An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is proposal No. 1 for dealing with Tuesday’s business agreed to? It is not agreed.

Tuesday's business sees the Government trying to push through a motion to appoint Geraldine Feeney to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. Not only is it trying to force through that motion without any debate, last week I pointed out that the Government's appointee to the commission was a professional, paid lobbyist on behalf of the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP. We know that the Tánaiste provided confidential documents to the president of that group, who at that time was his friend. We are now looking at an unprecedented situation that while the Act requires us to appoint a former Member of the Oireachtas, the Government believes we should actually appoint not only a former Member, but a paid lobbyist and someone who was registered as a lobbyist up until a couple of weeks ago. The Taoiseach is well aware of this because Geraldine Feeney lobbied the Taoiseach a number of years ago on the NAGP-----

We cannot have a debate now Deputy.

He would have been aware of the fact that she provided that role when they decided to appoint Ms Feeney to the commission. Can the Taoiseach satisfy the House, before we deal with this issue, that Ms Feeney has actually made all the returns that are necessary to the Commission? Will the Taoiseach enlighten the House on Ms Feeney's role in relation to the lobbying activity-----

The Deputy cannot enter into a debate on this now, please.

-----that was carried out here on 21 March 2018? Was Ms Feeney required to submit a submission to the Standards in Public Office Commission in that regard? Why is the Taoiseach afraid of a debate on this in the House? One of the first issues the commission will have to deal with is the official complaint-----

We have heard enough and the Deputy has made his point.

-----that has been made against the Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar, around leaking the document for the NAGP. In his wisdom, the Taoiseach believes that this House should, without debate, just pass a motion to appoint the paid lobbyist of the NAGP to that commission.

The Deputy's time is up.

The arrogance of the Government is absolutely breathtaking.

A Cheann Comhairle, last Friday I emailed you and the Business Committee requesting that time be put aside for the Minister for Justice to come to the House to answer questions on the appointment to the Supreme Court of Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe. I did not receive a reply over the weekend and I sent a further email yesterday lunchtime. This call was supported by Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and the Rural Independent Group, and yet we received no reply formally or informally to the request. I do not take to my feet very often on the Order of Business and I do not make idle requests of this House. The matter has reached a threshold of importance where I believe the vast majority of Members on the Opposition feel that the Minister needs to come to the House. The only reply we got was a revised schedule sent around yesterday evening. Not only was the request denied, the manner in which the request was made was disrespected. For that alone the Labour Party cannot agree to the Order of Business as proposed for Tuesday. Again we make the request that the Minister for Justice comes to the House at some point this week to answer these questions.

The Social Democrats cannot agree to the Order of Business. We too wrote to the Business Committee looking for time to be set aside for the Minister for Justice to come in to deal with the process around the appointment of judges, and the most recent appointment.

That has to happen and it must happen this week.

We concur with the point that has been made about the appointment to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. That motion is on the Order Paper because we are required to give the appointment our stamp of approval. The Standards in Public Office Commission is there to hold us to account equally. We have to be certain that it is above reproach.

There is a motion on the Order Paper to refer the issue of the horse and greyhound racing fund to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine. We are not at all happy that there will not be a debate on this House in advance of that, given what we know about the Irish Greyhound Board, the animal welfare issue and the fact that there is a substantial increase in the board's budget. This requires for there to be a debate in this House on that matter.

The Government is trying to dodge artfully a number of key debates. First, an ex-Fianna Fáil Senator is meant to be appointed to SIPO despite being a former lobbyist for the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP, and despite the fact that SIPO has been asked to adjudicate on the Tánaiste's leaking of confidential documents to the NAGP. That is bizarre, incredible and not on.

Second, the controversy about the judge has been kicked back to the Judiciary. That is fair enough, but there are political issues surrounding this appointment. The Taoiseach knows that. Why is the Minister for Justice not being asked to come in to the House to make a statement and to answer questions about those political appointments, which everyone knows about should not be allowed?

Finally, a motion on €19 million in funding for the greyhound industry is to be passed without debate. We are not going to agree to that. The Order of Business for today needs to be seriously looked at.

I concur with the statements regarding today's business. I also ask the Ceann Comhairle what the House is going to do about the issue of Mr. Justice Seamus Woulfe?

I am not here to answer questions.

When was he-----

All I can deal with are motions I receive on that or any other matter. I apologise to Deputy Duncan Smith if he did not receive a formal reply from the Business Committee because he most certainly should have. I call the Taoiseach to respond to the issues raised.

The motion regarding greyhound racing is a simple referral to the committee and a debate will of course be accommodated once the matter comes back from the committee to the House. A debate will be facilitated on that issue.

As regards the nomination to SIPO, the Government is nominating Mr. Justice Garrett Sheehan and Ms Geraldine Feeney to fill two vacancies which arose in the commission in February, namely, those of chair and of an ordinary member. Notwithstanding that there has been some controversy surrounding the National Association of General Practitioners, the nomination of former Senator Feeney is being made in line with the requirements of the legislation, as is that of Mr. Justice Sheehan. Both candidates bring experience and skills which will benefit the operation of the commission. As set out in section 2(2)(b)(v) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, one of the ordinary members of the commission must be a former Member of a House of the Oireachtas. Former Senator Feeney served in the Seanad between 2002 and 2011 and was seen as a competent person who acted with integrity at all times. I regret some of the comments that have been made in respect of the former Senator. They are not merited.

The question-----

People are not debarred from serving on a commission of that kind just because of one particular issue at one particular time. She is eligible and has experience as a public representative. I think people who served with her in the Seanad would accept her fairness, integrity and her experience of regulatory affairs, which will be an asset to the commission. She registered as a lobbyist, along with other former Members of this House who have done the same.

What about the activity on 21 March?

On the selection of Mr. Justice Woulfe, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, recommended that he was suitable for appointment.

There was a selection process held by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, and chaired by the Chief Justice. It included the Presidents of the Four Courts, in addition to representatives of the Law Society, the Bar Council and lay members. It recommended that Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe was suitable for appointment by the Government.

There is a parallel process-----

There is a clear process for the appointment of a judge by the Government set out in the Constitution and in law. The process has been fully complied with in this case. Only one name-----

Deputy Kelly was in government and he knows it.

I accept that.

Only one name is ever brought to the Cabinet by the proposing Minister.

That is not the issue.

No one is arguing about that.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

On 9 March, JAAB met and decided to recommend Séamus Woulfe as being suitable for appointment to the Supreme Court.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 21; Staon, 0.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.

Níl

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Ward, Mark.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Duncan Smith and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?

I call Deputy McDonald.

The Taoiseach and the Government are denying a request by the Opposition, virtually in its entirety, for the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to present to make a statement and to take questions relating to the process surrounding the appointment of a justice to the Supreme Court benches. The Taoiseach is being disingenuous in his approach on this matter. He has stated, correctly, that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, forwarded one name to the Minister for this appointment but he equally knows that three serving judges had applied through the second channel, which is the channel to the Attorney General, and so the Minister, Deputy McEntee, had four names on her desk. The Government must be accountable for the process thereafter, when the Minister arrived from four candidates to the single name that she brought to the Cabinet. The Taoiseach has stated publicly that he was unaware of the three other applicants. The leader of the Green Party, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has similarly said he was unaware of that. Therefore, legitimate questions arise as to what happened, how the Minister, Deputy McEntee, arrived at her decision to bring forward the single name and who was involved in that process. The Taoiseach may try to hide behind the division of powers but he should remember that one of the essentials of our system, which he and I wish to protect, is the accountability of the Executive to the Oireachtas. The Taoiseach is duty-bound and the Minister for Justice is duty-bound to present herself to make a statement and to take the questions from Members of the Oireachtas on this important matter.

I do not believe the Taoiseach has any choice in moral terms but to ask the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to come in here. It is not that long ago that the Taoiseach dismissed a Minister because - he said at the time - the Minister was refusing to come into the Dáil to answer questions. This is complete hypocrisy.

It is a different issue.

I accept they are different issues. This is a far more serious issue in my opinion. It seems the Taoiseach is the first Taoiseach in the history of this State not to be consulted in any way in regard to the appointment of a Supreme Court judge. Some taoisigh may only get to do this once but the current Taoiseach had no role, hand, act or part. What was said to him during the programme for Government negotiations, in which there were two parties along with an acting part of a Government negotiating to get into government, was that Mr. Woulfe had come through the JAAB process and that his appointment was likely. It is likely that Tipperary is going to win the all-Ireland this year but we also could lose next Saturday. That is not a definitive action; it means nothing. It is irrelevant when it comes to this process. The Taoiseach is the only Taoiseach who has never been consulted, according to what is out there now in regard to the appointment of a Supreme Court judge. The Government might keep voting down the more-or-less united Opposition in regard to this issue but I can guarantee the Taoiseach that this will not go away.

On the same issue, there is a parallel process in place here. What weighting is given in that parallel process to judicial experience, for example, which is something the Taoiseach raised here in 2017 in regard to an appointment to the Court of Appeal? It does not appear to have been an issue in the case of an appointment to a superior court. There is a dual process here. Given what the Taoiseach has said about the process, namely, that the JAAB process was the proper route, the one person involved in that in bringing forward or considering other names is the Attorney General. Was there a conflict of interest? Was that something that was declared? There are many things arising here. As the Opposition, we have to a job to do in holding the Government to account. It is essential that the Minister for Justice comes in here and we have a debate about this issue. Equally, it is important that we have a judicial Bill in order that we stop repeating the same process over and over again.

I dealt with this issue in the debate on the Order of Business for today. As I pointed out, there is a clear process for the appointment of a judge by the Government as set out in the Constitution and in law. That process has been fully complied with in this case. As I also pointed out, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board is chaired by the Chief Justice and its membership includes the President of the Court of Appeal and the Presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court. That is the position.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach should show some respect.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Only one name is brought to the Cabinet by the proposing Minister. There is an issue. I have never before seen a situation where a Minister for Justice was brought into the House to account for the appointment process and why one judge was picked rather than another judge.

That is the Taoiseach's job.

I have not seen that happen before. That would represent, by any objective yardstick, a breach of the separation of powers.

Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

That is rubbish.

It is not rubbish. It is the function of Government to appoint-----

It is the very separation in law that needed to happen.

I accept the point made by Deputy Catherine Murphy that a judicial appointments commission should be progressed, and it will be progressed. However, the difference from the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill brought forward in the previous Dáil is that the Government thinks the proper approach to adopt is for the Chief Justice to chair the commission in terms of the appointment of judges in the future and recommendations that will go to the Government from the new judicial appointments commission. The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill did not get through the previous Oireachtas. It was in the other House for a considerable period.

What does that have to do with this issue?

The Taoiseach is talking down the clock.

That has been the position since time began in terms of how judges are appointed.

(Interruptions).
Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 21; Staon, 0.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.

Níl

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Ward, Mark.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Duncan Smith and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. In the Taoiseach's previous contribution, he started-----

Can we have order for Deputy Kelly, please?

In his previous contribution, the Taoiseach cited once again what is, as far as I am concerned, a complete misunderstanding of the separation of powers. Spurious arguments are being used to prevent a debate in this House. All Members agree and understand that the appointment of judges is a function of the Government. The Government is accountable to the Legislature for its performance of its functions. It is the very separation of powers that warrants time to be put aside so that Members can ask questions of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, regarding the process. It does not matter.

We do not even have to mention a name. It could be Justice X. This is about the process. The Ceann Comhairle, without putting words in his mouth, ruled earlier that it is okay to have such questions, because we will only talk about the process. We can glean from all this that the only reason the Taoiseach is forcing all his Government colleagues to vote in the way they are voting is that, politically, he is afraid for the Minister and the Government to be questioned on this process. That is damn well not acceptable.

The Taoiseach does himself no credit as Head of Government to resist the legitimate and reasonable ask from the Opposition that the Minister for Justice make a statement and take questions on this matter. I remind the Taoiseach that when he was in opposition, he had plenty to say when a former Attorney General was elevated to the Bench of the Appeal Court. At that time, some of his commentary was most unedifying. The Taoiseach said earlier that he never recalled such a request from the Opposition for the Minister for Justice to appear before the House. Bear in mind that never before has a Taoiseach said publicly that he did not know of other expressions of interest for such a position. We can only surmise, because we are not part of the collaboration, conversation and process by which four applicants became one name brought forward to the Cabinet. We have not only a right but a duty-----

The powers are separated.

-----to examine this matter and to examine exactly what happened. The only person who can assist us in that regard is the Minister of Justice.

In 2017, there was a contribution in the House and the question then from the now Taoiseach was about the lack of judicial experience. I would have though it was self-evident that this particular aspect would have been fully interrogated when it came to the appointment of a Supreme Court judge. The fact that the Taoiseach was not made aware that there were other judges who had applied beggars belief. The fact that this process is so deficient is undermining both the House and the Judiciary. I cannot see any other way of Members doing their jobs and holding the Government to account than properly debating this.

There is a feeling among the public that the selection of judges can be a political quid pro quo. People are selected and given positions by the Taoiseach of the day having regard to the negotiation his party has with other political parties and not necessarily on the basis of judicial experience and so forth. As a result of this crisis, it would be very useful for Members and the public to hear the words of the Minister for Justice. It is important that the Taoiseach gives an opportunity to that Minister to put on the record exactly what the process was and whether it lived up to what it should have been.

Every Member has made his or her position patently obvious. Does the Taoiseach wish to respond?

Yes, I do. I must reiterate some key points. Regarding the previous appointment mentioned by Deputy McDonald, that was not through the JAAB process. That said, I never sought the presence of the Minister of Justice to go through a selection process, in terms of giving weight to one person's qualities as opposed to another's.

There was a debate in the Dáil.

Deputy Catherine Murphy has raised that point.

I was reminding the Taoiseach of the point he made.

The appointment I referred to never went through the JAAB. The then Government, in its wisdom, made a decision without going through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. It was entitled to do that within the law and the Constitution. That was the context then. The context here is that once I was informed that Mr. Justice Woulfe had gone through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board-----

While the Taoiseach was in opposition.

-----as a suitable candidate for the position on the Supreme Court, I was happy to accept that. Why? It is because the board is chaired by the Chief Justice and includes the presidents of the other four courts, in addition to representatives of the Law Society of Ireland and the Bar Council of Ireland.

What was the Taoiseach's problem with the others?

In response to Deputy Kelly, I do not want to be embroiling myself in selection processes or appointments, quite frankly.

The Taoiseach is avoiding the question.

I am quite happy that the JAAB would recommend someone as suitable. That is good enough for me.

There were other candidates.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach, without interruption, please.

That is why the judicial appointments commission needs to be established.

So no judges should apply.

The Deputy tries to lecture everybody on the separation of powers, but he thinks it is fitting for me to seek correspondence from the Chief Justice-----

There is no issue.

-----before any impeachment process happens.

That is wrong.

The Deputy is wrong. It would represent a fundamental breach of the separation of powers.

No, it would not.

Yes, it would. The only basis for that correspondence to go public is if it was needed for the assembly of evidence in this House, if the House was deciding to follow an impeachment process. That is a matter for the House to decide, if it so wishes. The Government has made its position clear. The Government has a responsibility under the Constitution, and that is why I made my statement earlier. I made it on behalf of the Government. The Government must vindicate the legitimacy of both this Oireachtas and the Supreme Court. That emanates from the McCurtain situation at that time, which was brought before the House. That is the reason I made my statement earlier. It is up to other political parties to do what they wish to do about these matters in the fullness of time.

Question put and agreed to.

Nineteen Deputies wish to contribute on the Order of Business.

We will persist with this matter in respect of the Minister for Justice. As the Taoiseach is aware, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board advises. It is a clearing mechanism for suitable candidates, but it is the Government which decides who the appointee is. Something happened in this process that requires answers. The Taoiseach clearly cannot provide them because he was unaware of the other three expressions of interest, an extraordinary situation, yet he is defying the legitimate ask of the Opposition that the relevant Minister presents herself to the House, makes a statement and takes questions. It is absolutely extraordinary. For somebody who is concerned about the division of powers, the legitimacy of the Bench and confidence in the courts, he does all of those no favours by refusing to have appropriate accountability here.

I have said that the Government fully complied with its duties and responsibilities under the law and the Constitution in appointing Mr. Justice Woulfe to the Supreme Court. He was recommended as a suitable candidate by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, and that is it. Where judges have been appointed previously by the Government, one name went to the Cabinet. That is the position.

I have a simple question on the same issue, given that we are going to have to do this slice by slice for as long as it takes with regard to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice. That is fine. We will do it that way because the Government is running scared. When was the Taoiseach, as Taoiseach, informed - presumably this was before a Cabinet meeting - that Mr. Justice Woulfe would be the name to be put forward to be appointed? When was he informed by the Minister for Justice of that?

Is this a question and answer session on the same point? I will answer the question, and the Deputy knows the answer. I and the Leader of the Green Party, Deputy Eamon Ryan, prior to the formation of the Government, were told that Mr. Justice Woulfe-----

You were not Taoiseach.

Sorry, would you stop wagging your finger and just behave yourself a bit?

The Taoiseach to answer.

The bottom line is very simple and very straightforward. We were simply told that Mr. Justice Woulfe would come through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. That is it. As far as I am concerned, he came through the board and was recommended as being suitable for the position. He was an outgoing Attorney General and, in my view, was qualified for the position. In the aftermath of the formation of the Government, as Taoiseach I had no difficulty with the Minister for Justice bringing his name forward. I had no difficulty in supporting that nomination.

I will change the issue slightly. We made international headlines once again this weekend, and not in a positive way, when CNN ran a story entitled: "They saved lives during the pandemic - now they're facing deportation from Ireland". The story related to two of our healthcare workers from Zimbabwe who are facing deportation. Some 160 people in direct provision are currently working in the healthcare system with a sword of Damocles hanging above their head. Given the fact that we are going through a pandemic, that we said we are all in this together, that we all suffer together, is now not the time to draw a line under that and to stop the deportations of people who are here who contribute to the healthcare system? It is very important that we intervene and ensure that people who have helped us through this time can stay here and become part of this Republic.

In the context of the pandemic, I am not quite sure how people can be deported, given the various restrictions and rules that govern it. On Deputy Gannon's point about those working in the healthcare service, I do not know the individual cases, but Ireland does not deport too many people in any given year. The Catherine Day report reveals that. There are policy issues that emanate from that in terms of how best to deal with these situations and those fall for consideration by the Government and, ultimately, by the Oireachtas as well in terms of how we manage migration. If Deputy Gannon has the details of those two cases I will follow them up, and ask that they would be followed up, because I do not believe that people should be deported in the context of Covid-19 to red zone areas or where the virus is in a much worse situation than is now the case here.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. The 13 other Deputies, including the leaders, who have indicated will be given priority tomorrow.