Thursday, 19 November 2020
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Leo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
I believe the appointment of Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court was a suitable appointment. He is now a serving member of the Supreme Court and I hope that nobody is questioning his suitability to be a Supreme Court Justice, recognising the separation of powers and the need to uphold the Judiciary. He had years of experience as a barrister and a senior counsel. He was an excellent Attorney General. He was competent, efficient and approachable, notwithstanding his recent issues. He is certainly not the first Attorney General to be appointed to a superior court, nor will he be the last. That is not just my opinion. That was the opinion of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, to which he applied. That board, chaired by the Chief Justice and including the presidents of the other courts, lay people, representatives of the Bar Council and the Law Society, all determined and agreed that Séamus Woulfe was a suitable person to appoint to the Supreme Court. Just as the Taoiseach said, that was enough for him, and it was certainly enough for me.
Under the Constitution, as I think everyone is aware, judges are nominated by the Government and appointed by the President. That is a power and a responsibility that cannot be delegated to any other body. In a democracy, it is right that judges are appointed by the democratically elected Government. I would not like to see a situation where judges are appointed by other judges, by themselves, or by an unelected committee of some sort. One needs to have a good process, a good advisory body to vet appointments and make sure they are appropriate and a system where people can apply to fill a vacancy. We need further reform in this area and the Government plans to do that. Ultimately the Government makes the decision on who will or will not be a judge, under the Constitution, and that cannot be delegated. It should not be changed, in my view, in a democracy.
As is the case with any senior public appointment that comes to the Cabinet, only one name is ever brought to the Cabinet. There have been one or two exceptions, such as the recent issue with the European Commissioner, where a man and a woman were asked for, but almost always, if not always, just one name is brought to the Cabinet. That applies to Secretaries General of Government Departments, chairs of State boards, to judges and to the Governor of the Central Bank. It would not be appropriate for 20 people sitting around the Cabinet table to pore over a shortlist of names, discussing the merits and demerits of each candidate. It would not be fair to them and it would probably discourage good people from applying. That is why I would counsel against having that kind of debate in this Chamber, with us discussing the merits and demerits of different candidates. Even if they are not named, that would be the wrong route to go down and would undermine the Judiciary, which we do not want to happen.
On debate happening in the Chamber, Sinn Féin has Private Members' time next week. It is open to Sinn Féin to use that Private Members' time next week if it wishes to. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, answered questions on this matter in a committee the other day. Sinn Féin is free to use its time to discuss this but I would counsel against a situation which its party leader was walking into during the week, where we would start to talk about different candidates and their merits and demerits. That would be a mistake. Listening to the comments of the Deputy's party leader this week, that was the road she was looking for us to go down. That would be wrong. It would undermine the Judiciary. It would not be an appropriate role for us, recognising the separation of powers.