Newly appointed District Court judge Patrick Durcan was ‘shocked’ and ‘taken aback’ when he heard the news of his appointment last week, as there had been no indication that such a move was imminent. Mr Durcan nonetheless told The Mayo News he was ‘very honoured’ to take up the post.
Shouts of cronyism and political favouritism were echoing around the country after the announcement was made, but Mr Durcan refused to be drawn into such debate. Instead he would only say that he now faced into a ‘different challenge’ and hoped to do a ‘good and fair job’.
The process of appointing judges in Ireland has long been associated with political bias, as it is the incumbent Government who have the final say on appointments. Mr Durcan has been on the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board’s final shortlist several times in recent years. However, this is the first time his name has been before a Fine Gael Government, and having served as a running mate of Enda Kenny’s in the past, and as Election Agent for Michael Ring in this year’s and previous general elections, this appointment by a party that pledged to end cronyism, has not gone unnoticed.
Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Justice, Deputy Dara Calleary, said that while he wished Mr Durcan well and knows that he is eminently qualified and will be independent in his work, he is concerned that Fine Gael and Labour are adopting a particular approach in their politics, despite having built their successful election campaign on promises of doing the very opposite.
“We were told there would be huge changes but this has proven untrue,” he told The Mayo News. “All three judicial appointments last week were for people with active links to the Government, and I find it bizarre that these judges were appointed at the old pay rates. If this is to be the case, why did they bother with the referendum?”
A solicitor of 39 years experience, Mr Durcan is expecting to be in his new role in the next two to three weeks. Among other prominent positions he has served as a Fine Gael public representative on Westport Town and Mayo County Councils, and was a member of Séanad Éireann between 1983 and 1987. He stated that he will now relinquish all political affiliations and Fine Gael party duties, and that while he will miss his clients, the legal practice he has built up will continue to operate as normal, under the stewardship of solicitors James Warde and Bob McArdle.
Patrick Durcan follows in the footsteps of another Westport native, Judge Seamus Hughes, who was appointed to the District Court bench in 2009.
Local District Court Judge, Mary Devins, expressed her delight at Mr Durcan’s appointment.
“I am pleased to congratulate Mr Durcan on his appointment to the District Court bench and I am personally thrilled beyond words to have a lawyer of such excellence as Mr Durcan to join us,” she said.
“He is someone who will appreciate how serious the oath is he will shortly swear in the Supreme Court. He is independent, honourable and has a sense of humour, which are all the attributes of a good judge.”
Tributes were also paid last week by Evan O’Dwyer, the President of the Mayo Solicitors Bar Association, Vincent Deane, State Solicitor, Ms Constance Cassidy, SC, on behalf of the Bar, Westport solicitor, Sheila Ryan and An Garda Síochana Inspector Joe McKenna.
Also congratulating Mr Durcan, former Fianna Fáil Councillor and one time political foe, Mr Sean Staunton, said he had served with him for many years on Westport Town Council and that he was an outstanding councillor who will bring great wisdom, understanding and compassion to the bench.
“It’s not every council can claim to have two former members serving in the judiciary but Westport has in Seamus Hughes and now Patrick Durcan, and we can be justifiably proud of both of them,” he added.