herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

'It stinks to high heaven' - FF fury at judge decision

Former AG Maire Whelan
Former AG Maire Whelan

Leo Varadkar is facing his first major crisis as Taoiseach after Fianna Fail threatened to withdraw support for the Government over what it called "stroke politics".

Fianna Fail said Maire Whelan's controversial appointment to the Court of Appeal this week "stinks to the high heavens" and amounts to a clear example of cronyism.

Senior figures close to party leader Micheal Martin last night told the Herald the move represented a clear breach of the confidence and supply arrangement that is keeping the Government afloat.

However, Mr Varadkar moved to defend the decision taken at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, insisting the former attorney general has an "outstanding legal mind".

With the row threatening the stability of the Government, it emerged:

• Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald was aware three other judges had expressed an interest in the post.

• Fine Gael and Independent ministers lashed out at Ms Fitzgerald for keeping the Cabinet "in the dark".

• The Independent Alliance said it wants a review into Ms Whelan's appointment

• There is growing speculation that Ms Whelan may decide to step aside as a result of the controversy.

While there has been consensus the appointment was legal, even senior Fine Gael figures said it has painted the Government in a damaging light.

However, Mr Varadkar indicated in a statement that the Government will forge ahead with Ms Whelan's appointment.

"I am satisfied that the correct procedures were followed," Mr Varadkar said.

Surprises

"The Tanaiste recommended Maire Whelan to cabinet as the stand-out person for the vacancy," he added.

The newly-elected Taoiseach also said he reviewed the confidence and supply arrangement and he did not believe there had been any breach.

However, Fianna Fail figures pointed out the arrangement said there should be no "surprises" between the two parties.

"This was a surprise even to members of Cabinet," one senior figure told the Herald.

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