Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I congratulate Deputy Charles Flanagan on his appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality. I thank him for his co-operation while Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I had a few difficult issues trying to get passports and a few matters over the line and thank the Minister and his office for what he was able to do for me at the time. I wish him well in his new appointment because it is a challenging role.

If I might be so bold, this legislation might not be one of the Minister's priorities. My party has looked at it - Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, our spokesperson, has gone through it in great detail - and formed the opinion that it is unnecessary at this time to spend time debating this legislation. If one looks at various aspects of the legislation and the reasons it is before the House, all one can see is that it is an ego trip and that it is not necessary. If I reflect what the people of Cork North-West are saying to me on a daily basis, it is about neither the appointment of the judges, nor how members of the Judiciary have been appointed since independence in the 1920s.

The Judiciary has stood the test of time. The method of appointment of members of the Judiciary in the past 22 years has involved a selection process. Following the debacle of the appointment of a High Court judge in 1994, there was new legislation. That legislation, no more than the system that was there in terms of Government appointment, involved the Executive having the sole responsibility for appointing judges. If one examines that through the decades, there have been many fine persons appointed.

The language being used suggests there was some kind of cosy cartel between the politicians and the legal profession out of which judges were appointed. However, given the system of appointment, the reality is that the court system has served the country extremely well.

Let us consider any comparison throughout the European Union, the developed world or any system that has measured our judicial appointments or the system that has led from the appointments of the Judiciary. They have been well received throughout the world. We have been seen as having appointed excellent judges.

Many people have served on the Bench and have made difficult and controversial decisions on a raft of issues, but they have always taken the letter of the law. They have taken what we have presented to them as the Oireachtas or by way of referendum. They have taken the law and conscientiously gone through it. It is peculiar to think that we are now debating at length this legislation because there is somehow some flaw in the way our judicial appointments are made. When I talk to the ordinary person on the street I sense the utmost respect for the judges.

Many facets or aspects of Irish society in the past 20, 25 or 30 years have definitely been challenged. The establishment and some aspects of church and State that had been held on a pedestal for many decades have been challenged. However, the one that has served us throughout is the judicial system. When we see people challenging the judicial system, they are always challenging judgments that went against them. It is by far the better way that judicial appointments have been made. Therefore, we have appointed singularly capable people to the Benches of all the courts.

We are now left with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I respectfully suggest there are far more important issues that need to be debated on the floor of the House before we head into the summer recess. Such issues are pressing on the minds of people. We had a debate in the House earlier on respite care in County Louth. The way the respite care system for people with disabilities or the elderly has been run could be extended to the entire country. Over the weekend many parents expressed considerable concern on the matter. Such bread-and-butter issues are affecting every family throughout the country, yet they are not jazzed-up enough, sexy enough or controversial enough to bring to the floor of Dáil Éireann. They are seen as mundane issues. However, these are not mundane issues for families at the receiving end of these services. People ask me at my clinic on a Friday, Saturday or Monday to raise these issues. Then, I say the whole week is given over to judicial appointments. The people concerned have the same reverence for the judges.

The judges in turn go through the legislation that they are charged with and they ensure they give judgments. We have seen many cases, although I have no wish to comment on any individual case - that is not my remit as a Member of the Oireachtas. We have seen many cases with commentary. As a case is going on, it is reported in the media. Judgments are made in terms of how a case is going to conclude and whether persons are going to be found guilty of the offence or found not guilty of the offence. There is debate on the length of time that is going through it.

We see the judicial system works in the way the jury is appointed and the way advice is given by the judges to the jury. They always ensure they are implementing the law properly. The Houses of the Oireachtas should applaud the system in place. We should applaud the way that the judges have been appointed and how they have administered, by and large, the courts system. Of course there needs to be further change as time passes. We can go back to the 1937 Constitution since the provisions were first put into the Constitution. We should look at how better to do it.

This Bill is unnecessary at this time. There are some words in it. It is completely and absolutely unnecessary at this time.

From the crash in 2008 right through to now, many fine people have spoken ad nauseam on radio and television and in the Houses of the Oireachtas about quangos, the number of quangos, the cost to the State of these quangos and the number of people appointed to these quangos. There was discussion on how to reduce and minimise the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy had created a major cost to industry and to society whether in the services sector or elsewhere. "Quangos" was the buzz-word. The front of the Sunday newspapers ran stories on how more quangos must be reduced, scrapped or done away with. The 2011 election was to be a reforming election that was going to turn the world on its head. The first thing that was going to be done by the most reforming of candidates was the getting rid of quangos. There was no longer going to be toleration in society of quangos. Let us suppose we wanted to press that issue or go through the commentary on that issue. What quangos would we get rid of or cut? An bord snip nua was looking at quangos with a view to getting rid of them in 2008 and 2009 after the crash. What are we doing here and now with this legislation? We are creating another quango. We find fault in how judges have been appointed. We find fault with how the letter of the law and the legislation has been applied to the nth degree since 1995. How do with find fault with it? We create another quango.

Other issues arise and I want to develop them also. One of the main issues that people have in society was discussed here earlier. It relates to the insurance industry and how the cost of insurance has quadrupled or doubled in recent months. Today, we learned of various investigations by the European Commission into how insurance and the cost of insurance is being applied. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was put in place 20 years ago or more to try to reduce the cost of insurance. We were to look at other jurisdictions and we were supposed to mirror the legislation on the basis of what people were advising. Reference was made to Scotland and some other parts of the British Isles and Europe. However, we are not looking at best practice there in respect of our insurance industry. We are not looking at how to minimise cost or how the cost can be minimised for the general public.

Next week we will debate Report and Final Stages of legislation predominately. That has been the tradition since I came to the House. Legislation is developed over a period and then it comes to the final week. It is brought in to ensure it is passed on Report and Final Stages such that it can be sent to the Seanad before the summer recess. We are now in the second last week of the session and we are debating legislation that has been put into three or four periods of Government time. This legislation will not be enacted before the summer.

We need to look at what is being proposed and ask whether there is such urgency about it. What is being proposed is not going to help our cause as Ireland Inc. The most important question that we should ask as Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas with every tranche of legislation is whether in five or ten years it is going to improve the livelihoods of ourselves or our citizens. Ultimately, as Members of the Oireachtas, we are sent to the Dáil as Teachtaí Dála, as messengers of the Dáil. Our job is to ensure we serve the people, whether they live in Cork North-West, Dublin, Donegal or Laois, and that we bring the basic message in respect of what people want. As in any republic, we are here at the behest of the people to represent the people. We are here to represent them to the best of our ability.

What is to be gained by adding further layers of bureaucracy? Let us go back over the years and consider any assessment of legislation that was taken in this House. There is one thread running through all of it: rushed or hurried legislation or legislation taken because of a specific issue, a political issue or because of someone's vanity ends up being poor legislation, by and large. Legislation should be teased out. People should make honest contributions every time in terms of how they want to proceed and how they want to see the best for society. What we are trying to do as Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, no more than in ordinary life, is ensure the Ireland we leave after us is better for the next generation and the generation after that.

As we spend three or four days discussing this legislation far more important issues in the education and health sectors are being sidelined to put through this vanity project.

Fianna Fáil is opposed to the Bill because we believe it is unnecessary at this point. In the past week or ten days, many fine commentators have reviewed this legislation. By and large, the view is that judicial appointments are at the behest of politicians and that only persons connected to senior politicians can hope to be appointed to the Judiciary. When one forensically examines the system, one finds that since the foundation of the State all of the very fine appointees to the Judiciary, by all of the political parties, including Cearhball Ó Dálaigh, excelled as court judges and they served the State well. In terms of this legislation, we will no longer be allowed to appoint people to the Judiciary because it might be tainted if the appointees are in some way associated with politics. The Executive appoints the Judiciary. That is sacrosanct in the Constitution. It is the methodology of appointments that is in question. There has been a rush to denigrate appointments made in the past, despite the fact that those appointed have been excellent judges. They took the oath and they have carried out their roles responsibly, whether in the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court or any other court to which they were appointed.

Politics and politicians are held in poor regard throughout the country. Truth be told, there are many people who wish with the strike of one match they could do away with the Members of this House and all others who practise politics, be that on local authorities or in the Seanad. Democracy is praiseworthy. It is the best form of government to ensure that people are held accountable. We are all aware of the many dictatorships across the world and of the poverty and suffering therein of men, women and children. Two years ago, when a picture of a child in one dictatorship was shown on the front page of the newspapers there was outrage. We do not cherish democracy in this country. We should praise people who have been appointed to the Judiciary because they have not been challenged in terms of the decisions they have made. They have made very fine decisions and issued fine judgments. I refer members to the cases of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six across the water. We did not have similar cases here because our judges were thorough in terms of how they implemented and practised the law. It is a disservice to us as politicians and a disservice to democracy and the Judiciary to say there is a need to take the grubby hand of politicians away from the appointment of judges because such appointments would be tainted and so on. We should be firm in our praise of judges.

In regard to free legal aid, there has been outcry in regard to the manner in which it is granted. The free legal aid system was established to assist the many people who were involved in family disputes or needed to defend themselves from scurrilous accusations and so on but were unable to access the courts because of the cost of legal proceedings. There are people who are questioning the availability of free legal aid. Rather than putting in place another quango, as provided for in this legislation, we should be discussing legislation to ensure a fairer distribution of free legal aid and greater transparency around that process. We do not need more quangos. There is no necessity for this quango which is proposed by the same people who, in articles in the public press in 2008, 2009 and 2010, said that this country was being run by quangos and that the decisions being made by quangos were not implemented by politicians being held accountable and so forth. Over the next number of days, as we did last week, we will be debating legislation that seeks to establish another quango that will cost multiples of the cost of the current system of appointment of judges. Perhaps somebody will point me to the flaw in the current system and why it is necessary to make this change. Is this a vanity project, an ego trip or is it genuinely needed by the people to ensure that we have more rather than less respect for the Judiciary?

While places such as Kanturk or Charleville or anywhere else are faced with many challenges, top of their list is not appointments to the Judiciary or the practices of the Judiciary. This is far from their minds. We in this House are duty bound to reflect on the concerns of citizens and to act accordingly by introducing legislation, such as legislation to ensure people receive proper respite care and so on. I know of families who have not received respite care for three or four years. Is that not as important or more important than the legislation we are discussing tonight? It is more important, as is the lack of roll-out of broadband across rural communities. I could speak here for the next 40 minutes about all of the issues we should be debating rather than this unnecessary legislation.

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks" is a quote from Hamlet, which has been around now for 400 years. It is still referenced today because it is very pertinent and true. It is also relevant to this debate. Although the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is in the Chamber, the driving force behind this Bill is undoubtedly his Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. His rationale for this legislation is that he wants to take on the judges and, as per his rationale in regard to other crusades on which he has been on during his time in politics, to take on the establishment, do away with the insider appointments and shake things up. This is the constant theme behind what drives the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, in politics. I wonder if the Minister doth protest too much because having been a Member of the Seanad for many years since the early 1980s he is not exactly an outsider. Indeed, he would qualify as an archetypal insider. One wonders why it is he wants to rail against others and constantly protests that he is not an insider.

The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, is also the leader of the Independent group. During the election campaigns in 2011 and 2016 there was such a surge of support for the Independents they told everyone when they were elected they would seek to change politics for the better and deliver for the public. Following the last general election many of them got their opportunity to enter Government but they decided not to do so and they scattered four sheets to the wind. In fairness, the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and some of his colleagues stepped up to the mark and decided to go into government.

One year on, as we come to the end of this Dáil term, what does the Minister have to show for himself? What legislation are the Independents in government choosing to expedite with their political capital? It is the Bill dealing with the way in which judges are appointed with which we are dealing today and which took up a good deal of Dáil time last week. As the Minister and I both know, that issue was not raised in the general election campaign, nor was it seen as a problem by many of the electorate, yet for the Minister, it is the one item of legislation on which he is hanging his hat. As such, it is his signature piece.

Ireland has made a very strong bid to host the Rugby World Cup. We are told by the Minister concerned that the legislation to enable that to happen is very important. We will deal with it before the end of this Dáil term, but why was it not prioritised by the Minister, instead of the legislation before the House?

It is because he wants to continue the crusade which has been his hallmark in recent times and throughout his career. He wants to get big headlines. He knows that the media, if no one else, will cover his attack on the judges. There are column inches in it, which is particularly attractive to him. Unfortunately, for many years he has been riding his white horse and conducting several moral crusades. However, as we have seen since he got into government, the white horse has been put out to grass and instead he is on the pig's back in terms of having a Cabinet seat and he is very much enjoying the experience. He has arrived at a Cabinet position, unfortunately from the public's point of view, but we are not seeing the delivery of any serious measure from him. We are not seeing any leadership or getting any insight from him on what he wants to deliver in his Department. Instead, we have seen him being willing to meddle in other issues, including majoring in this issue, but showing no willingness to grasp the opportunity he has received as a Cabinet Minister to make a real difference in the portfolio he was given. For example, delivery in the areas of transport, tourism and sport has been minimal. The interest he has shown in those areas has been little to none. We waited several months before there was any plan of action from him, other than items from other Departments which interested him but none from his Department.

On recent replies to parliamentary questions from my colleague, Deputy Robert Troy, about the Open Skies agreement, the Minister has not been engaging in any dedicated way with fellow Ministers from other European nations to try to protect it. I see no interest being shown by him in transport projects in my constituency of Donegal. We have a number of key projects that need to be moved on, yet he prefers to focus on an issue such as the one before us rather than, say, the need for a bypass around Letterkenny, a major town in my county, the need for a link road between Letterkenny and Lifford, or to progress the A5 project from Derry to Monaghan. He has shown no interest in such projects.

On tourism, we are not seeing anything of import coming from the Minister. There is nothing additional with respect to new investment in the Wild Atlantic Way. I have raised regularly on the floor of the House the need for an investment package in my county to exploit the potential offered by the National Geographic magazine in announcing Donegal as the coolest place on the planet in 2017. This helps greatly in promoting the county and presents an opportunity for the Government to invest in it to develop its undeveloped tourism product, yet nothing has been forthcoming from the Minister.

If it is to be the Department of Justice and Equality that is to take up time on the floor of the Dáil, I advise the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, that we should be focusing on the Garda. We should be spending time debating the need for Garda resources and proper garda deployment, an issue I have raised as it affects my county. We have seen a 20% reduction in the number of gardaí in the period from 2010. We had 480 gardaí previously, but the number is now just over 380. Of the 1,000 new Garda recruits since 2014, only 17 have come to County Donegal. I have corresponded with the Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on the issue. I use this opportunity to highlight the need for the reduction to be addressed as new Garda recruits graduate. Given that only 17 of the previous 1,000 garda recruits were allocated to County Donegal, the reduction needs to be addressed. The emphasis needs to be placed on addressing gaps in the system. I have no doubt that Donegal is not unlike a number of other counties in terms of the pressure gardaí are under, but the problem is particularly acute in my county because of the pressure of policing the Border with Northern Ireland, a problem that is not recognised. Many Border stations, in particular, have been starved of gardaí. It is impossible for the Garda force to offer the type of service expected and that the people require. Over the course of the confidence and supply agreement, the objective is that the Garda force will reach 13,500. I continue to liaise with the Minister to emphasise the need to address the under-resourcing of the Garda force in County Donegal in meeting that objective.

Instead of addressing that issue we are dealing with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill and a massive amount of Government time is being devoted to the debate. I make the point which was made by all of my colleagues that Fianna Fáil recognises the need to reform and improve the process by which judicial appointments are made. In that regard, my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, brought forward a Bill more than a year ago to achieve that objective. It is a superior Bill to the one brought forward by the Government. Despite the fact that it was introduced in the Dáil more than a year ago, the Government did not move to facilitate it being discussed at justice committee level by issuing the money order required for that debate to take place on Committee Stage. It was remiss in not doing so. Now there is a panic and a big push by it to deal with this Bill that was brought forward at the behest of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and on which a great deal of Dáil time is being spent. One has to ask why that is the case. It goes back to the Cabinet's decision, taken at the former Taoiseach's last Cabinet meeting, to proceed with the appointment of the Attorney General, without her submitting an application to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board while she sat at the Cabinet table, to the Court of Appeal.. Meanwhile the Minister was happy to sit at the Cabinet table and nod the decision through, yet when the heat was on, we saw him revert to his crusade to clean up politics and the way judges were appointed.

The Minister had to restrain himself from laughing when the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, in defence of himself after the appointment had been made, said how dare anyone else criticise him when he was only doing what others had done before him. That is a long way from what he campaigned on and from his main crusade. He let his mask slip. He had the comfort of a Cabinet seat and being at the Cabinet table when the decision was made. The decision of someone not being appointed through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, was helped by getting Stepaside Garda station reopened. The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, was quite happy to agree to that thinking that it might well go through on the nod. However, when he realised the public was not buying it, he reverted to type and went out to the plinth to criticise his own decision and look for a review of how the Cabinet made the appointment despite the fact he fully supported the decision at the time.

One of the key differences between the Fianna Fáil Bill and the one proposed by the Government is that our legislation requires the judicial appointments commission to give a preferential order in regard to the nominees it recommends to the Cabinet. That is something any reasonable person would think is an improvement. When one goes to the trouble of asking a commission to vet and conduct interviews and assessments on candidates' suitability, it follows and is logical that one would ask it to rank them in order of preference, based on its view and assessment of the most qualified candidates. It has been pointed out that one of the weaknesses of the current system is that a number of names can go forward to the Cabinet with fairly limited information about their suitability and without being ranked. It is then left to the Cabinet to decide without the full information available to help it make its decision. The proposal put forward by the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Government restricts it to three names but, as before, those three names would not be ranked. That is a weakness in the legislation being proposed and one which does not make sense. Under the Constitution, the responsibility for making the appointment must always rest with the Cabinet and it is entirely within its remit to appoint anyone, even outside of the list of nominations provided to it. When it is provided with the list, it should include details of the order of preference of the commission or board making the recommendation.

The other key difference is the treatment of those with a legal or judicial background. There has been much focus on this not least because members of the Judiciary have come out publicly on the point that the Government's Bill does not have the Chief Justice as the chairperson of the commission, the role being held instead by a lay person. Also, the President of the High Court and the President of the District Court are not full members of the commission. The Bill expresses a strong preference for people who do not have a legal background. As with any other profession, one needs experience to be able to decide who is capable and best suited to carrying out roles, and that applies to the legal profession. Under the legislation Fianna Fáil proposes, while there would be a non-judicial majority on the commission, there is clear identification of who those lay members should be. For instance, it includes representatives of the Legal Aid Board and Citizens Information Board, people who have a role and something to contribute to the process. There is a clear purpose behind why those people are there. The clarity in our legislation is welcome. This is a flaw in the Government's legislation.

I urge the Minister to take on board the amendments proposed by this side of the House and to look at the structure of Fianna Fáil's legislation which we believe is superior. I reiterate to the Government and the House our disappointment that this is the Bill on which the Government is majoring, albeit at the behest of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. It is a poor reflection on the Government that this is its signature legislation for this Dáil term, coming from the Independent branch of the Government. It certainly does not reflect the mandate it was given by the public or the platform on which it campaigned in the recent election when it sought the electorate's support.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this legislation. I will take the opportunity to wish the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, well in his new role. He will bring much energy and vigour to the role. He was a justice spokesperson at one time. That was before he backed the wrong horse but he has landed into the hot seat now and I wish him well. He was taken out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a crucial juncture and events in the North are not moving satisfactorily. The Minister made a positive contribution to same.

To return to the business at hand, if any Member came into the House and called someone a fraud it would be wrong, especially if the person was not a Member of the House. It is fair to lay the charge that someone who is a Member of the House is a political fraud. The actions of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, in his crusade, the debate around judicial appointments and the dishonest misrepresentation on which he has campaigned over the years are very concerning to me and many right-minded people. This is a man who has authored a book on the Judiciary and judicial appointments and ran a campaign for so long, describing the Judiciary as untouchable elites, taking every opportunity to unfairly denigrate our Judiciary. I am not saying everything is hunky-dory with the Judiciary. There are challenges but there are challenges in every section in our public service. We all have an obligation and a responsibility to address those issues. A judicial appointments commission is badly required and there should be more training for judges and more diversity but to build a campaign and follow it through with proposed legislation is very concerning. I will not forget some of the commentary I heard after the last general election when the Independent Alliance was in consultation with Fine Gael to form a Government and there were various doorstep interviews outside Government Buildings.

This was at a time when there were and still are so many issues for discussion, such as homelessness, and we can go right down the line to include water, provision of housing and pay inequality. Deputy Shane Ross had his Independent Alliance colleagues standing in front of Government Buildings telling the nation that what was between the negotiating parties was the appointment of members of the Judiciary. It is interesting that during my time as justice spokesman this came up for debate over the years. Everybody's starting point in the debate was that we have a very fine Judiciary and we are lucky to have such an independent and a fair-minded Judiciary. People praise the current complement of people serving us on the Bench before ridiculing or decrying the system, in which everything is wrong. They argue the system is compromised but at the same time we appear to be fortunate to have the Judiciary we have. It is staggering hypocrisy.

I agree with other speakers. The Rugby World Cup bid Bill is of immense importance but it has been relegated to second place in terms of priority this week, despite the major impact the event could have on this country. Apart from the criticism I have levelled at the Minister, Deputy Ross, for his crusade against judges and the Judiciary, one can ask what he has achieved outside of this within his Department. He threw a lousy €1 million to my part of the country to restart the programme for construction for the much needed M20 motorway to link Cork and Limerick.

I can give another example of the blatant hypocrisy with which he operates. There is a very significant commercial semi-State port in my constituency, the Shannon-Foynes Port Company. I have been told that either at the end of this month or certainly within a number of short weeks, its board will not have a quorum and thus unable to conduct meetings in a legal sense. I submitted a parliamentary question in this regard with reference to all State agencies under the remit of the great Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, a number of months ago and there is a raft of vacancies. What is going on? These are agencies of State with obligations under company law and many other headings but they find themselves with corporate structures being fundamentally undermined by the inaction of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. He has stated applications are with the Public Appointments Service.

There is another matter running in parallel to that problem. A person presented before the committee on which I sit, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, who was designated to chair the Health and Safety Authority. He is a very competent and able individual. We had an engagement with him prior to him taking up his post. I had no issue with his competence or ability to do his job. I wish him well and I am sure he is doing a very good job. He told the committee that he was not interviewed for the post at all and he just applied online before he was offered the job. That leads to other questions about the system of appointments to State boards. Is there now a scenario where we cannot have oversight or transparency in how the Public Appointments Service runs processes and competitions to fill these positions? One would imagine at the very least there would be an interview but there was not in this case.

I would like to be discussing other matters with the Minister instead of the judicial appointments process. For example, there is the major problem with free legal aid. It is a demand-led scheme, as the Minister knows, but week in, week out in my constituency I must deal with problems of access for marginalised and vulnerable people with regard to the civil arm of the free legal aid scheme. Criminal free legal aid is absolutely dominant in budget terms and it is an area we must examine fundamentally. There are battered spouses and people coming from other abusive relationships who need to seek redress or support in the courts but they cannot because when they apply for civil free legal aid, they are locked out or put on a waiting list on the never-never. It is not really good enough in this day and age as these people's lives are so negatively impacted on. We can compare this with the hardened criminal availing of the service on a continuous basis over weeks and months for offence after offence. I know that there is the constitutional matter of having the right to a fair defence. I would much rather see us discussing that subject tonight.

Another matter pertaining to the Minister's Department that we must take seriously is the undocumented population in this country. The Migrant Rights Council of Ireland tells us, correctly, that there is anywhere between 26,000 and 30,000 undocumented workers in the Irish shadow economy. Apart from those people being vulnerable, exploited and unable to avail of the protection we have in the labour force, they are also suppressing wage rates because of their work in the shadow economy, which has an impact on people working in the official economy. It is an area that comes within the Minister's remit. We published a Bill during the previous Dáil to regularise the undocumented and there was a presentation at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation today from the International Transport Workers Federation trade union, which represents people working in the fishing industry. It is truly shocking to hear of the exploitation of a large number of workers in that industry and, in particular, a large number of undocumented workers. We should be discussing such topics rather than this Bill.

The differences between this Bill and the legislation proposed by my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, is what is coming between our parties. Nobody is against reform and the process must be reformed. The key significant differences should be noted, including the ranking of names being forwarded. There should be a ranking of first, second and third. There should also be an obligation on the Government to give a reasoned explanation if any names are not put forward. The Bill emanating from the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, makes a mockery of trying to remove the political patronage or interference he alleges from the judicial appointments process. The Bill just has the provision for three names that can be rejected out of hand without a reason before going the other route. At least with Deputy Jim O'Callaghan's Bill, there must be a ranking of first, second and third.

There is no need for a commission at all then. The name ranked first would get the job.

There would be a merit-based reasoning.

If the first name gets the job, there is no need for a commission.

The first person might not take the job. There are plenty of reasons for such a ranking process. I am just pointing to the hypocrisy. What has the Government got against the Chief Justice who is an independent and reputable person and officeholder in this country?

Were the President to become incapacitated, under the Constitution, the Chief Justice would form one of the backfills, so to speak, for that vacancy in a temporary capacity, yet the Government and the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, believe the Chief Justice should be relegated in that process, which is very worrying. If he has not already done so, the Minister might explain the reason the Government has moved away from the Chief Justice in that regard.

There is no doubt that the Minister is establishing a quango. Truth be told, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board sits neatly as a sub-set of the Courts Service. When the Taoiseach sat on this side of the House, I recall him making a campaign out of the need to cull quangos. That is a fair criticism. I cannot recall the exact numbers he cited at the time, but he and his party were going to do the devil and all to deal with what he described as the proliferation of quangos, yet here we are establishing another quango.

The controversy about the appointment of the former Attorney General to the Court of Appeal was not properly explained to any of us. The Minister should take the opportunity to do so. Why did the former Attorney General not excuse herself from the process? Why did she not apply in the normal fashion, as provided for under the existing legislation, to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and be approved for appointment were she to meet the criteria? Apart from assessing candidates' suitability and qualifications, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board assesses other issues such as tax compliance, for example. Anybody who applies to the board must be able to furnish proof of tax compliance, including up-to-date tax clearance certificates. Was any of that background checking done as part of the appointment process? That is a fair question and I do not mean it to be personal. The appointment was discussed, but that aspect did not arise.

The appointment of the lay people who are to sit on the judicial commission represents the major difference between us and the Government. We have made the point that non-medics would not be appointed to select medics. People with qualifications, experience and a background in the area are needed to do this. In terms of the backgrounds of the persons who should sit on the commission, the Bill Deputy Jim O'Callaghan brought forward was the right way forward. Incidentally, the Legal Services Regulation Bill which was passed by the previous Dáil drew from the same complement of persons in terms of people who were considered competent in the area of law, justice and advocacy matters. I do not understand why the Minister will not consider people from the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Citizens Information Board, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Human Rights and Equality Commission and the free legal advice centres, FLAC. That is something he has to take on board because we cannot have a situation where people who know nothing about the operation of the law or the criminal justice system are sitting on the commission.

There is something else we should bear in mind. Who will choose the people in question? Ultimately, they will be politically appointed, which gives the lie to the way the Minister is trying to remove political influence from the process.

To return to my point about the backgrounds from which people who will sit on the commission should come, it was very clever of Deputy Jim O'Callaghan to outline in his Bill the calibre of person who should be appointed as a judge. He referenced integrity, independence of mind, moral courage, a high level of intellectual skill, sound temperament, common sense, impartiality, objectivity, fairness and equanimity. He rightly pointed out that not everybody would possess all of these skills, but what he outlined would go a long way towards dealing with the criteria.

The point my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, and my party leader have made on a number of occasions represents the right position to take from our point of view, namely, that this new quango that the Minister is proposing, with its lay majority appointed through a political process, will not achieve what the Minister has set out to achieve in removing what he calls political influence from the process. We all recognise that is the Government's choice, but if in the future Fianna Fáil believes it is not working, we are indicating our right to change the legislation if we find ourselves on the Minister's side of the House. That is something with which I agree.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard Durkan)

Deputies Stephen S. Donnelly and John Brassil are sharing time.

I, too, want to be associated with the expressions of good will to the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on his new appointment. He is a man of great experience. He is well suited to his new role in which I wish him well. On that note, he must sit uneasily with this legislation that has been put before him, given the background and history of the Minister who is pushing it in Cabinet. It must sit uneasily with a man of the Minister's experience. If the issues highlighted by Fianna Fáil are not of concern to him - I will revert to them shortly - he must surely be concerned about those who are supporting the Bill. Those in the ranks of Sinn Féin are pushing the Bill and supporting the Minister on it. That must sit very uneasily with him. If that is not enough to point out that the Bill is seriously flawed, I do not know what is. We in Fianna Fáil believe there is a need to reform the judicial appointments process. However, the Bill is flawed. I do not want to repeat what has been said, but not having the Chief Justice as chairperson of the commission does not make sense. This is poor, flawed legislation and I ask the Minister to examine it closely and amend same. Also, it is farcical that the Presidents of the District Court and the Circuit Court will not be members of the commission.

On recommending three people but not pushing forward one over another, in any job for which someone applies there is always a preferred candidate. That is the way it should be because it works. This proposal is unworkable.

Without wishing to rehash everything that has been said by my colleagues in the past few hours, I ask the Minister, as a man of integrity and experience, to seriously examine the issues we have pointed out to him and look at the people who are supporting him on this legislation, their record on the judicial system and the way they have disrespected it for many years. He should bring forward the necessary amendments to make the Bill workable and worthwhile because in its current format it is not workable or worthwhile.

I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on his appointment and wish him luck. It is obviously a challenging portfolio in which there have been crises in the six years I have been involved in politics. I genuinely wish him good luck as he has his work cut out for him.

I have to confess that when all of this kicked off a few weeks ago, I knew as much as most people about the appointment of judges, which was next to nothing. I knew that the Cabinet made decisions and that there had been political influence in the appointment of judges for many years. I had a vague sense that the process needed to be reformed, but I have to admit that it is not an area I really knew. In the past few weeks, therefore, I have been listening to Dáil debates and commentary in the media and, in preparation for the debate on the Bill before the House, I looked in more detail at the Minister, Deputy Ross' Bill - the Government's proposed Bill - and also at Fianna Fáil's proposal, which is being led by my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, whom I commend for what appears to be a serious piece of legislative work.

There is agreement among the majority of the House, possibly all of it, that the judicial appointments process needs to be reformed. Unfortunately, my reading of the Bill and the expert analysis of it is that it will not achieve the reforms needed. That, ultimately, is the problem. I do not believe the Bill should be supported by the Government or the Oireachtas. It would be very peculiar if it was voted through by a combination of the Government and Sinn Féin.

Under the current process, when a vacancy comes up, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board advertises the post. It receives job applications from lawyers, as only they are allowed to apply to be judges. The board then determines who is suitable for the role. This is important. It does not provide guidance on who it believes is best for the role and does not rank the names on the list it sends to the Cabinet. Its job, essentially, is filtering out who is a suitable lawyer for appointment to the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court or the Court of Appeal. It provides the list for the Cabinet which then deliberates. Interestingly, I read commentary by Dick Spring who said that when he was a member of the Cabinet and asked to go through a long list of lawyers for appointment to the Bench, he had no idea who the best candidates were or who might not be good candidates, even though they might be eligible for the job. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board essentially sends a letter to the Cabinet which chooses from the list.

I believe anyone looking at that process would say it needs to change. It is not merit-based in terms of rank. It is based on suitability and then some political decisions and is not very transparent. We all know that it needs to change. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board was described by one of those involved in its creation as a "temporary fix". In 2014 the Association of Judges of Ireland acknowledged that the process was unsatisfactory and needed to change.

The list of suitable candidates provided by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board for the Cabinet includes only those candidates who are suitable and no ranking is provided for the Cabinet, which obviously leaves the process open to political patronage, something we all want to get rid of. The public, Members of the Oireachtas, the legal profession and the Judiciary all want to see not just suitable lawyers appointed to be judges but also the best, most suitable lawyers, in so far as they would make the best judges. That means that we need to put in place an identifying body that could identify and evaluate the merits of candidates based on their suitability for the post. Critically, such a body needs to be independent and completely free from political considerations at the Cabinet. That is something on which we would all agree. It is reasonable that we have an independent, expert advisory board that could present a list of suitable and ranked candidates, in terms of who the advisory board thinks are the very best candidates, one that would be completely free of the political considerations of the Cabinet. It seems reasonable to want this in the appointment of judges.

Of course, the Bill before the House will not achieve this. It does not set out the need to interview candidates, which is extraordinary. I am not aware of any process for appointments to this level of job of this importance under which candidates would not be interviewed. It is astonishing that this would be the case. The proposed candidates will not be ranked and thus the process will not provide guidance on the comparative suitability of the candidates whose names will be put to the Cabinet. Were I a member of the Cabinet and presented with a list of the names of three, five or 20 lawyers and to receive no guidance from an advisory body, I would be at sea in trying to say this lawyer or that lawyer, for the following reasons, appeared to be the strongest candidate. I imagine that certainly some members of the Cabinet, were they to be honest, would say the same and that they would value some detailed guidance from an expert advisory group.

The Bill also posits the idea that lay people are better placed to make a judgement on the qualities of a prospective judge than judges or lawyers. It is a core element of the mindset of the Bill that people who have never been lawyers or judges are somehow better placed to decide who would make good judges than those in the legal profession or the Judiciary. That seems to be a very peculiar mindset to underpin the legislation.

Critically, of course, the Attorney General who sits at the Cabinet table is a member of the advisory board. I am not making any comment on a specific person who is or has been in the role of Attorney General or will be in the future. However, it is as clear as day that if the Attorney General sits on the advisory board and is the only person sitting at the Cabinet table when the list is discussed, we have a direct link between the advisory board and the Cabinet which will make the decision. By definition, that means that it is no longer independent.

The Bill before the House is widely recognised as being a proposal brought forward by the Independent Alliance, in particular the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. I was very taken by something he said in his statement in the House:

The objective of the Bill primarily is to reduce, if it is not able to eliminate, political interference in the selection of judges. This is the primary aim, and to do it as soon as possible.

The Minister has a Bill and is stating that its primary aim is to eliminate political interference in the appointment of judges, yet we have a direct link between the advisory board and the Cabinet. In addition, we will have no advice on the best candidates on the list sent to the Cabinet, which leaves the process wide open. For example, one could say, "We have five lawyers in front of us. We do not know what their merits are as we are not lawyers and do not spend our time in court, so we do not know which of them would make the best judge of the District Court or the Circuit Court. However, we know this person because he or she is in Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin and that he or she is a good person, so let us go with what we know. We know that this person is decent, a good lawyer and a person of integrity and think he or she would make a great judge." It is political patronage. If that is the stated intention, self-evidently, the Bill will not achieve it. The list of names put forward will provide no assessment of comparative suitability.

This is how the process will work under the Bill the Government is putting forward. The applicants' suitability will be examined. There will be no interviews. There will be a lay majority assessing candidates for roles of which they would have very little experience and understanding of the requirements to be met.

Critically, under the legislation there will be no representation from the District Court, the President of which is excluded from being a member of the advisory board. There will be no representation from the Circuit Court, the President of which is also excluded from being a member of the advisory board. As the Minister knows - I knew even before I started to look into this issue - the majority of judges are appointed to the District Court and the Circuit Court. On the advisory body there will be lay people who will make decisions about judicial appointments to the Circuit Court and the District Court with no representation from the Circuit Court or the District Court, persons who clearly would be well placed to provide an input on the type of man or woman who would make a great judge of the District Court or the Circuit Court. There will be no ranking of candidates and the Attorney General who sits at the Cabinet table will be a member of the advisory board. It seems to be a very peculiar way to achieve the end of removing political interference and ensure we have the best judges. It just does not make sense to me. I am not a lawyer and do not spend a lot of time in court and honestly do not know what the best characteristics of judges are. I would not be able to pick the best candidate from a list of four or 20 lawyers whom I did not know, but I do know enough to know that the process I have outlined is, self-evidently, not the best way for Ireland to select the best judges. Therefore, why are we discussing it? Why is this being brought forward by the Government?

The Bill further indicates that the Judiciary is, in some way, compromised, that having a majority of professionals on the board will in some way lead to political decisions. There is no indication that this happens. Furthermore, the introduction of lay people in no way insulates appointments of judges from political viewpoints. It is absolutely reasonable for us to assume that lay people with political viewpoints, be they pro-life, pro-choice, pro or anti-European, would look to get onto the board to try to influence the views of the judges we will have in the future.

The elements of the Bill we have outlined and which Deputy Jim O'Callaghan has gone through in great length simply will not achieve its stated aims, but it does appear that the Fianna Fáil Bill would achieve them. What does the Bill do? We will have a lay majority, but there is no indication why that is necessary. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan has asked for an answer to be given on this issue on a number of occasions, but, to the best my knowledge, he still has not received a satisfactory answer.

It has been stated - I am sure the Minister is sick of hearing the example given time and again - but for a lay person and a non-lawyer like me, if the Minister for Health was to say we would start appointing doctors and hospital consultants using a majority of non-medical people - that we would get somebody from the local GAA club, the local credit union, the local tidy towns committee, the principal of the local school, an eminent lawyer and an eminent human rights activist - to appoint cardiologists, neurologists and brain surgeons, it would not last 24 hours because we would all get that the head of the credit union was not well placed to appoint cardiologists and we would all understand the local school principal was not well placed to advise on the best junior doctor to become a neurologist. However, because we are dealing with the world of the Judiciary it is complicated. Most members of the public, including me, do not really understand this stuff, but that is essentially what we are suggesting. We are suggesting the head of the credit union, the local school principal, a human rights activist and a local fisherman could appoint a neurologist, that we have a majority of lay people on the board and that we also have three doctors on it. I do not think too many people would feel comfortable in getting sick if that is how we were to start appointing consultants or nurses, or teachers, but that is what we will do in the case of one of the most critical roles in the public service, namely, the Judiciary.

Regardless of whether the Bill is passed, the Constitution still gives ultimate power to the Government to appoint judges. In this case, the logical solution is to ensure it has access to the best possible advice, which means ranking candidates. I heard the Minister's earlier rebuttal, that if the advisory body was to place candidates first, second and third, what would be the point of the Cabinet even meeting to discuss the matter as the first placed candidate would be chosen. I would like to receive expert advice. If I had to make decisions on appointing lawyers to become judges, I would like more than a list. I would like to receive the expert advice of senior judges and others.

The Bill before the House makes a mistake that is made far too often, which is that we identify the minimum standard required to be met. The JAAB did this, but it should not have done and the Bill does so. It fails to recognise the failing of this approach, in that it does not identify those who truly excel, the best possible candidates, and, obviously, does not eliminate political interference in the appointment of judges. On the other hand, Fianna Fáil's Bill would achieve these aims. It would allow us to avail of sufficient expertise from the legal profession and the Judiciary. There would be representation from the District Court and the Circuit Court and the Bill would mandate the holding of interviews. It would also provide for rankings and the giving of expert advice to the Cabinet. There would be nobody sitting on the advisory board who was also sitting at the Cabinet table. There would be a mandatory explanation required from the Cabinet if it decided to go with a candidate from outside the list. Obviously, it would still be the Cabinet's right to do so. Fianna Fáil's Bill states this could be done, but an explanation would have to be given.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence.

Fianna Fáil's Bill would provide for wide public representation, including representatives appointed by FLAC, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Citizens Information Board, the Higher Education Authority and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. It would also lay out specific criteria by which judges should be evaluated.

We all know what is going on. We all know that this is a flawed Bill and that Fine Gael is deeply uncomfortable with it. We all know that it is being pushed through because the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, wants it to be pushed through and that it is one of the prices to be paid for compromise and coalition. If that is what will happen, we do not have the numbers to stop it, although, obviously, we will vote against it. If the Minister is to proceed with the Bill - I believe he knows that it is deeply flawed-----

-----will he, at least, take on the differences between the Bill of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and Fianna Fáil's Bill? They would help to achieve the giving of expert advice and representation from the District Court and the Circuit Court-----

I thank the Deputy very much. My indulgence has been exhausted.

-----and, from my reading of it, genuine independence between the advisory board and decision-making by the Cabinet.

I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on his new role and wish him the very best of luck in the weeks and months ahead.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. While Fianna Fáil fully believes in the need for reform of the judicial appointments system, we also believe the Bill published by the Government is deeply flawed. Fianna Fáil has proposed legislation to establish a judicial appointments commission, fully independent of the Government, that would make recommendations to the Government based on an independent assessment of the merits of applicants for judicial office. I compliment my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, who has put immense work into it. He is an expert in the area. As Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly stated, we need expertise in making any appointment but particularly in this profession which is critical for the country. With the proposals for a lay majority and the downgrading of the Chief Justice’s position, the Government has let the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, drive forward a spurious agenda which risks undermining the independence of the Judiciary.

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 will change the way judges are appointed in Ireland.

A new body, the judicial appointments commission, will replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. Serving judges applying to another judicial position will have to apply through the judicial appointments commission. It is imperative our judicial appointments process is reformed to ensure people are appointed to judicial office based solely on merit. For that reason, Fianna Fáil proposed legislation establishing a judicial appointments commission, fully independent of the Government, which would make recommendations to the Government based on an independent assessment of the merits of applicants for judicial office.

The commission proposed by the Government will not allow for such an independent process of assessment. That is the most critical and poignant part of this legislation. Among its faults, the Bill will require the Chief Justice to sit on a commission that she will not chair. This is indicative of the disrespect that the Government has for the Judiciary. This Bill will exclude the Presidents of the Circuit and District Courts from full membership of the commission. It is also recommended that the majority of the commission should be lay members, namely, persons who are neither judges nor lawyers. This grouping of judges and lawyers in the same category by the Government ignores the fact that judges are not members of the legal profession. The fact that they were previously members is not a basis to assume that judges and lawyers, if in a majority, will have a negative influence on this commission.

The Bill proposes that the three persons recommended by the commission will not be ranked in order of merit. The failure to do so defeats the entire purpose of having a commission that seeks to recommend the best candidate. It is regrettable the proposals put forward by the Government are not for the purpose of achieving genuine reform but, instead, are for the purpose of appeasing one member of the Government whose proposals in this area are ill-considered and deeply flawed.

Fianna Fáil remains committed to achieving reform in this area, as outlined in its Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, published in October 2016. The weakness in the current system means that when a large list of names is presented to the Cabinet, most of them do not know how to go about choosing one person from a list of 24 for a District Court position. There is no reason politicians should be aware of who is the most suitable or best candidate. It is true people who have political connections are at an advantage if their names are on the list which goes to the Cabinet. Many people who are appointed because of political connections turn out to be excellent judges. We should not have a system whereby because a person is involved in politics, he or she should be excluded from subsequent nomination to judicial office. We need a recommending body which can identify who it believes will be the best person for the position of judge. We should have a recommending body that ranks individuals in terms of their suitability for the job.

Under the Constitution, which is appropriate, the Government has the final say. Regardless of what system is in place or how it operates, the Government can disregard the list of candidates provided by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and appoint a candidate of its choosing. This is the system which currently operates under the Constitution. However, we believe it needs to be changed and broadened to ensure it is fairer and that the best people have an opportunity to be considered and appointed.

The Fianna Fáil Bill establishes a judicial appointments commission to recommend to the Government the names of individuals who it believes would be the most suitable, based on merit, to be judges. For each position, it will recommend three people. The Government scheme has the same provision. Under our Bill, however, the three will be ranked in order of one, two and three. In no way does that offend the constitutional prerogative that rests with the Cabinet. Under neither scheme must the Cabinet opt for anyone on the list. However, there is a benefit in the Cabinet being told by a body with expertise that it believes these are the three best people in a certain order.

I come from a different professional background in education. In any interview panels on which I sat or was party to, there was always expertise on them. That format has to be followed if we are serious about getting the best people in such critical positions in the Judiciary. One would not put people with no teaching experience or nothing to contribute on a panel interviewing for a teacher, a vice principal or principal post. Needless to say, the same should apply to appointing judges.

There is a further important part of the Fianna Fáil Bill which differs from the Government’s. We set out specific criteria if people are to be appointed as judges. It is important the public be apprised of what qualities one needs to be appointed. This provision is not found in the Government’s scheme. It is important we set out in our legislation matters that may seem obvious. One needs integrity, independence of mind, moral courage, a high level of intellectual skill, sound temperament, common sense, impartiality, objectivity, fairness and composure. The greatest judge in the world will not have all these. However, it is useful for the public to know what is required.

A further way in which Fianna Fáil’s Bill is relevant concerns the membership of the commission. The body of people most qualified to make recommendations are judges themselves and others who have experience. Under our Bill, there would be 12 members on the commission. These include the Chief Justice who is President of the Supreme Court and the Presidents of the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court. They would be judicial members. Interestingly, the Government has adopted hook, line and sinker the language of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, which is all about lay people and non-lay people. It is offensive to judges that non-lay people, under the Government’s scheme, are described as judges and lawyers. Judges are not practising lawyers. They were lawyers formerly. The membership of the commission proposed and advocated by Fianna Fáil is of persons who have the best interests of the people at heart when it comes to identifying individuals who would make good judges. It is farcical to suggest that judges, such as presidents of the courts, will want to select for recommendation people who are their friends. They will want to ensure the people chosen are effective and useful.

The Association of Judges of Ireland issued a statement to express its concerns at several measures contained in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. The Judiciary is not opposed to the introduction of changes in the system of appointments to the Bench. However, it believes, as does Fianna Fáil, the proposals going before the Oireachtas are seriously flawed. These concerns need to be listened to. Reform of how judges are appointed will have significant consequences for this country that will impact long after the current Government is gone. Unfortunately, this Bill is misguided and poorly constructed. Fianna Fáil remains committed to achieving reform in this area, as outlined in our Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Again, I compliment our justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan, who has put immense work into it. We should be listening to his expertise as he comes from a legal background and knows what he is talking about.

I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on his new appointment. I know that he will do a good job as he was junior spokesperson in the justice position several years ago.

I congratulate our justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan, on bringing forward his legislation which also proposes the establishment of a judicial appointments commission. The Government’s Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 will change the way judges are appointed. A new body, the judicial appointments commission, will replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, originally established under the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995. Serving judges applying to another judicial position will have to apply through the judicial appointments commission. It will be made up of 13 members with a lay majority and lay chair. It will be responsible for recommending a maximum of three candidates per judicial vacancy to the Minister for Justice and Equality. It will replace the current system where between seven to 20 names are submitted to the Minister. The Bill provides that certain legal academics who have professional legal qualifications will be eligible to apply for judicial office. The Bill establishes in law that judicial appointments will be based on merit. An obligation to review the judicial appointments commission is included in the Bill. The Bill’s operation must be reviewed by the judicial procedure committee of the judicial appointments commission and the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Debate adjourned.