Wednesday, 16 June 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach consider he was as careful as he ought to be in following up the possibility of a conflict of interest, given Mr. Duffy's published intention to seek employment elsewhere in business, and if any of his current employees are in discussion for potential employment in business?
Mr. J. Bruton: Is it the case that Mr. Duffy was on the inner board of the Millennium Committee and not on the committee at large and that he was intimately involved in all the decisions in regard to possible grants being given by the Millennium Committee, which is, of course, the disbursement of public funds? Did Mr. Duffy inform either the inner board or the committee at large at any time of his involvement with Dillon Consultants and of Dillon Consultants involvement with some of the applicants?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Does the Taoiseach accept that it is highly irregular for a Taoiseach's special adviser to be on the board of directors of a PR company advising another company which wants to purchase a major public asset? If the Taoiseach accepts that, why does he not ask his advisers straight out if they have any private interest or involvement in private companies? In the same way he would not ask the EU Commissioner straight questions. Is it not the case that Dillon's wanted Mr. Duffy for a particular reason? Mr. Duffy was to be grease to lubricate the wheels.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): I am asking if Mr. Duffy was to play a key role for smooth interaction between the major players in the privatisation of a major semi-State company. Mr. Duffy was feathering a new nest before leaving the old one. The Taoiseach should have established this.
In view of the fact that the Government is shamefully flogging off public companies which are worth billions of pounds, does the Taoiseach accept that there is potential for major conflicts of interest with public servants advising the State on the privatisation, the sale and terms of sale and then, when the privatisation is carried through, perhaps moving to become part of the privatised company or a company which has benefited from the privatisation? Does the Taoiseach accept there should be legislation to prevent people moving from important public service positions into companies with which they have dealt while in the public service? Such circumstances give rise to the potential for corruption.
The Taoiseach: In reply to Deputy Higgins's question, not only did I ask Mr. Duffy about this but he signed his declaration. He did not just give a reply to what he was asked, he also signed a declaration and has since put in a supplementary declaration. Those questions were asked of him.
Mr. Howlin: On the involvement of Mr. Duffy in the Millennium Committee, is it a fact that initially Mr. Duffy denied that he had made representations on behalf of the Gaiety Theatre, for which Dillon's were acting, for the State to purchase and refurbish it? In the Sunday Independent it was revealed that Mr. Duffy had sent a  memo to the Millennium Committee in support of the State purchasing the Gaiety. Will the Taoiseach tell us the facts of the matter? Was Mr. Duffy telling us the truth on Friday?
The Taoiseach: Mr. Duffy was telling the truth on Friday. We are dealing with two separate issues, one of which goes back to 1997 and relates to cultural ideas. One of those ideas was that the Gaiety should be bought by the State and turned into an opera house. Nothing happened with that, it was purely an idea. The second issue, which is entirely different, was a submission by the Gaiety concerning the upgrading of the theatre. I am circulating the sequence of events as part of the note on that today. They are totally unrelated issues.
Mr. Howlin: I accept that. I asked if Mr. Duffy sent a memo, letter of support or any documentation to the Millennium Committee concerning the current application, supported by Dillon's, from the Gaiety for the State to purchase it and invest £7 million in refurbishing it.
The Taoiseach: A proposal to purchase was not made to the committee by the Gaiety or Dillon's. They are two separate issues. The proposal to the Millennium Committee is about upgrading the Gaiety and that is being considered.
The Taoiseach: I put all the questions to him which are required to be answered. I discussed this with him on 4 June and he answered every question I asked when I spoke to him on two or three occasions that evening. Since then the questions were put to him on my behalf and he answered them.
Mr. Rabbitte: Is it fair to say that Mr. Duffy was more than an official and adviser in the Taoiseach's Department? He was the Taoiseach's political confidante. Does the Taoiseach recall telling a newspaper Ireland on Sunday – I am not allowed quote at Question Time—
Mr. Rabbitte: —that he had been with him every day of his political life. The Taoiseach said in his script, which was quite unprecedented, at Question Time and which was read out for 37 minutes, that apparently—
Mr. Rabbitte: Is it not the case that the Taoiseach said in that script that apparently last December Mr. Duffy decided to leave his employment. He went on to say that apparently he changed his mind and apparently he decided to stay on. I am sure we can get the actual text. Is the Taoiseach telling the House that, notwithstanding his close relationship every day of his political life with Mr. Duffy, Mr. Duffy did not come into the office and discuss with him his departure, his plans for the future, his involvements, his expectations of employment?
Mr. Rabbitte: Is the Taoiseach saying now that Mr. Duffy did not intend to leave at the end of last year and that he did not advise the Taoiseach of his prospective employment? As this Question Time is coming to an end is it fair of the Taoiseach to characterise his remarks today by saying Mr. Duffy was forgetful, inefficient, even stupid – to use the Taoiseach's own word – but that he is completely innocent of any misconduct under the code to guide advisers? Is that a fair summary?
The Taoiseach: No, it is not. Anything the Deputy says would not be fair. In my estimation, in this matter, Mr. Duffy was not aware of the website. That is the circumstance in which I said it was stupid. He was not aware his name was posted on the website. I believe he was telling the truth. He would not have said that he was a non-executive director if he did not believe he was so. I have known him for 25 years. He is not a person who deliberately tells mistruths but he did make a fundamental mistake in believing that when he had filled up form B 10 his name would somehow get off it without him doing something about it. He did think that. He is a school teacher not a business person. That was an error and he said that in his own statement. He had no involvement with other matters which are attributed to him. He has paid the price. He is a person who does his business. He has been the subject of more front page articles than most Members in the past month. He has paid a heavy price. In my judgment of him, I say to Deputy Rabbitte who knows him quite well, he has been a good friend, a good political friend of mine, has a strong social conscience and is very strong on the Irish language and cultural matters. In this case he made a mistake and he paid the price for that. He did not  give me the full facts, unfortunately, on the most serious matter.
Mr. J. Bruton: You allowed Deputy Rabbitte time. Will the Taoiseach agree that the Cablelink contract was one of the most valuable disposals of an asset belonging to the Irish people that has taken place in recent times? Will he agree that if in any other democracy it transpired that an adviser in the Prime Minister's office was closely connected with the consultant to the successful contractor that would be a matter of the gravest concern? Will he accept that a Prime Minister in any other democracy would accept personal responsibility for the omissions and acts of his own personal staff if not at least for more remote official staff? Will he agree he has personally failed in a grievous way in the supervision of his own office in this regard?
Mr. J. Bruton: Is it the case that the Taoiseach – if I heard him correctly – met NTL on three occasions: first, in Belfast, second, at a luncheon in La Stampa and subsequently at a meeting? To whom were the minutes of those discussions cir culated? What was Mr. Duffy doing circulating a memo to other Government Departments about the Gaiety Theatre, while he was already an adviser? Is it normal for special advisers in the Taoiseach's Department on their own authority to circulate documents on behalf of the Taoiseach's office?
The Taoiseach: Dillon's was not, as Deputy Bruton purports to make it, the main drivers of NTL. They were press people who organised press events for Dillon. Dillon, in the case of the contact with Mr. Duffy, was a press person normally associated with his own agency and was not even a Dillon's person. Nobody from NTL was involved in any of the matters in which Mr. Duffy was involved. On the question of what Mr. Duffy was doing on the cultural aspects, he had a particular expertise which is well recognised outside the House. They were looking at useful proposals and he put forward one in connection with opera. It was not a Government memorandum as such. What was the Deputy's last question?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy has got that all wrong. I did not have lunch in La Stampa. That related to a meeting he had in Dillon's. I had three meetings. I met a met Mr. Lamont who was vice-president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce in January 1998 when I addressed matters in Northern Ireland on the occasion of the forum when all leaders in the North were invited to a lunch. I addressed the first one. The second was the meeting in my office when all the senior NTL people made a presentation. The third was in Portmarnock, Deputy Owen's constituency, I am sure she was there—
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