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Rossa Fanning profile: New AG a courtroom bruiser with straight-talking reputation

Legal experience and friendship with new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar helped put him in the frame as the Government’s new Attorney General

In his time at the Bar, Rossa Fanning SC, the Government’s new Attorney General, developed a reputation as a straight talker, a ferocious competitor and a bruising, often brash opponent.

“He has this very aggressive style, like a rottweiler, but it is quite vaudeville, almost theatrical,” said one Law Library colleague, putting his manner down to the adversarial nature of the courtroom.

Now colleagues in the Four Courts wonder how Fanning, as legal adviser to the Government, will shift to managing relations in the political arena, swapping the courtroom for advising in the rough and tumble of discussions in a three-party Cabinet room. Most expect him to bring his considerable legal expertise, understanding of the law and voracious capacity for work to the role but also to express his opinions with his characteristic forthrightness.

Fanning, at 46, is not the youngest AG to take a seat at Cabinet but his legal CV has clearly signposted him to this destination, with his name strongly linked to the role for several weeks.


A graduate of Blackrock College in Dublin, he studied law at UCD where he was auditor of the Law Society. He was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Michigan and came first in his class at the King’s Inns, earning him the coveted John Brooke Scholar in 1999. He served his legal apprenticeship devilling for David Barniville, now president of the High Court.

Fanning was on UCD’s law faculty as a lecturer from 2001 to 2009 but had to step back from teaching due to the demands of his commercial law practice at the Bar, which took off as the economy crashed. His expertise in insolvency cases and business disputes made him a key player in many prominent post-Celtic Tiger era cases. He became a senior counsel in 2016.

As a specialist in commercial litigation, Fanning found himself involved in high-profile cases involving some of the biggest names in corporate Ireland including Denis O’Brien, Larry Goodman, Dermot Desmond and Michael Smurfit and large multinationals such as Google and Facebook, along with financial institutions, investment funds and media companies.

Fanning acted for the receivers of Apollo House, which was occupied by activists against homelessness. He has worked for the Government and State agencies, acting for the Minister for Health in judicial review proceedings challenging the criminalisation of cannabidiol (CBD), and for the State Claims Agency on claims against the HSE concerning vaginal mesh implants.

His work has brought close brushes with celebrity too, representing golfing star Rory McIlroy in his legal row with his former management company and the late broadcaster Gay Byrne in a case involving an investment property. He represented bankrupt businessman Sean Quinn in his 2012 contempt case but resigned while the case was ongoing.

Fanning is not a member of a political party. He attended a Fine Gael fundraising dinner at the Suesey Street restaurant in Dublin in 2019 but has also attended fundraisers for barristers Jim O’Callaghan (Fianna Fáil) and Oisin Quinn (Labour) in a non-partisan capacity.

His friendship with new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar certainly helped put his name in the mix for the AG job. He knows Varadkar socially, though the two would meet infrequently, perhaps twice a year. There was cross-party support from Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan for his appointment, succeeding Paul Gallagher SC, who has advised Fianna Fáil-led governments.

Fanning lives in a Georgian house in Dublin city centre, a stone’s throw from Government Buildings.

Outside of work, he is a huge tennis fan. An accomplished player and one-time coach during his time in university, he is a member at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, regularly travels to watch the US Open in New York and served as chair of the selectors for the Irish Davis Cup (men’s tennis) and Billie Jean King Cup (women’s) teams for 15 years until this year.

Government will be hoping for lots of aces - and no double faults - from him as AG.