Independent Senator Michael McDowell has launched a pointed attack on Minister Shane Ross claiming he is pursuing a "personal agenda" in championing the new Judicial Appointments Bill due to his "dissatisfaction" with a court case where he was a plaintiff.

Using parliamentary privilege, the barrister and former minister for justice claimed Mr Ross has advocated that the chairperson of the new Judicial Appointments Commission should be a lay person because of his dissatisfaction with a case where he was a plaintiff.

Speaking during tonight's debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, Senator McDowell said: "Why is it the situation that the chairperson must by definition be somebody who has never practiced law in the last 15 years?

That the person should never have been a judge? The person shouldn't really know what is required of a good lawyer, for the one part, or a good judge, for the other, and the person shouldn't have personal experience of any of these issues.

"And you are taken to the conclusion I have to say that Minister Ross is driven by a personal agenda in making this particular requirement of his government partners."

He added: "Now, I don't want to get personal about this but I know what the background to this particular animus in this matter is. It arises from his dissatisfaction with the way a particular case that he was involved in as a plaintiff was decided. I won't go further into it. I know the details and I know what we are dealing with her. That is why he wants this particular provision to be put in place.

Acting Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson, warned Senator McDowell that "Minister Ross is not here to defend himself and may dispute some of your contentions."  

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan told the Seanad that the genesis of the bill is a commitment made in the Programme for Government.

He pointed out that the Judicial Appointments Commission is not unique to Ireland in terms of the composition.

He said the concept of a non-legal chairs and members occurs in other countries and said that in England, Wales and Scotland, the appointment boards are chaired by non-legal people.

Minister Flanagan stressed the importance of looking at emerging best practice in neighbouring jurisdictions.

He said there is no distrust in the way our senior judges have conducted the appointments in the past and rejected accusations of cronyism and inside circles."

He said he does not believe "the sky will fall in" if there is a commission without a lay majority.

Debate on bill goes ahead after Government receives Sinn Féin support

Earlier, Sinn Féin saved the Government from an embarrassing Seanad defeat, by voting against a Labour party proposal to postpone the debate on the controversial bill.

Labour Senators Ivana Bacik and Kevin Humphreys, along with several opposition colleagues raised concerns about the Seanad debate on the bill commencing today ahead of the full publication of a report from as European anti-corruption body.

A report by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) is reportedly critical of the Ireland in the judicial appointments process.

The controversial Judicial Appointments Bill, which will establish a new commission to appoint judges. It is being championed by the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross and has been described as a "dog's dinner" by the Attorney General Seamus Woulfe.

Senator Kevin Humphreys pointed out that GRECO is a Council of Europe body that has "issue a yellow card" yet the Government wants to push through legislation for "the vanity of Shane Ross."

He claimed that, "We all know the Minister for Justice does not believe in it" and added that the Government is proceeding with the legislation "to keep one minister on board. You are undermining democracy and making deals with the devil"."

His party colleague Ivana Bacik and Independent Senator Victor Boyhan suggested the Seanad should not proceed with the legislation until the GRECO report is published and senators have had sight of it.

Senator Bacik accused the Government of "making a mockery of the legislative process" as they have not yet seen the report.

Similarly, Independent Senator Victor Boyhan added, "There is no reason why we should play blind man's bluff on a legislative basis while the Government sits on the report."

Another Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell accused the Government of asking the Upper House to "buy a pig in a poke". He claimed "this bill is a dog's dinner, not a plate of oysters."

Senator David Norris said he was very disappointed to hear that some "individual deals" have been reached in return for support for the bill.

He added: "This pork-barrelling does nothing for the moral authority or intellectual consistency of this house."

A proposal from Labour Senators Ivana Bacik and Kevin Humphreys to postpone the Committee Stage debate on the Judicial Appointments bill was defeated by 26 votes to 22.

Sinn Féin's senators voted with the Government.