Wednesday, 9 February 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
–whether he or the Tánaiste have received, or are aware, of the contents of the additional list of Ansbacher account holders' names that Deputy Foley's name is on;
–the circumstances of his meeting with Deputy Foley in December 1999 and who first sought that meeting, the people present at it and whether notes were taken;
–the specific questions he asked Deputy Foley;
–whether he asked Deputy Foley to resign from the Committee of Public Accounts or its sub-committee investigating DIRT; and
–whether, in view of his statement to Dáil Éireann on 3 June 1998 that “as a general principle that those who have enjoyed the trust and support of ordinary party members, of the electorate and of this House, and who have achieved high office and positions of great trust over a number of years, owe a full and frank explanation to the country that should not have to be extracted from them by tribunals of inquiry”, he will ask Deputy Foley to make a full and frank explanation to Dáil Éireann.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
 To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
“Dáil Éireann notes the Taoiseach's statement, containing the necessary information about the circumstances and consequences of Deputy Denis Foley's appearance before the Moriarty tribunal.”
–(Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Hanafin).
Mr. M. Higgins: I covered most of the ground I intended to cover last night on what could be best described as an extraordinary omission or evasion on the Taoiseach's part. I wish to share my remaining time with Deputy Shortall.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ms Shortall: The duplicity and evasion of Deputy Denis Foley has inflicted serious and significant damage on public life and politics. The arrogant and facile contributions by Fianna Fáil Deputies last night, and I am sad to say by the new Minister for State with responsibility for children, Deputy Hanafin, beggared belief. Deputy Hanafin and Deputy Pat Carey cynically attempted to use the critical situation in Northern Ireland as an excuse to deny parliamentary debate and parliamentary accountability. It was a cowardly and unworthy defence of an increasingly beleaguered Taoiseach and an increasingly beleaguered Government.
We hear this evening that Deputy Foley is about to resign from the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. Considering the fact that the Taoiseach's spin doctors have been peddling this story since the weekend, this can hardly be described as news. I am surprised that RTÉ has been running it as a top story all evening. Rather, it is an eleventh hour attempt at damage limitation, an attempt which will fail. In reality, Deputy Foley's fate has been sealed since these revelations first broke. His stage managed departure will not detract from the questions that the Taoiseach must answer about his role in this scandal. The Taoiseach has a democratic duty to be accountable to this House and to the electorate. Deputy Foley's exile in the Fianna Fáil sin bin is irrelevant to this critical matter.
The fact of the matter is that the recent revelations about Deputy Foley have seriously shaken public faith in the parliamentary process. When this House discovers that one of its members has been involved in tax evasion, illegal offshore banking and concealing information from a tribunal of inquiry, it is essential that serious questions are asked and that honest answers are forthcoming. Unfortunately, neither the Taoiseach nor the Tánaiste have answered these questions. This is part of a long established pattern on behalf of the Taoiseach but Deputy Harney's conversion to the tactics employed by Fianna Fáil when  important issues of standards in office arise is a more recent and regrettable development.
The Taoiseach's partial account of his meeting with Deputy Foley, an account he did not give to this House in spite of repeated requests to do so, is frankly unbelievable. Information that Deputy Foley was being investigated by the Moriarty tribunal led the Taoiseach to call in Deputy Foley some time in December. Newspaper reports insist that this information came from the Tánaiste and this has not been denied by anyone within the Government. At the meeting Deputy Foley confirmed that he was being investigated by the Moriarty tribunal and he also informed the Taoiseach that the inquiries centred around investments he made through the late Mr. Des Traynor. The Taoiseach asks us to believe that he only realised Deputy Foley was an Ansbacher account holder when the tribunal made this public. That contention is utterly unbelievable.
Given the central role of his former mentor, Charles J. Haughey, I presume the Taoiseach has read the McCracken report of August 1997. He will be aware of the contents of that report as they refer to the late Mr. Traynor, the person Deputy Foley revealed to him as having been his investment manager. The McCracken tribunal found that
Des Traynor was one of the founders of Ansbacher Cayman Ltd. . he appears to have acted on behalf of a number of Irish persons who wished to deposit their money off-shore . In effect, Des Traynor was acting as the Irish agent of Ansbacher Cayman Ltd. . Mr. Des Traynor was the link man.
The role of Des Traynor in Deputy Foley's financial affairs and the fact that he was being investigated by the Moriarty tribunal could have led the Taoiseach to one conclusion only. The Moriarty tribunal is specifically charged with investigating the links between Ansbacher and public office holders. That is the explicit import of the terms of reference, terms of reference the Taoiseach himself commended to the House in September 1997. Yet, the Taoiseach asks us to believe that he did not realise Deputy Foley was involved in the Ansbacher scam.
The evidence that Deputy Foley was involved in Ansbacher was laid before the Taoiseach at the meeting in December. However, the Taoiseach chose to ignore this evidence and to turn a deaf ear to the truth. In spite of the information available to the Taoiseach in December and in spite of the involvement of Deputy Foley in Ansbacher, Deputy Foley remained as vice chairperson of the Committee of Public Accounts. The Taoiseach must account to the House for this bizarre decision.
At least one Member in this House is aware of the Taoiseach's willingness to wield the knife when it suits his purposes. Deputy Albert Reynolds can attest to the devious manner in which the Taoiseach orchestrated his defeat in the Fianna Fáil presidential nomination contest. It seems that when his own electoral interests are  on the line, the Taoiseach will not hesitate to shaft one of his colleagues.
Mr. O'Flynn: That comment is below the belt.
Mrs. Owen: Deputy O'Flynn should be quiet.
Ms Shortall: However, when another of his colleagues was involved in the largest tax scam in the history of the State, that colleague was allowed to remain as vice chairperson of the Committee of Public Accounts. No action has been taken by the Taoiseach, nor has any been demanded by the Tánaiste. When the interests of Fianna Fáil are at stake, the Taoiseach is willing to take effective action but when the issue of standards in public office is at stake the Taoiseach assumes the role of a timorous mouse, afraid to ask the most obvious questions in case he might find out the truth.
The Opposition motion being debated this evening requests parliamentary accountability. Since the Taoiseach refused to voluntarily provide information to the House on his December meeting with Deputy Foley, we were left with no option but to table a motion requiring him to do so. It is not the first time that answers have had to be dragged out of this Taoiseach, the Taoiseach who signed blank cheques for Charlie Haughey and did not even have the decency to identify his role in the affair when making a statement to the House on 10 September 1997.
I remind Members of the thoughtful comments made by Deputy O'Malley last year on the Pádraig Flynn affair in which he outlined the necessity to take a stand on decency and good standards in public office. Deputy O'Malley staked a great deal on the maintenance of high standards in public office and paid a high personal price for doing so. I urge the Progressive Democrat members of the Government to reread those comments and ask themselves whether they are still true to the beliefs and principles outlined by their founder or whether they are so hungry for power that they are prepared to cast them aside and return to the bosom of Fianna Fáil?
The Taoiseach: I propose to share my time with Deputies Ardagh, Dempsey and O'Dea.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Taoiseach: I was gravely disappointed to learn that a member of my own party in this House would be called to give evidence to the Moriarty tribunal. My disappointment deepened on learning that he had over a long period evaded his responsibility as a citizen to observe and fulfil his obligations under the tax code.
The first inkling I had of the possible involvement of Deputy Foley in the Moriarty tribunal was from the Government Press Secretary, who was picking up a report circulating among journalists. This was in early December. I subsequently checked the Ansbacher list that had been furnished to me, but found that Deputy Foley's name was not on it. I next had a report  to the same effect from the Attorney General. He had been informed by the Tánaiste, who had learnt from her officer, Gerard Ryan, that Deputy Foley was likely to be called before the Moriarty tribunal. At that time, the Public Accounts Committee sub-committee's hearings were complete, and the publication of their report was believed to be imminent.
On Wednesday 15 December, the day before the House went into recess for the Christmas period, I asked Deputy Foley to come to see me so that I might question him about the matter. I wish to emphasise that I always regard such conversations with Deputies in my party as strictly confidential.
However, given the circumstances involved, I will convey the essential and most relevant points to the House. It was a fairly short meeting. He admitted to me that he had been before the Moriarty tribunal in private session and that he was co-operating fully with the tribunal. I asked him what it was about, because he was not on the Ansbacher list that I had. He said it related to investments going back 26 or 28 years when he was involved in the hotel near his house in Tralee and not a Deputy at the time. He informed me that the accountant who then did work for the hotel was Des Traynor and that he was putting money that he was getting through this business into an investment account with Mr. Traynor.
I reminded him that it was Fianna Fáil policy to co-operate fully with tribunals. I told him that the co-operation was essential and that total and full disclosure was critical. He assured me that he had already done that and would continue to do so. Deputy Foley also told me that he had been with his accountant and that they were in the process of making a full and voluntary disclosure to the Revenue Commissioners, with a view to settling his liabilities. I asked him whether he had considered his position on the Committee of Public Accounts. The DIRT sub-committee's work had finished, and its report had been published that day. He informed me that he would resign from the committee. He said that he would do this at the earliest appropriate opportunity, which he thought would be prior to his scheduled public appearance at the tribunal, which was due early on the tribunal's resumption after the Christmas break.
Deputy Foley has since stated that he believed, until recently, that his offshore account did not create a conflict of interest, vis-à-vis either his membership of the Committee of Public Accounts or the DIRT inquiry. This view failed to exercise the political judgment that would be expected of him after long years in this House. The Tánaiste and I discussed the fact that Deputy Foley was facing difficulties and was to appear before the Moriarty tribunal. We did not have any detailed discussion on the matter because we both respect her statutory role in relation to the investigation of the Ansbacher and related accounts. As reported in newspapers recently, I informed the Tánaiste that I had spoken to Deputy Foley and that he had assured me that he intended to resign from the PAC.
Mr. Quinn: Will the Taoiseach yield for a question?
The Taoiseach: No, I will not yield for a question. I came in here to answer questions about private conversations which I should not be answering.
Mr. Quinn: Did the Taoiseach ask Deputy Foley if he had an Ansbacher account?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach has intimated he wishes to continue.
The Taoiseach: It is in my script – he told me the type of account he had.
Ms Shortall: Did the Taoiseach ask him?
The Taoiseach: He told me.
Mrs. Owen: Did the Taoiseach ask him?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach, without interruption.
The Taoiseach: As always, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the do-gooders in the Labour Party do not want to hear the facts. Deputy Foley's conduct is now a matter for the tribunal and for a number of other authorities. I am aware that his conduct is also being brought before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of this House.
Mr. Quinn: The most cunning, the most devious—
The Taoiseach: That is the Deputy. On foot of a formal complaint from Deputy Quinn, the Committee on Members Interests—
Mrs. Owen: The mask is slipping.
The Taoiseach: —which is a statutory committee under the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, will decide in a formal investigation on Deputy Foley's position and will report to this House without delay as required by the Act.
On a previous occasion in this House, in the case of another Deputy who admitted to having an offshore account and evading tax, the then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, said on 3 December 1996, Dáil Official Report, volume 472, column 463, that nobody is above the law and that:
There is not, and never will be, a system of conviction by denunciation. Independent authorities, not rivals nor those with an axe to grind, made judgments as to culpability.
All of us in this House are concerned about the standing of politics. I have on many occasions over the past three years, and from both sides of the House, set out my views on what constitutes acceptable standards for a public representative. I have stressed the fundamental issue of public trust and above all our duty to respect the rules which we ourselves legislate for. The work of the Committee of Public Accounts and its report on  the operation of DIRT tax have been highly praised on all sides. It is, apart from any other consideration, deeply disappointing to find that a Member of the House, and a vice-chairman and past chairman of the Public Account Committee, was prima facie conducting his financial affairs in a manner analogous to that being investigated by the sub-committee.
In light of these circumstances, Deputy Foley has properly informed me of his resignation from the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. He has also today informed me of his decision not to contest the elections to the Fianna Fáil National Executive. He is now, in effect, an Independent TD.
Mr. Sheehan: He is better off now than he was before.
The Taoiseach: I think we should also acknowledge the very full and sincere apology that he made at the tribunal yesterday to his family, colleagues and constituents. In fairness to Deputy Foley, his is the first apology of its kind that has been heard from anyone involved in any of the tribunals.
Mr. Quinn: We are still waiting for Charlie's.
The Taoiseach: I applaud his courage and decency in that regard. We have to make it clear that certain behaviour from any quarter is completely unacceptable. The Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party this morning approved a code of conduct, which will be submitted first to the National Executive and then to the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis early next month—
Ms Shortall: That is a joke.
The Taoiseach: The Labour Party should have one.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach without interruption.
Mrs. O'Rourke: Have they heard of Woodchester?
The Taoiseach: It will come into effect immediately after the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. It covers the requirement that all relevant interests must be declared, and that public representatives must act at all times with honesty and integrity. Anyone standing for election must be able to confirm that their tax affairs are either in order or being finally put in order. I wish to point out that Fianna Fáil is the first and, thus far, the only political party in this House to take such an initiative.
Mrs. Owen: They promised it in 1997.
Mr. S. Ryan: There is no need for it here.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Members should allow the Taoiseach to continue.
The Taoiseach: Legislation to establish an ethics commission will be brought before this House later this year.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Silence please; allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.
The Taoiseach: Other than clearer rules, and the deterrent of an adverse effect on both reputation and personal finances if they are flouted, there is no early warning system that can be put in place to alert us to problems of this kind. These situations can exist for some time before they are brought to anyone's attention. I am satisfied in this case that the correct and proportionate action has been taken without any undue delay.
There are those in this House who have a “heads in baskets” approach to politics and who are always urging instant political executions—
Mr. Quinn: Ask Albert.
The Taoiseach: —without allowing any time for consideration, reflection or adjustment.
Mrs. Owen: There is a touch of Marie Antoinette – heads in baskets and guillotines.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Opposition Members will have an opportunity to speak without interruption.
The Taoiseach: It is almost pointless coming to this House to answer questions because no one ever wants to listen.
Mrs. Owen: The Taoiseach is not answering the questions.
Mr. Dempsey: Every one of them were answered.
The Taoiseach: Every one of them.
Mrs. Owen: No dates.
The Taoiseach: I have given the dates. Does it hurt?
Mrs. Owen: When was the first inkling? When did the Attorney General and the Tánaiste speak to the Taoiseach?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Owen to allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption. He is entitled to that courtesy, as is any other Member of the House.
The Taoiseach: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am comprehensively answering all the questions listed.
Mr. Quinn: He is not.
The Taoiseach: If the Labour Party has thought of other questions—
The Taoiseach: The questions were listed and I am answering them.
Mr. Boylan: Does the Taoiseach want to phone a friend?
The Taoiseach: My very best friend – do you remember that one? My very, very best friend forever.
The Taoiseach: Fine Gael still did not establish a code of conduct. It still did not introduce any party rules about taxes.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Taoiseach please address his remarks through the chair?
The Taoiseach: Where are the Fine Gael rules on tax policy? It had to throw one of its members out, even though a tribunal was set up especially for him.
Mrs. Owen: He left the party.
Mrs. O'Rourke: He was a long time in that Department.
The Taoiseach: I am second to no one in my concern to see the right thing happen but I believe that where action is required it should be consistent with the public interest, be done in a humane way, with some compassion for the feelings of the individuals concerned who find themselves in a difficult and humiliating personal situation, and for their family. It is better from every point of view if the individual can be brought to understand the action that is required, and that they acknowledge the justice of it, by taking the necessary steps themselves. On occasion, a little space may need to be given.
I do not consider that in this instance the public interest suffered in any way by the short delay that occurred over the Christmas recess. It has been beneficial that many of the questions raised by Deputy Foley's conduct could be put to him as soon as possible thereafter in the tribunal, even if not all questions have necessarily received completely satisfactory answers. I believe that the proper course of action would have been for  Deputy Foley to absent himself from membership of the DIRT committee altogether.
Members of this House, and those who aspire to take part in political life, will, I hope, have taken note once again of the high standards expected of those in public life, which the Government has shown a determination to uphold. Seamus Heaney's new translation of Beowulf contains the lines, ‘Behaviour that's admired is the path to power among people everywhere'. We need hardly remind ourselves that the converse is especially true in a democracy.
Mr. Ardagh: I served with Deputy Denis Foley on the Committee of Public Accounts. I thank him for the guidance and advice he gave me which helped ease my way into my job on that committee. I am sure Deputy Foley has been concerned and stressed over this matter for some considerable time and I hope that, having co-operated fully and openly with both the Moriarty tribunal and the Revenue Commissioners, he will have greater peace and improved health. I wish him well. Last night Deputy Michael D. Higgins said this motion was not a question of “hitting us now with the North under one oxter and the new agreement under the other”. This motion was not just a hit on Fianna Fáil, it was a hit on the body politic generally. It was a hit on Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and every party in this House.
Mr. Quinn: The Deputy would not know the body politic.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputies to allow the Member in possession to speak without interruption. This is a very limited debate. Four speakers are offering and they are entitled to be heard.
Mr. Ardagh: I listened last night to the contributions from the Opposition and I would like to comment on them. Deputy John Bruton made a personal attack on the Taoiseach. There is not much else I can say about his speech, certainly nothing complimentary. Deputy Quinn commenced his speech with a personal attack on the Taoiseach. He then went on to make what I thought was a very good contribution technically. He addressed the motion and while I disagree with Deputy Quinn's analysis, his speech certainly kept one interested. Deputy Gormley also made a personal attack on the Taoiseach and went on to say, “the gombeen culture still flourishes in this pathetic little country of ours.” I am sure the voters of Dublin South-East will appreciate that. Fair dues to Deputies Rabbitte, Michael D. Higgins and tonight to Deputy Shortall, none of whom made a personalised attack on the Taoiseach. Deputy Rabbitte began with a five minute parsing and analysis of the speech of the Minister  of State, Deputy Hanafin, and then he could not see the wood for the next five minutes because he was up a tree in North Dublin.
Mr. Sheehan: There was fruit on that tree in North Dublin.
Mr. Ardagh: It was a delight to listen to Deputy Michael D. Higgins at his eloquent best. I was disappointed and annoyed at the personal attacks on the Taoiseach by Deputies John Bruton, Quinn and Gormley.
Mrs. Owen: Does the Deputy own the copyright of the speech?
Mr. Ardagh: I will not repeat the scurrilous remarks but suffice to say they were totally out of order. I have known the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, since 1985 when I was first elected to Dublin County Council and he was elected to Dublin Corporation. He was also elected Lord Mayor of Dublin that year. I have never met a politician more competent and dedicated than the Taoiseach. He is the captain of a team that is bringing to this country the greatest increase in the quality and standard of living ever achieved in the history of the State. As charisma is not a quality that anyone on the other side of the House has in abundance, it is now deemed politically incorrect to have natural charisma. I make no apology for it, the Taoiseach has charisma. The Taoiseach is liked by his colleagues on all sides of the House. He is loved by hundreds of thousands of people outside this House. Despite the comments of Deputies John Bruton and Quinn, he will, with the will of the people, remain Taoiseach, health permitting and if he slows down a little bit, for many years to come.
Mr. M. Higgins: I am getting the whiff of charisma over here.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Ardagh, without interruption.
Mr. Ardagh: There are challenges for us in politics. In Dublin South-Central we have in my colleagues, Deputies Gay Mitchell, Briscoe and Upton, following in the footsteps of her brother, Pat, as fine a group of political representatives as there is in any constituency. Yet at the last by-election in 1999, the numbers voting was most disappointing at approximately 30%. There is no evidence that the voters of any particular party are not voting. In fact, recent opinion polls confirm this. The whole body politic is affected and our relevance to the people and our credibility is at a low ebb.
Mr. Quinn: By whom, Kinsealy?
Mr. Ardagh: When problems arise for individual Members, no matter from what party—
Mr. Quinn: No, we will not take that.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Ardagh, without interruption.
Mr. Ardagh: —we tend to use that as a stick to beat ourselves rather than as a lesson and an opportunity to grab the rudder, to correct our direction and move in a straighter and more definite course.
Mr. Quinn: We are not in Kinsealy or Castlebar.
Mr. Ardagh: This motion, which to a great degree is party political point scoring, is demeaning to politics. It diminishes the respect and credibility of politicians. The people who voted us in did not do so to see this House being reduced to the equivalent of a boarding school custard pie throwing competition.
A motion such as this, when Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in Government are trying to deal with and improve health, education and social welfare services because even we recognise there is room for improvement, undermines our profession.
Ms Shortall: The Deputy's party did that.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Ardagh, without interruption.
Mr. Ardagh: If I can go back to the wood and trees metaphor, surely there are items which deserve three precious hours of debate more than a conversation between the Taoiseach and Deputy Foley. This country needs a good constructive Opposition. One of the reasons the country has prospered in the recent past is because of a vigorous parliamentary system where a constructive Opposition has kept the incumbent Government, whichever side, on its toes. Please do not continue to spend valuable debating time on relatively peripheral issues, which I agree are important, but are blown out of all proportion for petty party political reasons—
Mr. Creed: Peripheral issues like tax evasion.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Ardagh, without interruption.
Mr. Ardagh: —and deflect the Dáil from the major social and economic issues which are more important to this nation.
Mr. Creed: Such as tax evasion.
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I listened with interest and some dismay to the Opposition's contributions to this debate yesterday. I welcome the fact that “principled politics” was high on the agenda, as was the need to address the malaise of cynicism which affects our political system. However, the question must be asked, what has this debate achieved?
Mr. Quinn: Some £500,000 in public relations.
Mr. Dempsey: Has this been a demonstration of principled politics? How far will it go towards restoring the faith of the Irish people in the body politic?
Mrs. Owen: The Minister would know nothing about that.
Mr. Dempsey: I am sorry to say that principled politics were not much in evidence last night, nor have they been much evidence tonight so far. Nor do I think that this debate will go very far towards restoring the faith of the Irish people in politics and politicians. This is an exercise cobbled together by an Opposition desperately trying to make an impact on the public. It is a type of theatrical performance played out for the benefit of the media and in the hope of scoring a headline or two, a performance that has very little substance and is of very poor quality.
Mr. Creed: It will not cost £500,000 to get coverage.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister, without interruption.
Mr. Dempsey: If the Opposition want this, they are entitled to a little media coverage. Last night we were not dealing with the issue of tax evasion, we were dealing with an Opposition attempting to blacken the character of the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil Party generally. The Irish people are too discerning to be taken in by this production. The discerning Irish media will surely spot this naked attempt by the Opposition to fling mud in the vain hope that some of it will stick to the Taoiseach and the Government.
The Opposition called for clear talk yesterday. I have no problem with that. So let us make a few things abundantly clear. Tax evasion by anyone, inside or outside the Houses of the Oireachtas, is wrong. Tax evaders deserve to be identified and to enjoy the full rigours of the law. However, we all know that tax evasion was rife in this country; it was almost worn as a badge of honour throughout the eighties. Who set about dealing with tax evasion? Galling as it may be for them, I remind the Opposition that it was the Finance Act,1992 which progressed anti-avoidance and anti-evasion measures in the teeth of ferocious opposition
Mr. Creed: That was after the Minister's party introduced the tax amnesties.
Mr. Dempsey: The Finance Act, 1992, cut back on numerous business and other tax reliefs and shelters. These measures comprised the largest package of cutbacks on tax shelters used mainly by the better off and companies.
Mr. Creed: It was after the tax amnesties.
Mr. Dempsey: Not only was a Fianna Fáil led Government in power, but the then Minister for Finance was the Taoiseach, the man whose reputation the Opposition is trying desperately to smear in this debate. Much as the Opposition may wish to deny it, Fianna Fáil led Governments have made real progress on stamping out tax evasion. In stark contrast, the rainbow Government's performance in relation to tax evasion was like its name – up in the air with no real substance.
As one who has bought into political life with my heart and soul, I am dismayed when a fellow politician is accused of being less than 100% committed and honest. This is because I believe in the importance of politics and standards of individual integrity no matter which side of the House one may be on. Politics is about public service. It is about what can be done for others. It is about making difficult choices and giving leadership. Ultimately, politicians gain the trust of the electorate and that must never be abused. We as politicians have a responsibility to act with the utmost integrity. We discuss and ultimately make the law. If we break the law or condone law breaking, we do our profession and our country a severe disservice.
Mr. Quinn: He would not even ask the question.
Mr. Dempsey: Last night Deputy Quinn asked if anybody in the Fianna Fáil Party is in a similar position to Deputy Foley. The question, which was narrow, cynical and loaded, only serves—
Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach did not ask the question.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.
Mr. Dempsey: It only serves to underline the purpose of this debate from the Opposition's point of view.
Mr. Quinn: He did not even ask the question.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.
Mr. Dempsey: If Deputy Quinn was seriously concerned about the potential damage to the body politic—
Mr. Quinn: It is not the body politic, it is over there.
Mr. Dempsey: —he would have called on any member of any party in either of the Houses whose tax affairs are not in order to convey—
Mr. Quinn: Haughey, Flynn, Burke, Ellis.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.
Mr. Dempsey: —the relevant facts fully, speedily and frankly to the authorities, the tribunal or the Revenue Commissioners. I am concerned about that and I make that call. Deputy Quinn expects the Taoiseach to know everything about everybody in his parliamentary party.
Mr. Quinn: He did not ask the question.
Mr. Dempsey: It is a little rich from the Deputy who was deputy leader of his party and the director of elections in an election in 1994 but knew nothing about a loan taken out by four people, including the leader of the Deputy's party at the time. Deputy Quinn did not even know about it when he became leader of his party.
Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach did not ask the question.
Mr. Dempsey: The Deputy is talking about everybody knowing everything, but he did not ask about the loan.
Mr. Quinn: We are talking about tax. The Taoiseach did not ask the question.
Mrs. Owen: Can we have some answers before the Minister concludes?
Mr. Dempsey: Regarding the fundamental issue of the public's attitude towards politics, I referred to this debate as theatre for the benefit of the media. However, it is also being played out for the benefit of the electorate. It is some benefit. The public wants real and honest politics, but this debate is about cute politics. The Opposition's purpose appears to be to take a particular case and to move—
Mrs. Owen: This is very serious from a Minister, but he does not understand it.
Mr. Dempsey: —rapidly towards generalities. The debate will raise public suspicion that large numbers of politicians are, or were, on the take and engaging in tax evasion.
Mr. S. Ryan: That is true.
Mr. Quinn: Mr. Haughey did.
Mr. Dempsey: That is how it is being conducted by the Opposition. Based on the evidence to date, this is not the case.
Mr. U. Burke: Five up – how many more to come?
Mr. Dempsey: These unfounded suspicions will not only affect members of my party. They will affect every Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas and every person elected to serve our local government system. I do not believe there is widespread corruption in the House or the local government system.
Mr. Creed: Over there.
Mr. Dempsey: However, mudslinging from the Opposition benches will cause damage to the character of many good, honest and trustworthy people across the political spectrum. I have no doubt that the Opposition's mudslinging will add to the public cynicism about the political system not only because it raises false suspicions about all politicians, but because it implies to people that all politicians are so anxious to score political points—
Mr. M. Higgins: No, it does not.
Mr. Dempsey: —that they use valuable Dáil time to deal with matters, the fundamentals of which—
Mr. Quinn: We are talking about a tribunal.
Mr. Dempsey: —are already being clarified elsewhere.
Mrs. Owen: Did the Minister read the motion?
Mr. Dempsey: The tribunal is dealing with the real issues. We set up the tribunals.
Mr. Quinn: This House set them up. The Minister's party had to be forced to do it.
Mr. M. Higgins: The Minister is bad mouthing them now.
Mr. Dempsey: The tribunals should be allowed to get on with their work.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea.
Mrs. Owen: The big guns are being brought in tonight.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea): I listened carefully to Deputy John Bruton last night and he was mainly concerned with the fact that we allegedly refused to condemn tax evaders or various forms of criminals within our ranks. I condemn those people totally and unequivocally. I condemn anybody who is guilty of tax evasion or any form of criminality no matter from what side of the political divide they come. The Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment and Local Govern ment did something similar tonight and Members should not be in any doubt about where the Fianna Fáil Party stands on these matters.
Mr. Creed: Zero tolerance is back.
Mr. O'Dea: However, I also condemn people who speak with forked tongues in the House. I recall the attitude of Deputy John Bruton when he was Taoiseach and blatant tax evasion on the part of a member of his Government was brought to his attention. His first and instinctive reaction was to say that it did not matter because it happened years ago. He soon changed his tune in the face of public incredulity. However, on the basis of Deputy John Bruton's logic, somebody in Deputy Foley's position could continue unhindered as vice-chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts because what he did happened 25 years ago.
Mr. Boylan: That is outrageous.
Mr. O'Dea: That is the logical conclusion of Deputy John Bruton's natural instincts.
Mr. C. Lenihan: Best friends for ever.
Mrs. Owen: Michael Lowry resigned and he left the Fine Gael Party. He did not even get a nomination. Fianna Fáil had to be dragged kicking and screaming.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.
Mr. O'Dea: Deputy Quinn said last night the Labour Party believes that we in this House have a duty to ensure the whole truth, however unpalatable, is laid bare. We have a responsibility to deal with the difficult questions that truth sometimes turns up. They are fine words but they sound hollow coming from the person who has treated us to deafening silence about the facts surrounding a very questionable loan made by Woodchester Bank to his party.
Mr. Quinn: I have told the Minister all the facts and I did not use a sponsored newspaper column to do it.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.
Mr. O'Dea: As far as Deputy Quinn is concerned he was only deputy leader of the party but he knew nothing.
Mr. Quinn: There was no silence.
Mr. O'Dea: He was only director of elections but he knew nothing. The Deputy's brother was the joint managing director of the firm that  placed the advertisement and yet he knew nothing.
Mr. Quinn: There was no silence.
Mr. O'Dea: Deputy Quinn promoted publicly and deliberately the interests of a private bank, contrary to Government policy, when, at the same time, he knew that his party was in receipt of a loan from that bank. Any questions that have been raised in the Labour Party—
Mr. Quinn: That is untrue. On a point of order, I have been accused of something that is not true. I am not silent on this matter.
Mr. O'Dea: I did not interrupt the Deputy.
Mr. Quinn: Will the Minister of State yield?
Mr. O'Dea: I have only had two minutes. I did not interrupt the Deputy and he should not try to waste my time.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Quinn has made his point. Please allow the Minister of State to conclude.
Mr. O'Dea: Any calls from within the Labour Party from people such as Senator Joe Costello for an inquiry or an investigation into this matter have been suppressed ruthlessly with the Stalinism that characterised the Labour Party in the 1970s.
Mr. Creed: The Minister of State should keep going. He might make the front bench.
Mr. O'Dea: Two tribunals are investigating the matters which are again before the House.
Mrs. Owen: Is this the Minister of State's interview? The Taoiseach is gone.
Mr. O'Dea: The two tribunals have extensive powers of investigation and inquiry.
Mr. Quinn: We are talking about facts.
Mr. O'Dea: They are backed by the full resources of the State. It is incumbent on us at this juncture in our history to let those two tribunals get on with their jobs.
Mrs. Owen: That is nothing to do with the motion. Did the Minister of State read it?
Mr. O'Dea: It is not the function of the Houses of the Oireachtas to occasionally set themselves up as an amateur part-time tribunal to sit in parallel with the two real tribunals. That is a futile exercise.
Mr. Quinn: We are talking about facts.
Mr. O'Dea: It demonstrates only the political bankruptcy of the Opposition.
Mr. Belton: Put it in the Sunday newspaper next week.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.
Mr. O'Dea: I am confident that when the people pass their verdict on this Government in the next general election, the Taoiseach and his Government will be vindicated. Those who have used smears, slander through a window and guilt by association as a substitute for proper political debate—
Mr. Belton: The Minister is not too slow to slander in the Sunday newspaper.
Mr. O'Dea: —will once again be confined to the oblivion of the Opposition benches until they demonstrate to the people—
Mr. Creed: The Cabinet is full.
Mr. O'Dea: —that they are ready to return to Government. On current form, that appears to be a long time away.
Mr. Howlin: Former Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was right.
Mr. G. Mitchell: I wish to share my time with Deputies Boylan, Joe Higgins and Ó Caoláin.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Reference by supporters of the amendment to the fledgling peace process in Northern Ireland is not only reckless, it is unbecoming. It is unstatesmanlike and short-sighted to introduce such an amendment to this motion. This motion relates to accountability and in any real parliamentary democracy a Prime Minister would make a detailed statement to the House and take questions, such as when he learned about this affair, who told him and whether the Tánaiste is using officials and inspectors to trawl confidential information for political advantage. How come such a prominent Fianna Fáil name was left off the earlier list, when the names of people associated with other parties – people, it transpires, who do not have quite as much to answer for – were leaked publicly? Did he advise Deputy Foley to resign from the Public Accounts Committee and/or Fianna Fáil, or did he ask him to stay on? It seems to me that the timing of the departure of Ministers, the Cabinet reshuffle and the vote of confidence in a Minister were staged to precede the information about Deputy Foley becoming public.
This motion is about transparency and accountability, not personalised innuendo. It is not about accountability to a series of tribunals which will report at some safe point in the future, but accountability to this House for the actions of members of the Government as the Constitution  requires. Part of the reason for the sleaze factor in Irish society is that those in the know are well aware that their chances of being caught are slim because there is a conspiracy against accountability and transparency. That conspiracy involves members of the Government itself not being transparent and accountable and it is our duty as the Opposition to point that out.
Contrast the treatment of two members of the Judiciary with the way a Member of this House, whose vote is badly needed to prop up the Government, has been treated. The two members of the judiciary, one of whom was in line to become Chief Justice, have had their careers ended and been pensioned off for a much less serious offence than that with which a Member of this House is charged. It is not just a matter of tax evasion, but he sat on an inquiry when he knew the position he was in. What would we say in this House if a judge sat on a tribunal or in court in those circumstances?
Mr. Quinn: Exactly.
Mr. G. Mitchell: That judge would be drummed out of office. That is what we did to two judges not so long ago. What is good for the Legislature should be good for the Judiciary and what is good for the Judiciary should be good for the Legislature. We should not have double standards. Members who have pointed this out in a way that is not personalised but in a proper and dutiful way should not be treated to the kind of personal abuse we heard earlier.
Mr. M. Higgins: One is not supposed to ask questions at all.
Mr. G. Mitchell: That is the point. Last night the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, cut her teeth as a Minister of State by throwing in the ball and moving an amendment to the motion. She spoke eloquently in soccer parlance and I cannot resist the temptation to respond in soccer parlance. It seems to me that the Government, when replying to the debate, might tell the House and the country why someone who has received more than two yellow cards – Deputy Foley's case has been before five different bodies between tribunals and committees of the House at once – is still on the pitch. This person's participation in the Committee of Public Accounts investigation is the exact equivalent of handling the ball in the penalty area. Why has that not resulted in the goalkeeper, the Taoiseach, coming in here to face penalties from the penalty takers? Why has he cried “No foul” although a capacity crowd of 3.5 million people outside this House have clearly seen the foul with their own eyes? Why has the fact that the referee, the tribunal, has booked a Fianna Fáil Deputy for questionable behaviour not resulted in the team manager condemning the offender and explaining his actions to the supporters and the wider public?
A number of Fianna Fáil Deputies have been  caught miles offside, some while serving as Ministers. Why has the Taoiseach sought to pretend it has nothing to do with team tactics? Why have lager lout tactics and behaviour replaced decent, open parliamentary action as an acceptable standard in the eyes of some Members? The Minister of State had her first throw-in as an officeholder, but it was a foul throw. I wish her well in her career and hope she has better success in the future.
In former Deputy Ray Burke's case, the Taoiseach said he was up every tree in north Dublin. There are no banana trees in north Dublin or anywhere else in this Republic, but one would easily believe, looking from the outside, that this was a banana republic. In former Commissioner Padraig Flynn's case he was told: “Don't tell me, tell the tribunal.” In Deputy Foley's case we do not know what was said – the Taoiseach will not explain. In 18 months at most the Government will have to face the electorate and I predict that the Government's self-flattery will come to naught.
As the saying goes “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. They are waiting out there in the high grass. They can see what is going on in this House. They can see the Government is refusing to answer parliamentary questions. If Members make an application under the Freedom of Information Act they can get information, but if Members ask a question on the same matter in the House Ministers evade responsibility. Ministers will try to refuse to come to the House for debates on unemployment and the regions when we have traditionally had such debates on a regular basis. Tribunals costing huge sums of money are examining certain matters, but if the Taoiseach and his Government had answered questions properly about the same matters they would not need to be examined by tribunals. Ministers will not answer to Parliament, but they will have to answer to the people. They can run but they cannot hide.
This motion is not about personalised attacks. It is about Parliament having the right to get information and replies from the Government of the day. The 1937 Constitution is a finely balanced document that sets up different institutions of the State. It shared out the responsibilities of the State among the President, the Executive with a head of Government called Taoiseach, a Parliament with two Houses and the courts. That Constitution is being bypassed by the failure of this Executive – like no other – to come to the House and answer simple, straightforward questions. The Constitution also charges this Assembly with the primary responsibility for holding the Executive accountable. That is all we seek to do with this motion.
Mr. Boylan: I thank Deputy Mitchell for sharing his time. I had not intended to speak on this  issue until I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin's statement, which saddened and depressed me. I was appalled that a Minister of State, a young person, would use the troubles in Northern Ireland as a smokescreen for the wrongdoings of a Member. She owes an apology to this House and to the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Quinn: Hear, hear.
Mr. Boylan: She owes an apology to the people of Dublin, Belturbet and Monaghan who were blown to pieces by bombs while going about their lawful business.
She used those tragedies and the memory of those tragedies to cover up for people going about unlawful business. I expected more from the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin. I wish her well but she has got off to a wrong start. She is suffering from the malaise that afflicted the Fianna Fáil Party when I came into this House. Suffering from the malaise of self-denial and weakness, she was not prepared to stand up and speak for herself but read a speech which was prepared for her. I would like to know who prepared it? Whose bidding was she doing? It is sad to see a young person used in that manner. That is the malaise.
We know what Charlie Haughey was involved in and there were people close to him who knew what he was involved in. Ray Burke and P. Flynn knew what he was involved in. To quote Denis Foley at the tribunal, “They were in denial”. They did not want to know and pretended nothing was wrong. They decided to take a slice of the action and have brought disgrace on their families who are decent people.
The Taoiseach was involved in the funding and financing of the Fianna Fáil Party at Fianna Fáil headquarters. He signed the blank cheques. As one Fianna Fáil member said to me, they were lying around Fianna Fáil headquarters like confetti at a church gate for anybody to pick them up. He is the man who is now in charge of running this country. How would my business or yours operate if we were throwing blank cheques around for anybody to pick up. Does it make sense? There are questions to be answered. Ray Burke and P. Flynn have questions to answer. Those questions will not be asked by the Taoiseach. He will not face reality.
Deputy John Bruton faced reality. There was reference here to a Minister in the coalition Government that he led with style and dignity. He removed the then Minister, Deputy Lowry, from office.
Mr. O'Dea: He had to remove him.
Mr. Boylan: He was sacked and dismissed from the Fine Gael Party. He is no longer a member. Deputy Bruton did not say, “Move over quietly and do not ask me to do what I have to do”, like Deputy Foley obliging the Taoiseach. People down the country ask me and perhaps the Mini ster of State, Deputy O'Dea, if Ray Burke and P. Flynn are still card-playing members of the Fianna Fáil Party.
Mr. O'Dea: I have no idea.
Mr. Quinn: He did not ask.
Mr. Boylan: Nobody will tell and nobody will answer.
Mr. O'Dea: I will find out.
Mr. Boylan: Deputy John Bruton dismissed a Minister but he is a leader and a man of integrity. The Taoiseach is still one of the lads.
Mr. M. Higgins: Well said.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): I thank Deputy Mitchell for sharing time. It should not have been necessary for Opposition parties to table this motion to get an explanation from the Taoiseach, in so far as he did when he came in here and gave some more information. The Taoiseach heard rumours in early December that Deputy Foley might have been involved in shady offshore accounts and I am stunned he waited until 15 December before calling the Deputy in to get the full story. I am astounded that on hearing the stunning story Deputy Foley had to tell, the Taoiseach waited another six weeks until Deputy Foley was flushed out on the eve of the Moriarty tribunal hearings. If the Taoiseach was serious and genuinely outraged at the incredible actions of Deputy Foley involving offshore scams, while he was sitting on the sub-committee of the Committee of Public Accounts investigating the major banks on the same issues, he would have called him in within minutes of hearing the rumour. The Taoiseach does not seem to know the telephone has been invented or what it is for. He should have called a press conference immediately and announced the dismissal of Deputy Foley from the Committee of Public Accounts and the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and apologised to the people that a member nominated by his party to the Committee of Public Accounts had behaved in this fashion.
I am amazed at the Taoiseach's tolerance of the outrageous swindling behaviour of certain former leading members of Fianna Fáil. Even tonight, in relation to these people who have done wrong, he said:
“.where action is required it should . be done in a humane way, with some compassion for the feelings of the individual concerned. It is better from every point of view, if the individual can be brought to understand the action that is required, and that they acknowledge the justice of it, by taking the necessary steps them selves. On occasion, a little space may need to be given.
Mr. M. Higgins: A firm purpose of amendment.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): The Taoiseach referred to space when wrong is done, no doubt for wealthy public representatives or top bank executives. If a poor single mother shoplifts some groceries for her needy family and is caught there will not be much space for her.
Mr. M. Higgins: Except in Mountjoy.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): There will be space for her in the Bridewell overnight and space before a District Court judge in the morning and there will be space, for a few months perhaps, in Mountjoy for the crime. If an unfortunate heroine addict steals a bag containing less than £1,000 he or she will have loads of space – six years in Mountjoy, reduced on appeal from nine years. The Taoiseach came in here and appealed for compassion for millionaire swindlers while the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform sat poker-faced beside him. There is one law for the banks and another for the poor.
This morning we had notification of a massive bank robbery carried out not with a syringe or a gun but with the weapon of the Irish Constitution by some of the most powerful bankers in the country. Bunreacht na hÉireann is rapidly becoming an overcrowded refuge for scoundrels. We have heard about the flag being the last refuge for scoundrels, but Bunreacht na hÉireann is now the refuge for scoundrels under which they want to save themselves hundreds of millions of pounds that should be paying to make up for their crimes of tax evasion in the past.
The banks are not the only ones I could mention. The abolition of ground rents is prevented according to the Constitution. Rampant speculation in building land is banned according to the Constitution and control of the power of private landlords may not be possible. The Taoiseach pleaded for compassion for these people.
It was incredulous to listen to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government minimise the seriousness of tax evasion by saying it was the badge of honour at an earlier time, presumably in the 1970s and 1980s. It was no badge of honour for the PAYE worker who paid through the nose for every penny earned while some earned the badge of honour by massive swindling. This same Minister has no compunction in imposing extra taxation on PAYE workers who are already badly hit. In the past few weeks in Drogheda thousands of people have been taking to the streets in opposition to a new local tax in the form of a refuse charge. The council wants to impose £110 on them for the first time.
He has taken away the minor concessions granted to low paid workers in the budget and, apparently, has no compassion for the hard  pressed PAYE workers and the lower paid, whom he is happy to see carry this extra burden of taxation while he sits on thousands of millions of pounds of an Exchequer surplus.
The Ansbacher list of names should be published. It is held in secret by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and is, no doubt, known to some of their advisers. It is capable of being used as a weapon as they choose to damage others politically in a dishonest fashion. The list raises the link between big business and politics, which involves many of the establishment parties in the House, but that is another day's work.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I support the motion because the questions it raises are reasonable and should be answered by the Taoiseach. This is not about hounding a Deputy or badgering a Taoiseach. The case of Deputy Foley is very serious because of his membership of the Committee of Public Accounts, which has investigated the type of activities in which he is now implicated. The tribunal is doing its work and should be allowed to continue, but the House also has the right to demand accountability and if legitimate questions cannot be asked and answered forthrightly in the House then Deputies have very little function here.
In opposing the motion last night a number of Government Deputies referred to the peace process and criticised those supporting the motion for doing so at a time when the peace process, and all its difficulties, is currently in crisis. I reject this spurious argument. It ill serves the peace process for Government Deputies to attempt to use it as a means of avoiding legitimate questions and castigating those who raise them.
Equally ill served by such spurious arguments are the majority of Fianna Fáil Deputies and Senators who are without question honest in their dealings. Members and supporters of Fianna Fáil are disgusted by the succession of revelations and the conduct of senior members of their party, including a former Taoiseach and a former Minister. They are also deeply unhappy at the manner in which these matters have been handled by the leadership of their party.
Last week the Flood tribunal heard how Mr. Oliver Barry contributed £35,000 to former Deputy Ray Burke, then Minister for Communications, in the wake of a succession of actions and decisions by him favourable to Mr. Barry's Century Radio. Not long ago this in itself would have constituted a major scandal, but the public and the media are so jaded with the tide of sleaze that it is regarded as just another day at the tribunal. In some measure this mood is exemplified by the attendance in the Press Gallery this evening.
I understand Deputy Foley has resigned from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. There was no other course open to him, given his evidence at the Moriarty tribunal. This is a difficult time for the Deputy and his family. I have no doubt that at a personal level he has the sympathy of  people inside and outside the House and on that level I empathise with those feelings.
However, the motion is not addressed to Deputy Foley. It concerns the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and the issue of accountability. The Taoiseach's words in the Dáil on 3 June 1998 are in the motion. His key point on that occasion was that full and frank explanations should not have to be extracted by tribunals of inquiry from people who have enjoyed trust and responsibility in public life.
The facts in Deputy Foley's case had to be extracted by a tribunal. There were no full and frank explanations. The question is what did the Taoiseach ask of the Deputy or what information, if any, was given to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste? These are legitimate questions. I have no hesitation, therefore, in supporting the motion.
If these questions are not dealt with in a full and frank way in the Dáil, the perception will grow that public accountability for public representatives can only be guaranteed when they are hauled before tribunals. That would be an appalling judgment on the condition of politics in the State and on the dominant political culture, not of one party, but of those parties who have formed successive Governments. It is time to discard that legacy once and for all.
Mr. Roche: Ethics in this country are strange in that they appear to focus entirely around finance. There are, of course, other ethical issues facing the State. I find it odd to be lectured on ethics by the last speaker, but that is an issue for another day.
Many years ago I was given a gift of a book entitled The Devil in Massachusetts, the subject matter of which subsequently became the basis of another great work of literature, The Crucible. The books dealt with witch hunts and a society which was consumed on the issue of the search for scapegoats. In recent years reports of Dáil debates have increasingly read like early drafts of either of these works.
Mr. M. Higgins: That is unfair to Arthur Miller.
Mr. Roche: I realise that listening to others is foreign to Members on those benches with the Deputy, but I ask him for five minutes of his time. I have no time for tax dodgers, irrespective of their political hue and I am disappointed, saddened and let down by the recent issues involving Deputy Foley. I have already said this to my party.
Throughout my life I have been a compliant PAYE taxpayer and like all other compliant taxpayers I am angered at the incidence of tax dodging, dishonesty and the willingness of large sectors of society to apparently accept these activities. For far too long tax dodging has been a national pastime in the State.
The Committee of Public Accounts did us a considerable service in revealing the existence of  almost a quarter of a million bogus DIRT tax accounts. These investigations also revealed the willing, at times more than willing, compliance of the banks and financial institutions in that tax dodge. The Ansbacher revelations show another dimension to this issue, namely, the extent to which the once respected professions have now allowed themselves to become involved in the tax dodging industry. However, rather than focusing on the extent of tax dodging, Members of the House and the media are daily seeking scapegoats. In doing so we are allowing the major issue to be obscured and are behaving in a manner that would do justice to the burghers of Salem.
There is a problem with tax compliance in this country. There is a also problem with people who dodge or deduct their tax and then refuse to pay their fair share. Indeed, there are people in this country who do not pay for anything. The 200,000 DIRT dodgers were not all politicians, nor were the politicians involved all members of Fianna Fáil. The same can be said about the Ansbacher accounts.
At this stage we should be seeking solutions, not scapegoats. However, before turning to solutions, I wish to touch further on the matter of Deputy Foley. We in this State pride ourselves on being both a Christian nation and one that respects the rule of law. The law that applies in the State is not that of the lynch mob. An essential part of a civilised society and law is that we observe due process. Deputy Foley, like Deputy Lowry and other Deputies who have found themselves in difficulties in this House over the years, is entitled to due process. Indeed, other Deputies have been in difficulty for matters I would regard as more serious and more heinous than tax dodging. However, irrespective of how we may feel individually – I feel a sense of personal anger about tax dodging – every Deputy is entitled to the benefit of due process.
The last speaker said he had some sympathy for Deputy Foley. I am sure Deputy Foley will take comfort in this. In the past 72 hours the Deputy has been hounded, humiliated, has apologised for his conduct, has resigned his membership of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, which is dear to him, and will resign his position on the party's ard comhairle. In due course he will pay the debts which are due. I do not know what more can be expected of him. However, I expect the House to expend its energy in preventing further recurrences.
Instead of the endless efforts at scapegoating, the House and the political parties should be seeking solutions to problems. Fianna Fáil has just concluded an internal ethical code which will shortly be endorsed by the Ard-Fheis. It has produced some mirth on the Labour benches – let them produce a better code of ethics. It is reasonable to ask other parties what they are doing and when we will see their ethical codes. However, I do not want to develop the issue of scapegoating as I find myself slipping into the train of thought I find so odious.
 It is a matter for each party to decide the rules which will govern the internal behaviour of their members. The vast majority of people who have served in the Labour Party, Fine Gael and the other political parties and the Independents are honourable and decent people doing their best. We may not always reach the high standard expected of us, but at least it can be said that we are doing our best to make some contribution.
It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas to put in place mechanisms governing overall behaviour, something we have started to do. The first steps are in place with the Ethics in Public Office Act, which has flaws, and the electoral legislation which has also gone some way in this direction. As far back as December 1994 the necessity of putting in place an ethics commission was explored. The idea has been in the air for a long time – it has been gestating for five years. We are all to blame for the fact that the necessary legislation in this regard has not been enacted. The major parties have been in office at one time or another over the past five years. I prepared the original draft of the proposals for an ethics commission in those heady days at the end of November and early December 1994. I think the proposals were endorsed – certainly the Labour Party was very pleased to accept them as they were in line with the party's thinking. The proposals were also in line with Fianna Fáil thinking.
None of us have the right to claim a monopoly on moral standing in any of these issues. To the extent that Members in my party have let the House down, they have also let the tradition of the party down. The party was born out of austere honesty – that is what attracted me most to Fianna Fáil. Unlike many people, I was not born into a political party, but rather chose to join a political party because of the contribution it had made and because of my personal admiration for those who founded it. This is not to say I had less than admiration for the founders of other parties, but I found an intellectual resonance in what the founders of Fianna Fáil sought to do.
I believe the party has been let down and politics is let down by the manner in which we are now behaving. It would be a better service to people, the nation, politics and democracy if we invested our combined energies in shaping the future rather than trying to put a political spin on the past. The legislation for an ethics commission is, I understand, making progress and I wish it speed. We can expect to see it within months – I hope we see it within weeks. Is it too much to expect energies to be focused on producing good legislation which can become a model, as has our Freedom of Information Act, rather than on the endless, spurious and ultimately pointless motions which are tabled in the House which ultimately get us nowhere?
At the end of the day all Members are human beings and are no better or worse for that. They are fallible and, sadly, Deputy Foley has not met the standards we require on this side of the House. He is now going to pay for that, which is  not an easy thing. Rather than endless recrimination we would serve the nation better if we made progress in the manner I have identified.
Mrs. Owen: It is clear from the speeches from the Government benches that Members opposite did not read the terms of the motion and did everything in their power to avoid answering any of the questions put by the House last night. This debate is about the Taoiseach's and the Tánaiste's state of knowledge regarding Deputy Foley and his questioning by the Moriarty tribunal. The House is entitled to answers and it is an insult for the Taoiseach to come before the House and refuse to give answers. Tonight he continued to fudge the issue. As Deputy John Bruton said, he loves leaving smudges. When I was Minister for Justice I launched AFIS, the automated fingerprint investigation system, a magical new system. It would be needed here to find the Taoiseach's fingerprints on anything to do with his party.
Once again the assassins have struck and a Fianna Fáil member has left the parliamentary party. The Taoiseach appears shocked and surprised, as if saying it has nothing to do with him and asking how it happened. He got an “inkling” in early December – gossip from the Attorney General which presumably was gossip from the Tánaiste who was told by Gerard Ryan. We were not told how Mr. Ryan came by this information and are left with no answers to the questions Deputy Bruton raised last night.
The Taoiseach implied he met Deputy Foley after the launch of the Public Accounts Committee report. Surely, the Taoiseach must have known, when he saw Members of the Committee of Public Accounts walking across the plinth carrying copies of the report, including their great Chairman, Jim Mitchell, all taking the praise of the land, that Deputy Foley's participation in that launch was a hypocritical farce of huge proportions. Yet on 16 December, the day after he met Deputy Foley, the Taoiseach congratulated the sub-committee of the Committee of Public Accounts for its DIRT report in this House. He praised the members' dedication. Yet at the same time he knew that the vice chairman of the committee, who paraded across the plinth beaming with the other Members, was fatally flawed. However, the Taoiseach did nothing.
The Taoiseach's statement confirms that he never asked Deputy Foley a single question that might have given him information. If he had information he would have had to do something about it – a position it seems into which the Taoiseach could not be put. He never asked Deputy Foley if he had an Ansbacher account, but rather asked “What is this all about?” He never asked him if the account he had with Des Traynor was held offshore or what his tax liability might be. Yet the Taoiseach was able to tell the House that Deputy Foley told him he was getting his affairs in order. The Taoiseach did not ask the  questions because, in typical style, he did not want to know the answers so that he could go around saying “I know nothing, I never heard it, nobody told me”. He is the Taoiseach and how could he be expected to be distracted from opening barber shops in his constituency, a coffee shop in Limerick or a pig sty somewhere else. The Taoiseach seemed to be saying that his charisma was built on such things and that he could not be asked to puncture it by daring to ask a Deputy to say what was going on and how serious matters were.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Deputy should not forget the Portakabin for the under 13s.
Mrs. Owen: It is mind boggling what the Taoiseach expects us to believe. I am sure Deputy Foley was not a constant visitor to the Taoiseach's office. I never saw him going over there. He was a backbencher, although a senior one being vice chairman of the most senior committee in the House. He did not go on many walks to the Taoiseach's office. However, on 15 December he was invited to the Taoiseach's chamber, probably his first time in that hallowed office.
The Taoiseach did not ask him whether he had an account, owed tax, broke the exchange control laws or what discussions he had with the tribunal. I can understand somebody saying that the tribunal must make the final decision on this, but that the Taoiseach is the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party. A member of his party sat on the Committee of Public Accounts Sub-committee on Certain Revenue Matters and he knew that its report would be published the following day. He also expected that in the weeks following the publication of this report much praise would be heaped on the sub-committee for its excellent work, yet he sat idly by and did nothing.
The Taoiseach told the House that Deputy Foley was thinking about resigning from the Committee of Public Accounts. Leadership required the Taoiseach to ask him to resign from that committee immediately and if it transpired that what was alleged did not occur his membership of that committee could have been considered again.
It was the Taoiseach's prerogative to appoint Deputy Foley to the committee and it was also his prerogative to ask him to resign. Earlier we were informed that Deputy Foley tendered his resignation from membership of that committee. It appears that every time the Taoiseach did not want to know what was happening he sent three or four intermediaries, including the Government Chief Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Séamus Brennan – the great nanny of our time – to do his business. He did not ask Deputy Foley what was happening at the tribunal, whether he would leave the parliamentary party or resign from membership of the committee, but instead asked some backbenchers who were friendly with the Deputy to ask him what he intended doing. These people were asked to tell  Deputy Foley that he was not wanted in the parliamentary party and it would better for him if he left. The picture painted is mind boggling.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Government Chief Whip will mind Deputy Foley now.
Mrs. Owen: Deputy Foley has joined the most elite crèche in Ireland and will be minded by the indispensable nanny and baby sitter, the Minister of State, Deputy Séamus Brennan. Deputy Healy-Rae from south Kerry will have all his requests granted and when Deputy Foley puts forward proposals for north Kerry there will have to be action to keep him on side.
Mr. Rabbitte: The kingdom is united again.
Mrs. Owen: The Government will be compromised by having to depend on the support of a man whose reputation is seriously flawed and who has serious questions to answer about tax evasion and the breaking of exchange control regulations. The Government will depend on his vote to continue in office. We are entitled to know what promises have been made to Deputy Foley in return for his undivided support for the Government. The Government will fall if the Deputy is absent for a vote, and that is a clear indication that a deal has been struck with him to ensure his support.
The Taoiseach told the House that when he met Deputy Foley, who was probably completely overawed in his hallowed chamber, he reminded him that it was Fianna Fáil policy to co-operate with tribunals. Is the Taoiseach not aware that under our laws people must co-operate with tribunals and that it is not a badge of honour exclusive to the Fianna Fáil Party? Deputy Foley is obliged by law to co-operate with tribunals and it should not be a matter for the Taoiseach to tell him that he is obliged to do so.
The bizarre account by the Taoiseach of his meeting with Deputy Foley does not answer several of the questions raised in the motion, which was not as broad as the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science or the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who had his £600,000 PR look about him, sought to imply. It is a specific, targeted motion which seeks to obtain information because the House has been denied it. We are aware of where the denial of information has led us on previous occasions. Bad replies were given to parliamentary questions and as a result the beef tribunal, which cost approximately £30 million, ensued.
The Taoiseach, one of the longest serving Members, should know better than anybody how to answer questions and provide information. He has hidden behind the rulings of the Ceann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the tribunal and the Attorney General with no thought of his own or sense of responsibility. He did not say, as he should have, that he was the Taoiseach, the leader of the country, and that he would be  not be made to look small by shoving around at the edges and leaving smudges.
Did anybody else attend the meeting between the Taoiseach and Deputy Foley? Did the Taoiseach communicate the details of that meeting to anybody? Did he keep a note of what transpired for his memoirs? The Taoiseach is aware of how serious it is not to keep a note of what takes place at such meetings. He told the House that he discussed the fact that Deputy Foley was “facing difficulties” with the Tánaiste. An example of a person “facing difficulties” is a nasty county councillor trying to take the Deputy's seat in his constituency. Deputy Foley faced questioning by the tribunal and had already been questioned by its lawyers in a private session. He knew at that stage the range of questions he was likely to be asked at a public hearing. He may not have had all his answers ready but he certainly told the Taoiseach that he had already attended a private session with the tribunal's lawyers. There is no doubt that he knew of the seriousness of issues he would be questioned on, yet all the Taoiseach told the Tánaiste was that one of his members was “facing difficulties” and that they did not have a detailed discussion with that person. He also told her not to worry about it.
The Taoiseach then said that he respected the Tánaiste's statutory obligations. Did she have the Ansbacher list? Did the Attorney General have the second list? Who gave the list to the Tánaiste if Padraig Collery gave it to the tribunal? Does she or the Attorney General have a special link with the tribunal whereby information is fed to them and she decides which bits to tell the Taoiseach? The Taoiseach was listed in the Companies (Amendment) (No 2) Act, 1999, as one of a group who would receive the Gerard Ryan report. Even if the Tánaiste was providing the Taoiseach with information about the tribunal or the investigation into the Ansbacher accounts, he still had a statutory function. It is hard to believe that they did not ask each other what else they knew about this matter because the Taoiseach was entitled to that information. The Tánaiste included a provision in the Companies (Amendment) (No 2) Act, 1999, under which the Taoiseach would receive a copy of Mr. Ryan's report in July 1999. Why was she suddenly coy about providing the rest of the information she had in her possession? Is this the list that is being touted by journalists? One television station has stated that it has another list in its possession.
The Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis is approaching. The party will take out the file entitled “Ethics” and dust it down. Party members will scratch their corporate heads and wonder what they will do about it next year. The ethics commission is a mirage and neither sight nor light of it has been seen. It was promised throughout 1999 and we think that it will be ready later this year. Deputy Foley has resigned from the Fianna Fáil Party. What has the nanny of all nannies been told about his role in minding the Deputy? We will table parliamentary questions to ascertain  whether the Independents' room has been made bigger to accommodate Deputy Foley when they meet the Government Chief Whip every Tuesday. What will Deputies Healy-Rae and Fox think about the newest member of their special club?
Mr. Rabbitte: If Deputy Foley is not promoted after this, he never will be.
Mrs. Owen: It was interesting to note those who contributed to the debate. The Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, in 1997 at a time when she did not have a hope in hell of becoming a Minister of State, quoted the following conclusion by Mr. Justice McCracken:
It is quite unacceptable that a member of Dáil Éireann, and, in particular a Cabinet Minister and Taoiseach, should be supported in his  personal lifestyle by gifts made to him personally.
She further stated:
Our conduct as Members of the House and in matters which relate to our membership must always be open to public scrutiny. Of necessity, that means as public representatives our affairs must be open to a greater public interest .
The Taoiseach flattered us with a quote from Seamus Heaney's Beowulf; he is terribly intelligent, our Taoiseach. Let me remind the Taoiseach of the end of another great piece of literature, The Great Gatsby, which is also appropriate to him and his party. It states: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Coveney, Simon. Crawford, Seymour.
| McGrath, Paul.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Question, “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to”, put and declared carried.
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