Fine Gael launched its most bitter attack on Sinn Féin in years this week in a desperate response to a cronyism scandal which has now expanded to include the position of shamed Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe.
On Tuesday, Fine Gael leader and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar survived a Sinn Féin no-confidence motion at Leinster House over his leaking of a confidential public services contract. He provided the sensitive document to a friend who was involved in negotiations on a similar deal for the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).
The debate saw fractious exchanges and vicious denunciations of Sinn Féin by Fine Gael TDs as they worked to deflect attention from the scandal. Some of the attacks had been prepared using ‘dirt’ collected from recent FG job applicants who had been asked to identify new ways to attack Sinn Féin as part of a bizarre recruitment process.
Playing to their own social media audience, the Fine Gael TDs ignored the cronyism issue and instead hurled their reheated accusations against Sinn Féin.
But by the weekend Fine Gael and Varadkar were even more embedded in multiplying scandals over insider favouritism and ‘jobs for the boys’.
It has emerged that Varadkar’s government is outrageously nominating a former NAGP lobbyist Geraldine Feeney to the Standards in Public Office Commission, the standards watchdog tasked with examining whether Varadkar improperly leaked to Feeney’s former employer.
But a bigger controversy appears to be building around Seamus Woulfe, (pictured, left, with Varadkar, right) a former Fine Gael Attorney General, who is still refusing to resign from his Supreme Court role after it was revealed he took part in the so-called ‘Golfgate’ event. Woulfe was one of scores of political insiders who took part in the lockdown-breaking parliamentary golf club dinner at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
His defiance in remaining in post is now threatening a constitutional crisis and has brought info focus the nature of his back-room appointment to the Supreme Court earlier this year. A number of senior judges wrote to the coalition government to express interest in the Supreme Court vacancy filled by Woulfe in July, but the Cabinet was somehow not told of their applications before he was selected.
At least three judges had written to the government seeking promotion to the Supreme Court before Minister for Justice Helen McEntee recommended Woulfe to Cabinet just two weeks after he lost his post as Attorney General.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Friday he had not been informed about competition for the post before the appointment went through.
Woulfe’s position has been described as “untenable” and he was told to go in very clear terms by his colleagues in the Supreme Court. Explosive letters were released showing that the Chief Justice Frank Clarke had “no confidence” in Woulfe.
There has been speculation in legal circles that the Chief Justice may resign in protest if Woulfe does not go. There are also suspicions any move to force the defiant Wolfe out could bring even more revelations and scandal.
Martin Kenny, Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson, said his party will await any decisions from the government as to how it will handle the matter. “We have a huge problem with the judiciary and how it is held to account,” he said.
Sinn Féin leader said her party could not “sit idly by” as the cronyism scandals mounted.
“This is more of the old Fine Gael behaviour where it is about who you know and insiders getting access to the corridors of power,” she said.
“It comes after Michael D’Arcy has moved on from his role as Minister of State to the world of high finance in the same way Brian Hayes moved from politics to the banking sector; where he is now their chief lobbyist.
“All of this further undermines the public’s confidence in politics and is totally unacceptable to us. The election in February was about change, about new politics and that is what we intend to deliver.”