Last week in my speech on Deputy Varadkar's election as Taoiseach, I raised the question of the appointment of the former Attorney General, Ms Máire Whelan, as a judge to the Court of Appeal. I said then that if the Taoiseach wished to do more than just talk about changing politics, he had an opportunity to do so in the context of this squalid appointment. I asked that the Taoiseach address the controversy and explain to the Dáil what and when he knew about it because this appointment was the first in nearly a quarter of a century that a former Attorney General was appointed in such a manner.
It was without precedent since the enactment of the 1995 Act. In fact, it circumvented that Act and as the editorial in the Irish Independent today stated, "Whatever about the letter of the law ... the spirit of the law certainly wasn't adhered to." The former Attorney General attended the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, meeting in May and knew from that meeting that the essential criterion was that the person to fill that vacancy should be a High Court judge with experience in such high level judicial matters. The former Attorney General never indicated to JAAB that she had an interest in the vacancy; she should have. There was no documentation in advance of the Cabinet meeting and no notice to Ministers that such a controversial appointment was to be made. It was slipped in at the last minute of the last meeting of the outgoing Cabinet. Incredibly, the former Attorney General failed to absent herself from the meeting when her appointment was proposed by the outgoing and incoming Tánaiste, who was central to all this. The meeting, apparently, burst into applause.
This was an insider appointment and it stinks to high heaven. The controversies in which the former Attorney General was involved, particularly that relating to the damning findings made in the Fennelly report, were ignored in the consideration of the applicant's suitability.
No one was told by the Tánaiste that three High Court judges had applied. Who were they? Were their applications considered seriously? No, they were not. To add insult to injury, the Taoiseach decided on Sunday evening, with indecent haste, to instruct the President to appoint the following morning to pre-empt accountability to the Cabinet. Two Ministers had indicated that they wanted a review, namely, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten. The Taoiseach also did it to pre-empt accountability to this House. In so doing he arrogantly dismissed the concerns of his Cabinet colleagues and arrogantly ignored the imperative on him in terms of accountability to the House in this appointment. Prior to making it, the Taoiseach also failed to respect those who had facilitated his election as Taoiseach.
I have some specific questions for the Taoiseach which I will put quickly.