Ethics in Public Office Bill, 1994: Second Stage.

Thursday, 23 June 1994

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 444 No. 3

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Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Ms E. Fitzgerald): Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

This is probably one of the most significant Bills this Government will introduce. It is also one of the most important. It is important because it deals with our democracy, and ways of strengthening it. It is important because it builds openness and trust in our democratic system. It is important because it provides a set of rules which will protect and enhance our democracy in an increasingly complex business and financial environment.

In that context I am looking forward to the debate on it, because I am sure that Members will share in the aims of the Bill — to strengthen our democratic structures and ensure that the public is served in the best possible manner by those they elect and by those chosen to serve them.

I am looking forward to the debate on this Bill which I hope will be a constructive one. I am sure it will be, because I know that Members share with me an aspiration to make our democracy more open, more accountable and more accessible to the needs of the people who have elected us. I sincerely hope that in the process of debating and passing this legislation we can begin the process of restoring trust in democracy. I hope we can dismantle some of the cynicism and negative perception of politics and politicians which undermines confidence in [592] democratic institutions and in democracy itself.

It is appropriate that as we set out to debate this legislation, we restate our reasons for advancing it. The Bill is being enacted because the public has a right to know — a right to know what private interests could potentially influence the decisions policy-makers take, and a right to know that private and public interests are kept separate. The public has a right to know what interests their politicians have, not in order to jump to the immediate conclusion that those interests are affecting decisions made, but because bringing the information into the public domain effectively separates the public decision from the private interest.

This Bill provides a mechanism for achieving just that: in the first place by identifying the politicians' interests and, secondly, by providing a framework in which any potential conflict which might arise can be resolved. I know that for the vast majority of Members, the notion of allowing their private interests to influence any public decision they might make would be anathema to them. Indeed some commentators have suggested that the Bill is unnecessary and unduly intrusive. I want to categorically state that the Bill is not about catching politicians up to their tricks. The vast majority of Irish politicians are dedicated public servants who have entered politics to do good for the country, and not for personal advancement.

What the Bill represents, and I believe it is increasingly necessary, is a recognition that the financial and political life of this country has become much more complex. In that complex world the potential for conflicts of interest to arise has grown enormously. The mechanisms proposed in this Bill provide us with a way of acknowledging and dealing with that potential conflict so as to protect and enhance our democracy and our high standards of public service. It is not as if what is suggested in this Bill is new. A public register of interests by elected Members is a standard feature of democracies the world over. Our neighbours across the Irish Sea have taken it for [593] granted for years, that on the day a person takes a seat in Parliament, he or she declare their interests. I am sure Deputy Currie, having served in parliaments outside the Twenty-six Counties, will understand that point very well. Our MEPs have been registering their interests for years. Nor is it an entirely new idea here. Members who have also served on local authorities will be aware of the requirement to declare their interests at that level. Most Members have quite happily and openly declared their interests at that level for years.

On the semi-State side, procedures were put in place in recent years requiring declaration of interests by members of boards of semi-State companies. This legislation does, for the first time, put such arrangements on a statutory basis. Given that the semi-State sector is an arm of the State, so to speak, and that in making decisions, directors and senior executives of State boards are acting on behalf of the public, on behalf of their shareholder the taxpayer, it is time that the system of disclosure of interests at this level was put on a statutory footing. The semi-State sector has expanded considerably in recent years, and with this expansion has come an increasing complexity of operation.

Given that complexity and the huge sums of public money involved, there is undoubtedly a potential for lapses from the high standards which the public expects. The clear statutory framework which the Bill provides will protect not only the taxpayer and the public interest, but also those charged with serving on their behalf in the public and semi-State sectors.

The independent commission set up under the Bill which has wide powers to investigate complaints and to carry out investigations on its own initiative is another powerful safeguard for the conduct of public business in our semi-State companies.

The Bill provides a similar framework for the disclosure of interests by senior civil and public servants in designated positions. This is not because we believe [594] there are public officials with something to hide, but because of the need to recognise that times have changed. We have a tradition of public service of which we can be proud. In providing the system which this Bill proposes, we will safeguard a strong sense of confidence in the integrity of the public sector.

Let us look at what the Bill contains and the structures and requirements which it will put in place. It will establish a public Register of Interests for Members of the Oireachtas, including Ministers. Others in senior positions of public influence — board members and senior executives of State bodies, senior civil servants and senior special advisers — will also be required to put their interests on the record in an annual declaration. Those involved in policy execution, that is, Ministers, senior advisers, senior public servants and directors of State companies, will be required to declare relevant interests of their spouses and children, but on a confidential basis. Where a direct conflict of interest arises in the course of official duties for those covered by the Bill, that must be formally declared and put on record.

Civil servants and senior semi-State personnel are obliged under the Bill to stand aside from decisions in which they have a personal or family financial interest unless there are compelling written reasons otherwise. This requirement is being made a term of their job contracts or conditions of appointment. If somebody does not obey this requirement in a serious case they can be sacked.

Under the Bill TDs and Minister are not being asked to stand aside from the exercise of their constitutional and statutory functions, but they will be obliged to formally record if they have an interest in all cases.

In speaking or voting in the House, Members will be asked to make a formal declaration to the Clerk where they have an immediate personal, family or business interest in the matter in question. This will not apply where the interest is of a broad general character, for example as a mortgage holder, parent or a farmer. [595] A select committee of the House will draw up guidelines for Members in this regard. The declaration will be simple —“I have an interest in this matter”— and will be formally recorded in the records of the House.

Under the Bill, expensive gifts to office holders will become State property. This has been long sought and I am sure will be widely welcomed.

Outside advice is valuable, and I am a strong supporter of a cabinet system which complements the work of an independent civil service. The Bill sets out new requirements regarding personal ministerial appointments, including advisers. It will be a statutory requirement under this legislation to publish the details of the appointment, including the person's qualifications for the job where it is a senior policy post. Ministers will have to make a public declaration if the appointee is a relative.

I would like to say at this point that there were lessons to be learned about how such appointments were handled. We have put those lessons to good use in the changes to procedures and in the completely open system for appointments now proposed in this legislation. I am sure these proposals will receive a warm welcome on the Opposition benches. It will be made a statutory requirement that all such appointments are temporary and end when the Minister's term of office ends. This has been the practice for many years but it is now being put on a statutory basis.

Advisers will be obliged to make a full public declaration of their interests by laying them before this House, and they will be prohibited from acting where they have a conflict of interest. The new rules apply equally to those employed in the normal way and to those working on contract.

The Bill is fair and reasonable in what it asks politicians to declare. In fact they are largely the same declarations as those already adopted by parliaments in other democracies. They include directorships and outside employment; valuable shareholdings; substantial property interests, [596] other than the family home; paid positions as lobbyists and contracts held with public bodies; valuable gifts, other than normal gifts from family and friends. In essence, the legislation asks politicians to declare those interests which could potentially influence their decisions.

The Bill's structure is a complex one, but the principles it embodies are simple. The fundamental principle is openness and accountability — putting private interests on the table so that public and private business is seen to be kept separate and conflicts of interest avoided.

Public declarations are required of politicians and Minister's senior advisers, as people in the direct public eye. Other declarations under the Bill are made in private. We seek to strike a fair balance between the public's right to know and the individual's right to privacy.

Comprehensive listing of interests is required of those whose public duties are wide-ranging and not confined to any particular sector — Ministers, Members, senior advisers. People working in a Government Department or State company are required to list those of their interests which could have a bearing on their duties in that Department or company. For example, a senior civil servant in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry would be expected to declare shareholdings in agri-business, but would not normally be expected to declare shareholdings in a clothing company, unless it interferes with or arises in the course of their normal work.

If a potential conflict of interest arises in the course of official duties where a closely connected person — close family or business partner — would stand to gain significantly, that conflict of interest must be declared. The interests of connected persons come into the picture only where they are known, are relevant in terms of posing a potential conflict, and are not of a widely general character.

This relates to a specific financial interest which could affect the conduct of public business.

During the recent passports controversy, questions were raised as to how well this Bill would address the issues [597] raised. I take this opportunity to clarify the situation with regard to this issue since I have no doubt that some Members will raise it during the debate.

Any Minister's interests will be a matter of public record, under the Second Schedule to the Bill. The Bill provides that where a Minister in the course of his job deals with a situation affecting himself and/or his family, he must declare it. That provision also covers a situation where an issue which could benefit any one Minister is brought before Cabinet by another Minister.

What the Bill, as it stands, does not cover, however, is a situation where the actions of one Minister could potentially benefit another Minister, if that action does not involve a Cabinet decision. I will therefore be proposing an important amendment to the Bill to cover this eventuality, and I look forward to having it discussed on Committee Stage.

I am sure one of the first questions which will be asked about this Bill is how we will ensure its provisions are carried out. Making sure it happens is an important feature of any legislation.

Under the proposed legislation, an independent and powerful commission will be established comprising the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman, the Ceann Comhairle, and the Clerks of the Dáil and Seanad. This commission can investigate possible contraventions of the provisions of the legislation, on its own initiative or on foot of a complaint. It has wide powers to summon witnesses and send for records to help it in its task. The members of the commission will be independent in the performance of their functions.

It is worth noting that compliance with the terms of the Bill will be part of the term of appointment of designated public servants, senior executives and board members of State bodies, as well as special advisers.

There will be separate investigation arrangements for Members of the House, since under the Constitution each House of the Oireachtas regulates its own affairs. A select committee of each House will investigate any complaints about [598] ordinary Members while the commission will include office holders in its remit.

The Bill creates a number of offences, including non-compliance with an investigation, as well as the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information. It updates our prevention of corruption legislation dating from 1889 to 1916 to ensure it applies to the complex modern state, and brings penalties into line with modern money values.

Part 1 of the Bill covers the normal provisions for commencement, definitions and regulations. Part 2 deals with declarations by Oireachtas Members, and the setting up of select committees to oversee this area of the Bill. This part will be brought into effect by resolution of each House, and the first registration is required within two months after the resolution is adopted.

Part 3 deals with office holders and the requirement to make additional confidential declarations of family interests and gifts to office holders. Part 4 deals with the public sector — senior civil and public servants, senior advisers, directors and senior executives, and with personal appointments by office holders.

Part 5 sets up the independent commission and gives it powers in relation to conducting an investigation. Part 6 deals with various miscellaneous procedures and with enforcement.

The First Schedule specifies the public bodies which may be designated by the Minister for Finance to be covered by the Bill's provisions. The Second Schedule sets out the interests which Oireachtas Members are required to register.

This Bill contains a lot of rules, but as any parent, or indeed good lawyer, will tell you, all the rules in the world will not make people behave if they do not want to behave and as any good legislator will tell you, you cannot legislate for morality either.

We must aspire, however, to high standards in public life, and these standards should be reflected in our legislation. We must have a system where lapses from those high standards can be laid open to public scrutiny. For politicians, the ultimate judges of standards in public [599] life are the electorate, and the ultimate judgment is at the ballot box, but the Ethics in Public Office Bill is about a lot more than putting in place a set of rules for those who serve the public.

The Bill is about building trust in our public and democratic institutions. It is about opening up doors on areas which because they have been private, have generated suspicion and innuendo. By showing that politicians have nothing to hide, it can only enhance confidence in the political system.

The Bill is part of a broader package of measures to strengthen our democracy and let in the light. The Electoral Bill, now at a final stage with the parliamentary draftsman will give effect to the Programme for Government commitments on disclosure of political donations, ceilings on election spending and State funding of political parties. I am preparing freedom of information proposals which can make Ireland a model for open government and open administration.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I wish the Minister of State luck.

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  The Ethics in Public Office Bill is the first of these important building blocks. Its principles are central to a modern and open democracy where the practice of politics and of public affairs can inspire and retain public trust. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  My only wish is that this Bill will live up to the claims the Minister of State has made for it. She started off by saying:

The Ethics in Public Office Bill is probably one of the most significant Bills this Government will introduce. It is also one of the most important.

That is an extremely large claim to make and it is hardly one which commends itself to other members of the Government and Government supporters in Fianna Fáil, none of whom has bothered [600] to come into the House to listen to the Minister. The only people sitting behind her are the Labour Party backbenchers, while a Labour Party Minister is sitting beside her.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  The Deputy is on his own.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  This would seem to suggest that this is a Labour Party measure for which other members of the Government and supporters of the Government have little enthusiasm. I will return to this matter later.

The Minister of State said:

I sincerely hope that in the process of debating and passing this legislation we can begin the process of restoring trust in our democracy. I hope we can dismantle some of the cynicism and negative perception of politics and politicians which undermines confidence in democratic institutions and in democracy itself.

I only wish that this was correct and that we could start to remove this cynicism. On previous occasions the Minister of State will have heard me say that I found the cynicism regarding politicians and the political process in this part of the country extremely disturbing and to be more of a threat to our democratic institutions than the use of the bomb and the gun north of the Border. I believe that to be the case. While I would hope the measures suggested by the Minister in this legislation would go a long way towards remedying it, unfortunately, that will not be the case, they will go only a very small part of the way.

Ethics has been defined as:

The branch of philosophy that investigates morality and in particular, the varieties of thinking by which human conduct is guided and may be appraised. Its special concern is with the meaning and justification of utterances about the rightness and wrongness of actions, the virtue or vice of the motives which prompt them, the [601] praiseworthiness or blameworthiness of the agents who perform them and the goodness or badness of the consequences to which they give rise.

Clearly this in not an ethics Bill, it is a disclosure of interests Bill. Why is the word “ethics” in the title of the Bill? The answer can be found in a quotation from the Official Report on 5 November 1992 which states:

I believe one political party in this House have gone so far down the road of blindness to standards and of blindness to the people they are supposed to represent that it is impossible to see how anyone could support them in the future without seeing them first undergo the most radical transformation.

That is a quotation from a speech by the Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Spring, at the beginning of the last election campaign, two months before entering into Government with Fianna Fáil and without any change in that party, not to mention radical transformation. That speech from Deputy Spring and his subsequent actions, so much at variance with it, is the genesis of ethics as applied to this Bill. The public had to be convinced that there leopard had changed his spots, that there had been a radical transformation in the nature and culture of Fianna Fáil and that Labour would ensure there would be no reversion to the bad old ways.

The commitment in the Labour Party's election manifesto to put trust back into politics to establish a compulsory procedure for declaration of interest was set out in the Programme for Government and Ethics in Government Bill. In a cynical exercise, ethics was introduced in an attempt to cover up the great betrayal of the principles enunciated only two months earlier. The betrayal of those principles and the selling out of those who voted Labour to keep Fianna Fáil out of office was the greatest breach of ethics since I was elected to this House.

We are all human and I doubt that any of us do not have a skeleton in the [602] cupboard. I certainly would not like all my cupboards opened to public perusal. The experience of those who do not have anything to hide is so remote from that of ordinary people, one wonders if they should be a Member of this House. The record of Members over the years on matters covered in this Bill has, as far as I am aware, been exemplary and not deserving of the widespread criticism and cynicism one experiences outside, particularly in a small section of the press. In my experience, the majority of people I met in almost 30 years of public life have been of considerable personal integrity, irrespective of party or indeed, in my case, irrespective of political jurisdiction. Our record compares favourably with Parliaments in other countries, most notably recently in Japan and Italy.

There have been blots, questions, unanswered allegations and suspicions that certain things happened not exactly according to the book. In particular we should be in a better position to assess the ethical standards of our public life when the beef tribunal report is published. I cannot comment further on that, but I hope it will be published before we reach the concluding stages of this Bill so that we can consider its implications.

Many questions have arisen over the years in respect of patronage, nepotism and sharp dealing, mainly in relation to Fianna Fáil and part of that party's traditional “culture”. It is regrettable that the party of the Minister of State entered fully into a partnership arrangement with Fianna Fáil in that respect and in this administration has been the major culprit. If this proposed legislation had been in force at the time of the appointment of programme managers, advisers, consultants, spin doctors, secretaries and drivers, would questions in relation to the use of public funds in this manner have been avoided? In her speech the Minister of State implied that would have been the case.

The Minister of State made comparisons with the Marcos regime, about which she was attacked in this House and elsewhere. I am aware of the patronage, nepotism and corruption of that regime, [603] but, unlike the Minister of State, I would not make comparisons with anything that happened here. Her remarks were way over the top and I hope, even at this late stage, she will apologise for them.

The way in which the Government sought to delude the Irish people over the famous £8 billion was hardly ethical under my definition of ethics. The whole episode was a mixture of prevarication and half truths and even a few days ago the Minister of State still sought to hide the facts. She denied that the Government had asked for publication of the plan to be delayed until after the election. No one had made such an allegation. What had been stated was that the Commissioner responsible, Bruce Millan, had said that the Government had failed to provide the necessary information which would have enabled the announcement to be made before the election. That prevarication borders on the unethical.

In what category does one put the recent passport scandal? I note what the Minister said on that matter. She accepts that this is something the proposed legislation would not cover and stated: “What the Bill, as it stands at the moment, does not cover, however, is a situation where the actions of one Minister could potentially benefit another Minister, if that action does not involve a Cabinet decision”. She gave a commitment to the House that she would propose an important amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage to cover this eventuality. I look forward to seeing that amendment. That indicates that what was said here about the passport controversy was of some importance and meaning to our democratic process and clearly indicates that not everything has been correct in that respect. I look forward to seeing the gloss the Minister of State will attempt to put on her amendment and I will examine it carefully.

Many question need to be answered in respect of this legislation. I welcome the central proposal regarding a commission to undertake the investigation of complaints in relation to office holders, special advisers and public servants, [604] including civil servants, senior executives and directors of State bodies. I could hardly do otherwise. So far as I recall, a former leader of Fine Gael was the first to propose such a commission. He wrote articles and spoke about it in this House.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  The Minister is his daughter-in-law and she probably wrote the script.

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  I am in a different party.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  Maybe a provision should be included to cover that type of relationship also. In the presidential election, in which I was slightly more than an observer, the proposal for a commission was a central part of the Fine Gael manifesto and became its official policy.

A question which has not been dealt with is what control is to be exercised over people when they leave office. I understand this is a matter the former Taoiseach raised. One day such people are Ministers, top civil servants or advisers with access to sensitive and commercially valuable inside information and the next they are directors or consultants, gamekeepers turned poachers. Is this position covered by the legislation? It is an important matter. The former Taoiseach made suggestions about debarring such people for a period of time from divulging sensitive information and putting themselves in a position where they could be put on the spot about such matters. There seems to be an important gap in the legislation. If the legislation is as important as the Minister would like us to believe, why has there been no attempt to address this position?

Under the rules of procedure of the House reference may not be made to the appointment of judges or the suitability of persons for appointment. There ought to be a procedure whereby it should be possible to discuss the suitability of persons to be judges. At the very least the interests of members of the Judiciary should be made known in the same way as those of other office holders under the Bill. Members of the Judiciary adjudicate [605] on matters covering the spectrum of life — important matters involving millions of pounds and affecting vast numbers of people. Why should interests which might colour their attitudes not be disclosed in this House? Judges are human and why should they not be covered by this legislation?

I believe section 7 will be a matter of considerable controversy. It requires that a Member of the Oireachtas speaking or voting in Oireachtas proceedings in which a Member or a connected person has a material interest must declare that fact. A connected person is inter alia a relative, meaning a brother, sister, parent or spouse of the person or a child of the person or of the spouse. This is a catch all provision and to that extent I agree with it. However, the section goes on to provide that such declarations will be published in the Order Paper of the relevant House of the Oireachtas. Is that really necessary? Would it not be sufficient for a Member to declare his or her interest in the House or in a committee so that other Members would know of his or her interest? It would be possible for a Member to inform the Clerk of the House or the clerk of a committee of his or her interest and it need not be declared to other Members. The debate could continue and Members would not know until the following day that the Member who participated in the debate had an interest.

That position is not acceptable. If a Member with such an interest chose to contribute to proceedings only the Clerk would be aware of the interest until the Order Paper was published. Members should consider the attention which will be paid to that section of the Order Paper by those looking for a quick or a sensational headline. This section covers mainly the interests of relatives who have not sought election to this House. Many Members of this House, members of society and of the media have an interest in finding out matters of this nature, not necessarily related to people's welfare. They are curious people in respect of whom the phrase “peeping Toms” was used earlier. Why do the interests of Members need to be stated on the Order [606] Paper? People will skim through it to see who has declared an interest which does not relate to them personally but to one of their relatives. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter. It would be more correct for people to declare an interest in the House so that other Members contributing to the debate would know and be able to deal with it accordingly.

How does this legislation affect Members who have one home in Dublin and one in their constituency? Members have to declare both homes. I see the Minister shaking her head and that would seem to indicate that would not be the case. The shake of her head is good enough for me but the position is not stated on the record and it should be.

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  It is covered in the Second Schedule of the Bill.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  Regarding property and interests outside the jurisdiction I have to declare a personal interest in this matter having some interests outside the jurisdiction. Mine are open and above board and are well known to everyone, but there may be Members, office holders and others, including civil servants and so on, who are in a similar category. I take it that the property and interests outside the jurisdiction should be considered and I would strongly object if that were not the case. I seek clarification on that matter.

Certain gifts over £500 must be disclosed, and that is reasonable. However, a Member may not know the value of the gift given to him or his wife and he may later discover it is more valuable than he thought. The opposite is likely in my case and that which I thought was valuable turns out not to be so valuable. All too often I find that that which glistens is not gold. What is the position in this case? Who undertakes the valuation of such gifts? What is the position if one does not know the value of a gift?

There are other matters, one of which relates to people who are opinion makers. We like to think of ourselves as opinion makers but the reality is that we are among the least influential. People [607] operating in the media, in television and radio in particular, have much greater influence than we have. If anybody came to me with a brown paper parcel it would be a very small one with probably nothing in it because any influence that could be bought from me would not be worth anything — I take for granted that office holders might warrant a larger brown paper parcel. However, there are influential people outside this House who take every opportunity to criticise its Members and contribute enormously to the cynicism to which we referred.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  And they are paid out of the public purse.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  Some of them, as my colleague said, are paid out of the public purse.

If we are concerned about the title of this Bill, Ethics in Public Office, will we consider what we might do in relation to these people? Take, for example, financial journalists who exercise an influence far greater than that exercised by any Member of this House, with the possible exception of the Minister for Finance and possibly some other members of the Government. Are we thinking in terms of having some means by which they will be amenable because the advice they give can have a significant impact on what people decide to do, particularly in regard to stocks and shares. It is not just people in this House that we ought to be concerned about. If we are truly concerned about ethics the Minister will reply to some of those questions on Committee Stage.

Some people in this House would not want what they consider an intrusion. I do not consider it an intrusion; it is the price one pays for involvement in public life and it must be faced up to. I hope, after the initial curiosity and interest, that declaration of interests will be taken as a matter of course and that the media will come to terms with it as it has in Westminster where, initially, the register of members' interests was examined minutely and investigative pieces written [608] about it. However, after a while that interest subsided. I hope and believe that the same thing will happen here, that it will be taken for granted that Members of this House are straight and fair, honest and true and declare their interests and that any investigation following that will not discover anything to the contrary.

Fine Gael will support this Bill on Second Reading but we will not do so to the thump of drums and the blare of bugles. It is not that momentous an occasion. It is a necessary declaration of interests measure which ought to have been introduced a long time ago and it is no better and no worse than similar declarations of interests in most parliamentary assemblies. However, it is no big deal.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  I am particularly happy that the Minister in her opening speech on this debate drew down on the passport issue because that is a matter which is relevant to this Bill and I am glad the Minister agrees with that.

The Ethics in Public Office Bill was put into the Programme for Government to serve as the Labour Party's political prophylactic; it is a legislative condom which it proposes to wear in its partnership period which will prevent it from picking up anything it should not pick up from its partners in Government and, at the same time, enables it to participate fully in Government without that contamination. It was designed to wipe away at one stroke all the doubts and allegations which the Tánaiste made about the Fianna Fáil Party and its leadership, to which Deputy Currie referred, doubts which existed in abundance in November 1992 but which evaporated in the frenzy of patronage and job gorging in which the Labour Party indulged and which accompanied the formation of this Government only weeks later.

This Bill failed its first test on its first day in print because it was discovered that when applied to real circumstances — the passports affair — it has nothing to offer. As the Minister has now conceded, but would not concede on radio when confronted with the fact, it has no answer [609] to one Minister doing another Minister a favour. It became obvious within hours that it did not cover the most elementary circumstance in which public office ethics are tested, namely, the situation where one member of the Government, at the request of a second member of the Government, grants a citizenship of the State in respect of a loan of £1 million or more to the business of a third member of the Government.

What is really wrong with that is that the Taoiseach, and now the Tánaiste, can see nothing wrong in it. By any standards this is an outrageous and scandalous abuse of public office. They collectively now defend a particularly squalid sequence of events. They say now there was no wrongdoing, no conflict of interests and no abuse of public office. In every single one of those respects they are wrong and have proved themselves unworthy of public office.

If the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are so devoid of ethical standards and judgment as to reach those conclusions and to act in the way they did, they have a cheek to even consider sponsoring legislation to impose ethical standards on others. Recent events have proved conclusively that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have no standards, no ethics and no credibility. All they have is brass neck and the Labour Party's backbenchers are tramping down every decent standard in Irish politics as long as they continue to support the Reynolds-Spring whitewash of the passports for sale affair.

We have been told in this House that it is unfair to raise the issue because it concerns the Taoiseach's family and, with respect, that is a complete falsehood and a lie. This does not concern the Taoiseach's family. It concerns the Taoiseach himself. He is, and always has been, the largest single shareholder in C & D Foods. He personally gained more than any other person from the Masri £1 million loan. As the largest single beneficiary of this loan he had a brass neck to say that this was his family's private business.

We are concerned with his political ethics of which we found precious little trace in recent weeks. He claimed in this [610] House, in a most cynical way, that all inquiries about this matter should be directed to his company which — surprise, surprise — refused to make any answer when asked about the situation. What kind of fools does the Taoiseach take the public for? What kind of fools do the Tánaiste and Labour Party take the rest of us for if they think we will take such cynicism and abuse of people's confidence in the political process?

The company's latest and out of date records show that the Taoiseach, at all material times, was the holder of the largest single ordinary shareholding in the company. The records show that around the time the soft loan was made in exchange for citizenship the company was indebted to the extent of £1.4 million. The records show that when he was Minister for Finance and an officeholder, the Taoiseach received extra shares in that company. There is no basis for claiming he could not have been aware of the Masris' soft loan to his company and no basis for claiming that he was in some way detached from the affairs of that company. We are asked to believe that the Taoiseach knew nothing of the loan. Unless he is using the hoary old distinction between personal and official knowledge, we are driven to the conclusion that that claim that he knew nothing about the loan was a brazen, self-serving and cynical falsehood. Of course, the largest personal shareholder in a company would always be told of a £1.1 million cash injection, especially when the directors of the company were numbered among his close relations.

I reject as utterly implausible and fantastic the suggestion made by and on behalf of the Taoiseach that he never knew about the loan to his company. It defies belief. It defies common sense. It was a brazen and monstrous act of deception and unfortunately — I say this with a good deal of reservation because I normally do not like to criticise the media — the media seem to be shying away from it. One newspaper —The Irish Times— was so afraid to tell its readers the truth that it even refused to print the company's records for fear of [611] libelling the Taoiseach and the reason is that the Taoiseach has taken it for a lot of money in libel damages.

I reject the suggestion that the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Smith, and the then Minister Flynn were not fully aware at all times of the proposal to invest in the Taoiseach's firm. I found their public evasiveness and inconsistency on the issue to be indicative of collective shame and guilt. All the huffing, puffing and moralising that went on cannot conceal the truth. The facts are that three members of the Government who are close confidants respectively proposed, accepted and benefited from a decision which conferred a huge cash benefit on one of them. If that was as far as the issue went, we would be concerned only with what is on the face of it a conflict of interest, but it goes much further.

The transaction was an abuse of public office because it broke every guideline and stated safeguard and the very purpose of the business migration scheme. In this application for Irish citizenship there was no factual residency in this country and no checks were made to ascertain if there was residency. No independent analysis was carried out of the investment by any competent Department or State agency. There were no checks of substance into the background or antecedents of the applicants for citizenship and no attention was paid to the soft loan aspect of the investment. As a result, two people who had no connection with Ireland were given citizenship here, even though they made no permanent investment here, never resided here and never intend to reside here. The only service they rendered to Ireland was to reduce the cost to the Taoiseach and the other shareholders in C & D Foods of their bank borrowings by a soft loan.

Those are issues which command investigation. The Labour Party has abdicated from any sense of moral responsibility by posturing as being satisfied with the explanations tendered. Every rule was broken in the Masris application for Irish citizenship. Every [612] safeguard was trampled on. The Taoiseach was the largest beneficiary of the soft loan and it is an ethical issue of the highest order that nothing was done, particularly by the Labour Party, to vindicate decent standards in Irish public life.

In a bizarre twist, the head of the family concerned was refused citizenship unless he made a different and separate investment. That strange decision shows that migration, residence and Irish connections had nothing to do with the issue: the only issue was money, the only yardstick was the amount of money and the only criterion for granting citizenship was the self-interest of people who are well connected in political life. The Minister cannot get away from that fact and no amount of evasion or saying she will remedy the position changes those facts. The Minister, who shares office with the Taoiseach who has behaved disgracefully, and serves under a Tánaiste and party Leader who sees nothing wrong with what happened, has the brass neck to come into this House and tell us that she has standards of ethics which she proposes to impose on us. Shame on her.

People were sold Irish citizenship for a soft loan to a company of which the Taoiseach was the greatest beneficiary in circumstances in which dishonest and evasive explanations were given to the public. That amounts to a grave abuse of public office, but it seems to be acceptable to the ethical faculties of the Labour Party. If the Tánaiste and the Minister see nothing wrong with what happened, their consciences, judgments and ethical faculties must be questioned; they must be brain dead.

Presumably what happened in this case can happen again — maybe another soft loan to a firm owned by a member of the Cabinet has been made this week or, as I speak, maybe there are discussions in train to do so. If it was right in November and December 1992 and it was all right in the eyes of the Tánaiste in May 1994, why should it not happen again? What is wrong with giving another £1 million to a member of the Cabinet in exchange for Irish citizenship? Since this pathetic Bill [613] does not deal with this matter, it strikes me that these are very strange circumstances.

This House was recently treated with contempt by the Minister for Justice who publicly threatened me with embarrassing revelations if I persisted in exposing this scandal. I do not know how she thought that such a tactic was compatible with ethics in public office. I do not know how it is compatible with open and accountable Government. I do not know how any member of the Labour Party who claims to have regard for public standards can sit in the House and say that is all right. The Opposition is threatened that if we point out something bad about the Government, it will get the dirt on us. If that is the new ethics in Irish public life which the Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, vindicates and stands by, shame on her and on her party colleagues.

The Minister for Justice's bluff was called. She did not dish out the dirt. She could not make anything stick, and it is not because I claim to be a Teflon person. When it comes to exposing a public scandal of this kind, there must be people in the Opposition who are willing to face down a corrupt and appalling bluff of the kind attempted in this House and to stand up for the decent standards in public life. As long as there are people on the Government benches who countenance such outrageous behaviour by the Minister for Justice, this country is in danger.

I utterly reject the shabby tactics of the Tánaiste in proposing legislative reforms in this area while at the same time stating that there is nothing that needs reform. I cannot understand that. On the other had the Taoiseach says that no such decision has been made, that legislation will not be introduced to reform this area. There is need for such reform because there is something wrong here, but there is no hint of the necessary reforms in this Bill.

If the newspapers cannot see there is something rotten and corrupt in the sequence of events I have described, I despair of them being able to form judgments on matters of public standards or ethics on any issue. Are they afraid of [614] being sued by the Taoiseach who has made substantial killings in the libel damages thus far? Where are the critical faculties of the media? Where are the columnists and the investigative reporters? Why do people such as Bruce Arnold, Geraldine Kennedy and Vincent Browne not press home on the Taoiseach the scandal and abuse that was implicit in his actions in this matter? These people are nowhere to be found because collectively they seem to be afraid of the Taoiseach.

A gloom has set in over the country. People may say, “There are jobs at stake, what are you whingeing about?” To reduce the interest costs for shareholders in C & D Foods is not a question of jobs. That company is paying 5 per cent on a loan when it might have had to pay what everybody else must pay to the bank, 10 or 15 per cent. The fact that it is a question of jobs seems to justify that these people, whe are £1.4 million in debt, can get a soft loan from people who have no interest in or connection with this country and a Minister can dole out citizenship for that reason.

We are told that the justification is jobs, but where are the political ethics in that? Where are the Labour Party's political ethics in supporting and countenancing such behaviour? Where is the Tánaiste's political ethics in saying there is nothing wrong with that, that it is perfectly above board and he did not find anything on the file — as if he would find the outline of the cash on the brown paper bag sitting on the file, as if he would find a little note to the effect that this is unethical but we will go ahead with it anyway? What kind of fools does the Government take us to be that we should put up with this nonsense? What kind of fools does it think we are to believe that a file in the Department of Justice would yield traces of what was a highly improper and most wrongful abuse of public office by people, some of whom are still in public office?

Do the newspapers collectively accept that there was a gross and obvious abuse of public office and that it can be perpetrated by the Minister and whitewashed [615] by a morally brain-dead Tánaiste? Do they believe there was genuine residency on the part of the Masris? Do they believe there was a genuine investment or a soft loan, which is as impermanent as the snow in spring? Do they believe that the business migration scheme was abused? Do they believe that every safeguard and check that was supposed to be in place was ignored and trampled down? If they believe that, where are the newspaper's critical faculties now? Does the editor of The Irish Times believe in his heart that the Taoiseach never knew about this loan to his company? Is that the quality of judgment of the editor of The Irish Times? Does the editor of the Irish Independent believe that any check was done on the soft loan nature of the transaction? Does the editor of the Irish Press consider that there was bona fide residency involved? Are all these people suffering from the same moral dementia that seems to afflict the Tánaiste and the frightened huddled mass of Labour backbenchers who seem to have lost their voice, their standards and their conscience in this affair.

There are those who previously saw the issue as electioneering on my part — an Irish Independent editorial curiously said this was an election stunt. Now the election is over I cannot be accused of electioneering. Where are the investigative journalists? Will the media stand up for decent standards in public life and put to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste the wrongdoing that was done, expose precisely what was wrong about it and demand that this be reversed and that those people either apologise to the Irish people for taking a soft loan in these circumstances in exchange for Irish citizenship and white washing the transaction or put it to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste that they get out of office?

Do all these people who thought it was electioneering on my part believe there is something left to investigate? Where are their consciences? Are they afraid of the libel laws? Is it the case that only people who can avail of the privilege of [616] this House have the strength and position to criticise what was obviously a scandalous and grave abuse of public office? Is it only here and only on such occasion that it can be done? Is it the case that our media have fallen on their face because they will not vindicate decent standards and they will not investigate corrupt abuse of public office by people in this country? For some reason they will not do it. That is to their collective shame.

I know it is unwise to criticise the media and that they will get huffy and puffy in their editorial chairs. Facts are facts and they claim to be the moral and political watchdogs of democracy. They claim these rights and duties but when it comes to the crunch they have been behind the door on this issue. They have not stood up against the Taoiseach's facile, cynical self-serving and deceptive rhetoric that there is nothing wrong with this. They have not asked the Labour Party, in particular, to be accountable to the Irish people for their complete abdication of political standards in the matter. Where are the Labour Party Members for their flagship legislation? Where are the Fianna Fáil Members, none of whom has darkened the door of this Chamber for this debate?

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  Not at any stage.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  This is one of the most important parts of the Government's programme, according to the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald. Where are the interested backbenchers preparing to listen to this debate? What are they doing? They know this is the means by which the Labour Party can posture as being clean, even though it is a party to a squalid cover-up of a very squalid chapter of events. This is the second coat of moral whitewash which the Labour Party has tried to put on this issue. This Bill will not clean up politics and in large measure it will tart up and plaster what is a rotten facade.

I note that the Minister of State requires me to state my interests generally at the beginning of every Dáil session [617] and this is to be published. If I were a Minister and I proposed to make a decision which benefited me — or if the Minister of State has her way with her amendment, which presumably will be as ineffectual as the rest of the Bill — whom do I have to inform? Would the Minister of State care to answer that question now?

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Taoiseach.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  The man whose standards are so low that I would not bother informing him of my name and address. A Minister about to make a decision about his own family fortunes has to write a letter to the Taoiseach saying “Dear Albert, I am about to make a decision that enriches my family by £1 million. I hope it is all right with you. I think it is justified in the circumstances.” That letter will not be published.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  It will never be sent.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  That letter will not be published under section 14. What a farce. If I want to speak on a Bill which concerns an issue in respect of which I have been paid as a barrister I have to go through the rigmarole of getting down on my knees in public and apologising for the fact that I took a fee. The Taoiseach is the recipient of letters informing him in writing that Ministers are making decisions which benefit themselves or other Members of the Cabinet by up to £1 million in soft loans. What kind of farce are we dealing with? Can the Minister of State tell me how it is correct that somebody who informs the Taoiseach under section 14 (1) (b) of a conflict of interest can still make the decision from which he will benefit in secret and the only safeguard is a letter sitting in the bottom drawer of the Taoiseach's desk? How does that square up to accountability, transparency and the public having the right to know? How does the light get into the bottom drawer of the Taoiseach's desk? Where will that letter be published? The Minister of State knows well that it will not be published. [618] That is the kind of rubbish in this Bill and presumably is what Fianna Fáil insisted be put into the Bill.

If a Fianna Fáil Minister makes a decision which affects his own personal interests or another Minister's personal interests, under this much talked about amendment we will be told that he wrote a letter to the Taoiseach under section 14 (1) (b) of this Bill and everything was all right, Albert did not take offence. That is the safeguard proposed in this measure. Will the only safeguard we have when one Minister grants citizenship on foot of another Minister's family business being given a soft loan be that he has written a letter to the Taoiseach saying he has done this? Of course he would have told the Taoiseach in the bar the previous night that he was going to do it. What kind of nonsense are we dealing with?

This Bill is badly drafted, deeply flawed and does not deal with real situations. What it does is very simple and very modest. It requires a register of interests, but it does not provide any real method, when the interests are in conflict, of checking whether a proper decision was made. That is the crucial problem.

The net effect of section 14 (1) (b) is that one member of Government when making a decision on his own private affairs which benefits himself or a connected person very substantially must pen a note to the Taoiseach and inform him of what he is doing. If that is the only safeguard the Labour Party can deliver, you have to be sure the Taoiseach is beyond reproach. In this case the Taoiseach is not beyond reproach. He has shown that he would not know a conflict of interest if he saw it. He has never heard of the concept of ethics and standards. He does not understand that his behaviour in respect of his own family firm was scandalous and an abuse of his position. He does not understand that what the then Minister for Justice, Commissioner Flynn, and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Michael Smith, did on this matter broke every rule in the procedures in the Department of Justice in granting that citizenship. It is in that context [619] that he is being made the moral watchdog of the Cabinet.

Deputy Albert Reynolds, the Taoiseach, is supposed to be the person who knows when there is a conflict of interests. He is supposed to be the person who is to protect us and to morally guide the other Ministers on how they should decide matters once they tell him in secret about a conflict of interest. I reject his capacity to do that entirely. If anybody in this House has demonstrated a signal incapacity to behave ethically or to understand what a conflict of interest is, it is he. If somebody in this House says “This is my family's business, do not hound me; have I not provided jobs, is it not a terrible thing that only Taoiseach in recent times who has any business experience runs into trouble”, or offers pat, cynical, rubbishy, explanations such as that for what is in fact an abuse of public office, and gets away with by putting on a brazen face, smiling through it and is appointed by one's partners in Government, the Labour Party, as the person to whom all these secret confessions of interest are to be made by Ministers, what kind of safeguards do we have?

This Bill is flawed and the Minister knows that it did not cover the matters to which I referred on the radio when I debated the issue with her on the day it was published. She can correct that but the only safeguard against abuse by Cabinet Ministers of their position is to require them to send a letter to the Taoiseach. Is the Minister of State saying that that is the only safeguard and that the only matter the much vaunted commission can investigate is whether the latter was sent to the Taoiseach? If the Taoiseach confirms that he received the letter and complied with sections 2,3 and 4 of this Bill, what can the commission do? It must walk away from the issue; it cannot report to the House that Deputy Connor, for example, had an interest which he failed to declare, he declared it in the statutory way. In effect, this Bill whitewashes the activities of Ministers and all that is required is for the Taoiseach [620] to be aware of the misdeeds these Ministers are engaged in.

This is flaccid legislation and I say that in the context of supporting any measure that opens up this House and political life to scrutiny. I support any measure that is reasonable in these circumstances but I do not see why I have to go down on my knees in public and declare that I received a fee, say, for advising a company whose affairs are the subject matter of a debate in this House, while a Minister who gives £1 million to one of his pals or his family firm has only to write a letter to the Taoiseach. That is not fair.

This Bill does nothing to remedy the passports for sale affair in retrospect. We have had no apology from the Tánaiste or statement from the Taoiseach that it was wrong. We have not even had a statement that this will not happen again. In fact, we have had a justification that there was nothing wrong with what happened so presumably that is a warranty that it can or ought to happen again without any concern by the Labour Party.

A party such as the Labour Party that would countenance the political corruption involved in the passports for money affair has a cheek to lecture this country on ethics or to pose as our moral watchdogs. The watchdog of labour — that famous newspaper we used hear about — is, in 1994, a comatosed, full bellied, toothless, broken spirited mongrel. This Bill is not even a bark; it is a moral and intellectual whimper from a group of hypocrites.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  Follow that.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I invite the House to cast its mind back to a “Morning Ireland” interview during the period of the interregnum following the last general election when the Government was being formed. Deputy Quinn conceded on that programme that Labour Party members and supporters were having a problem with what he called, “the culture of Fianna Fáil”.

The Bill is the Labour Party's response to the culture of Fianna Fáil. In fact, in the words of the sponsoring Minister, [621] Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, the Labour Party attaches so much importance to this Bill that it is “the price of Government ”, or at least in those first heady days of the new Government in February 1993, it was the price of Government. Minister Fitzgerald has learned a lot since then about the culture of Fianna Fáil and the price of Government. Most people would question whether Labour has a price for being in Government. or, more correctly, a price for not being in Government. Even Minister Fitzgerald, who is an honourable politician, must have some doubts about whether one can legislate to constrain the culture of Fianna Fáil.

I have on occasions, with other Members, attempted to outline for the House my view of what constitutes the culture of Fianna Fáil. Suffice to say on this occasion that in my view it is not possible to legislate for it. The only way to combat the culture of Fianna Fáil is to ensure that that party is allowed to examine itself regularly for long periods in Opposition. Fianna Fáil in Government is unable to resist temptation, is fatally prone to helping its friends and is fervently convinced that it is all in the best interests of the country. The Labour Party could have said “no” but, like Molly Bloom, it said “yes, yes, yes” and now Minister Fitzgerald wonders why her new partner is philandering at night with property developers and missing at weekends playing golf with foreigners who want Irish passports so that their children can play for Ireland in the World Cup. No amount of legislation will encourage Fianna Fáil to stay in the marital home, taking the empties to the bottle bank and addressing the threat of THORP.

Within weeks of the marriage being consummated, Fianna Fáil was at it again. It suggested a tax amnesty for big time tax cheats. Labour fretted and wondered what kind of woman did Fianna Fáil really think it was. The Taoiseach told them to grow up, marriage was all about give and take and that all of the money would be given to Minister Howlin anyway for good works. Labour capitulated and this has set the pattern [622] for the remaining period of office of this Government.

Tax amnesties for the rich friends of Government Ministers or passports for rich foreigners who coincidentally invest in family enterprises connected to Government members are the kind of ethical questions that I would expect the Labour Party to deal with. This Bill addresses none of those issues. Instead, we have the spectacle only this week of Minister Stagg stoutly defending the way the Government and his senior Minister are handling the implementation of the urban renewal Acts. Can Minister Stagg be unaware of the enormous advantages conferred by this special tax designation on favoured developers? Can he be unaware of the unprecedented extent of financial contributions to the Fianna Fáil Party over the course of the recent European election campaign in the hope that the Minister will smile on their particular site when the decisions have to be made? Does he think the rest of us are fools?

One of the remarkable aspects of this Government is that the stridency of Labour support for its coalition partner is in inverse proportion to how left wing the Labour Deputy was perceived to be in Opposition and Minister Stagg and others are the prime examples of that. In the case of Minister Stagg, he denies that this is a Coalition Government. He explained to RTE reporters at the time of the formation of the Government, having resigned the party Whip a few months earlier because of his objections to coalition, that this was not a coalition, it was a partnership Government which he would be fully supporting.

The Bill, as the Minister has conceded, seeks to provide for a register of Members' interests and my party supports such a requirement. However, it does not reflect the Minister's aspirations for it as referred to in her speech of 19 February 1993 when she promised, “I hope to have the heads of a Bill ready in the next week or so for submission to Government”. The Minister outlined her hopes and expectations for the Bill. The long lapse in time probably explains why [623] the Bill falls so far short of her expectations. She told the House:

Separate legislation will provide for the declaration of political donations, State fundings of political parties, and limits on campaign spending. Together, these form an important package which will serve to enhance the political process and remove any suspicion of hidden influences on the action of those involved in politics.

I agree that taken together such legislation may, subject to scrutiny, constitute an important package serving to enhance the political process. The electoral reform Bill does not exist. When and if it is published, will it deal with the issues in the manner claimed by Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald and in several media briefings given on behalf of Government in those first heady days of Government?

The Taoiseach assured Members on several occasions that the two Bills will be published in tandem. He said he was tired telling us that the Ethics in Public Office Bill, formerly called the Ethics in Government Bill — we see now why it is no longer called the Ethics in Government Bill, Deputy McDowell dealt with that — and the electoral reform Bill were to be published in tandem. On Tuesday this week I asked him about the electoral reform Bill and his promise to publish both in tandem. I asked him if it would eventually emerge in a truncated fashion. The Taoiseach replied he never said the two Bills would be published together but would be “discussed in tandem”. Even if I accept the Taoiseach's distinction I am puzzled as to how the two measures can be discussed in tandem as the debate on one started today and the other has not been published.

As Deputy McDowell said, this is not an ethics in Government Bill but a declaration of interests Bill. In the absence of the electoral reform Bill in the form promised, it is not possible to evaluate whether this Bill has merit beyond the simple declaration of interests requirement. Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald warned the House in February 1993 that there was [624] little point in trying to re-establish public confidence — the point being that it had clearly broken down as Fianna Fáil was in Government and the Labour Party solution to re-establish public confidence was to put it back in Government — if the legislation concerned was clearly full of loopholes as it would then have the opposite effect. The Minister is right. Apart from the loopholes in the Bill the biggest loophole is the missing electoral reform Bill which was designed, the Minister of State said, to put a ceiling on financial contributions to political parties, impose limits on campaign spending and so on. It is no secret that we have not seen anything like the fund raising blitz carried on by the Minister's partner in Government in the weeks preceding the European election. Is the Minister saying that as soon as the debt is cleared and the tax designated streets are selected and so on we can have an electoral reform Bill that will put a ceiling on financial contributions to political parties?

If the Bill is passed in its present form it will be open for one member of Cabinet to exercise influence for the purpose of conferring a benefit on another member of Cabinet. It will remain possible for one member of Cabinet to benefit from a decision of a colleague without having to declare that he or she will so benefit. It is only where a Minister has a material interest in the personal performance of his or her functions as Minister that he or she will be obliged to furnish a written statement setting out the facts and the nature of the interest.

The existing guidelines for Government, as I established at Question Time a few weeks ago, require a Minister to draw the attention of Government to the fact that he or she or his or her family has a material interest in the matter before Government. Despite the existence of these regulations we know that in the pet food passports affair — it is clear from the Taoiseach's reply to me on 14 June — he did not draw the attention of the Government to the fact that he, not to mention his family, had a material interest in the issue. The Taoiseach gave the impression he had severed his connections [625] with the company 14 years ago and the news media faithfully reported that impression, none more so than RTE, but he finally admitted that day he had a 41 per cent shareholding in the company. He is the largest single shareholder in the company. The remainder of the shares are predominantly, if not exclusively, held by members of his family yet he did not bring that to the attention of the Government. That is the only inference one can take from his refusal to answer the question. Yet we are asked to pass legislation which has sufficient loopholes to ensure it will be honoured more in the breach than in the observance.

This fantastic distinction to which Deputy McDowell referred between the onus on Members to declare and the onus on Ministers is the most gaping loophole of all. Members can propose but the Government disposes. As Deputy Currie said, seeking to purchase political influence from him will not be worth a great deal and, with all due respect to him and others in Opposition, nobody will invest a great deal in us. It is Ministers who have influence if it was for sale and I do not suggest it is. What is the need for section 14 (1) (b) which states that the only requirement on a Minister is to give a note to the Taoiseach saying “Dear Taoiseach, I would like you to know that I stand to benefit from the decision I or the Government are about to make.”? That is the end of the matter.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  The Taoiseach will say he fully understands.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Or “I did so myself”.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  If he is consistent he will say “good on you son, you are learning”.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is a shame that Deputies are so contemptuous of elected representatives.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Members of the media can examine the declaration made by Members but a member of Cabinet is only required to give a note to the Taoiseach [626] and that is the end of the affair. If the Bill is to mean anything that loophole must be closed.

I said I would come back to the question of the media, which was also raised by Deputy McDowell. The extraordinary thing about the RTE coverage of the passports affair was that snippets were taken from the exchanges in the House on several occasions which, of course, reflected their actuality for those seconds but did nothing to convey the seriousness or the detail of the issue involved. It presented the Taoiseach in the best possible light, batting in what was a ploy at election time by Opposition Members. The presentation it gave of the Taoiseach's position was misleading and not in accord with the facts. This is hardly surprising. When did a current affairs programme on RTE television last do investigative work worth mentioning?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I think the last one dealt with printing currency.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  What kind of self-censorship has descended on the organisation? I have never seen such craven subservience.

Deputy McDowell dealt at some length with the editors of newspapers who are so frightened at the prospect of the Taoiseach spreading libel writs around like confetti that they will not deal with the issue, with the result that major matters of fact go unreported. He could have added to the editors of the newspapers to whom he referred the editor of The Sunday Business Post——

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  I never talk about that.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  ——whose amazing combination of eccentricity and support for the full blooded marker always leaves me aghast. I have cut out and kept for reference the editorial in which there was a reference to the integrity of the Republican movement.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Deregulation of the market in semtex.

[627]Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  This extraordinary position is merged with his express wish to excise any reference to comments by Members who raise these issues and of whose parties he does not approve. This is not healthy.

I do not question Minister Fitzgerald's integrity or commitment to do the things she said she would do in her speech to restore confidence in the democratic process. However, Members are equally entitled to comment on the performance of some sections of the media in dealing with these issues. They have been lamentably deficient in their coverage of the performance of the Government in this area. The contrast between the attention they devoted to the former Taoiseach and his handling of public affairs and the attention they devote to the present Taoiseach is unhealthy. Even if it is a candidate for an important telecommunications franchise which the Government will give out, it is not sufficient justification for a major newspaper group to write laudatory editorials of the Taoiseach in the passport mess when others in this House tried to raise important issues of public policy relating to that issue.

I agree it is important for Members of this House who are lobbyists for commercial or other interests outside this House to openly declare that, and be transparent in this House. If somebody is lobbying for an oil or mining company or a property speculator it is important it is evident here. It is a glaring defect in the legislation that there is no requirement for the Minister who will make the decision on the oil exploration and mining licences or special tax advantages for property speculators to be investigated or inspected. A good example of this is what I describe as the Tanaiste's Inspector Clouseau style investigation of the files in the passport affair. It is too fantastic for serious contemplation by this House that one would have expected the files to contain the essence of what every child knows happened in that case. The legislation is seriously inadequate in that area.

The stand by the Labour Party on the [628] publication of the report of the beef tribunal will be relevant in terms of how this House assesses its commitment to bring ethics into Government as this Bill progresses. If a situation is contrived whereby this House will not have an opportunity prior to the recess of considering the findings of the sole member of that tribunal it is regrettable in the extreme. It is essential for the Labour Party to get from Government a commitment that, just as in August 1990, this House will be reconvened to consider the findings of the report of the beef tribunal after reasonable notice is given to Members. This would be consistent with the position of the Leader of the Labour Party when he was in Opposition. Anything short of this allows for a whitewash and a continuation of the campaign which has run for some considerable time in the media and by Members to shift the focus from the important issues of public policy at stake and considered by the tribunal to the cost to the taxpayer and who was responsible for the tribunal being convened. These are now the issues rather than the serious issues of where politics meets business in this society, issues which caused the tribunal to be set up.

Until the Government is prepared to put a cap on financial contributions to political parties and to require transparency in that area it will be impossible for us to make a judgement on the legislation, half a Bill, before the House. I am not suggesting that the situation in this country is anything like in other societies. For example, it is now accepted as part of political life in Washington that people who served for a short time in Government as senior and important advisers to it cannot wait to disengage themselves so that they can become advisers and lobbyists on behalf of other economies and teach them how to circumvent the laws they helped to put in place when they were working for Government. I do not think we have reached that stage here but it is important to provide against it.

Our reputation as a trading nation has [629] been brought into question by some of the issues which led the Labour Party to promote this Bill in the first instance. It is the kind of issue with which the editor of The Sunday Business Post does not want to deal. What price putting at risk the reputation of this country as a trading nation if we are seen as a dodgy country where Government and elements of business are hand in glove and where normal rules do not apply? These are some of the issues being examined by the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry from which, whatever the outcome, our public affairs will be all the healthier.

Let us contrast the stance of the Labour Party in Opposition with the Labour Party in Government. If the Labour Party was prepared to address issues of Dáil reform other than those before us, for example, in the area of the efficacy of the parliamentary question, I would have a great deal more conviction about my support for this Bill. The parliamentary question is so often used as a device to be economical with the truth, or for downright deception, that on occasion it is rendered almost meaningless. We saw the extraordinary revelation before the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry, that there was a letter of commendation from a superior to a civil servant commending him on having thrown the questioning Deputy off the scent. Is that the purpose of a Member of this House seeking to elicit information, that the Executive compliments itself on managing to throw the Deputy off the scent? One of the revealing things about that tribunal of inquiry was my discovery of the background briefings on ministerial files, on the potential supplementary questions, that might be asked by the Opposition. It would be marvellous were those distributed to the Opposition in advance of the real Question Time but, seeing that that is unlikely to happen, if Ministers were required to answer questions, give the information openly and honestly to the thrust of the question, our democracy would be better served.

[630]Acting Chairman (Mr. J. Ryan): Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The Deputy has one minute remaining.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Until such time as we see the electoral reform Bill and its contents, until such time as the Minister brings forward watertight amendments to close off some of the loopholes to which we have referred, until such time as the freedom of one Minister to confer a benefit on another Minister, until all these loopholes are closed, I entirely agree with Deputy Michael McDowell's description of this Bill as a political prophylactic that preserves the Labour Party in Government from contamination and, at the same time, enables it enjoy the pleasure of being in office.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister of Health has 20 minutes.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I thank Deputy Michael McDowell for obtaining an audience for me although it is a pity Members are not remaining. May I ask the permission of the House to share my time with Deputy Pat Gallagher?

Acting Chairman:  I am sure that is agreed. Agreed.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I begin by commenting on Deputy Rabbitte's contribution and his description of the Bill as a prophylactic. Having spent no small effort in the past year advocating the use of prophylactics, it is not a bad description because it gives a sense of security — I hope more than a false sense of security — to the population as a whole and is a very useful device in itself.

Some time has elapsed since the original Private Members' Bill, which I suppose was the genesis of this one, was introduced by me on behalf of the Parliamentary Labour Party in this House. Three main issues were encompassed in that Bill, including the establishment for the first time of a register of Members' [631] interests. The Bill sought to deal with the issue of gifts to members of the Government. Members will recall that, at the time, there was some unease about very elaborate gifts given to a member of the Government. It also dealt with the issue of contributions to political parties. All of those issues I felt, as did the Parliamentary Labour Party at that time, was essential to restore and maintain confidence in public administration in this country. Unfortunately, that Bill was voted down by the Government of the day which included Members of the Progressive Democrats' Party. Indeed, I remember having discussions with Members of the Progressive Democrats on the day. They did beat their breasts and say how much they would have loved to support the principles enshrined in that Bill but, being practical, pragmatic politicians, they marched faithfully through the lobbies to vote down the first Ethics in Government Bill introduced in this House. Therefore, it is left finally to a Government composed of the Labour Party, and to a Labour Party Minister, to bring the specifics of a new Ethics in Public Office Bill before this House.

What motivated the introduction of this Bill was the restoration and maintenance of confidence in public administration here, a very important concept, the maintenance of confidence in our democracy. We have seen an erosion of confidence in democracies well beyond these shores in recent times. I say this most sincerely to Members of this House; we have seen political parties that have held sway in Governments in parts of the European Union disappear. We have seen parties who have held office in countries like Canada being virtually wiped out. There is a feeling among electorates, not only in this country but elsewhere, that standards need to be maintained in public office and administration. This Bill is about ensuring that that is achieved.

It is important for all of us that there be complete openness and transparency in public office here, in our Legislature and in Government. That is what the Labour Party promised the electorate [632] before the last general election; that is what we are about to put in place; that is the way it is going to be. I might express one word of caution, and I say this advisedly, we should not let this debate pass without mentioning that we have been and are very well served by our public representatives and public officials. We do not have some of the scandals that have arisen elsewhere. The introduction of this Bill should not be advanced as an excuse for any hurlers on the ditch to comment on the very high standards we have been fortunate to maintain in public administration, and in our representatives, since the foundation of the State.

This Bill is as much a protection of the Members of this House and of those engaged in public administration at the highest levels as it is a safeguard for the public. I heartily welcome it on that basis as well.

In his contribution Deputy Michael McDowell focused almost exclusively on the business migration scheme. He laced his contribution with his usual personal abuse but, primarily; his clear message was a simple one, that the Progressive Democrats are bankrupt of ideas, bankrupt of policies and becoming increasingly bankrupt of personalities as they too disappear from their ranks. They do not represent anyone anymore. They are desperate for any role to maintain themselves in political business.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Who drafted that script?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Deputy McDowell, the part-time Member of Dáil Éireann has been given back his old role, the old job he performed so well when he was not a Member of this House, chief heckler and finder of splinters in other people's eyes. In relation to the business migration scheme I want to say that on a serious issue it gives rise to concern. For that reason the Government has said it will be reformed. It will be transparent and there will be public confidence in all the business done by this Government. This is a reform that was not brought about [633] when the Progressive Democrats held office.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  They did not take £1 million from——

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  One could be led to believe that it was not such a short time ago that the Progressive Democrats held office in this land.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  They did not take £1 million from the wrong kind of persons.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Neither did anybody associated with my party——

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  I did not say that.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  ——nor did any such transaction occur during the lifetime of the Government in which my party is involved.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  The Minister said that already.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is important for us to be very honest with ourselves. We understand the political motivations of trying desperately to score points. The other point made by Deputy McDowell and echoed by Deputy Rabbitte was in relation to the media and its role. I have the highest regard for the importance of the media as the watchdog on public administration, on Government and on the Legislature. By and large they do a good job. I do not always agree with them. Very few people who read the national media, particularly the Sunday newspapers, would believe they are supporters of my party. Our experience during the past 18 months since we assumed office would be the reverse. Notwithstanding that, I do not take it upon myself to attack the media. They have an important role to play in ensuring that we are constantly nudging ourselves to have the most open and transparent form of administration it is possible to put into effect.

[634] Putting this type of legislation into force is not easy. Legislation, according to Deputy Rabbitte, is inadequate. There is not going to be a mechanism available that will guarantee beyond doubt that there can never be shady or underhanded actions. This Bill was worked on, from the time we went into Government, by my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, who has put endless work into ensuring it is model legislation that will be followed by other Governments and other Legislatures in the future.

In relation to the beef tribunal I wish to restate the commitment already given by the Taoiseach that there will be a full debate on the report in this House. Other issues raised include the Electoral Bill. That Bill, which is complex and difficult, is at the final stages of preparation. It will include the commitments given in the Programme for a Partnership Government. There will be a cap on campaign expenses allowable and a ceiling on contributions to political parties. Before the end of this Government's term we will introduce a freedom of information Bill which will also address many of the points raised by Deputy Rabbitte in relation to his ability to get what he regards as adequate answers to the parliamentary questions. That is our firm commitment and it will be delivered upon as our other commitments, outlined in such detail in the Programme for a Partnership Government, were delivered upon in every other area of responsibility.

This is a landmark Bill. We have never had a similar Bill dealing with ourselves, the conduct of our own business and the conduct of Government in the history of this Dáil. It is a landmark Bill and I know how difficult it was to bring the Bill to this stage.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Why was it so difficult?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I brought into this House the Bill which was voted down by the Progressive Democrats.

[635]Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  The Taoiseach said it was rubbish.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Out of the side of their mouths the Progressive Democrats told me they would love to support it but they voted it down. I then brought it before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges where it was debated for two years. I know, although I will not put on public record because of privilege, the attitude of some parties opposite when it was debated in that forum. Finally, due to the persistence of the Labour Party and the fact that it is enshrined in the Programme for a Partnership Government, it is now brought before the House in a form that, I think, will be welcomed by everybody of goodwill who is well disposed to positive open government and open administration. It is a landmark advance which nobody pretends is perfect in every detail but is a huge step forward.

If there are relevant and positive suggestions from the Opposition benches the Bill will go before the select committee and the goodwill which the Minister of State has shown from the start of this process will be continued in that committee. Positive amendments will be accepted which will help to improve the Bill. This will give us not only the safeguards the public require but the safeguards which are right and proper in any open and transparent democracy. It will be welcomed by people who know the positive changes this Government has brought about in the practical areas of health, education, housing and social justice.

Now it is our turn to deliver on our commitment to put trust into politics. There are many outside this House and, unfortunately, some within who would erode our democracy by carping and undermining the values that underpin public life and draw people into public service. Some of us resent it, particularly from those who come here on a part-time basis because they are earning their main living elsewhere.

I commend the tremendous work of my colleague, the Minister of State, in bringing the Bill to this stage. It is a [636] landmark Bill that will restore and maintain public confidence in our important institutions at a time when institutions across the world are being eroded.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Mr. Gallagher: Information on Pat Gallagher  Zoom on Pat Gallagher  (Laoighis-Offaly): There must be no good cases in the Four Courts today. It is sad that Deputy Michael McDowell has to resort to this device continually to ensure that he has an audience. Unfortunately, his actions and comments feed the cynicism of politics about which Deputy Currie spoke so well in his contribution. While Deputy McDowell has a good turn of phrase his comments were typical of his actions in this House and the attitude of his party which both inside and outside this House has preached morality and ethics but when in Government did nothing to put them into practice. Yet, when somebody else tries to put in place an innovative measure all he can do is sneer and jeer. This is unfortunate.

The Deputy said he is not happy about the provision on the declaration of interests he will be forced to make under this Bill. Perhaps that is what is worrying him but, given that efforts are being made in difficult times to preserve and promote democratic ideals and practice, he should adopt a more responsible approach in terms of his attendance, behaviour and contributions in this House.

If these provisions had been in place a number of years ago when there was a golden circle, in the glare of media attention, there might have been no need to go through the long drawn out and expensive process of establishing the beef tribunal where the Deputy's colleagues made much money so that the public could get answers to questions which should have been answered in this House. I welcome this Bill as it marks an effort to dispel this cynical attitude to politics.

[637] Deputy McDowell used the phrase, “a moral and intellectual whimper from a group of hypocrites”, in concluding his contribution. I wonder was he referring to his party? At least the Labour Party has taken upon itself to formulate and present to this House wide-ranging legislation which will not only affect Ministers but other office holders, Members of this House and senior officials in the public service. This constitutes action; all we had from Deputy McDowell was words. Who is the hypocrite?

This Bill will be of real benefit to these Houses in that it provides for greater openness as regards Members' business interests. The disclosure of interests by all Deputies and Senators in a public register will demonstrate to the public that their elected representatives have nothing to hide and if they do it will become transparent. Perhaps that is what is worrying many Members. The public have a right to know that we act on their behalf. The disclosure of certain private interests will demonstrate to the public that there is a clear separation of public and private interests.

We are not talking about a snooper's charter as it has been described by some people; we are trying to make it clear to the citizens of this State that we are working on their behalf and that if there is a conflict of interest there will be a mechanism to deal with it. The Bill will require Members to make ad hoc public statements when speaking or voting on a matter before the Houses in which they or a connected person has a material interest. I welcome this provision as both the public and other Members will be made aware if there is a conflict of interest.

I ask the House to accept this Bill as it will help to strengthen democracy. If both Houses put it into practice and show the public that it works we will have done a very good job. As the Minister of State mentioned, power and finance here, as in other countries, are interconnected and becoming more difficult to unwind. This measure, in so far as it applies to Members, will be of help in unravelling this web.

[638] There are other areas where an attempt needs to be made to untangle the web. I hope that those working in the media will adopt a similar attitude in their profession which, as has been mentioned, contributes to public life. Given that it now faces competition from the English tabloids there is a danger that standards will be lowered. I urge those in the journalistic profession to consider the possibility of putting a mechanism in place under which complaints made by the public could be investigated and dealt with.

During the past fortnight I was accused of going to the World Cup in three newspapers which I found difficult to redress. I would welcome the establishment on a voluntary basis of a forum at which members of the public could seek redress. If this could be done in the area of journalism, if this Bill is implemented, when the Labour Party honours it commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to bring forward the electoral Bill and, more important, a freedom of Information Bill, we will have done a good job in dispelling the cynicism which is eating at the heart of public life. If this trend is not reversed this country will be open eventually to sinister influences which are taking root in many mainland European countries. It is up to us, as politicians, to ensure that this does not happen here. This Bill marks a good attempt to do this in the sphere of politics. I urge other sectors to do the same and commend strongly this Bill to the House.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): Tugann an Bille seo deis dúinn scrúdú a dhéanamh ar an méid a bhí le rá ag Pairtí an Lucht Oibre nuair nach raibh siad sa Rialtas agus ag an Taoiseach nuair a bhí sé sa Rialtas. B'fhéidir go dtaispeánfaidh sé sin go bhfuil gá leis an reachtaíocht seo in oifigí poiblí, ach tá sé deacair a thuiscint cad iad na dearcanna a bhí ag na daoine éagsúla nuair a bhí an Bille seo os ár gcomhair in 1991.

When I looked up the record of the debate on the Ethics in Government and Public Office Bill, 1991, introduced by [639] the Labour Party, I was amazed at the comments of the Taoiseach, then the Minister for Finance. At column 2285 of the Official Report of 7 May 1991 he stated:

At the outset, I have to say that the Government do not think the introduction of legislation to deal with the topics referred to in this Bill is either necessary or appropriate.

According to the Taoiseach in 1991, legislation on ethics in Government was neither necessary nor appropriate, but something has happened in the meantime. He went on to say:

I hear Deputy Howlin tut-tutting. The introduction of this legislation leads me to remark on what a remarkable change of direction the Labour Party have taken in Opposition compared to what they advocated in Government. What a remarkable about-turn.

The Taoiseach's views on the about-turn of the Labour Party when in Opposition compared to when in Government could be a topic for a long debate in a public house? The public are now talking about the about-turn of the Labour Party in Government compared to its views in Opposition. That also begs the question about the about-turn of the Taoiseach in allowing this Bill to come before the House. In 1991 he made strong arguments about why such legislation was unnecessary. There have been many about-turns since 1991.

In column 2286 of that report the Taoiseach went on to say:

It is well known what the Labour Party advocated and what was and was not done when they were in Government. They should take their medicine and not try to pretend they are something in Opposition that they were not in Government.

The Taoiseach is probably saying today that the Labour Party should take its medicine and not try to pretend it was something in Government that it was not [640] in Opposition because Members of the Labour Party certainly stood on their heads when the Government was being formed and in a sense made it necessary to introduce ethics in Government. We may not need a Bill, but we certainly need certain standards to which the Labour Party should live up. Instead, it has let the show down and gave probably the worst performance ever by a party in Government once it was appointed. It appointed relatives as advisers and so on. It is costing us a fortune to keep this Government in office and it is falling apart already.

It is outrageous that a Member of this House cannot accept a gift without questioning its value. Why should we have to say to a person giving us a gift that we cannot accept it because if we do we will have to hand it over to the State? Surely in any walk of life gifts should not be valued monetarily, it is the thought that should count. If I received a gold fountain pen with my name inscribed on it from a mad Sheik, as a token of the fact that I may never be a Minister, what would I do with it? Why should I have to hand it over to the State? In time to come it should be possible for members of my family to be reminded of the great politician who went abroad and was presented with a gold pen.

Fine Gael welcomed the legislation in 1991 and we welcome this Bill, but in my view it is much ado about nothing and will not do anything in terms of ethics. It is similar to a see-through blouse, it promises much but will be blurred in the end.

In regard to gifts, in 1991 the Taoiseach stated:

I do not understand how any reasonable person could require an elaborate, statute-based scheme on the lines proposed in this Bill. Deputy Howlin appears to see a bribe attaching to every gift and avaricious Ministers grabbing everything that is offered to them, but that is not the reality.

What has happened since then? Does the Taoiseach see a bribe attaching to every gift, or has some avaricious Minister convinced [641] him that the reality is that there is an absolute need for this legislation? That was not the position in 1991, only three years ago. In column 2288 of that report the Taoiseach went on to say:

Deputy Howlin has an exaggerated view — I know he has not had the experience of office — (which was unfortunate so close to an election) of this whole area of gifts. I think he has an illusion that if he became Minister it would be the key to Aladdin's Cave or that everywhere he would go he would be showered with very valuable gifts, but I will give him the benefit of my experience, and I am sure many people in the Opposite benches will corroborate what I am saying.

What has happened since then? Has Deputy Howlin found an Aladdin's Cave to enable the Taoiseach to suddenly change his mind, or has the Taoiseach found an Aladdin's Cave? I would like the Taoiseach to examine his speech of 7 May 1991 and explain to the House why he has seen a light somewhere along the way to Damascus. In column 2288 the Taoiseach went to say:

If the Deputy has expectations of becoming a Minister (which is true because he was always ambitious) and thinks that most of the gifts he would receive on various occasions would amount to close to £200 he is in for a shock and he will be very disappointed indeed.

Has the shock been that the gifts are worth £500? The Taoiseach was not even prepared to accept that the gifts were worth £200, but their value has been increased to £500. Why has that happened? Have gifts become more expensive, have people become more generous or is the Taoiseach anticipating what will happen when his excellent Ministers go abroad and are showered with gifts? On 7 May 1991 the Taoiseach further stated:

The question of gifts is over-elaborated by Deputy Howlin. I am sure he knows the reality of life as much as I do. If he was less hypocritical about [642] our views on the Labour Party and what they stood for in previous years he might be presenting a different case. Maybe he did not know what they stood for then.

That was prior to taking up office in November 1992. The Taoiseach did not even know what the Labour Party stood for when it entered Government and somersaulted, caused consternation and let down those who voted for the famous change. The chickens are coming home to roost, as the Minister of State is well aware. Indeed, many of them are still flying and have not landed yet.

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  A few of them are laying eggs as well.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): I could be ruder than that as far as the Labour Party is concerned.

With all the power at his command in 1991, the Taoiseach went on to say that he did not see any need to change the existing situation and even were changes needed, the Bill's provisions would be so easily evaded as to make it worthless in the prevention of unethical conduct.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  That is still true.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): In referring to the Bill's provisions being easily evaded, I hope the Taoiseach was not thinking of minor matters such as £1 million being given to companies, matters which would be completely outside the scope of this Bill. This Bill is merely a mirage and will not make the slightest difference to the Government's behaviour. If Ministers want to abuse their positions, the Bill will not prevent them from doing so.

In column 2290 of the Official Report of 1991 the Taoiseach stated:

There is a further reason that this area should not be singled out for regulation on a statutory basis. I am not at all satisfied that the proposed section accords with the provisions of the Constitution dealing with the Houses of the Oireachtas. Under Article 15.10 of the [643] Constitution each House of the Oireachtas has the exclusive right to determine its own rules and procedures.

Was the Taoiseach talking off the top of his head when he referred to Article 15.10 of the Constitution being breached by the 1991 legislation? Has he received legal information since then to say the article will not be affected?

Mr. McDowell:  The Government tried to get around that in the Bill.

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  There are elaborate procedures to deal with that serious difficulty.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): I hope that is true, otherwise it would be ridiculous. The Taoiseach went on to say:

I ask the House to join me in rejecting this Bill which, on close examination, is seriously defective.

I hope the Minister will tell us about all the changes that have been made so that we need not concern ourselves about the mental state of the Taoiseach in doing such a somersault in a short time. If the Taoiseach was right all the wrong provisions in the 1991 Bill are still wrong.

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  Maybe we had a powerful influence in changing his mind.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): Maybe. I hope in the closing speech we will see a performance that will convince us the Bill can stand up to critical analysis according to the Taoiseach's standards and the views he held when he was Minister for Finance.

The Minister stated she sincerely hoped that in the process of debating and passing this legislation we can begin the process of restoring trust in our democracy and dismantle some of the cynicism and negative perception of politics and politicians which undermine confidence in democratic institutions and in democracy. That is the type of language [644] the Labour Party used in Opposition. I watched Deputy Spring fold his arms, lie back against his seat and savage the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. The Deputy was full of ideas. Is it innocence on the part of the Labour Party or brass neck that made the Minister read such a statement following what her party did on entering Government? Members of the Labour Party talked about standards and ethics but we all know the party failed miserably to live up to any standards in Government. The media is not harming the party at present, it is merely reflecting what the public say about its standards. The collective brass neck of the Labour Party may have allowed the Minister to make that statement but I am amazed that the party does not now gently slide out of the partnership, look to the future and hope that things will improve. The Minister had an opportunity to make her speech and she set herself up as a target by laying down ideal standards about restoring trust in our democracy. How can people have trust in a democracy and in politics when they see politicians behaving in the opposite way from when they were in Opposition?

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  Fine Gael thinks it unethical to share Government with any party.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Labour Party is like the Fianna Fáil Party, it will go the road of any dog and does not mind how many fleas it has.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): The Minister's Leader said on one occasion that before a party could join Fianna Fáil, it would have to be taken to a sheep dip or something equivalent, and washed out. Since then nothing happened, in fairness to the Fianna Fáil Party. I have not seen it being driven into sheep baths. The parties kissed and made up and the Labour Party did not give a tuppenny curse as long as it got into power. As soon as it saw the leather in the Mercedes, it brought in as many family members as possible to work here. The Labour Party [645] preaches standards. Fine Gael has reasonable standards, we do not talk about them too much but in reality we live up to those which the Labour Party has failed miserably to live up to.

I mentioned the value of the Bill earlier. The details are not worth going through. We will all declare we have nothing and we will put it on record but maybe some busybody or journalist will write about the paupers in politics or the people who have money. I do not see what influence politicians have. Does it matter a tuppenny curse whether I have money in the Bank of Ireland, the Allied Irish Bank or an investment company? What can I do about that? Many people who have an influence on public opinion will not be covered by this Bill, but we will be. It is grossly unfair that spouses, who out of sheer love and kindness marry somebody — I use the word “spouse” because I do not wish to be accused of using politically incorrect language — will have to declare their interests. In future, people should carry a health warning saying “this person may become a politician”, if they do, the person who marries them will have to declare their property. Why should a spouse of independent means before becoming impoverished by marrying a person in a normal walk of life — I use the word “normal” purposely — who subsequently becomes a politician, have to declare an interest they may have in a boutique or shop? What has that to do with the public and what influence does it have?

Ms E. Fitzgerald: Information on Eithne Fitzgerald  Zoom on Eithne Fitzgerald  They do not have to declare their interest to the public.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): The politician's spouse or children must declare their interests. I am glad the Minister gave me my next clue. The Bill includes penalties for revealing confidential information. The Minister's Leader was involved in information published in a newspaper that appeared to be leaked from his office about Northern Ireland. Did the party find anybody guilty? No. Will anybody be found guilty as a result of this Bill if confidential information [646] is revealed? No. Journalists will have the right not to reveal the party as is customary. A Member could be lambasted in a newspaper and I regard the provisions about confidential information as poppycock.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  People who know facts which would give rise to a conflict of interest will never know there was a conflict of interest because they will not know a politician had such interests.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): In reality, this legislation sounds good and the Labour Party will feel happy it has managed to introduce this Bill which will straighten out the country, but the people know it can only pretend to a certain degree. I welcome the Bill, it is harmless, but it could embarrass people who might not want their confidential information revealed. I do not have enough trust to believe that someone will not leak information at some stage. I look forward to the Minister's reply and I hope the Taoiseach will reiterate the views he held at an earlier time. They are important now because the Bill is basically the same as it was then.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  We should establish if there is a quorum.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Batt O'Keeffe.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  Aontaithe.

Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo mura ndéanann sé tada ach an fhírinne a thabhairt amach. Le fada an lá táimíd i bFianna Fáil ag cloisteáil scéalta agus innuendoes ó lucht an Fhreasúra ag cur in ár leith gur dream áirithe muid a bhfuil saibhreas á dhéanamh againn as mí-úsáid na polaitíochta. De bharr an Bhille seo nó aon Bhille eile [647] dá leithéid a thabharfar isteach, leireofar nach fíor é sin.

I welcome this Bill if it does nothing but lay to rest the constant innuendo against the Fianna Fáil Party, its Members and its public representatives in particular. For a long time now, going back to the 1940s, every leader of Fianna Fáil, every Fianna Fáil Taoiseach has been subject to attack and innuendo because of personal affairs. This started with the Locke affair in the 1940s, in relation to which a public tribunal was set up, and has continued ever since. I hope this Bill will put an end to that.

The people have proved very wise over the years. They know their public representatives and it is not by chance that for the last 60 years they have confirmed the status of the largest political party. To say they did that and, at the same time, believe the charges constantly levied against us is to label the people as fools and say they did not know their own public representatives. That, of course, is not true.

I regret one omission from the Bill, namely, that some of us will not have the opportunity of giving a list of our liabilities which, for some, would be much longer than the list of assets. I will look with interest to see how many Deputies from all sides of the House do not have other income exceeding £2,000. It would be interesting to find out whether there is any significant statistical difference between the number of Deputies in each party who live solely on their salaries as Members of this House. I believe there is no significant difference. This Bill will put to rest the imputation that Fianna Fáil is the party of the big people, of people on the make and involved in shady deals. In regard to those who do not want to believe the truth, there is nothing that can be done. When very young I learnt a basic fact of life — one can declare all one's interests and those who do not want to believe will not. That is one of the mysteries of the human person.

I have no difficulty about declaring the details that must be declared. However, I hope the media will not misuse the [648] information given and convey impressions that are far from the truth. I, for example, am a director of a cooperative and two companies in which I have no material interest and from which I will never get any financial gain. These are community enterprises and my directorships are purely for the purpose of supporting local initiative. However, if I am described in a list as a Dáil Deputy and company director it will be quite easy for somebody who does not want to know the truth or does not seek the truth to conclude that I get huge financial benefit from those directorships. Even the truth is not always the whole truth. There is an obligation on the media to give a fair, full and unbiased report of the information given by us in good faith. To do otherwise would be a travesty of justice and a misuse of the information given.

In politics, we are our own worst enemies because for cheap political gain we attack each other and make innuendoes about each other. This damages the credibility of politics. I believe all Members of this House are in politics because they believe in what they are doing, and that there is no financial gain for them in being in politics. Most Members would be better off financially if they had never entered this House. However, to listen to some of the contributions, one would not think that. It does a disservice to politics, to the work we are doing and to the people to give the wrong impression about this issue.

There is one other problem about a Bill like this, in that it deals totally with the material influences such as directorships, gifts, etc. People in politics can be influenced not just by material considerations but by the people they associated with, even if there is no financial spin-off. That is something we will never be able to tie down in law.

Many years ago when I was involved in employment I concluded that for good staff no rules were needed and that for those who wanted to cheat, no rules would hold them in. Ethics is about individual commitment, with or without laws to hold us in. It is about our individual commitment to honesty, fair play and [649] serving the people who elected us. The Members of this House are here because they believe in that ethic. I have no doubt that if they deviated from that ethic their harshest judges would be the people who elected them. They are the final guarantors of ethics in public life, particularly in regard to those of us to whom this Bill refers, who are elected Members and subject at regular intervals to the decision of the people.

Mar a dúirt mé i dtosach, fáiltím roimh an mBille seo mar, thar aon rud eile, cuireann sé deireadh leis an ionsaí 40 bliain atá á dhéanamh ar Pháirtí Fhianna Fáil len é a bhaint anuas agus dochar a dhéanamh dó mar nach féidir a chur in ár leith go bhfuilimid mí-éifeachtach i Rialtas.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The Bill before us has been eagerly awaited. It has been the subject of media debate and speculation. It contains provisions about which I would have misgivings but is no less welcome for that. Now that it is before the House it should be judged on its merits.

At the outset I should like to make it abundantly clear that the desire to ensure ethics in public life is by no means confined to one political party. It is shared by all of us who sit in the Houses of the Oireachtas, right across party lines. I hope that in the debate on the Bill there will be thoughtful and constructive suggestions on this matter and that subsequently the Minister will be open to accepting amendments in order to ensure the Bill is an effective instrument.

The Bill was introduced not to rectify any perceived misbehaviour or wrongdoing on the part of Members. I do not share the public or media cynicism regarding politicians. However, if the Bill helps to deflate some of this cynicism, it is an added bonus. The Members of this House are hardworking and conscientious. The reason the Bill caused some annoyance when first proposed relates to the perception that it started from the premise that politicians are inherently untrustworthy. It is understandable, therefore, that Deputies and [650] Senators might feel somewhat offended. However, this is not the premise behind the Bill.

There are two main reasons for the Bill, the first is to bring us into line with standard procedure in EU member states and the United States where the annual declaration of interest is commonplace. The best comparison is the annual register of interests of Members of the House of Commons. This Bill will institutionalise here what is essentially common practice in other countries. In the coming years I assume the provisions of the Bill will be accepted as part and parcel of the business of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The second reason for its introduction is in the interests of transparency. We are living in an era of great change in political and financial life. Many matters have become more complex and in the interests of transparency we must respond to this complexity. I have referred to the integrity of Members and this Bill will put that integrity on the record for all to see. The purpose of the Bill is not to question the integrity of Members but rather to ensure that all business is seen to be done in a clear and open manner. That is not to say that I am fully satisfied with its provisions. There is room for improvement. I will refer to that later.

In debating the Bill it is useful to reflect on the broader issue of ethics in politics. There has been much discussion on ethics in public life in recent years. However, much of it has been narrow in focus and viewed through a rather distorted prism. As a result we have seen the emergence of a new and unhealthy strain in Irish political life whereby the pursuit of so-called ethics is measured in terms of personal vilification and the hounding of individuals. For a time it seemed that the real traits of good politics, those of common decency, hard graft and solid commitment, were being replaced by false piety, righteous indignation and cruel smear. I lament that this strain in Irish politics is most closely associated with one political party, the Progressive Democrats.

[651]Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I thought the Deputy was going to say the Labour Party.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  It is interesting to note that since the Irish people showed them the door in the European elections the Progressive Democrats have been moaning that they never meant to be perceived as plaster saints, but that is utterly untrue. Chipped and shop-soiled it may be, but plaster saints the party remains. This was very evident in what I can only describe as the bilious and pompous statement of Leinster House's resident football hooligan in pinstripes, Deputy Michael McDowell.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  That is good stuff.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Deputy has a wonderful script writer.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  When listening to this bile, this hate-filled contribution I asked myself, could this be the party that reneged on its promise not to accept ministerial pensions? Could it be the party that sits in the Seanad today, a House it has vowed to abolish, the party that has tore itself apart because of its hunger for just one Euro seat? Since its inception the Progressive Democrats has sought to canonise itself as a patron saint of political rectitude while simultaneously pursuing a policy of selective political assassination. However, it is now abundantly clear that the Irish voter has seen through the ruse and, in doing so, I hope, has drawn to a close an era of personalised and vindictive politics, because that is not what ethics is about.

Is it ethical to throw unsubstantiated smears across the floor of this House? No, it is not. The Progressive Democrats do not occupy the high moral ground, and never have done so. They are much more comfortable wrestling in the political gutter, hurling abuse, forever negative. That is not what ethics is about. We all know what the Progressive Democrats ethics is. Ask Deputy Pat Cox about the Progressive Democrats' ethics. No Law Library theatrics can disguise the simple fact that the jury has [652] returned the verdict on the Progressive Democrats.

While I accept the broad thrust of the Bill and the bulk of its proposals, there are provisions about which I am concerned. As regards the ad hoc declarations of interests, the proposal that such declarations be published in the Order of Business is superfluous and more than a little over the top. It would serve only to encourage prurient interest. It should suffice simply to declare these interests, should they arise, to the Clerk of the Dáil.

I fully support the establishment of a select committee of each House of the Oireachtas to investigate complaints about Members and to report back to the House. However, I sound a strong note of caution here. I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts and I have seen how the legitimate work of the committee can be hijacked for party political purposes. In the run-up to the European elections there was a great deal of publicity, with people involved in high jinks as Euro candidates, jumping through the hoops in an attempt to gain the headlines. Given that the three Euro aspirants are now back with us, I hope we can get on with the very important business of the House. Bearing in mind these colourful experiences, I hope the select committees, given the responsibilities they must discharge, are not abused in a similar manner.

The key to the long term success of the Bill rests in its ability to strike the correct balance between transparency and the public interest on the one hand and the legitimate right to privacy on the other. For that reason I have some reservations about the scope of the term “connected person”. I hope that the Bill, in its application, will not lead to unwarranted intrusions into the lives of ordinary people who happen to be related or connected to a politician. I trust the Minister will scrutinise the application of this aspect of the Bill to ensure there is no infringement of privacy.

I particularly welcome the provision that addresses the growing phenomenon of using political representatives as paid [653] lobbyists and consultants. This practice is part of the political culture in America and is also well established in England. I do not know how prevalent the practice is in Ireland or if any Members are working in such a capacity, but it is an unhealthy trend, one which I hope this Bill will discourage.

In conclusion I wish to say to Deputy McDowell, I hope he is happy now——

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  I am most unhappy now.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  ——as vicar to the order of St. Mary.

Debate adjourned.


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