very seriously. And that has been my motivation from the beginning in terms of the handling of this issue.”

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