Judicial Appointments Process: Statements

Before we commence this item, it is important for me to set out the terms of engagement. I almost said "terms of endearment". Let us ensure they are terms of engagement. Last week, I ruled that the process followed by the Government in relation to judicial appointments could be raised, subject to keeping within the limits of parliamentary debate and respecting the normal rules on Cabinet confidentiality. As part of the official functions for which she is accountable to the House, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, undertook a process that led to a name being submitted to the Cabinet. The Minister may, therefore, be questioned on this particular process, including on the nature of the process, the steps involved in it and how it was actually conducted. These are all objective issues that are in order and do not encroach on other branches of government.

However, the Minister may not be questioned on the merits or relative merits of candidates, nor can she be questioned on how candidates were evaluated with reference to the selection criteria. All persons involved in this process are holders of judicial office and I remind Members that they cannot comment on their suitability for office. These are all subjective matters that Members are precluded from addressing, in accordance with the longstanding rules of the House. I would also make the point that the process conducted with the selection of one name for submission to Cabinet and some matters related with Cabinet, including the Government memorandum and discussions, may not be raised because of the constitutional provisions regarding Cabinet confidentiality.

Finally, I ask Members to adhere to the framework I have outlined. If this framework is followed, it will not be necessary for me to intervene in the course of proceedings, something I do not want to do. However, in the event that I do have to intervene, I ask Members, please, to respect that and to co-operate with the rulings and directions.

I call the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to make her opening statement.

I am happy to take this opportunity to update the House on the appointment by the Government of members of the Judiciary. Over the past century, one of the great successes of the modern Irish State has been the Judiciary, which has consistently acted in a robust and independent fashion and earned the respect of fellow judges in Europe and around the world. Since I was elected to this House, and especially since I have had the honour of serving as Minister for Justice, I have been acutely conscious of my over-riding duty to uphold and vindicate the independence of the Judiciary. As Minister for Justice, I will continue to do so throughout this debate.

I am happy to set out the details of this appointment for the information of Deputies. However, unlike previous Ministers who have answered questions relating to judicial appointments, I come to the House today as a number of Members have put forward a motion of impeachment. It makes it all the more important that everyone in the House today is mindful of their responsibilities. It is incumbent on all of us to uphold the independence and integrity of the Judiciary and not to do or say anything that could undermine the courts or any sitting judge or, indeed, undermine the separation of powers. We do not have to look too far across Europe to see instances where the independence of the Judiciary is questioned. I have participated in European Union meetings where this very issue was discussed many times.

It is important to first set out the process by which judges are appointed under the Constitution and the law. I know many Members will already be familiar with this process, given the lengthy debates in the House in recent years on the judicial appointments legislation proposed by the last Government. Appointments to the Judiciary are made in accordance with Articles 13.9 and 35.1 of the Constitution by the President acting on behalf of the Government. This is a constitutional function that cannot be transferred or delegated. The constitutional prerogative to advise the President on judicial appointments lies with the Government alone. The Government takes this responsibility seriously and our objective at all times is to propose the best person to fill each judicial vacancy. I can assure the House that that was also the case when the Government decided to nominate Justice Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court.

As I outlined to the House in replies to parliamentary questions earlier this week, it has been the practice to maintain a vacancy on the Supreme Court due to the reduction achieved in waiting times in that court in recent years. However, this is, of course, kept under review. In this particular case, the Chief Justice wrote to the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, on 4 February 2020, requesting that the Supreme Court vacancy arising from a retirement in June 2019 be filled. He cited emerging pressures, including the establishment of the CervicalCheck tribunal. As he was obliged to do under law, the then Minister for Justice and Equality wrote to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, on 17 February 2020. In keeping with the usual practice, the Minister asked the board to furnish him with nominations for the vacancy and the name of each person who had informed the board of his or her wish to be considered for appointment. The then Minister also responded separately to the Chief Justice, stating that this request of JAAB did not presuppose the filing of the post; it was to facilitate the procedure should a decision be taken to make an appointment at whatever point in the future the vacancy might be progressed.

The only judicial nomination made during the period of Government formation was to the post of President of the High Court. As this is a senior position and has broader statutory functions it was done. It should be noted that this appointment on 18 June, a week before the Government was formed, resulted in a second vacancy on the Supreme Court.

It might be helpful to explain that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board is an independent board established under the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995 to identify persons and inform the Government of the suitability of applicants for appointment to judicial office. In line with the Cabinet handbook, between 11 and 14 July I informed the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Attorney General of my intention to propose Séamus Woulfe for the position, following which I brought a memorandum for the consideration of the Government on 15 July, recommending a name to Cabinet for appointment by the President.

In this case, the recommendation was in line with the recommendation of JAAB, which is chaired by the Chief Justice and includes the Presidents of the four other courts, as well as members of the Bar Council and the Law Society and several lay members. The process through which JAAB recommends applicants for consideration by the Government is set out in Part IV of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, as amended.

These are the applicants who meet the eligibility criteria for the particular court, as set out in the Courts Act 1961, including, for example, 12 years as a solicitor and a barrister for appointment to the superior courts. Serving judges are not currently required to apply to JAAB. It is worth noting that section 18 of the 1995 Act makes specific provision that the board may recommend the Attorney General for appointment to judicial office. Where the Attorney General wishes to be considered for such appointment, he or she shall withdraw from any deliberations of the board concerning his or her suitability for office. That is the law.

In a letter to my predecessor dated 11 March 2020, JAAB advised that it had met on 9 March and decided to recommend one candidate, Mr. Séamus Woulfe SC, whom it considered suitable for appointment to the Supreme Court. As requested by the Minister, and as required by the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, JAAB indicated that there was one applicant considered for this post through the JAAB process, namely, Mr. Séamus Woulfe SC, and there were no other applicants. Deputies will note from the annual reports of JAAB that this number is in keeping with previous such processes of appointment to the Supreme Court. There was one applicant in each case for two Supreme Court posts in 2019, one application in 2017 and one in 2015, from persons eligible to apply through JAAB, namely, those who are not currently serving judges. Under section 20 of the 1995 Act, all proceedings of the board and all communications to the board are confidential. That is all of the information made available to me by the independent board.

As I mentioned, the outgoing Government made no judicial appointments other than dealing with the urgent appointment of the President of the High Court. Following my appointment at the end of June, I was informed by my officials of the vacancy to be filled on the Supreme Court and that the Chief Justice had written to my predecessor on 4 February seeking that the position be filled as soon as possible. A draft memorandum was submitted to my office on 6 July 2020. The submission included details of the recommendation that had been made by JAAB, expressions of interest from serving members of the Judiciary and the names of all other judges eligible for the position. The expressions of interest from serving judges were received over a number of years and retained on file for any current or future vacancy that might arise. Whether or not existing judges put forward expressions of interest is a confidential matter, for obvious reasons, and it is not the practice to release information that might identify any of those judges.

The practice in regard to appointments or nominations to positions made by Government is that only one name is brought to Cabinet by the proposing Minister. This practice is particularly important in the context of judicial appointments, as an open debate on the merits or otherwise of sitting judges, as well as others who have been nominated by JAAB, would amount to a complete politicisation of the judicial appointments process. One of the very great strengths of the Irish Judiciary has been its non-political character and independence, unlike what we see in many other countries. It is a solemn duty on the part of the Minister for Justice to propose to Cabinet someone who, in the opinion of the Minister, is the best person for the particular judicial vacancy. The Government then decides whether to approve the appointment. That is exactly what happened in this case.

Turning to the future, it is fair to say that reform of the law relating to judicial appointments has been ongoing for some years. Under the previous Government, the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 was introduced and debated at great length in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The reforms set out in that legislation arose from a public consultations process on a review of the judicial appointments system in 2014. While the JAAB process was regarded as an innovation in its day, it was considered timely and worthwhile, almost 20 years on from its establishment, to review its operation and, indeed, the entire judicial appointments system, to ensure that it reflects current best practice. The need to ensure and protect the principle of judicial independence was a significant factor in this consultations process.

The Government has acted appropriately at all times throughout the current process, which we stand over, having adhered to the process and the law. However, the Government has never believed that the judicial appointments process currently in place is as good as it should be. That is why we built into our programme for Government an undertaking to bring forward new legislation very quickly to reform the process. It seems that we can all agree in this House that there is significant room for improvement in the current system. I am determined to lead that reform and to do so quickly.

I want to work with all Deputies to make sure the new system is future-proofed in order to meet the very highest standards that we expect in choosing our future Judiciary, including that the members of which have the diverse backgrounds and skills that reflect the society they serve. I know I can look forward to the support of all Deputies in this crucial task. I will shortly seek the approval of the Government for a new general scheme of a judicial appointments commission Bill 2020 to provide for the establishment of a new commission to replace JAAB. This will be reforming legislation and there will be ample opportunity for the House to discuss and debate what it needs to contain. I intend to lead this reform, make it happen and, above all, make it work in the interests of the independent Judiciary and the public we all serve. I trust in having Deputies' support to bring that reform about at the earliest opportunity.

I am sharing time with Deputy Carthy.

The facts of the matter before us are as follows. On 27 June, the Minister for Justice took office. Waiting on her desk when she arrived in the Department were four applications for the job of Supreme Court judge, a massive job carrying a salary, in excess of €220,000, paid for by taxpayers. The Minister had four applications - not one, as she and other Ministers have tried to make out, but four. Whether they came from JAAB or via expressions of interest is immaterial. She had four applications. On 15 July, she recommended one of those applicants to the Cabinet for appointment to the Supreme Court. That person just happened to be the previous Attorney General and long-term Fine Gael activist, Séamus Woulfe. Four became one.

Any reasonable person would have expected the Minister to come before the Dáil today and set out how those four names were whittled down to one. She has not done so. She said that she had no discussions about the applicants or their suitability for office with the Taoiseach, Tánaiste or any other Minister. This is not credible in the slightest. The Tánaiste, who is the Minister's party leader, knew there were other applicants. In fact, he knew Séamus Woulfe had applied for the position because he said so to the now Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party during the negotiations on the programme for Government. The Minister did not, however, tell the Taoiseach that there were other applicants. Why was the Fianna Fáil leader kept in the dark in this regard when the Minister's party leader and others were aware that there were additional applicants?

Much of the Minister's story just does not add up. At a meeting of the justice committee last week, she said in response to a question from me:

... I looked at the recommendation that had been made and other expressions of interest that often come for any of these positions. Following that I spoke to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Attorney General. On foot of that, a recommendation was made, and a name was given to Cabinet.

I find it absolutely baffling that the names of the applicants and their suitability for appointment would not be discussed at that time by the Minister and the party leaders in government. The successful applicant was a long-term Fine Gael activist who served as Attorney General in a previous Government. Yet, there was no disclosure and no discussion in this regard with the Minister's partners in government. Even if we suppose that the Minister did make this decision on her own, the fact remains that one name out of four was signed off by Cabinet and it is the one the Minister brought to Cabinet. The other three rejected applicants were all sitting judges and, presumably, experienced and very well qualified if they were applying for such an eminent position. However, Séamus Woulfe, the long-term activist, is the name that miraculously made its way to Cabinet.

I have heard the Minister say that she looked at the four names and made her decision. On what basis did she evaluate the applicants? What motivated her decision to bring to Cabinet the name that she did? Was it the individual's experience? Was it his reputation in dealing with complex cases? What were the criteria applied in respect of this appointment to the highest court in the land? What the Minister is telling us simply does not stack up. She told RTÉ last Friday evening that she took a number of weeks to consider the appointment. However, in response to a parliamentary question, she said that she did not receive the memorandum with the details of persons applying for the post until 6 July. According to the same response, she started to speak with party leaders on 11 July, with whom she says she did not discuss the issues of suitability or experience. The consideration she gave to the matter took days, then, not weeks. None of this stacks up and that is why we are here today.

This appointment was a done deal. A Fine Gael-supporting Attorney General was on his way out and Fine Gael needed to find a job for him. He was one of Leo's cronies and that is the Fine Gael way of doing business. The Minister did it and Fianna Fáil went along with it. The Green Party, God help it, did not know what to say or where to look. This was a Fine Gael appointment. It was boxed off long before the Minister ever took office and she signed off on it. That is the reality and it is why we are here today.

As Deputy Martin Kenny said, we are here today because Fine Gael in government has a problem in regard to cronyism. It has a problem of doing favours with insiders. It has a big problem with being held to account when caught out. This is the second time in three weeks that a Fine Gael member of Government has had to come before the Dáil to answer questions about his or her conduct. First up was the Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader to answer for leaking confidential information to his political ally when he was Taoiseach. Now, the Fine Gael Minister for Justice is before us regarding the highly questionable manner in which the former Attorney General and Fine Gael supporter, Séamus Woulfe, was appointed to the Supreme Court. Both cases stink to the high heavens. Both the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice had to be dragged into the Dáil kicking and screaming.

Why did that happen? Fine Gael does not do accountability. However, it does arrogance, in spades. Whether it is the former Minister of State, Brian Hayes, seamlessly moving to become the champion of the banks and the vultures, or another Fine Gael former Minister of State, Michael D'Arcy, moving straight into a cushy job as a lobbyist for high finance, time and again we see the arrogance of the Fine Gael old boys' network at work. This arrogance is not without consequence. The behaviour exposes all that is rotten in Irish politics - favours for friends, cronyism and insider deals. Who pays for it? The ordinary people pay. It is the people looking for a home or waiting for a hospital bed, families struggling with mortgages or insurance costs and workers looking for decent jobs and wages. Instead of focusing on what is best for our people, Fine Gael each time focuses on what is best for its friends in high places. People go without so Fine Gael's friends can have it all. Fine Gael arrogance is at the centre of this controversy.

The Minister insulted the Dáil for weeks by resisting calls to come to the Dáil and answer questions. Now, she is insulting people's intelligence by offering implausible scenarios. The truth is that this judicial appointment was an old-fashioned political stroke. It is as simple as that. Instead of bringing clarity, the Minister has sought to muddy the waters in the hope that people will just tire of the matter. I hate to break it to Members, but that is not going to work. Everyone knows that this was a shady deal and that it stinks. They know what it looks like when people in power box off a job for their political friend, because they have seen it all previously. The reason this process appears to be all over the place is that there was no process. The dogs in the street know that. The reason the Minister cannot explain properly how she whittled four names down to one is that she did not. It was not even as crass as saying "eeny, meeny, miny, moe"; it was saying "eeny, eeny, eeny, Woulfe".

This deal had been done before Deputy McEntee became Minister for Justice. The appointment was not even decided in the Department of Justice. It was decided in Fine Gael. Everybody knows that it was a done deal. Fine Gael is now trying to take the people for fools, just as it took the Taoiseach for a fool and kept him in the dark about an appointment to the highest court in the land. So determined was Fine Gael to get its man through, it ran rings around the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, to ensure it happened. It is not often I agree with a member of Fianna Fáil and it is rare for me to agree with Dermot Ahern. However, the former Minister for Justice was bang on point when he wrote:

It now seems that leading Fine Gael members pulled a fast one by rushing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with their own former attorney general. Incoming Taoiseach Micheál Martin should have smelled a rat. He's long enough around.

Fine Gael wiped Micheál's eye by rewarding a loyal friend with a highly paid and very powerful job. For all the talk of new politics from Fine Gael, we are being dragged back to the old days and the old ways. It is the culture of arrogance so typical of Fine Gael that ensures that Governments come and go, but nothing changes.

People are sick to their back teeth of it. They are sick of the political strokes, the who-one-knows manoeuvring and Fine Gael cronyism. They are determined that the days of the old boys' network and insider backroom deals are well and truly numbered. The Minister had an opportunity to come clean and confirm what everybody knows. It is deeply regrettable and disappointing that she did not take that opportunity. She was a party to a Fine Gael old boys' club political stroke. That is the long and the short of it. She should come clean. She will have a further opportunity to do that during the questions and answers, and I urge her to take it.

I warmly welcome today's exercise in proper political accountability. It is one of the core functions of the House to hold the Executive to account for all its actions. I have been privileged to serve in three coalition Governments, two of which were coalitions with Fine Gael. In each Government, all senior Government appointments were subject to cross-party agreement after detailed discussions about all available and suitable candidates. Few appointments received greater scrutiny than the appointment of senior judges, so much so that one Government fell in 1994 on the basis of a lack of cross-party agreement.

While it is correct that the Minister for Justice proposes one name to the Government for appointment, it was never the sole or exclusive right of that Minister to determine alone who should be nominated. The names of all suitable candidates were circulated to, and considered by, the leaders of each party in the Government. Detailed papers were presented to each leader and they eventually arrived at a consensus. As I understand it, the Minister's position is that this process was set aside, that she alone made the decision and then presented it to the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, as a done deal and that they, their advisers and party managers simply nodded through her personal choice. I believe I am presenting her position fairly.

After a decade of experience in three Governments, I consider that an absurd position. To get listed on the Cabinet agenda, a memorandum has to go through a vetting process involving all party leaders involved in the Government and especially the Taoiseach. Presumably, the Minister's officials prepared the memorandum for the Government. She said in her contribution today that she received a draft memorandum in her office on 6 July. Surely she was advised that the previous Government, led by Deputy Varadkar, had established a non-statutory advisory group outside of the JAAB to assist with identifying eligible and qualified persons suitable for appointment as senior judges. That committee was served by a secretary who was a representative of the Department of the Taoiseach. Was the Minister aware that this advisory committee recommended a number of persons to be considered for judicial office? Did she have regard to the recommendations of this advisory committee in making her choice of who to propose to the Government to be nominated to the Supreme Court?

The Minister stated previously that she brought a memorandum to the Cabinet proposing a judicial appointment to the Supreme Court, and that the memorandum contained only one name. The Taoiseach has also suggested that her memorandum did not contain the information that three sitting judges had expressed an interest in the position, although she told the House today that the draft memorandum included details of the recommendations made by the JAAB, expressions of interest of serving members of the Judiciary and all other judges eligible for the position. Was that detail included in her final memorandum, as it was in the draft? In either case, how is it that the Taoiseach was unaware of the others? Did the Minister check if not listing the names was normal practice? Did she examine the most recent judicial appointment memorandum brought forward only weeks before by her predecessor to check what was normal practice and if it was appropriate to list all eligible candidates for the information of the Government?

Section 3.2(c) of the Cabinet Handbook states that every memorandum for the Government should "ensure that all relevant considerations are brought to the attention of the Government in making a decision, that information provided is complete and accurate and that any qualifications are clearly stated". Does the Minister believe she fulfilled the requirement of the Cabinet Handbook in this instance?

If it was the case that political agreement had been reached between the Government parties that the outgoing Attorney General should be appointed to the Supreme Court, I believe that would be both legal and constitutional. In deference to you, a Cheann Comhairle, I will simply say, however, that it certainly would not be best practice. If it was the case that the Minister was simply left with a fait accompli on arriving into ministerial office, that there was already a political agreement about who should fill this vacancy, that would be politically understood, if not accepted or agreed with.

What is undermining the Minister's position and the credibility of the Government is the maintenance of the unbelievable, that she or any Minister for Justice, experienced or not, whether she was three weeks in the job or five years in the job, would take it upon herself to appoint the outgoing Attorney General to the Supreme Court in preference to all other applicants, including senior serving members of the Judiciary, without discussing the implications of that action with the leader of her party and the leaders of the other parties in government and, especially, for constitutional reasons, with the Taoiseach of day. I also question that any self-respecting party in government would simply exclude itself or allow itself to be excluded from such an important process. That simply does not bear credibility. As Richard Nixon discovered, it is not always the action that is one's undoing, sometimes it is the strain involved in presenting a version of events which, to anybody who actually knows the process or simply follows politics or history, is not credible.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. It is essential that those who are appointed to it come through a rigorous process in order that any vacancies are filled by those most qualified to do the job. That is why process is important. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, otherwise known as JAAB, is a vetting process. It is all about considering if a barrister or solicitor has the skill set to make a good judge. Once JAAB establishes if an applicant or applicants meet that criterion, the name or names of those applicants go on a list and they are deemed to be eligible to be appointed. That is very important. This is not a recommendation to appoint. The Minister should not keep saying that it is. As we know, judges do not apply through this process. I presume that is because they already do the job. They have a track record of doing the job, so they do not have to be vetted for their ability to do a job they are already doing. Judges apply directly to the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General, both of whom know the names of those who apply through this route.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say in her interview on "Six One". She said that, following her appointment to the justice portfolio in June, she looked at the JAAB recommendation – I underline the use of the word "recommendation" again - and other expressions of interest. I note the Minister keeps calling it a recommendation. Why is she doing that? That is a cover.

Following that, she told us that she spoke to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Attorney General. We know she did not tell them that some judges specifically applied for this vacancy. She said a recommendation was made after this discussion and a name was given to Cabinet. She said that only one name is ever given to Cabinet. That does not mean that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other coalition party leaders would not be fully briefed on who applied and the process used to establish who is the best fit for the job. The Minister said in the interview: "Considering Justice Woulfe's name was delivered through the JAAB, that is the name that was given to Cabinet." That is a direct quote from the Minister. She emphasised that Séamus Woulfe's name came through an official process which was chaired by the Chief Justice himself, giving the impression that this was a recommendation. JAAB was the only official process in all of this but, as I keep saying, it is a vetting process not a recommendation to appoint. However, that process has become superior to any informal application process, through which those with judicial experience apply.

The Minister was appointed as Minister for Justice on 27 June 2020. I want to concentrate on a few things that happened before that date. On the Order of Business on 17 November, the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, said:

I and the Leader of the Green Party, Deputy Eamon Ryan, prior to the formation of the Government, were told that Mr. Justice Woulfe ... 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.

On 19 November, the Tánaiste said:

I am pretty sure it was the week before the new Government was formed that the party leaders discussed whether Séamus Woulfe would be reappointed as Attorney General or whether there would be a new Attorney General. We decided collectively that there would be a new Attorney General and that Séamus Woulfe would not be reappointed as Attorney General and at that point, for transparency and information, I informed the other leaders that there was a vacancy, that Séamus Woulfe had been recommended by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, as suitable for that vacancy, and that was the end of the conversation.

In a nutshell, the Taoiseach told us the decision was made in advance of Deputy McEntee being appointed as Minister for Justice. He said that because Séamus Woulfe was the outgoing Attorney General and came through JAAB process, he would get the job. The Tánaiste pretty much said the same. It is as simple as that. The decision was made. There was only one name considered. The other CVs did not need to be considered. Judicial experience did not matter. That is what a political appointment looks like, yet the Minister would have us believe she went off, worked away on this on her own, went through all those eligible for promotion to the Supreme Court, including several judges who applied specifically for the role, and came to the conclusion that the former Attorney General was the best person to fill the vacancy, and that she was completely oblivious to the fact that it was a done deal. As I pointed out, it is a problem that she is using the cover of JAAB as a recommendation rather than a vetting process. If I am wrong, the Minister needs to address the following questions. What criteria did she use to evaluate the applications? Who else was involved? What value was put on track record and judicial experience? When did the Minister become aware that some judges had specifically applied for this job? I also want to know if the Minister discussed the matter with the Tánaiste, the former Minister for Justice and Equality or the former Attorney General at any point before she brought the name forward. Was she told who was to get the job?

I want to go back to the Taoiseach. One thing I find very strange in all of this is that the Taoiseach made such an issue of the importance of judicial experience when he was in opposition in 2017. This was in the context of the outgoing Attorney General, Máire Whelan, being appointed to the Court of Appeal. His central point was that she lacked any judicial experience, yet there was no issue with a very personalised debate on the floor of the Dáil. Anyone looking back at that debate will acknowledge that it is very different from today's debate.

Yet when an appointment was being made to a higher court, the Supreme Court, judicial experience was not a valued criterion for the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste. The Minister would have us believe that there was a fair and equal consideration of all applicants. The Minister received a hospital pass and is being put in the firing line. She is defending the process by which the appointment was made when we all know full well there was no process.

Just as the Minister has been put in this position, the Opposition has been taken for fools. The nonsensical suggestion that the Minister would come in and use the normal ministerial Question Time to deal with this was not only an insult but a dangerous precedent. Those who applied other than through the JAAB process must be questioning what was the point. I put some questions about this to the Taoiseach in July but they were ruled out of order. I was told that under Standing Order 44, there was no official responsibility to Dáil Éireann for some of the matters I raised relating to the criteria for appointment.

We need a judicial appointment process that truly reflects the separation of powers. The Social Democrats are of the view that cannot be done with the involvement of the political strand and there must be total separation, with appropriate checks and balances. That requires a referendum and we must end this kind of nonsense.

To be honest I find much of this debate amusing and I am somewhat surprised we are having it. We are having it nonetheless. One of the most amusing statements today came from the Minister, who said the great strength of the Judiciary is its non-political character. I was in knots of laughter when I heard that comment.

In essence, many Deputies are expressing outrage that the Government used a vacancy on the Supreme Court to appoint a politically connected person because that person was politically connected rather than because he was the best or most suitable person for the job. I have a newsflash; all our top judges are, effectively, political appointees. When Fianna Fáil is in government, we get judges with Fianna Fáil connections; when Fine Gael is in government, we get judges with Fine Gael connections; and the odd time, if Labour is the extra wheel, we might get one of their mates. This time we have Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in government and Fine Gael got to appoint the judge.

Perhaps the outrage expressed is because this is a glaring example of a political appointment, as opposed to the more normal and subtle way of appointing judges via the old boys' network. Is the outrage because the person appointed was not a barrister? The normal route to the court is through a judicial system dominated by a very small and self-perpetuating elite. The judicial system and barristers are drawn from a small pool, largely controlled by the Honourable Society of King's Inns, set up by none other than Henry VIII to ensure controlled access to the Bar, and initially to keep out Catholics. This is the only place where somebody can become a barrister. Judges are not exclusively but are overwhelmingly barristers. The Honourable Society of King's Inns is the only place that trains barristers but there is no statutory basis for this in any law made democratically by us. It owes its origins to Henry VIII and was set up to ensure that a small, well vetted elite controlled who could become a barrister or who would be kept out. It is still doing that.

Inside the Honourable Society of King's Inns there is another secret society, known as the benchers. There is an inner bench and outer bench. Anybody who is made a judge automatically becomes a member of the benchers. They have secret dinners about which nobody finds out. These happen regularly. I wonder if some of the outrage is caused by the fact that Séamus Woulfe was not even a bencher.

The idea now is the Minister for Justice has appointed a candidate because he was a Fine Gael activist. We are now in for a bigger shock, so we should get the smelling salts ready. Here is another newsflash. There is no such thing, in reality, as the separation of powers. We have a political system dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with a splash of Labour and this time around the Greens have been thrown in. We have a judicial system dominated by the friends of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with the odd Labour appointee. In expressing outrage about such a fiasco, I say to the other party leaders, including Deputies Mary Lou McDonald, Alan Kelly and Catherine Murphy, that next week they will have a chance to demonstrate outrage by supporting the motion tabled in the name of People Before Profit by Deputy Paul Murphy to remove Séamus Woulfe for stated misbehaviour. Those Deputies can demonstrate that we are serious about the separation of powers and democracy. Just as important, we are serious about demonstrating that we recognise the major sacrifices of the Irish people over the past nine months in abiding by public health guidelines. It would show that these guidelines were not made just for the little people but were also made for the great and the good, whether they came from the benchers club or not.

Is the Minister aware that Séamus Woulfe is a former branch secretary of Fine Gael in Dublin Bay North? Is she aware that Mr. Justice George Birmingham, who sat on the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, which recommended Séamus Woulfe, was a former Fine Gael Minister of State? Is she aware that Séamus Woulfe sat on a previous JAAB that recommended Mr. Justice Birmingham for a position as President of the Court of Appeal? Does she believe there is a danger of "you scratch my back and I will scratch yours"? Did she know Mr. Justice Frank Clarke, who also sat on JAAB that recommended Séamus Woulfe, was a former Fine Gael candidate for the Seanad? The Minister should have found it distasteful that a body with so many Fine Gael connections should itself recommend somebody with a Fine Gael connection.

I find it quite outrageous, to be honest, that after two weeks of ducking and diving by the Government, in trying to shield the Minister from questioning, we have received a statement that goes on for ten minutes and manages to avoid the central issue about which questions have been raised. The central issue is, if the Minister's story is accurate, on what basis did she decide that Séamus Woulfe would be the name she would recommend to the Cabinet? On what basis did she decide it would be him rather than the other judges on the memorandum before her? It is astounding that the Minister can manage to speak for ten minutes while avoiding the central matter about which questions have been asked repeatedly.

Everybody knows what this controversy is about. It is about whether Séamus Woulfe was a political appointee. Was there a deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that Fianna Fáil would get the Attorney General if Fine Gael got its former Attorney General on to the Supreme Court? Did Fine Gael pull a fast one? Either way, is Séamus Woulfe now on the Supreme Court because he is close to Fine Gael and was a Fine Gael activist? That is the central question.

The dogs in the street are in no doubt about the answer to that question. As Deputy Catherine Murphy implied, in a way the Tánaiste gave the game away in speaking in the Dáil on 19 November, pointing towards the truth of the arrangements that had taken place. For those outside who see it as glaringly obvious that this is a political appointee, there are very good reasons for such thinking. In 2011, the Irish Independent did a survey of judges, finding one in three has personal or political connections to political parties. That is wildly disproportionate to what happens in society at large. We do not have that kind of mass participation, where one in three people in society is a member of a political party.

It should be noted, of course, that we will not find judges that are personally and politically connected to parties of the socialist left. It is overwhelmingly the case they are connected to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the traditional establishment parties of Irish capitalism that are wildly over-represented within the Judiciary. It is perfectly normal, as Deputy Bríd Smith has mentioned, to have political appointees, unfortunately.

The story presented by the Minister is not at all credible but let us take it on its merits. We will have a chance to ask questions and, I hope, get some answers on it shortly. The Minister described a timeline.

On 29 June, she is appointed as Minister. On 6 July, she gets a memorandum, which includes the name of Séamus Woulfe but also includes, importantly, other names. On 15 July, she brings a memorandum to Cabinet and a recommendation, with the other names stripped out and Séamus Woulfe's name alone remaining. That is the essential part of the Minister's narrative and, crucially, apparently between 6 July and 15 July, or earlier if she knew earlier, the newly-appointed Minister, who was two weeks in the job at that stage, does not talk to a sinner about it. She does not talk to the Tánaiste and her party leader, to the Taoiseach or to the leader of the Green Party, although that might not surprise people. She does not talk to the Attorney General, the Secretary General of her Department or to a sinner. Instead, she looks deep inside her heart and decides, "Yes, this one". Séamus Woulfe is the man for the job as opposed to all these other people. It is very blatantly and very obviously not credible at all. It very clearly is not what took place.

There is a question that flows from that. If it is the case that on 6 July the Minister got a memorandum with a number of names, chose to strip out names and leave one remaining and bring that to Cabinet and the Government decided to appoint Séamus Woulfe as a Supreme Court judge, on what basis can it be said that the Government met and acted as a collective authority? Article 28.4.2° of the Constitution is clear that the "Government shall meet and act as a collective authority". Never mind bringing the names, did the Minister even inform the Cabinet that there were a number of possible options? Did the Minister bring that information to Cabinet? It cannot have acted collectively if it did not know that there were other applications and thought there was only one from Séamus Woulfe.

Everybody listening to this debate at home will be familiar with the recruitment process for a job and most will have been through some type of recruitment process in their own work. Everybody understands that a recruitment process should be fair, open and transparent and that the person with the best knowledge, experience, character and skill should be selected for the job. We live in a meritocracy and merit is the basis for the selection for any position in this country. That should apply from the bottom of society to the very top. It is not rocket science. It is a basic standard that people demand in their own working lives. For the applicant, it ensures fairness and for the recruiter, it ensures that the best person is selected for the job.

Let us look now at how this country works. For far too long in Ireland people got jobs on the basis of who they know and not what they know. The establishment parties have, for years, divvied up jobs on the basis of party affiliation. When I was a kid, if a person wanted a job with Telecom Éireann, he or she went to the local Fianna Fáil councillor and got the job. That culture is still alive and well. I know of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians who still make representations on behalf of their supporters for State jobs. We also saw how the inner circle functions a couple of weeks ago when we learned that the Tánaiste leaked a confidential, not-for-circulation document to his friend. People recognise this culture as part of who Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are and they recognise the gross injustice of it as well.

In recent weeks, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have hidden behind a smoke screen that they call the separation of powers. Surely the biggest threat to the separation of powers is a culture that allows for party affiliates to be fast-tracked for appointment as judges. If we want to really separate the Oireachtas from the Judiciary, we need to separate the selection of individuals from the party system. The majority of Attorneys General in the history of this State have been made senior judges. A full 16 of 31 Attorneys General have been appointed to senior positions ranging from the Court of Appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, a number of Attorneys General were offered posts as judges but refused them for personal reasons. There is conveyor belt system in the appointment process. Judges at all levels have been party members, speech writers, candidates, Deputies, Ministers as well as close friends or siblings of politicians. It is not just Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have been involved in this practice. The Labour Party has also been an eager participant in the system over the years.

What is the remedy for this situation? The remedy is transparency. We must have a clear and transparent process for recruitment to the most important jobs in the land. A second remedy Ministers and Governments being willing and open to answer questions on the process itself. Incredibly, most Irish people know more about the US process for the selection of a judge to the Supreme Court than the Irish process. I have heard Ministers being asked on radio shows about the process of selecting judges for the Supreme Court of this land. They shrugged and were not even able to answer the questions. Why does the process of selecting judges in this country have to be more opaque than the third secret of Fatima? It is because it suits the political establishment to do things behind closed doors and not to have an open, transparent process.

Over the course of three weeks, the Minister had to make a choice as to who would be the next judge of the Supreme Court. It is interesting that in all of the speeches and radio interviews she has given, she has focused on one list only. However, there are two other lists relevant to choosing candidates for the Supreme Court. One is a list of those who are eligible for promotion to the Supreme Court but I have never heard the Minister mention that particular list. The other is the list of those who are interested in appointment to the Supreme Court and ,again, there is a lack of detail on that. Both of those lists are held by the Attorney General. Did the Attorney General give the Minister these lists and if so, when? Is it plausible that the Attorney General would not have, at some level, discussed these lists with the Taoiseach, the man who appointed him to his position?

We need to know many things about this process. In the three weeks that the Minister had to select a judge, did she work out the existing experience or skills gaps on the Supreme Court? If so, how did she do that? Did she go through the volumes of published judgments from existing judges? Did she do this by herself or did she have a team to do it? Did the team produce a shortlist for the Minister? Did she interview any of the applicants? Did any of the applicants or a third party make a presentation to her on the skills set of each nominee or each individual available for the job? Why did she select the candidate with the least amount of court experience of all of the individuals interested in the job? It is very hard to believe that the Minister would go through all of this process and never mention the names of the other candidates to the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste. Does anybody think it is credible that in a system that is already knee-high in political horse trading, the Minister did not at any stage speak to her political bosses about the applicants for the job? If she did not speak to the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste three weeks into her role, who did she get advice from?

Most people listening to this debate will understand what everyone in here understands, namely that the decision was already made and that the process was separate from the particular decision. Have any of the people who applied for the role been in contact with the Minister since? Is there a process open to them whereby they can articulate their discomfort with the fact that they have been overlooked in this process?

We need to have confidence in the Judiciary.

In all research published in this country, people's confidence in the Judiciary has been rated very highly. These questions are not designed to impugn the name of the judges but rather to focus on the process. The truth is that the lack of transparency associated with this process has done significant damage. I have been a Deputy for ten years now and I note that the standard response when Ministers get into trouble is to claim that they did everything right with regard to the process only to have it magically revealed to them that the process was wrong before saying that they will do the best they can to fix the issue in question. That is horse manure. If the Opposition did not seek to flood this issue with the light of transparency, you can bet your bottom dollar that it would be a case of business as usual for this Government. This is the equivalent of a child being found with his hand in the cookie chair before telling his mother that it was her fault for leaving the jar too low.

Politicians and political parties are forever calling for political reform. I have to laugh at that because the most obvious place in which to reform politics is within those parties. It is for political parties to resist doing things that are obviously wrong, such as the actions in question today. Laws and regulations are necessary only when the people concerned do not have the moral compass to do the right thing. From what we have seen here and in the history of political parties with regard to the selection of judges, that moral compass does not exist. We need to change the law to make sure that this cannot be done again.

May I just point out that we are now more than an hour into this debate but copies of the Minister's speech have not been circulated?

I presume that is being looked after. We will make arrangements.

People need a chance to read the speech to prepare their questions. I ask that we delay for a minute until we can all get copies of the Minister's speech.

We will not be delaying but it would be most helpful if the speech could be circulated.

Tá sé taobh amuigh den doras.

Perhaps somebody could bring it inside the door.

I do not think that is allowed under the Covid restrictions. I am serious. That is what I was told last week.

May I just point out that it is not in order for people to stray into the area of the personal suitability of somebody who has already been selected? This has happened on numerous occasions already today and it should not continue.

Is the Ceann Comhairle now being censured or lectured? He is doing a fine job, as always. I always find him to be very fair. This is extraordinary. The whole timeline in respect of this situation is utterly unsatisfactory and extraordinary. I am worried and concerned about the people at home looking at, or reading, this debate. They are under the floor in debt, are living in fear and have anxiety and trauma as a result of what is going on in respect of Covid. We can look at this side by side with what is going on here and how long it took to get agreement for these questions today, limited as they are.

I will again go over the timeline, which is utterly extraordinary. In June 2019, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan, a Supreme Court judge, retired. On 14 January 2020, a general election was called. Also in January 2020, Mr. Séamus Woulfe applied to JAAB to be considered for the Supreme Court job. On 4 February, the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Frank Clarke, wrote to the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, seeking a judge for the Supreme Court. On 8 February, the general election was held. We were all very busy at that time. On 17 February, the then Minister wrote to JAAB, which is chaired by the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Clarke, to ask the board to recommend a candidate for the position of Supreme Court judge. On 9 March, the board sat under Mr. Justice Clarke and cleared the name of Mr. Woulfe as the only name proposed for the Supreme Court vacancy. On 11 March, JAAB wrote to the then Minister to inform him that it had cleared the name of Mr. Woulfe. After a long gap, on 27 June the new Government was formed after all the talks, anxiety, wheeling and dealing, horse trading and anything else that went on. Those of us in the Rural Independent Group were interested but we were not wanted next, nigh or near the Government. We have a good idea why that was the case. The current Minister, Deputy McEntee, then brought the only name proposed by JAAB, that of Mr. Woulfe, to the Cabinet meeting on 15 July. I believe it was her first Cabinet meeting but I am open to correction on that point.

This is deeply suspicious. A former Fine Gael Attorney General, Mr. Séamus Woulfe, applied to JAAB, which is chaired by his old friend, the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Frank Clarke, in respect of a Supreme Court vacancy. This post had been vacant for seven months, which is extraordinary, but suddenly, when Fine Gael faced possibly losing office as a result of the election, Mr. Justice Clarke decided to get moving and set the wheels in motion by writing to the then Fine Gael Minister, Deputy Flanagan, telling him that he needed a judge to be appointed. The Minister then wrote to JAAB, which is chaired by the former Fine Gael supporter, the same Mr. Justice Clarke, to ask it to convene to consider the vacancy. The board met in haste and sent Fine Gael supporter, Mr. Woulfe's name back up to the then Minister who decided to sit on the nomination for over three months, or 12 weeks, until the new Government was formed. He and the new Minister, Deputy McEntee, appear to have binned the other expressions of interest from well-qualified judges. Deputy Flanagan handed this minefield over to Fine Gael's new Minister for Justice and Equality who took it to Cabinet. It is absolutely crystal clear that the current Minister did not make this decision alone. She was probably absolutely innocent in doing the party's work, which one can call what one likes but it begins with a "d". It is shocking.

What process was followed in respect of the other judges appointed on the very same day as Mr. Séamus Woulfe, now Mr. Justice Woulfe? From where did the Minister get her advice on these other appointments? Did she consult the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, the Green Party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, or the previous Minister, Deputy Flanagan with regard to these appointments? Did she speak to Deputy Flanagan, who is now a backbencher, about the appointment of Ms Mary Morrissey to the Circuit Court? Did she know that Judge Morrissey had once worked in Deputy Flanagan's firm? I do not have great eyesight and I have to wear glasses but a blind man could see what is going on here. There are none so blind as those who cannot see at all. This stinks to high heaven. It is extremely sad.

As I assured the Taoiseach on the day we met, the Rural Independent Group has no interest in engaging in a witch hunt with regard to Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe or in pursuing the impeachment process. There are no grounds for it. We could not do it even if we wanted to. I will be very clear that our group will not support such an action. We do, however, have to get this sorted. Would these shenanigans have taken place if the former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, was still in Cabinet? He lost his seat. That was unfortunate. We had many a good row but, nonetheless, he tried gallantly to reform this process for decades whether in his writings, in Cabinet, in the Seanad or in the Dáil as an Independent Deputy.

We did get some reform. We got a judicial conduct committee which is empowered to deal with complaints. An Act in this regard was debated here and signed into law six, seven or eight months ago by the President. I believe that building has been rented for it and that it has a full complement of staff. All that is needed is a doorman to open the door so that the general public will be able to make complaints. Why are we waiting until next June for this? Why is it being delayed? There are some very sinister reasons behind this which need to be questioned. I will not put them on record but I know what they are. Murky business is going on.

We have the separation of powers. The Ceann Comhairle can stop me if I stray from what it is permitted to say. There are people in the Four Courts today. The courts are not meant to be sitting to hear cases relating to evictions but they have been sitting right throughout the pandemic and through both lockdowns. There is supposed to be a moratorium on banks evicting people but people are being evicted from their homes.

I advise the Deputy not to go there.

I am not going there; I am just saying what is going on. We say this process is not going on. We are hiding that murky business.

We have already gone there.

There will be an avalanche in the new year when the moratorium relating to the banks is lifted. We can see Fine Gael's friends in the banking industry, the poachers who have become gamekeepers. Former Ministers of State have been given powerful jobs in that industry. We know this; we have seen it. In addition, unregulated thugs are going around the country. Some have been brought before the courts and fined for carrying on like the heavy gang. Some of these are mercenaries from other countries who have murky pasts. The regulation agency is in Tipperary. I have made complaints to it and have met members of its staff. Indeed, the chairman came up to the Dáil to meet Deputy Michael Collins, Deputy Nolan and me to discuss the situation but it still goes on. We are supposed to represent the people. We have a constitutional right to defend the people, not to persecute them and to drive them into oblivion. The British did that to us for generations and over centuries.

We commemorated Bloody Sunday last week.

We were proud in Tipperary to get out on that field, albeit in Cork, and win. That is the spirit of that jersey and the people who fought for this country. I am talking about Ó Treasaigh, Breen and Michael Hogan. Those people spilled their blood, as did countless others. What kind of a democracy did we get? We looked for it and fought for it. What have we got? It is as twisted as some of the juntas in Africa and other places that we talk about. It is shocking and sad.

I have the privilege of being a representative of the people of Tipperary for the moment. I respect that greatly. I will abide by their wishes in future elections, but it is sad that this continues to go on.

Those in Fine Gael think they can do what they like. They think it is their preserve. They were so long out of power since Paddy Donegan, Paddy Cooney and that gang were in place. God rest some of them now - I do not know whether they are all dead.

The heavy gang operated from 1973 to 1977. The House has heard me refer to how this has crept back into the Business Committee. Some of the enforcers were shouting a minute ago, before I got up, for the Ceann Comhairle to ensure that I would be censored and controlled. I will not be censored or controlled by Fine Gael.

The sad part about it is that we have a Taoiseach who was so behoven and craven to get that job. He got his prize. It is like he has got his first communion or leaving certificate or whatever. Whatever happens, it will not get in the way of him losing his job. He knows, with fear and terror, that the Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar, is riding high in the polls. If the Taoiseach trips up, they will dump him over. We will have an election and he will be gone and that prize will be taken away from him. It was much sought after. He had been looking for it for 25 years and he got it. He kicked out his own Ministers, Deputies Barry Cowen and Dara Calleary, and saved the Fine Gael skins. We saw it two weeks ago with the former Taoiseach, and now Tánaiste, answering questions. We will see it here again today. Yet, the Fianna Fáil people can be sacrificed. It is a proud party. My father was a founding member. They are being sacrificed to the wolves for the sake of naked greed, power and luxury.

We see it every day here the disdain when we ask questions about what is going on. We cannot get information or the figures and data on Covid counts. We cannot get the science. The Taoiseach will be protected no matter what happens. God, if a tsunami came, one he could swim over, he would stay and keep his head above it and to hell with the Croppies - they could lie down. They forget the country and the people who fought for Ireland. They forget the families struggling today. They forget the workers trying to carry on and eke out a living. Then there is big business and the banks, insurance companies and the bands of vultures who are carrying on the murky, dirty, messy work of sucking the lifeblood out of the fighting spirit of the Irish.

I put a call out for the fighting spirit of the Irish to rise up and not take this disgraceful behaviour. It is pathetic. In the spirit of C.J. Kickham from Mullinahone, I will not take it or accept it. That is the spirit of the McInerney family from Cashel and many others. T.J. McInerney was fighting there. The ballot box will change all this soon. We thought we got it the last time but we did not. They have control. The fingers are on the handlebars of power. Anyone would need a chisel and hammer to get them off.

Deputy McGrath does not have the bottle left.

I welcome this opportunity to participate in the debate. I would like to think it is the start of a bright light shining on the opaqueness of our appointments system for the Judiciary.

I believe the Minister for Justice has been handed a hospital pass. That phrase has already been used by Deputy Catherine Murphy. In a previous life, while we were delighted to get a hospital pass as barristers, we knew exactly what it meant. I believe what has landed on the Minister's lap is a hospital pass.

It is regrettable that it has taken this much effort to have this limited debate in this manner. I put the blame squarely on the Taoiseach. I am afraid he has learned nothing.

Earlier this week, we considered the lobbying Bill brought forward by Sinn Féin. I had read the Standards in Public Office Commission reports. I asked myself why we must rely on the Opposition to bring changes. Fair play to Sinn Féin for bringing forward that Bill. SIPO has told us repeatedly what changes were needed, yet in January of this year the former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform told us no changes were necessary. It has taken all the scandals to date and the revolving door, plus the initiative from Sinn Féin, to force some type of change. Even then, the Government said it needed nine months.

It is similar with this. Why do I mention it? It is because I looked back. I thank some parts of the media for their work on this story. Without them, we would have little information. Certainly, we would have none if we were reliant on the Government. The Government has told us it has done nothing wrong and has complied with the procedures. The procedures have been totally opaque because no one knows how they work.

Let us consider the words of the former Chief Justice, Ms Susan Denham, who retired in 2017. She said many interesting things in her farewell speech. She talked about the lacunae and the necessity for change. She said:

This lacuna is so in spite of many years of discussions on the topic. I first discussed the matter with the minister for justice, Nora Owen, in 1997...

She referred to what was needed in terms of legislation, training for judges, a more transparent system for appointments and so on. She also referred to the Council of Europe and GRECO, which has been referred to many times. In 2014, she referred to a 2007 GRECO report that made five recommendations, namely, that a judicial council be established; that the system for appointing judges be reviewed; that a special pay and conditions body be established for the Judiciary; that a code of conduct for judges be formally established; and that a dedicated training institution for judges be established. She said in 2017 that, notwithstanding the fact that those recommendations had been made by the Council of Europe or a body acting under its aegis, not one recommendation had been acted upon. This was the Judiciary asking for change. GRECO has continued to publish interim compliance reports and other reports and it is still unhappy with the rate of change in Ireland.

I disagree with the comments of Deputy Bríd Smith, although mostly I agree with her. I believe it is remarkable that the Judiciary has been independent. Indeed, I remember Mr. Justice Niall McCarthy, now deceased. He stands out. He tried to hold the Government to account in respect of the amendment to the Constitution relating to abortion. The former Justice, Mr. Peter Kelly, also stands out among many other judges. I am not here to make any apology for judges but their independence is remarkable. In my moments of despair with this institution, the Health Service Executive and many other institutions, the Judiciary stands out for me as the last bastion for an ordinary person on occasions. The greatest problem of course is that most people do not have access to the courts because the process is far too expensive. I wish that is what we were talking about today.

I would call the Minister's speech today disjunctive. I do not believe the paragraphs follow from each other and I believe the Minister is in a difficult position. I believe the Taoiseach should be before the House answering these questions today and setting out what has happened. He was well able to speak on the last occasion Fine Gael and the Labour Party allowed the then Attorney General to go to the Court of Appeal. He called it an insider job that stank to the high heavens.

We were not in government at the time.

I take that back. At the point when it went up, his comment was that it stank to the high heavens.

I am not here to score political points. I am here to outline is that each Government has absolutely failed to learn that we need to change the process for appointing judges so that it is not opaque. I will stay with Ms Justice Denham for the moment. In paying tribute to the media, she said:

I would like to thank the journalists who have reported on the work of the Supreme Court during my tenure as a judge of the court, and as Chief Justice. For the rule of law to flourish in a democracy, an understanding and knowledge of what happens in our court is required.

The last sentence is significant. I would add to it by saying that for democracy to flourish, what we need is a knowledge of how institutions work, in particular governments and the Executive and how they appoint judges. It seems to me that there is no openness and accountability in the Minister's speech today or in the manner in which the former Attorney General was made a justice of the Supreme Court. I have no wish to comment on the merits or otherwise of that appointment. I am commenting on the process. It seems to me extraordinary that one of the paragraphs in the Minister's speech refers to the fact that it was practice to leave a Supreme Court vacancy.

I find that extraordinary given that the Chief Justice wrote in February of urgently making the appointment.

We seem to have many parallel systems of appointment. We must remember that back in 1995 the Act was brought in to bring some measure of reform to the appointments system. The JAAB process, through which the former Attorney General went, was one route. We also then had judges who were interested, and they send their expressions of interest through the Attorney General or the Minister for Justice. The Minister has not clarified whether it is the Minister for Justice who receives those expressions of interest from the sitting judges or the Attorney General. If it is the Attorney General, has anybody asked if there is a conflict of interest when, on the one hand, a sitting Attorney General wants to become a Supreme Court justice while, on the other, he has the applications from the sitting judges who are interested in the position? Has anyone thought about that or how that conflict is handled, if there is one? To me, it has all the appearances of a conflict of interest. The Minister has not dealt with that issue.

The third system of appointment involves sitting judges who have not come forward but whom the Government is allowed to consider. What is the procedure for looking at that? Does it not strike the Minister that this is not an open and accountable system in a republic and a democracy? We cannot call ourselves a republic and a functioning democracy if we do not have an open system.

Following the debacle of the previous Attorney General being appointed to the Supreme Court - again, I am making no comment on the person concerned but commenting only on what happened following that appointment, and Deputy Howlin has referred to this - I understand a review was carried out by Martin Fraser. Following that review, a committee was set up, parallel with the JAAB made up of the Chief Justice, a layperson and other distinguished people. We are not aware of who was appointed, how they were appointed or how the committee functioned. It appears, however, to have functioned well and to have been instrumental in appointing a number of applicants to the higher courts. Where did that system go? Was the Minister told about it?

That committee is the fourth part of the jigsaw. The four parts are the JAAB; the notices which go straight to the Attorney General or the Minister, a matter that nobody has clarified; the sitting judges who the Government can pick; and this advisory committee which was set up following the previous debacle and in relation to which the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, said it stank to high heaven. What happened to that set-up? It would be helpful if that was outlined to us today. It would be helpful if the Minister stated the Government could no longer stand over this system. This is the way this has always been done but we can no longer go on like that because we are in trouble in Europe. We are pointing the finger at other countries, and rightly so, but we need to look in the mirror first. We must look at what the Council of Europe, through its organisation, GRECO, has highlighted repeatedly.

The irony of all of this is that we do not have a system in place yet regarding complaints about judges' behaviour. Much of the information we have here is by default because we did not set up a fair and just system for complaints concerning judges, as happened in respect of the former Attorney General, now Supreme Court Justice, Séamus Woulfe, and his attendance at golfgate. We had no procedure in place to deal with that matter, so we went back to a former Chief Justice, set up an informal system and a total mess ensued in that regard. We learned from the openness and accountability of the printed transcript certain facts about how Séamus Woulfe was appointed. That is ironic in itself. I hope it is the start of a stronger light being shone in this area and of reform.

I thank Deputy Connolly. That concludes the first part of this debate. At the outset, I asked Members to stay within certain parameters. Some Members may have pushed towards the boundaries, but I accept that Deputies have respected the request I made. Deputy Griffin wishes to advise me that he does not think that is the case. I am very grateful to get the Deputy's advice from time to time. What I think we have heard are some severe political charges. I do not know if they are necessarily helpful, but so be it.

As we move on to the questioning process, I ask Members to have respect for the parameters within which we must operate. We must also stick rigidly to the five-minute time limit. It would also be helpful if Deputies were to indicate whether they intend to have back and forth questions with the Minister or if they intend to group several questions and then leave the Minister time at the end to respond.

It would be better to have a back-and-forth process, if that is possible.

That is fine. Let us get on with it.

We all know we must get some facts out, including that Séamus Woulfe was a long-time Fine Gael party activist. That has not been disputed by the Minister or anybody else. He sat around the Fine Gael Cabinet table for four years. The Minister took up her role on 27 June. She got a list of four names on 6 July, including candidates with long judicial experience. In record time, a matter of days, the Minister whittled that list of four names down to one and that single name went off to the Cabinet.

The Minister said nothing really about how that process worked. She cannot seriously think that people believe this yarn that a process was followed here. Nobody believes that. Does the Minister seriously believe that people believe the yarn that this was not a Fine Gael political stitch-up? That is plainly not the reality. The Minister must stop fooling people and recognise and admit that there was no process and no evaluation because she has not outlined one, and there could not have been one. The Minister needs to admit that to her colleagues in this Chamber.

I do not think anybody's political persuasion should prevent him or her from being promoted or moving through the ranks of any job, whether for a judicial appointment or not. I was appointed on 27 June, which was a Saturday. On Sunday, 28 June, I came into the Department and, as is customary, I was given a huge amount of notes and information. As part of that information, I was told by my Department that there was a vacancy and a request from the Chief Justice to fill it as quickly as possible.

I also found out within those first few days that there was a list from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board because that was already in my office and had been with the previous Minister. That was obviously made available to me, that there was one name. When I talked about the document I received on 6 July, that is a pre-document that I sign off on before it goes to Cabinet, so it does change. In the interim period, from when I was appointed and learned there was a vacancy to when I learned that Séamus Woulfe had come through the JAAB, I had a conversation, informally, with my colleague and with the Tánaiste. He informed me that there was a vacancy and that Séamus Woulfe had come through that process. I informed him that I was already aware of that. He also informed me or gave a view, I suppose, that he thought Séamus Woulfe would be a good judge.

I did not make a decision then because at that stage I did not have all the other names. I only received them when I got the e-submission. That was on 6 July and this matter did not go to Cabinet until 15 July. There were two subsequent Cabinet meetings in between that time. What I did, therefore, was not bring it immediately, even though I had been told that this was urgent. I took time to look at the JAAB recommendation, and it is a recommendation because it states that in the letter and in the relevant section of the legislation referring to JAAB. I looked at all the names that had come through the expressions of interest process, and then there was obviously a list of sitting judges. They had not expressed an interest, however, so that was something which is looked at last. Following that process, I spoke to all the leaders, as I have outlined in the timeframe, and, based on their responses, I made a recommendation. It is a very clear process.

To be clear, the Minister is saying that basically she spoke to one person in Cabinet and that was the Tánaiste in respect of this issue. If that is the case, it means that the Minister and the Tánaiste were the ones who made this decision. That is clearly what the Minister is saying. The Minister is also saying, which is vital to this issue, that she did not inform the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach of the day was not informed. I want to know why the Minister left the Taoiseach in the dark in respect of the decision which she and the Tánaiste made, this Fine Gael decision that was made leaving the Taoiseach out of the loop.

I am not saying that the Tánaiste is the only person I spoke to. I am saying that he gave his view and made his opinion known. Following that, after I received other names, I looked at those names-----

Who else did the Minister speak to?

I ask the Deputy to please let me answer. It is my role, as the Minister for Justice, to make a recommendation. I made that recommendation to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Attorney General. Deputy Kenny's colleague earlier mentioned the former Minister and Deputy, Dermot Ahern.

If the Deputy was to quote from his article this week, what he said was that not once did he ever bring more than one name or make more than one recommendation to the Taoiseach. In fact, he told them the night before.

That is not the point.

What the Cabinet handbook says is that in the case of appointments to the Judiciary, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other party leaders, the Minister for Finance and the Attorney General should be informed in advance of proposals to make such appointments and I did just that.

But the Minister did not inform the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach's line of defence is that he could not have done anything improper since he did not know what was going on. He did not know who the contenders were and he did not seek to find out. The Minister for Justice is left having to claim to be, as far as I can determine, the first Minister for Justice in history to determine personally a Supreme Court nomination without reference to the Taoiseach in a coalition Government. Is that the Minister's position?

I refer to my previous response that other former Ministers for Justice have very clearly said they never brought other names to the Taoiseach.

That is not the question.

What I am saying is that I made a recommendation. It is my job and my role as Minister for Justice to make a recommendation. When I made that recommendation to the Taoiseach, the Taoiseach did not object. It is a long-standing practice, and has been the case for many years, that there is not just the JAAB process, there are expressions of interest from judges-----

The Minister should not talk down the time.

I have laid out the process and I am familiar with it. I served in two Governments with Fine Gael. The Minister for Justice brings a proposal after it has been debated at some length with the leaders of Government. Why did that not happen in this instance? When was the Minister first told of the application of Mr. Justice Woulfe for the position and who informed the Minister of that?

Again, I can repeat what is in the Cabinet handbook. I cannot talk about what happened in a Government in which the Deputy served. As Minister for Justice, it is my job to bring forward a name and that is what I did exactly in this instance.

Did the Minister refer to previous memoranda for Government in checking the appropriate and normal form and contents of memoranda in relation to the appointment of judges?

In terms of appointing a judge, again I will read out the only reference in the handbook to the appointment of judges-----

That is not my question. I did not ask about the handbook. Did the Minister check other memoranda?

Answer the question. The Minister is not answering any of the questions.

The only memorandum concerning judicial appointments that is referred to says that I should inform the relevant individuals that I have just outlined, namely, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Attorney General, any other party leader and, in this instance, the Minister for Finance who was informed in the esubmission that would have gone to all of the Cabinet before the appointment was made.

It is very difficult when the questions are not answered.

So I have adhered to the letter of the law.

I did not ask the Minister to quote the handbook. I asked if she looked at the previous memorandum for Government on judicial appointments to find the format. Normally, there would be appendices listing all suitable applicants. Why was that not done?

So that is not the case. As I outlined in my earlier response, what I receive initially is an edocument, which is a draft memorandum. I received that on 6 July. After I have signed off on that, it is then adjusted to be sent to Cabinet. It has always been the case that a name itself does not even go to Cabinet; a memorandum informs colleagues that a name is going to be brought for appointment, be it to the Supreme Court, the District Court, the High Court or anywhere else. That is exactly what happened in this instance. That is what happened previously. So there is never a case where multiple names are brought to Cabinet to discuss; it is always the case that one name is brought to Cabinet. As someone who has served at Cabinet, the Deputy would know that.

Is the Minister saying it is never the case and that she has looked at the previous memoranda and is telling the House that the previous memoranda circulated on the appointment of a Supreme Court judge did not include appendices listing all those who were entitled to be considered? Is that what the Minister is telling the House?

That is my understanding, yes. That is my understanding that that is the precedent that has been set.

Did the Minister look at the previous memoranda?

I have asked my officials what is the precedent here. What I was informed is that no names went to Cabinet. Therefore, I asked the question and my officials in the Department informed me that only one name goes to Cabinet. What we have heard from many previous Ministers for Justice is that only one name ever goes to Cabinet.

Was the Minister aware of the existence of a previous non-statutory advisory committee set up by the previous Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, to nominate suitable people for appointment and why did she not have regard to that?

I am aware of this non-statutory advisory group. I am also aware that this group was established specifically for the sole purpose of appointments of Chief Justice and presidents of courts, not for actual judges, so this did not apply in this regard.

It seems to me that the Minister's contention that she alone made that decision is unbelievable. Can the Minister tell us in making that decision who else did she consult?

In making that decision I looked at all of the names myself. Before sending a name to Cabinet, I made my recommendation to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and to the Attorney General. Having had those conversations, I then made a recommendation to Cabinet.

The Minister has told us she had a discussion with the Tánaiste specifically in relation to the former Attorney General. Did she have a discussion with the former Attorney General, with the former Minister or with anyone else in relation to this appointment? Did the Minister take it that the Tánaiste was saying that he favoured the appointment of Séamus Woulfe? Did he tell the Minister that he had told the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, that he had come through the JAAB process?

First, I did not discuss this with the now Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice Woulfe. I did not discuss this with my former colleague, Deputy Flanagan. I have said that I did have an informal conversation with my colleague and Tánaiste who informed me that Séamus Woulfe had come through the process and that in his view he would make a good judge. He did not tell me that this was to be the case. He did not inform me of any other conversations that he had with other party leaders, but I think the three of them have very clearly stated that this was said to them by the Tánaiste, and the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, have corroborated that.

The very fact there was an informal discussion is an intrusion in the process. It is pretty much saying that "I would really like to see this person appointed, this is who I favour, before you go and have a look at the other list." Can the Minister tell us what criteria she used following that to evaluate the other people against the person who was the preferred person of the Minister and the Tánaiste?

The Ceann Comhairle has outlined that I cannot get into criteria and I will not get into criteria. This is my job. There are still names of persons who applied for that position sitting on file in my Department. There is still a vacancy and if that vacancy is to be filled, they will be again looked at. It is not for me to get into criteria. There is no specific criteria for me. I do not have a list or boxes that I tick. It is not given to me. I have to use my judgment and I do apply my own set of criteria. I am not going to get into that because we are talking about sitting judges in this instance.

So judicial experience, track record - none of that matters. There are no criteria set down for those. How could the Minister possibly evaluate a person for a job if we cannot understand the criteria?

We are going into difficult territory now. We cannot start comparing one with another.

I am talking about criteria rather than individuals.

What I have said is that for me to make that decision and to engage with my colleagues, there is no criteria. However, through the JAAB there are very clear criteria. Where it makes a recommendation, it has to show that the individual has displayed in his or her practice as a barrister or solicitor a degree of competence and a degree of probity appropriate to, and consistent with, the appointment concerned. It talks about suitable grounds of character, temperament, complying with requirements and being suitable. It also talks about appropriate knowledge of the decisions and the appropriate knowledge and experience of the practice and procedure of the Supreme Court or any relevant court. There are, therefore, very clear criteria through the JAAB. The recommendation that I made was of somebody who had come through that process which was chaired by the Chief Justice, the presidents of the courts, the Law Society, the Bar Council and, of course, I took it on board.

There is a scoring system and a mechanism for evaluation for any job one goes for.

It is very difficult to figure out how any Supreme Court judge, or any judge, would be appointed in a way that takes account of judicial experience and other relevant experience without some sort of metric. It is apparently being done on an emotional basis as opposed to a rational basis.

All I can say to that is the system is what the system is. I said in my statement that it is not perfect and that we all agree that it needs to be reformed but I cannot change the fact that this is the current process. We receive recommendations from the JAAB, expressions of interest from the sitting Judiciary and then there is a list of those who are eligible. It is then incumbent on the Minister for Justice to look at all those names and to engage with colleagues. In this instance, when I made the recommendation no concerns were raised, no further questions were asked and the name was subsequently sent to Cabinet. I cannot get into the criteria.

It is not deemed appropriate in this instance. The names of members of the Judiciary are still sitting on a list in my office and if I am ever asked to fill this next vacant position, they will be put forward for that as well.

I want a "Yes" or "No" answer to this question. When the Minister spoke to the Taoiseach about this matter, did she mention the fact that there were other expressions of interest besides Séamus Woulfe?

I have already said that I did not. I made one recommendation to the Taoiseach, as is my job to do as Minister for Justice.

When the Minister's party leader, Deputy Varadkar, told her he thought Séamus Woulfe would make a good judge, did that weigh heavily on her mind when it came to recommending him?

At that stage, I had not received the other list. Of course, I took that on board but having then looked at the other names, I made a recommendation based on who I felt was the best person for the job.

When Deputy Varadkar expressed the opinion that Séamus Woulfe would make a good judge, was he in possession of the other names?

The Tánaiste has already said that he was not but I cannot answer for him other than what he has said.

In making her mind up and going from the memorandum of 6 July to bringing one name to Cabinet, having whittled down the names herself, did the Minister speak to anybody else about moving from four names to one? Did she speak to anybody else in coming to that decision?

I want to clarify this issue because a number of Members have mentioned it. I have never referred to how many names there were. There were five expressions of interest. It it not good practice to start talking about how many names there were but in the interests of clarity I wish to be very clear. There were five expressions of interest, plus the recommendation through the JAAB.

I have said very clearly that I spoke to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Attorney General after I had deliberated. I did not move on this process immediately. It is a very sensitive and confidential process so the answer to the Deputy's question is "No". I did not speak to officials or anybody else about it.

The Minister did not speak to a single person about this. She made the decision 100% by herself that she would recommend Séamus Woulfe, as opposed to the others whose expressions of interest she had received.

I have already said that but I have also said, not just in this House but elsewhere, that I have never put forward a name to Cabinet without the full agreement of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan and the Attorney General, and this instance is no different. There were no questions and no concerns were raised. In other instances where I have proposed names, there have been greater conversations and some back and forth. That did not happen in this instance. I made a recommendation, it was agreed by the party leaders and was then put forward to Cabinet.

In the same process where she talked to the Taoiseach, when she returned to talk to the Tánaiste, having previously had a conversation in which he expressed the viewpoint that Séamus Woulfe would make a good judge, did the Minister then inform him that there were other expressions of interest?

It has been made clear that I did not. It is also clear that it has been a long-standing practice for there to be other names and that other judges put their names forward through expressions of interest. Having heard from former Ministers for Justice, it is also clear that it is not always the practice for the Minister to inform the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste of other names. The Minister makes a recommendation and that is what I did in this instance. There have been other instances because six appointments have been made in the past four and half months where questions have been asked and other names have been discussed. That did not happen in this instance.

When she brought the name of Séamus Woulfe to Cabinet, did the Minister inform the Cabinet, not necessarily of the other names but of the existence of other expressions of interest?

The Deputy cannot get into Cabinet confidentiality.

The memorandum that goes to Cabinet does not include any names. It just states that a name is coming to Cabinet. The Deputy will be aware that I cannot talk about anything that is discussed with Cabinet colleagues inside Cabinet.

When the Minister was in this process all by herself, not talking to a single other person and presumably looking into her soul and working out that Séamus Woulfe's name would emerge, on what basis did she make that decision? On what criteria does one make that decision? I am not at all asking for the qualities of Séamus Woulfe relative to the other expressions of interest, but what kind of things did the Minister take into account when saying that he would be right person for the job?

The Ceann Comhairle has been very clear that it is not appropriate for me to discuss criteria here. I have already explained that there is no list or boxes that I am given to tick. The Deputy is suggesting that this was a huge decision to make. Upon being appointed Minister for Justice, one immediately has a number of huge decisions to make. I take my role and my job as Minister for Justice very seriously and I very seriously considered every single name that was put before me before making a recommendation, which was then agreed by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan and the Attoney General and subsequently by Cabinet. It is the prerogative of Cabinet to reject or not approve a name and, again, that did not happen in this instance.

We are not being given any qualitative criteria because there are none. It is as simple as that. It is not difficult to understand at all. How many candidates did the Minister consider for the role?

I have just outlined that there were five expressions of interest. One name came through JAAB and there was a lengthy list of suitable judges but those people had not expressed an interest in this role.

There were three lists. I wanted to ask how many candidates the Minister considered for the role because we want to bring transparency to this process and if we do not know how many candidates were considered, it is not transparent. The Minister mentioned people who expressed an interest. Outside of them, there was another list of judges who are available and have the experience to do the job. How many candidates were considered for the role?

I looked at all the names that were put before me. One was from the JAAB and there were five expressions of interest. I am saying that in the interests of clarity. It is not practice to give the number of expressions of interest. There was also a long list of eligible sitting judges from all the courts, who have not expressed an interest. That list changes and I do not have the exact number on it. However, there is a statutory and legal obligation to look at the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board list first, followed by the expressions of interest, then the other general list.

It is not practice to have clarity on this process and one of the reasons we are here is to change that practice. The Minister said on our local radio station recently that she was only asked to fill one Supreme Court position. Who asked her to do that?

When I came into the Department on 28 June, I received my briefings, which stated that there was a vacancy and that the Chief Justice had asked for it to be filled immediately. I said in my statement that because lists had been reduced in the Supreme Court, there was a tradition that not all of those positions would be filled. When this one needed to be filled, which was before I came into the Department, the Chief Justice wrote to the then Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to say he wanted it to be filled. It has been made clear that it was not filled because we had an interim Government, as well as because of Covid and everything else. It was then dealt with immediately when I was appointed.

The Chief Justice asked the Minister to only fill one particular role on the court. Is that correct? Given that there are thousands of cases in the system, increasing by the year, and that the courts system is underpowered as regards judges, it is very hard to understand why, with multiple applicants and access to different lists, the Minister would not fill more than one position on the Supreme Court. The view of people around the country is that since we have a rotating Taoiseach, we will also have rotating nominations to the Supreme Court. Can the Minister give a good reason people would be wrong about that?

I was asked to fill one position. I have filled that position. There is currently a vacancy and if the Chief Justice asks me to fill that vacancy I certainly will. Regarding any other vacancies that have arisen since then in the District Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the Circuit Court, when I have been asked by the Presidents of those courts, I have filled them. If I am asked to fill this vacancy, I will. What I do not believe is that we should choose judges based on their ideology or decisions they have taken. I certainly do not think we have a situation, unlike that which we might have seen in the US, where elections hinge on who gets to pick the next Supreme Court. I do not think that is a route by which we should go, nor do we.

The Minister's response contradicts the behaviour of the Chief Justice and other Supreme Court judges previously who have gone to the Government demanding that it fill positions within the Judiciary. It is not feasible for the Minister to say that she was not asked to fill a role. The Minister is driving the Department. It is the Minister's decision and responsibly to fill that role and nobody else's. He or she, therefore, needs to have a criterion to leave a gaping vacancy within that. The only criterion for that vacancy currently is that there is a rotating Taoiseach and, therefore, a rotating nomination for that.

Most of the Minister's focus has been on the particular list from the JAAB and there has been very little focus on the other two list - the expressions of interest lists and the lists of available judges. Is it not a two-tier process? If the JAAB is the primary focus of the selection of a judge, do the other judges not have a real grievance that their expressions of interest of their ability to do the job have been ignored by the Minister?

It is a legal requirement that in filling the position of a judge, that one does look at the JAAB list first. The opposite is the case when looking to fill the president of a court or the post of Chief Justice. One has a legal obligation to look at the sitting judge list or the expressions of interest list first. That is what is in the legislation and that is what I adhered to in this instance.

Why was there a seven-month gap to fill retired justice, Mary Finlay Geoghan's position followed by a frenzy of activity at the time of the general election, when Séamus Woulfe had applied for the position in January?

On 16 June last year, a vacancy arose;on 4 February, the Chief Justice wrote to the Minister; on 17 February, there was a letter to the JAAB to try to fill that; on 18 February, the Minister responded to the Chief Justice's letter of 4 February indicating the issue to the JAAB to request a list; and on 25 February, the Chief Justice replied to the letter of 18 February indicating the JAAB meeting is scheduled for 9 March. The JAAB met on 9 March and, on 11 March, the list was received. In between that time, there was a general election, there was an interim Government and a clear decision was taken not to appoint anyone bar the President to the High Court for the reasons I outlined. It was made aware to me that this was urgent. At the same time, I did take the time to look at all the names. I did not appoint someone immediately. There were two or three Cabinet meetings which happened before I eventually brought a name to Cabinet.

Why was there a 14-week gap between when the then Minister, Deputy Flanagan, received Séamus Woulfe's name from the JAAB and it coming to the new Cabinet?. During that time Ms Mary Irvine was appointed President of the High Court, during the interim Government period, yet Mr. Woulfe's appointment was kept back for the new Government. Cén fáth?

Again, I have outlined that a decision was taken by the interim Government not to appoint anybody except to the presidency of the High Court because of the obligations on the presidency and the requirement for that.. The decision was taken not to appoint anybody else. However, I was made aware on my first day that there was a vacancy, and that it was urgent. Even with that, I made sure that I took the time to give everybody due consideration before I made a recommendation. That recommendation was made within two or three weeks of the Government being formed.

I wonder would it be anything to do with the presence in Cabinet of former the former Minister and Minister of State, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath then. Let the people be the judge of that.

The judicial complaints board has an office rented and it is staffed, and has everything bar a doorman. When will it be in action and when will Joe Soap be able to make a complaint to the board that was set up under legislation passed by this House and signed by the President into law seven or eight months ago? When can the public get access to that? What is the delay? Who is being protected by not having this complaints board in place?

In terms of judicial conduct and that process, everything that has been done or needed to be done by myself, the Department and the Government has been done. The terms of reference are now being set out by the Judicial Council. It has a certain period to do that. I am assured it is working on that and will have that done as soon as possible. I assure the Deputy that everything that needed to be done on our part has been done. The terms of reference are now being set out by the Judicial Council.

This is like the former presenter of "Céilí House", Kieran Hanrahan: "Around the house and mind the dresser." We have to mind things during the debate and I know we cannot stray but this was passed, why is it not in action? Why is this the case for the public today, many of whom feel aggrieved? Deputy Connolly mentioned that they cannot access it but some who have accessed those places, especially lay litigants, have complaints to make and there is no complaints process, even though these Houses have passed legislation. Who is blocking it?

I can confirm that no one is blocking it. There is a process. There is a timeframe. It is with the Judicial Council which is setting out the terms of reference. I am assured it will come back as soon as possible. From the perspective of this House, everything that has or could be done at this stage, has been.

That is strange because we passed laws here about vulture funds and to remove the prohibition on hearsay evidence, and it is implemented immediately. Why do we have to wait for nearly a year to have this body, which is set up and staffed and has rented buildings at great cost to the taxpayer? Denying taxpayers the solace of making of a complaint, regardless of how it goes or how far they get, is farcical.

The House spent a lot of time on it and I thank the former Minister, Shane Ross, for all his work on it. It was signed into law by the President, and set up. People would expect it to be up and running. Why is it not up and running?

I can only refer to my previous comment. It is often the case where legislation is signed into law, there is a period of time before it is enacted. In this case, it is with the Judicial Council. It is setting out the terms of reference and I have no doubt that when it is done, this process and procedure will get up and running.

Like Deputy Tóibín, I listened with interest to the Minister's interview with LMFM, in particular the part where she said she knew there were two vacancies on the Supreme Court but she was only asked to fill one, so she filled one, and if she is asked to fill the other, she will do that. However, section 16(5) of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995 states: "Where more than one judicial office in the same court stands vacant, or in advance of more than one vacancy arising in the same court, at the request of the Minister, the Board shall submit to the Minister the name of each person who has informed the Board of his or her wish to be considered for appointment...". Did the Minster of her predecessor agree with the JAAB that the Minister would only fill one of the vacancies?

The Minister of the day asks the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to set the wheels in motion to make recommendations. However I only do so when I am asked either by the president of the relevant court or the Chief Justice to fill that vacancy. In this instance, there were two; the second only arose only a very short time before I came into this role on 27 June. I was asked to fill one role. In the time since, I was not asked to fill the second role. However ,if the Chief Justice asks me to do that, I will, of course, do so and I will set the wheels in motion, with the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

It is clear that the Minister asked the board to fill one role.

The law is very clear about who needs to sit on the board; indeed, the Minister listed them on LMFM. Can she confirm that all those people who are required to be on the board, sat on the board and that it was duly convened? It is important because the JAAB is really what all this is about. The Minister is sheltering behind it.

I can only assume that when the board met that all members of the board were there. I have outlined those who sit on it. I cannot tell the Deputy otherwise, but I assume that each time it meets, a full complement of members meets. That is their obligation.

But it has never been confirmed to the Minister one way or the other. I thank the Minister. The rest of my time goes to my colleague.

Presumably, the five who expressed an interest were sitting judges. To whom did they express an interest?

Formerly, before 2014 or 2015, the process was that the names came directly to the Minister. That has since changed where they go directly to the Office of the Attorney General, but then come directly to my office. I cannot confirm or deny but it is my understanding that they do not stay in the Attorney General's office and that they come directly to my private office.

I did not hear that. Regarding the five persons to whom the Minister referred, where did their expressions of interest go, precisely?

The Office of the Attorney General.

So the Attorney General knew which sitting judges had an interest in going to the Supreme Court.

My understanding is that they come directly from that office to mine. I do not know whether the Attorney General sees them. These five expressions of interest dated from as far back as 2017 to as recently as June of this year, which, obviously, the former Attorney General would not have been privy to. I understand, again, they go directly from the Office of the Attorney General to mine. They are not held there. I cannot respond on behalf of someone else.

I have no wish to make the Minister's life difficult, but she can imagine how this sounds to the people listening and watching. Five sitting judges expressed an interest in going to the Supreme Court. They submitted their expressions of interest to the Office of the Attorney General. The Attorney General himself had an interest in being promoted. Nobody reflected on that as a procedure and a practice yet the Minister has stood here today and spoken about traditions and practice.

I am a little confused. I heard the Minister say that the current Tánaiste, the former Taoiseach, said that the former Attorney General would make a good judge. However, the Minister did not discuss this with him. If he had an opinion on that, did he have an opinion on the other sitting judges who wished to sit on a higher court?

The process is what it is. As I said, it has changed. The names go to the Office of the Attorney General. Regarding the legislation, the JAAB may recommend the Attorney General for appointment to judicial office. It is clearly stated that this is allowed. As I have said, we all believe that the current process and legislation should be updated, which I am working to achieve.

The Tánaiste said he thought Séamus Woulfe would make a good judge. There were no further discussions about other names because at that stage I had not received them. This was before 6 July, at which point then I received the names. The reason I did not have those names is I am only given the names of those who have submitted expressions of interest after I indicate that something is to go to the Cabinet. I always have the JAAB nominations before I see the other ones.

If I may make a point of order before the debate ceases, the revelation that the Tánaiste indicated to his newly appointed Minister for Justice that a particular individual would make a good judge-----

That is not a point of order.

Will you allow me to get to it? The Minister's clarification that this informed her position and her consideration of the appointment sets out in clear terms that we need an urgent statement of clarification----

That is a political charge. It is not a point of order.

I wish to make a formal proposal-----

I cannot take it. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Two weeks before-----

Have a little respect. The Deputy should resume his seat. He cannot purport to move a point of order and then proceed to make a political charge. There is no provision for that in the process in which we are involved. I am sure the Deputy learned to follow procedures in Europe. He will have to follow the same sort of procedures here.

(Interruptions).

The Deputy must resume his seat. If he wants to find some other avenue to pursue that matter, find it. However, it does not exist here and now. We are going to hear the Minister now with a five-minute wrap-up contribution.

If I may respond to the last comment-----

It might be better if the Minister did not.

I hope I have clearly stated that a process is followed when appointing a judge to any court, not just the Supreme Court. As Minister for Justice, I have adhered to that process. I will outline it again for absolute clarity. I was appointed as Minister for Justice on 27 June. The following day I received briefings from my Department, one of which outlined that there was a vacancy on the Supreme Court. I was asked to fill that as soon as possible. I was also made aware a JAAB recommendation was already in my private office, which alerted me to the fact that the former Attorney General had come through that process. Later that week, in discussion with my colleague, the Tánaiste, I was informed that the former Attorney General had come through that process. I told the Tánaiste I was aware of that and he simply said he believed the former Attorney General would make a good judge. Of course, I took that on board, but at that stage I had not yet received all of the other expressions of interest. I received those in a draft memorandum on 6 July. Following receipt of that, I looked at all expressions of interest, the recommendations of the JAAB and the sitting judges eligible for this position. After several days and two other Cabinet meetings, I spoke to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Attorney General. I made a recommendation to all four of them. There were no further questions. All four agreed with the recommendation I had made and it was on that basis that a name was presented to the Cabinet, which approved Mr. Séamus Woulfe as a Supreme Court judge.