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Supreme Court judge refusing to step down over Golfgate scandal

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Séamus Woulfe has rejected a call for him to resign

Séamus Woulfe has rejected a call for him to resign

Séamus Woulfe has rejected a call for him to resign

Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe has refused to step down over the 'Golfgate' controversy - despite being strongly urged to do so by the Chief Justice.

In an extraordinary exchange of letters, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said it was his "personal view" his embattled colleague should resign due to "irreparable damage" done to the court.

But in response to points raised by the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Woulfe said: "I cannot see how any of this is a basis upon which I should resign."

The former attorney general said he would accept lesser sanctions detailed by the Chief Justice, including having to issue a further apology, not sitting for three months and foregoing his salary for that period.

But he flatly refused to step down from his €208,000-a-year job, launching a defiant and lengthy defence of his position.

Justify

In a response running to almost 6,000 words, he repeatedly sought to justify his position and reiterated his view that the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner, which he attended, was not held in breach of Covid-19 regulations.

The unprecedented impasse has plunged the operation of the Supreme Court into crisis.

In a letter last week, Mr Justice Clarke told Mr Justice Woulfe it was the unanimous view of all members of the court that "very significant and irreparable damage" had been done by the affair.

The damage, he said, was "both to the court and to the relationship within the court which is essential to the proper functioning of a collegiate court".

The Chief Justice said it was not part of his role to ask, let alone tell, Mr Justice Woulfe to resign because resignation could only be a matter for a judge themselves.

"Regrettably, however, I believe that I should make clear my personal opinion that, to avoid continuing serious damage to the judiciary, you should resign," Mr Justice Clarke wrote.

The letter and a further exchange of correspondence between the judges were released by Mr Justice Clarke last night.

Mr Justice Woulfe was one of 81 people to attend the golf society dinner in Clifden, Co Galway, on August 19. Covid-19 restrictions meant indoor gatherings were limited to a maximum of 50 people.

In the resulting furore, high-profile attendees EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary resigned their positions.

Although he issued an apology, Mr Justice Woulfe (58) rejected suggestions he too should step down.

A review by former Chief Justice Susan Denham found he had broken no laws but should not have gone to the dinner and had failed to reflect on whether his attendance might bring the court into disrepute.

She said he had done nothing that would justify calls for his resignation and recommended the matter be dealt with by the Chief Justice by way of "informal resolution". Her recommendation did not draw a line under the matter.

Interview

A transcript of his interview for the review revealed he sought to blame the media and politicians for the controversy.

"The manner in which you have met this problem has, in my view, added very substantially to the damage caused to the court, the judiciary and thus to the administration of justice," Mr Justice Clarke wrote.

"I should say that the reasonable response of a great number of people to the transcripts has, in my judgment, caused even greater damage to the judiciary than did your attendance at the Clifden event."


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