Aileen Donnelly makes history as first openly LGBTQ+ judge nominated for Irish Supreme Court

The nomination follows the passing of the Courts Bill 2023 earlier in May, allowing for the appointment of 24 additional judges this year.

Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly.
Image: Dave Meehan

In a historic decision, as reported on May 23, the Irish Government has approved the nomination of Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly as an ordinary judge of the Supreme Court. That makes her the first openly queer person to be nominated for such a position and the first to join Ireland’s highest judicial authority. 

Donnelly publically disclosed her sexuality in 2015 following Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s coming out. After she was named as openly queer online, a Courts Service spokesperson confirmed that she was a member of the LGBTQ+ community, saying: “Justice Donnelly is in a very happy relationship with her partner Susan.”

Donnelly studied at University College Dublin and the King’s Inn, and in 1988 she was called to the Bar. Between 1996 and 2002, she was a board member and Co-Chair of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), and in 2004 she was called to the Inner Bar. She currently serves as a judge in the Court of Appeal.


As one of the ordinary judges of the Supreme Court, she will join the eight other ordinary judges of the court, the President of the High Court, the President of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice of Ireland.

Next to nominating Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly for the Supreme Court, ministers also agreed to nominate Mr Justice Charles Meenan and Ms Justice Tara Burns, two High Court judges, to the Court of Appeal. 

All of the nominations follow the passing of the Courts Bill 2023 earlier in May, allowing for the appointment of 24 additional judges this year.

The bill was passed in response to the recommendations of the Judicial Planning Working Group, the goal of which was “to consider the number of and type of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice”. The group ultimately recommended increasing judicial numbers, a recommendation which Government accepted and has now acted on.

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