Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has said he did not know the names of the other candidates for the vacancy on the Supreme Court before Seamus Woulfe was appointed.
He said the decision to appoint a judge is always made by Government in a democracy and it is standard practice that the name of only one candidate is brought to Cabinet ministers to sign off on.
He also defended the appointment of Mr Woulfe and Justice Minister Helen McEntee’s role in the decision.
The Tanaiste came under sustained criticism in the Dail on Thursday from members of the opposition who are demanding an explanation as to why Mr Woulfe was appointed ahead of three serving judges who had expressed their interest in the position.
The Government has been under increasing pressure for Ms McEntee to make a statement in the Dail on the matter.
As with any senior appointment that comes to Cabinet, only one name is brought to CabinetLeo Varadkar
It comes after the Taoiseach said earlier this week that “no further steps” would be taken against Mr Woulfe over his controversial attendance at an Oireachtas golf event contrary to Covid-19 public health guidelines.
Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty said taxpayers have a right to know how Mr Woulfe was appointed and who made the decisions.
He asked Mr Varadkar to clarify whether the names of the judges who had expressed an interest in the Supreme Court vacancy had been discussed by Government.
Mr Doherty said: “The Government has thus far adopted the approach of refused to answer questions about any of this.
“But this is a really important matter, this is not a trivial matter, this is a job that carries with it a salary in excess of 220,000 euro – salary that is paid by the taxpayers and those taxpayers have a right to know.”
Mr Varadkar said Mr Woulfe was an “excellent Attorney General” who was “competent, efficient and approachable”.
He also said McEntee had acted “appropriately” in the decision making process.
Mr Varadkar said: “As with any senior appointment that comes to Cabinet, only one name is brought to Cabinet, because it wouldn’t be appropriate for 20 people sitting over a Cabinet table to be pouring over a short list of names and discussing the merits and demerits of them.
“It wouldn’t be fair to them and it would probably discourage good people from applying.”
The Tanaiste also told the Dail that the week before the Government was formed, the party leaders decided a new Attorney General would be appointed and Mr Woulfe would not be reappointed to that role.
It was at that point, he said, that he informed Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.
“We decided collectively that there would be a new Attorney General, and that Seamus Woulfe would not be reappointed as Attorney General,” he said.
“At that point, for transparency and for information, I informed the other leaders that there was a vacancy, that Seamus Woulfe had been recommended by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (Jaab) as suitable for that vacancy, and that was the end of the conversation.”
The Tanaiste added he did not know how many judge candidates were on the shortlist and he did not know their names.
Mr Varadkar said: “There’s the list from Jaab, there’s a list of people who have expressed an interest in being promoted, and there’s a third list of people who are eligible for promotion.
"You are trying to shy away from accountability. The problem here is you do not want your Justice Minister to answer direct questions from the Opposition"â @PearseDoherty on the #SÃ©amusWoulfe controversy in the DÃ¡il pic.twitter.com/A5tkNAuqi5— Sinn FÃ©in (@sinnfeinireland) November 19, 2020
“I knew those lists existed. I didn’t know how many people were on them and I didn’t know the individuals’ names.”
Mr Woulfe was nominated to the Supreme Court in July, a number of weeks after the coalition Government of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party was formed.
The opposition dismissed Mr Varadkar’s assertion that Ms McEntee had already provided clarification on the appointment.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the Government would not have “legitimacy” if the Justice Minister does not answer questions in the Dail.
“You may have a Dail majority, and you may keep pushing this out but it will not go away and you certainly do not have the moral majority,” Mr Kelly said.
“The minister has to come in here and will you ensure she comes in here next week.”