Taoiseach rejects accusations of ‘horse trading’ in Attorney General appointment

Micheal Martin said attempts by Sinn Fein to link the appointment of Paul Gallagher to the Seamus Woulfe controversy were ‘untruths’.
Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

By James Ward, PA

Micheal Martin has rejected suggestions that the appointment of the Attorney General was linked to that of Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Taoiseach of “horse trading” in relation to the appointment of Paul Gallagher as Attorney General during Government formation talks.

Mr Martin said the allegation was an “untruth” and called on Ms McDonald to withdraw the remark.

Seamus Woulfe (Niall Carson/PA)

Seamus Woulfe (Niall Carson/PA)

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Ms McDonald said: “In the endgame of Government formation talks between yourselves and Fine Gael, you announced that the Attorney General would be rotated in line with that of Taoiseach.

“So the Attorney General position was central to your horse trading. Seamus Woulfe, outgoing Attorney General, long-term member of Fine Gael, was appointed to the Supreme Court.”

The Fianna Fail leader responded: “Your assertion that there was horse trading involved in the context of the appointment of Paul Gallagher as Attorney General, and some connection to the appointment of Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court, is an untruth and a false assertion.

“You should withdraw it, because it impugns the integrity and the ability of the present Attorney General who has had nothing to do with that.”

The Taoiseach rejected fresh calls for Justice Minister Helen McEntee to appear before the Dail to address the controversy surrounding Mr Woulfe’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Ms McDonald demanded the minister explain what happened in the three weeks between June 27, when the Government was formed and Seamus Woulfe stood down as Attorney General, and his appointment to the Supreme Court on July 16.

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She said: “In addition to Mr Woulfe, three sitting judges had also expressed an interest in this position.

“So the minster didn’t have just one name to consider, she had four names. The minister needs to explain very clearly how she whittled down that list of four names to one.

“By what criteria was that selection made? Who did she confer with, collaborate with or inform?”

Mr Martin said such questions were “the very reason” why Ms McEntee should not appear before the Dail.

“Minister McEntee shouldn’t actually have to say to people, compare judges with a person who was deemed suitable by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB).

“I don’t believe politicians should be embroiled in terms of negotiations about who should be a judge and who should not be a judge.”

He said the recommendation of the JAAB, chaired by Chief Justice Frank Clarke, that Mr Woulfe was deemed a suitable appointment was “good enough for me”.

“The Minister for Justice of the day brings one name to Cabinet” he added.

Ms McDonald noted that the Taoiseach, while leader of the Opposition, had raised concerns about former Attorney General Maire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

She said: “You said then that the Government reaching for the separation of powers was bogus.

“You criticised the Government then for resisting taking questions. Taoiseach, you were right then, but you are very, very wrong now.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (Julien Behal/PA)

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (Julien Behal/PA)

Mr Martin replied that the JAAB process had not been used in that appointment, but Ms McDonald said: “You reach for the JAAB process even though you know that that was one of two channels through which names came forward. Please don’t rehearse that nonsense again.

“That there was horse trading around the position of Attorney General is not only truthful, it’s a verifiable truth. It played out in the media, Taoiseach, between yourselves, Fine Gael and, let it be said, the Green Party.”

The Taoiseach replied: “Stop misleading the house in that regard, and deliberately, in my view, creating a story that has no foundation in fact.

“I know that there was absolutely no relationship between the appointment of Attorney General Paul Gallagher and the appointment of Seamus Woulfe. None.”

On Tuesday the Taoiseach said “no further steps” would be taken against Mr Woulfe over his controversial attendance at an Oireachtas golf event.

Mr Martin said the Government had come to the decision after “very careful consideration” that the “constitutional integrity” of the judiciary was best served by not pursuing any action.

He also told the Dail on Tuesday that the independence and the integrity of the judiciary was of “paramount importance”.

He said the Government had noted the “transparent and comprehensive” informal process carried out by the judiciary to address “legitimate concerns” around Mr Woulfe’s attendance at an Oireachtas golf event in August in Clifden, Co Galway.

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