Thursday, 29 February 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
8. Miss Quill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the civil legal proceedings, if any, he has initiated to recover the sums lost by virtue of the fraudulent misappropriation of intervention meat at the AIBP plant in Nenagh, County Tipperary, during the week ending 17 May 1991, as detailed at page 516 of the Beef Tribunal report. [4697/96]
30. Mr. Molloy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the civil legal proceedings, if any, he has initiated to recover the sums lost by virtue or fraudulent misappropriation of intervention meat at the AIBP plant in Dublin during week ending 21 April 1991, as detailed at page 514 of the Beef Tribunal report. [4698/96]
These cases fall within the ambit of recovery of moneys on the basis of the irregularities including the non-delivery of contract intervention yields on deboning. My Department has been working with the legal officers of the State with a view to preparing legal  action to effect recoveries where possible. These specific instances are being addressed. I am well aware of the statute of limitations consideration in these cases.
Mr. O'Malley: Does the Minister agree that this information has been available to the Department for about four years as it was presented in evidence at the beef tribunal? Does he agree that, after an interval as long as four years, it is unacceptable that no proceedings have been instituted even though there is a clear case of fraud involving public funds? As someone who has followed this saga for many years and was one of the first to raise it in this House, it seems that what the Minister said earlier about a certain individual is probably true, but the most disturbing aspect is that his Department, prior to his coming on the scene, colluded with that individual and allowed him to get away with God knows how many things for many years. Will he ensure that this is brought to an end once and for all and that every effort is made to recover the sums due by this individual so that they do not have to be paid by the taxpayer after the individual had enriched himself at their expense by tens, if not scores, of millions of pounds?
Mr. Yates: The tribunal found that yields in excess of 68 per cent — this was admitted by the Goodman organisation — were not made known to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. I have been advised that the evidence given at the tribunal would not be accepted as court evidence. On 5 May a senior official of my Department wrote to the Attorney General's office. The procedure followed is that we get legal advice and if it is decided to institute proceedings the matter is referred to the Chief State Solicitor's office. In this case, information has been sent to and fro based on the advice of the senior counsel that a certain type of evidence is required. I cannot give too many details as I might prejudice the case. I  spoke to senior law officers of the State this morning and have arranged to submit a letter stating that having regard to the statute of limitations consideration I want all possible legal redress put in place. The secretary of the Department is not reluctant to assist me on this matter, he dispatched letters and so on. I am advised the amount of money involved may be small. However, the Department is committed to addressing the matter.
In regard to the number of years that may elapse, I have been advised that actions could not be taken while the tribunal was in session but that a legal process has been in train since it ended. I am concerned that the time limit under the statute of limitations will expire shortly and, if the legal advice is such, I will do everything possible to expedite proceedings.
Mr. O'Malley: If there is no evidence of the Department colluding with this individual why was action not taken by the Department against an official who admitted forging the name of an AIBP company employee more than 200 times on documents to perpetrate a fraud on the Department?
Mr. Yates: I do not have a judicial function in this matter. I have had discussions with the secretary of my Department about taking appropriate disciplinary or legal proceedings against any such official. I will give an example of my dealings with Mr. Goodman and his companies on export refunds which predate the intervention misdemeanours in Rathkeale. I sanctioned the largest forfeiture of assets since our accession to Europe in respect of the Goodman organisation. I am not reluctant to adduce the necessary evidence but as the tribunal found, and we spelt out in the letter of 5 May to the Attorney General's office, such proof  would not be enough to institute proceedings to effect recoveries. This aspect relates to article 8 because the allegations are specific. I will insist on getting a report on the cases every three weeks to monitor progress on the dialogue between the legal officers and my Department. I want to ensure the matter is pursued relentlessly.
Mr. O'Malley: Does the Minister agree that because of the obvious conflict of interest it might be better if he were advised by an outside firm of solicitors rather than through the Attorney General's office? Can he assure the House that the extraordinary delays in the recoveries are not related to the Attorney General's office? Will he also bear in mind that the Committee of Public Accounts regularly deals with cases involving the dismissal of officials for stealing a few hundred pounds while there is evidence of officials in his Department colluding in the misappropriation of huge sums of money and frauds that have led to enormous losses to the State?
Mr. Yates: Following the conclusions of the beef tribunal one would have expected the Garda and the DPP to institute proceedings. Apart from the concern in Rathkeale no proceedings have been brought in respect of principals nor in regard to the 68 per cent yield issue. The Attorney General, Mr. Gleeson, has nothing to do with this. The matter is being dealt with by the senior legal officer in the office who is being advised by an outside senior counsel who has submitted a memorandum. I am not satisfied that office is to blame for all the delays, our Department should have acted with alacrity in certain cases. With the statute of limitations deadline only a few months away, I am pursuing the matter expeditiously and almost ruthlessly, but I do not wish to raise expectations that huge sums of money may be recovered. If anything the legal advice tends towards the opposite view.
 I will be happy to answer further questions on disciplinary proceedings taken against staff members. I normally interact with secretaries and assistant secretaries in the Department and I have not found a shred of evidence of collusion with Mr. Goodman or his organisation at that level. I resent the damage done to my Department by Mr. Goodman in terms of perceived associations. It is a sad day when a unit of public administration can be pursued through the gutter by people who were involved in clear fraud in Rathkeale. As long as I am Minister I will do everything possible to assert the good name of my Department and of decent and honest civil servants. If others have been involved in any level of complicity then I am happy to be accountable to the House, while civil servants or public officers can be dealt with under the procedures of due process and fairness.
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