Wednesday, 24 May 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“notes the nomination of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty by the Minister for Finance for appointment by the Board of Governors to a post of Vice President of the European Investment Bank.”.
–(Minister for Finance).
Mr. McDowell: I was a member of the committee set up by the House in 1994 to consider the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the then Fianna Fáil/Labour Government. As Members will recall, the appointment of Mr. Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court was central to the final act in that particular saga. One particular round of questioning stuck in my mind then and it has remained with me since. It transpired during the committee session that a Fianna Fáil member of the then Cabinet, who is still a member of Cabinet and was in the Chamber a short while ago, was dispatched to Mr. Whelehan's house in the early hours of the morning to seek his resignation as President of the High Court. I asked that Fianna Fáil Minister why he made the trip and put that particular request. He looked at me as if I had two heads and said simply and pretty plaintively, “because the Taoiseach  asked me to”. The simple response tells us a great deal of what we need to know about Fianna Fáil and the way it treats the institutions of the State. There was no issue of the separation of powers or of whether the President of the High Court had done anything wrong which might merit a request for his resignation. It was purely and simply a matter of political expediency, of what suited Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil giveth and Fianna Fáil taketh away.
In many ways this latest controversy brings us back into the same territory. The Fianna Fáil Party has looked after someone who they clearly sees as one of their own. This is elitism Irish-style. It is an elitism not based purely on money or the privilege which comes with birth but on the elitism and privilege which comes from being one of the boys, one of the circle of people who believe they have the right to rule and frankly believe in little else.
Yesterday evening the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, spoke about the need to give Mr. O'Flaherty a second chance. Today the Tánaiste repeated this argument on the radio. The argument is specious and I will come back to it later if I have time, but the fact that it was advanced suggests a complete failure to understand or appreciate what the Sheedy case was all about. The Sheedy case was about far more than Mr. Philip Sheedy or the late Mrs. Anne Ryan; it was about the integrity of the criminal justice system itself. The Sheedy case said to people that there was one law for those who had access and influence and another for everybody else.
Some Members may take it for granted that representations are made on behalf of people who are charged in the courts, but the general public was astonished to hear the Taoiseach had made representations on behalf of a person he had never met who was involved in a drink driving case. People were horrified to learn that a person could be released from prison as a result of an apparent chance meeting between a Supreme Court judge and another person somewhere on the south-side of Dublin.
We should ask ourselves how did we get into a position last year when these resignations were required by Government. We got there because the Government made it clear in no uncertain terms that it would move to impeach the two judges concerned if they did not fall on their swords. We got there because the Chief Justice condemned the actions of the judges in a manner and using words which made continuation in office impossible.
Last year we were told by the Government that the resignation of Mr. Justice O'Flaherty was required in order to restore confidence in the administration of justice. He was not fired just because he personally had acted in a fashion which was unwise; he was fired effectively because he had damaged faith in the administration of the justice system and it is in that context that his appointment to the European Investment Bank must be judged. If the forced  resignation of the then judge was intended to restore public confidence in the administration of justice, what signal is sent by his appointment to the EIB? Surely the appointment of Mr. O'Flaherty can only serve to feed public cynicism about justice and politics, and about the way they interact here.
The Taoiseach in the House last week spoke about the need to restore public confidence in public life, but he did this, as we now know, in the clear knowledge that he had just collaborated in a decision which would have precisely the opposite effect. Clearly, the concern of the Taoiseach for the integrity of the justice system is secondary to his concern to look after one of the lads.
The actions of the Taoiseach and, indeed, the Minister for Finance are entirely consistent with the Fianna Fáil value system, but the actions of the Tánaiste are beyond belief. I have a great deal of respect for the Tánaiste, a person who takes her politics seriously. I disagree with her on a range of issues but I have always found her ready to engage in a way which often other members of the Government are not. She is a person of integrity who cares about the integrity of our democracy.
The more kind-hearted amongst us would have readily believed that the Tánaiste and, indeed, her party members had taken their collective eye off the ball or been outmanoeuvred, but today the Tánaiste gave the lie to this explanation in her performance on radio. She acknowledged that she had underestimated the strength of public reaction but then went on to say that she would have taken the decision anyway even if she had known what the public reaction would be. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and Deputy O'Malley professed that the decision was a mistake but the Tánaiste asserted that she would repeat the mistake if she had the chance to do so. By refusing to plea to the lesser crime of incompetence or making a mistake the Tánaiste has made herself complicit in a move by Fianna Fáil to give the two fingers to public opinion and, in particular, to those who were concerned about the implications of the Sheedy case. The Tánaiste might have been granted a fool's pardon but she has chosen to defend the indefensible and she and her party will be the big losers.
Last week's decision came about because Fianna Fáil was determined to look after Mr. O'Flaherty and because Fianna Fáil could not care less about what anybody else might think. It happened because the Taoiseach wanted it to happen and the Tánaiste did not have the will or the nerve to stop it.
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I wish to share my time with the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and Deputy O'Kennedy.
This motion has little to do with public probity. It is not prompted by any genuine zeal for the public good. It is promoted by raw political  opportunism and fuelled by the desperation of Opposition parties who are unable to come up with any credible alternative policies on the issues that really affect the progress of this country and the lives and conditions of our people.
Deputy Quinn said last night that he had witnessed many strokes in his time as a politician but this appointment was the worst. The stroke by the Fine Gael Party of tabling this motion is one of the worst I have witnessed involving the mixture of a tragic accident at a Dublin roundabout and political opportunism in exploiting the events that ensued.
Mr. Howlin: That is a disgraceful thing to say.
Dr. McDaid: The lives of many people have been irreversibly changed forever since that day, none more so than those of the Ryan family who have been the real losers in this tragic saga. Once again, our sympathy is extended to them and we apologise to them once more for dragging this up all over again.
Mr. Allen: This is terrible hypocrisy. This is outrageous stuff.
Dr. McDaid: But it appears that people and families must never get in the way of an Opposition's political machine in its quest to get back into power at any cost. The Dáil Chamber is the forum where political policies which impact on the lives of our people are discussed – that is what is supposed to be discussed here – but when one does not have any policies, this Chamber is reduced to a form of theatre, as we saw last night and will probably see tonight, in order to feed the frenzy of the Opposition.
Yesterday's headlines in The Irish Times and the Irish Independent read—
Mr. Quinn: The public is indifferent.
Dr. McDaid: —“Growth four times EU average” and “Tiger compounds the critics with record 11% growth”,—
Mr. Howlin: And they can do what they like.
Dr. McDaid: —but the Opposition does not want to focus on an outstanding performance. When one cannot attack a Government on its policies, one must resort to attacking them personally and no one, no family or nobody's tragedies must get in the way. If I might paraphrase a much quoted American political aphorism, our opponents sense that when it comes to the crunch at the general election in two years' time people will say, “it's the economy and we are not stupid”. The Opposition hope is that people have very short memories and are trying to forget that 12 short years ago this country, under the Rainbow stewardship, was at the point of bankruptcy.
Mr. Allen: Today's six o'clock news tells us why.
Dr. McDaid: One could characterise the state of the nation in those years by prefixing a litany of negatives with the word “massive”– massive taxation, massive unemployment, massive emigration, massive inflation, and massive national debt.
Mr. Allen: And massive fraud.
Dr. McDaid: To anyone over 25 years of age these are not the woes of a distant past and so, confronted with the realities of our unprecedented economic success, the Opposition has in recent times tried to turn Dáil Éireann into a star chamber. Last night and tonight were typical. Some of what was said in here last night by Deputies Jim Higgins and Boylan could never be repeated outside the House. This chamber has now been reduced to a forum where character and good name are secondary to the Opposition's political machine.
What we are witnessing here is the promulgation of a new puritanism. Like the puritanism of old it carries a nauseating stench of hypocrisy. The paragons of virtue and political correctness are ransacking every corner seeking out sin and brandishing threats of righteous fire and brimstone and political damnation. For a more suitable analogy one could go further back to the days of the holy inquisition. The new inquisition in the Fine Gael and Labour parties, like Torquemada, has no scruple about putting the families of perceived sinners on the wrack. Like Savonarola, how long will it be before they will start summoning children to testify against their parents? Have we now reached the stage, where because of one perceived error of judgment, a humane and learned man, who served the State and the legal system with distinction over many years must be thrown on the scrap heap. Any sensible assessment would surely conclude that it is foolish to deny the State and the European Union the talents and abilities of such a man.
No reasonable comparison or association can be made between the controversy regarding Hugh O'Flaherty and what is emerging at the tribunals. It is not Hugh O'Flaherty's fault that the tribunals are ongoing at this time and doing a worthwhile job to the body politic. I hope that on their conclusion the majority of politicians will be restored to their rightful place as decent honourable women and men and politics restored as a decent place to practise. Yes, Governments have to make difficult decisions. What type of Government would we be if we were always to avoid making the decisions that we knew would cause such hassle? Difficult decisions will always have to be made. This is a right decision. He is the right man for the job. There were no negotiations with Hugh O'Flaherty in the period leading up to or after his resignation, neither in writing, on the phone, off the phone or in any other way.
As regards matters now being investigated by the various tribunals, I repeat what the Taoiseach has said. Fianna Fáil will deal forcefully with any  person whose activities have besmirched the honour and integrity of our party. It must be done thoroughly and honestly but also justly and fairly. We have seen in the Fine Gael party, what can happen when, in a hysterical and hypocritical frenzy to appear purer than pure, decent and honourable people are made scapegoats. Tell me to mind my own business if you must, but like many Members, I am a reasonable judge of character and Liam Cosgrave is not a dishonest man. Medicine, it is said, is the only profession which, through its ongoing research and technology, continuously strives to bring about its own demise. I do not believe that anymore. Politics and some politicians, through the reckless accusations they are making, are striving to bring about their own demise.
I am tired, and I believe this country is getting tired, of these paragons of virtue, ever ready to point the accusing finger, using the Dáil Chamber, to destroy the characters of an honourable and decent man and his family in an exercise of savage political opportunism – in this instance just to get at Flanna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.
It may be time to take a long hard look at ourselves in our own interest. However, that is politics.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): It is important the Government acknowledges that the appointment of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank has caused considerable public concern and an enormous amount of political controversy. Therefore, I take the opportunity presented by this debate to explain the circumstances which surrounded the nomination of Mr. O'Flaherty and my own role as Tánaiste in that matter.
A number of weeks ago the Minister for Finance informed me that it was his wish to appoint Hugh O'Flaherty to the vacant position that would arise shortly in the European Investment Bank and he sought my support. After consulting with two of my senior colleagues we decided not to oppose the nomination of Mr. O'Flaherty. We had two options, to agree to the nomination or to seek to block it. On balance and in the circumstances, we chose not to block the nomination.
I have always acknowledged that Mr. O'Flaherty behaved inappropriately in the Sheedy affair. He paid a high price for his inappropriate intervention and he brought to a premature and sudden end what had been a very distinguished legal career. The question arises as to why I did not raise objections to his appointment. First, he paid a high price. Second, there was the human factor. Everyone deserves a second chance. People on all sides of this House have made mistakes but have been given an opportunity, in different circumstances, to have a second chance. The Minister for Finance was seeking to give Mr. O'Flaherty such an opportunity.
 The fact that I did not object has caused considerable disquiet. I accept and understand that. Much of that disquiet arises from the fact that the Ryan family suffered such a huge loss. I understand the sentiment that derives from the very genuine feelings for the Ryan family which are shared on all sides of the House and I would never wish to cause offence or hurt to that family. I know everyone in this House shares the feelings expressed by the father of the late Mrs. Ryan today.
The role of the Progressive Democrats in Government is to seek to act honourably, reasonably and responsibly. The role of any party in Government is not to block every proposal put forward by its coalition partners. It is ironic that in the past the Progressive Democrats have been frequently criticised, in this House and outside, for not supporting the advancement of some in public life. On this occasion we are being criticised for not objecting to the nomination of Mr. O'Flaherty.
I will not take lectures from anyone in this House on the role the Progressive Democrats have played in Irish politics in the past 15 years, and particularly on the high standards we have sought to maintain in public office and outside it. No party has done more to put in place the tribunals and inquiries that are now bringing to public attention wrongdoings which occurred in the past. No Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has initiated as many inquiries as I have or stood up to as many powerful and influential people. It is rather opportunistic of people in the Opposition and elsewhere to equate the inappropriate action of Mr. O'Flaherty on the one hand with the corruption, bribery and scandal that is now dominating the news and emerging from both the Flood and the Moriarty tribunals. If reasonable and fair-minded people cannot differentiate between the two, is it any wonder that this nomination has caused such public disquiet?
As the Chief Justice said in his report on Mr. O'Flaherty's, Judge Kelly's and the Circuit Court Clerk's roles in the Sheedy affair, Mr. O'Flaherty was motivated by a humanitarian concern and, although his actions were inappropriate and wrong, they certainly were not for personal gain. He paid a high price. Many in this House have often spoken privately over the past year of the pain and hurt he suffered about which there is no doubt. If this nomination were in some sense compensating Mr. O'Flaherty for what happened, I would have no part in it. If this nomination was a deal that was done on another occasion, I would not facilitate it or participate in it.
Mr. McCormack: What is it?
Ms Harney: I am quite certain that is not the case. The Minister for Finance wanted to make  this nomination. He outlined to the House last night why he wished to do so.
Mr. McCormack: He explained nothing.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Tánaiste without interruption.
Ms Harney: Any fair-minded person would say Mr. O'Flaherty's qualification for the job are not in question.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: That is not the issue.
Ms Harney: What is in doubt is whether the mistake he made a year ago – the inappropriate behaviour – should have prevented him from having a second chance.
Many scandals have arisen in recent years. I remember in Opposition the number of times we had to come into this House to seek to force the then Minister for Health to establish a tribunal of inquiry into the hepatitis C issue. We now see from the current tribunal in relation to haemophiliacs the desperate, insensitive and inhumane way this State treated its citizens. That is a real scandal.
Mr. Noonan: It took the Tánaiste's Government three years to set it up.
Ms Harney: It was only after the death of an unfortunate woman, Brigid McCole, that we got action from that Government. I will not take lectures from those who stood over – in the case of Deputy Quinn, until very recently – the tax amnesty introduced several years ago. That tax amnesty not only let many influential people away with paying nothing, it exonerated them.
Mr. Howlin: It was introduced by the current Taoiseach.
Ms Harney: The Deputy's leader defended it until very recently.
I do not believe any fair-minded person could equate this nomination with some of those matters given the pain and price that was paid and this possibility of giving somebody another chance.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Why does the Tánaiste not vote against it?
Ms Harney: I do not think it is a laughing matter, Deputy Quinn. For him it may be funny but others take these matter seriously. For our part, the Progressive Democrats—
Mr. Stagg: Not seriously enough.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Stagg, I ask you to allow the Tánaiste to—
Ms Harney: I will certainly not take lectures from Deputy Stagg. For our part, we decided on  this occasion that it would not be appropriate for us to block this nomination. We came to that decision in an honourable and fair fashion. We were not motivated by anything except what we believed was right in those circumstances. I regret very much the controversy that has arisen, the pain and hurt that has been caused, the public disquiet and, indeed, the disquiet in my party. I understand all of this disquiet, in particular, because of the circumstances surrounding the Sheedy case and the hurt that was caused to the late Ann Ryan's family.
Mr. O'Kennedy: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, how much time do I have?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has 13 minutes.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I do not have to declare an interest but, I should declare in this House that I have a special and long-term friendship and professional relationship with Hugh O'Flaherty. I have known him since I was called to the Bar in 1961. We have been friends both in practice and socially since that time. I was a member of the Government in 1990—
Mr. Stagg: On a point of order—
Mr. O'Kennedy: What order is this from this mouthpiece?
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: That is a disgrace.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: On a point of order.
Mr. Stagg: The present speaking slot started at 7.08 p.m. and a half an hour is allowed to the Government side. There is not 13 minutes left in the speaking slot.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Another minute is due as a result of the Deputy's intrusion. I will be guided and directed by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are 13 minutes left. The Deputy has until 7.38 p.m.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
As I indicated, I have known Hugh O'Flaherty since 1961 as a colleague at the Bar. We have been friends since then. I was also, as it happens, a member of the Government which appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1990. In the view of that Government and of those who offered their views from an enlightened position to that Government, he was eminently, almost uniquely, qualified both in terms of the range of his experience, standard, integrity and his commitment to serving this nation in whatever fashion would be appropriate. I was privileged to be associated with that collective decision.
 I was president of the Board of Governors of the European Investment Bank for a period in 1979 and I am quite conscious as is every member of that board of governors – the Minister for Finance even referred to this last night – that it is essential to have an appropriate balance and representation within the management committee of the European Investment Bank. Members opposite will have to recognise – I am sure they do – that there is a particular recognition that lawyers have an appropriate and significant role to play at that level, although I do not say that as a lawyer.
Lest they have some doubts, I remind them that both domestically and internationally the precedent is there for lawyers to play a significant role in the management or regulation of banks. I mention the name of a very prominent governor of the Bank of Ireland who I knew at the Bar, Governor Bill Finlay. Being a senior counsel was his only qualification when he was appointed to that role. He came from a long and distinguished tradition within the Fine Gael party. No one raised a question about his qualifications then; we certainly did not.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): He did not damage the administration of justice.
Mr. O'Kennedy: The chairman of Allied Irish Bank was a former Attorney General from the other side of the House. His qualification at that point was significantly that he was a very experienced and learned lawyer. I am talking about Peter Sutherland, who has demonstrated that.
Deputy Noonan asked what particular qualification did Hugh O'Flaherty have for the bank. Those opposite will be aware that a former Attorney General, Dermot Gleeson, for whom I have high respect, of whom I have a personal knowledge and with whom I am acquainted, has recently been appointed to the board of AIB.
Leaving that aside, every bank in Europe and in the United States, of any standing, influence and repute, has prominent lawyers on their boards or management committees. Despite that, every Member of the parties opposite has had to ask what particular qualification Hugh O'Flaherty has as a banker. I would have thought it was a question of res ipsa loquitur– if one only looked at the reality, one would see why without having to ask that question.
Even on the board of the Central Bank – I am not making a case for my fellow lawyers – there are two prominent senior counsels. That is not the first time this has happened.
Mr. Allen: It sounds as if the Deputy is throwing his hat in the ring.
Mr. O'Kennedy: It is not surprising that there have been positive indications from within the European Investment Bank that it welcomes the  appointment of someone of this status and experience.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Not true.
Mr. O'Kennedy: With Hugh O'Flaherty's range of legal knowledge across all aspects of the law, both in practice and as a judge, why would it not welcome such a range of legal knowledge that would add to the balance within the management committee of the bank? That is of vital importance not only to the contribution which Hugh O'Flaherty can and will make to this bank but to the standing of the of the bank and how he would be perceived.
I am not saying it was deliberate – I hope was is not – but some of the things said here, most notably last night, are calculated simply to undermine the character, credibility and status of the man who will go out there. I would hope it is not. Some of the comments made in the House, most notably last night, are calculated to undermine the character, credibility and status of a man who is going to serve at the European Investment Bank. What service is it doing to the bank, to this nation and to the professional capacity of people who serve at that level? I will not repeat the ill-informed, vulgar street abuse and name calling, of a kind children would not engage in, that we heard last night in this Parliament.
I have reservations from time to time about the self-appointed gurus and the multiplying number of commentators in the Sunday and daily papers who comment on us. If we measure up to their standards we are deemed adequate but if when they make their almighty judgments on us we do not do as they wish and require, we are deemed to be inadequate and are sometimes scorned. Somebody might look at the growth industry of political commentators who drop in here for a few minutes to cover the Order of Business and then write a column about it on Sunday. There was a time when we had informed comment. It involved diligent study by the likes of Michael McInerney, Arthur Noonan and Michael Mills.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): What about Deputy O'Dea?
Mr. O'Kennedy: They did not gossip. Not one of today's newspapers could bring itself to repeat the terms of the vulgar abuse issued here yesterday by the spokespersons from Fine Gael. They deliberately made way for Deputy Boylan and Deputy Ring to use the most vulgar, street calling abuse that children would not use. It did no service to themselves nor this Parliament. It did nothing to show any appreciation of the status of the job that Mr. O'Flaherty will be taking up. The man's name is Mr. O'Flaherty. A number of times last night I heard him referred to almost viciously from the other side of the House as Hugh O'Flaherty. It is a measure of the kind of commonplace, vulgar abuse we hear from the main Opposition party.
 The question was asked what hold does Hugh O'Flaherty have over the Government? I have probably spent more time in Hugh O'Flaherty's company over the past 12 months than I would have done at any other time for good reasons. I saw the impact the terrible trauma associated with the Ryan family and others was having on that man and his family. I tried to encourage him to come out because I knew the goodwill that was there for him. At no stage was there any suggestion – I think I would nearly have known – that Mr. O'Flaherty was trying to obtain a hold on the Government or that he was insisting on this, that or the other. From my knowledge and constant association with the man, the only reaction was embarrassment, hurt and, given his standing, perhaps a certain degree of understandable shame.
Hugh O'Flaherty's salary as a Supreme Court judge was way below what his contemporaries at the Bar are earning. What is now being proposed for him is also way below those earnings. The Opposition must know that.
Mr. McCormack: He got a good pension.
Mr. O'Kennedy: If the Opposition wants to give the impression that Mr. O'Flaherty's only interest in this promotion was to get a done deal for filthy lucre let them go ahead. It does not measure up either with the facts or the man. He could be earning much more had he stayed in practice, as some of his classmates and contemporaries are at this point. However, that may not appeal to some Members of the House.
I understand and sympathise with those who have concern that people at the Inner Bar especially would earn such large sums of money when those of us involved in public service do not. However, let us not allow the Opposition to put about the notion that the only thing Hugh O'Flaherty had on his mind was money. If that was the case he would never have accepted the position of a Supreme Court judge.
I take issue with the former Chief Justice's observations that Mr. O'Flaherty's interventions were inappropriate and unwise to the extent they could have damaged the administration of justice, even though he acknowledged it was done for humanitarian reasons. The same Chief Justice, in his valedictory words on his retirement – I was present in the court – uniquely made a specific point of recognising the unique contribution of Mr. O'Flaherty to the courts of this land, especially as a colleague in the Supreme Court. That was not mentioned in this House. Were the Members of the Opposition aware of it?
Mr. Allen: That was usual club talk.
Mr. O'Kennedy: It was a unique and fulsome tribute made in open court. The Opposition should not just paint one side of the picture. Deputy Noonan said this appointment has stoked the flames of rumour. Who is stoking and rumouring? I know where the stoking is coming  from. It may suit the media because they will always need something to whet the public appetite for more and more personal scandal, as if there is not enough of it already. Who is stoking the flames of rumour?
In an otherwise temperate contribution, Deputy Quinn said that every member of the public suspects that Friday's act was the final act of some kind of arrangement. I do not know how he is in a position to know what every member of the public suspects. There is no record of a request or arrangement, sought by the Opposition because there was no such request. This man of honour and integrity is not that kind of man. His pride alone would not allow him to do that. It must be recognised that he did not make any such request.
A report on the front page of The Irish Times today suggests that the appointment was the consequence of a lobby of barristers in the Law Library. I was in the Law Library today and spoke to every Fianna Fáil barrister I know. That is another piece of rumour mongering that does not hold up.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call Deputy Kenny who I understand is sharing his time with Deputies Clune, McCormack, Staunton, Connaughton, Belton, Sargent, Higgins and Ó Caoláin. The Deputy has 30 minutes.
Mr. Kenny: I listened carefully to the sterling defence of his personal friend by Deputy O'Kennedy. The appointment of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty as the vice-president of the European Investment Bank is a nauseating and sickening example of politics at its worst. The performance of the Government in proceeding with this appointment is mind boggling and reckless and does no credit to the members of the Fianna Fáil Party or the Progressive Democrats. It will prove to be the issue on which the Government is irreparably weakened. It will not be forgotten when the electorate next casts its judgment, which may be sooner rather than later.
This is not about Hugh O'Flaherty the man. It is about his appointment and the method of it. Fine man though he is and good company though he may be, the people have no explanation from him as to his involvement or otherwise in the Sheedy affair in which the death of Mrs. Anne Ryan was a central issue. Mr. O'Flaherty chose not to explain his position to the Oireachtas and through it to the people. His position was, therefore, bound to cause confusion.
The price of being a Supreme Court judge is to behave like one. In this instance Mr. O'Flaherty made an appalling error of judgment. His pension was raised to £40,000 by the Government, actuarially assessed as £700,000 for his lifetime and he now finds himself being offered a salary of £140,000 with all its attendant perks. Mr. O'Flaherty should have refused this offer. Unfortunately for him and his family, his remembered legacy to  the Irish people will not be of 40 years of judicial activity but rather having to remove himself from the Supreme Court in the face of a threat of impeachment by Government and being rewarded by Government later.
The Progressive Democrats admit, mea culpa, that they made a mistake, but want to carry on as people of integrity. Who do they fool? Balance the recognition of the truth of how wrong is this appointment against its continued presence in Government and one sees a nauseating and sickening performance. Its policy is to shout from the moral mountain, tell the people it is wrong but stay in there in case it never gets back. So much for integrity or a restoration of confidence in public democracy. This portrays a party living in never-never land, completely out of touch with reality and with the notable exceptions of Senator Keogh and Senator Martin Gibbons, a party with neither the courage or the conscience to face up to it.
The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have been less than honest in this matter. We have not heard the truth. We do not know who first proposed Mr. O'Flaherty, what assessment of his banking experience was carried out, who else was considered for this position, if anybody, and we do not know the truth behind any deals being done. We know that this appointment sends out all the wrong signals, that if one is in the circle irrespective of what one does or what misjudgment one makes, one will be better looked after as a result. It smacks of very low standards in very high places.
I suspect that this appointment is not based on merit but on a deal being done, an offer made and a result achieved while giving a two fingered political gesture to the people in the process. That Ms Larkin called to the O'Flaherty home, either as a friend which she is perfectly entitled to do, or as a message bearer from the establishment, has added to the perception of the whole matter being politically incestuous.
We may never know the truth of this, but like the Whelehan affair in the Reynolds Government, this will weaken this administration irreparably. It reminds me of the old saying of Cicero, Quid non mortalia pectora cogis, aures sacre fames–“What will you not compel the mortal heart to do, oh cursed lust for gold.” It is a bad day for politics and it brings with it the final and ultimate humiliation of the Progressive Democrats. However, the people will have their say in due course and this incident will not be forgotten when they make their judgment on this arrogant and appalling administration which has descended to a new low in political principle and a new measure of absence of moral courage and conscience.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: For the benefit of Members, there are nine Members sharing 30 minutes. There is no obligation on the Chair to draw attention to the fact that the time allocated to them by their own party is concluded but if the  Chair is to do that, Members will have to stay within the time allocated. Deputy Clune has four minutes.
Ms Clune: When I heard the announcement on radio last week that this Government had nominated Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty for the Vice Presidency of the European Investment Bank, I was shocked. I could not believe they would contemplate such a move after all the controversy that had surrounded his resignation last year. Many of those unanswered questions on which the Government has ducked and dived and does not want to answer have been resurrected in this debate. Politics and the perception of politicians are at an all-time low and we are all bearing the brunt of that despite the fact that only a small number of individuals choose to abuse the trust the people placed in them. That the Government chose to offer this appointment to Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty in the current climate demonstrates how out of touch it is with the real world.
I believed the revelations from the tribunals in a way were a welcome development, a cleansing exercise. We were facing up to the rumours that had been circulating for many years and the tribunals would restore confidence in our political system. Now, we are all under the microscope. For this Government to drop this bombshell is unfathomable. At one level, it smacks of political misjudgment but on another and more serious level, it indicates to the people that the Government does not care, it is not interested in regaining public confidence in politics and will do what it wants when it wants. This smacks of arrogance on the part of the Government.
We have heard much praise of Mr. O'Flaherty and his qualifications for the job as vice-president of the European Investment Bank. I have no doubt he is qualified and that there are many other people who are qualified for that position. Mr. O'Flaherty resigned last year as a disgraced judge. He was wrong in this actions. The Chief Justice, Mr. Liam Hamilton, describes his intervention as being inappropriate and unwise.
Dr. McDaid: God help Phil Hogan.
Ms Clune: What Mr. O'Flaherty did was wrong and what the Government has done this time is wrong. It is an inopportune appointment. It undermined all confidence in politics and in defence of the debate here, nobody is destroying Mr. O'Flaherty's character.
Dr. McDaid: What about last night. Did the Deputy read the transcript of last night's debate?
Ms Clune: People are questioning the Government's appointment of Mr. O'Flaherty and how the Government at this time could have approved such an appointment. Did they not anticipate the public outrage?
Mr. McCormack: All of the Fianna Fáil Deputies in this debate have expressed concern,  with crocodile tears, about Mr. O'Flaherty but where was this concern last April when the mood in the Government and Fianna Fáil was that if Mr. O'Flaherty did not jump, he would be pushed? In yesterday's press, the media spin was that the appointment was Deputy McCreevy's job and he should be the scapegoat. It is interesting to note that in the Minister's speech on this matter yesterday evening, he attempted to defend himself from that spin by saying: “I would like to assure the House that before making the nomination I had, in the normal way, consulted extensively with my colleagues in Government.” That is the Minister stating that he will not take the rap for a Government decision.
Where does the Taoiseach stand on this matter? Speaking in the Dáil on 5 May last year, the Taoiseach took great credit for the fact that it was a Fianna Fáil Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, who obliged Mr. O'Flaherty to resign. Now the man Deputy Ahern was willing to impeach from the Supreme Court has superb qualifications for a job with a salary of £147,000 a year in the European Investment Bank. Who does he think he is fooling? This production is a three act farce. Act one involved Mr. O'Flaherty's irregular involvement in the Sheedy affair. Act two involved the Government forcing his resignation. Friday's appointment to the European investment Bank is act three of the farce.
In his irrelevant contribution, Deputy McCreevy and other Government speakers in this debate have failed to explain the reason for this crazy appointment. The street-wise Taoiseach could hardly have believed he would get away with this. My theory is that he was angling for a general election. His plan was to use this appointment to cause a general election. His expectation was that the Progressive Democrats might refuse to back the appointment which would cause an election for which he would then blame the Progressive Democrats. It is obvious the Taoiseach is trying to create an opportunity for an election before further revelations from the tribunals expose more corruption and involvement of members of his own party and people close to himself. If the Tánaiste deserves any credit in this matter, it is that she saw the trap being set for her by the Taoiseach and faced with the dilemma of being blamed for causing an election, she took the morally cowardly step, in her own words, of not objecting to Mr. O'Flaherty's appointment.
The Tánaiste has admitted this evening that she only had two choices, to accept or veto this appointment. The Progressive Democrats decided to hang in because of their fear of an election. The Taoiseach, in his attempted conflict, has left the Tánaiste politically exposed and must have again seriously damaged the trust between the Government partners. If the Progressive Democrats had refused to support this crazy appointment last Friday, we would now be in a general election and the Taoiseach was hoping that the sensation of a general election would  cloud the issue. I advise the Tanáiste to watch the Taoiseach between now and October. He is desperately trying to grab an excuse for an election, and claim it is not his fault. The Tánaiste should heed the words of his mentor, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who at the conclusion of the negotiations on the formation of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government on Friday, 18 October 1991 pointed to him and said, “He is the best. He is the most skilful, the most cunning and the most devious.” She cannot say that she was not warned nine years ago.
The members of the Progressive Democrats have admitted that they got it wrong. Everybody in the country knows they got it wrong. They should therefore support the Fine Gael motion.
Mr. Stanton: I wonder what we are doing here as Deputies. An appointment such as this should have been discussed in the House before a decision was made. At the very least, it should been discussed at Cabinet but it was not. It was not even discussed at an Oireachtas committee. We have the vision of the Minister for Finance dodging between Ministers getting the nod and wink of approval. Nothing was done in the open; it was all done behind the scenes and presented as a done deal, which the Tánaiste says cannot be reversed. This is a load of rubbish. A job such as this should not be in the gift of an individual Minister. It should be discussed openly beforehand. The person nominated for the position should not have any unanswered questions hanging over him or her.
We are told that Mr. O'Flaherty is extremely able, eminent and learned but he should have known better when he made the decision, which has been termed a mistake, to involve himself in the Sheedy case. Because he is so learned he knew at the time that by involving himself he was doing wrong. He still has questions to answer and until these are answered he should neither be nominated for nor, in all honour, accept this position. He carries a stain on his reputation that he has failed to clear and which he will carry to Europe where he will represent Ireland. He has a flawed pedigree which he has refused Deputies the chance to investigate and himself the chance to clear. He made a decision. He knew what he was doing and was caught. He would not have been caught except that the unfortunate Mr. Sheedy was seen walking down the street. He is now to be rewarded not alone with a very generous pension but with a job which carries a salary of up to £3,000 per week plus expenses, costs, perks and God only knows what else.
I call on all Deputies of conscience, especially the Progressive Democrats, to show that the House does not approve of this appointment at this time. In a speech in Cobh over the weekend the Attorney General said the Progressive Democrats was the only party whose Deputies do not lose the Whip when voting on a matter of con science or judgment. This is the time to stand up for what is right. This appointment is wrong while questions remain unanswered. If Mr. O'Flaherty can answer these questions and clear his name let the appointment proceed. Last year the Government threatened to impeach this former judge. It did not take that decision lightly. Was the Government wrong then?
Dr. McDaid: The word “impeach” was not used or written.
Mr. Noonan: It just referred to the Article in the Constitution.
Mr. Howlin: Tautology.
Mr. Connaughton: The Government has cheek. What it has done is outrageous. When Hugh O'Flaherty was appointed to the European Investment Bank the only words that the majority of the people could think of were, “Sheer brass neck arrogance.” This has been the hallmark of Fianna Fáil going back to the 1960s and the mohair suits. I was around at the time and witnessed what it could do when it received an overall majority. The Lord help this country if it ever receives another, because it is inbred in Fianna Fáil to clean the place out.
Dr. McDaid: I am amazed that we have been in government for 55 of the last 80 years. The party opposite must be doing something wrong.
Mr. Connaughton: The Minister may not like it but that is the way it is. It came out today that Mr. Haughey plundered £8.5 million from the people. The record extends to Burke, Flynn and Deputy Ellis – hardly a litany of saints. The core principal involved—
Mr. Byrne: Did the Deputy forget a few?
Mr. Connaughton: Does the Minister remember the famous records taken by MacSharry and Martin O'Donoghue? Does he remember the night that the then Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, was locked out, the night the Goodman report was published? Can one imagine the friendliness and friendship in a coalition Government? That is what happened when Fianna Fáil was dealing with the Labour Party, fine honest people who did not stay too long with it. It is with a different brigade now.
Mr. Byrne: The Deputy spoke about contamination a few years ago.
Mr. Connaughton: It is with a different shower now. So far as the Progressive Democrats is concerned it is damned if it does and it is damned if it does not. The Taoiseach and the Minister knows this.
Mr. Belton: They are first cousins.
Mr. Connaughton: The smile will quickly be on the other side of the face. The people abhor what is being done. They know in their hearts and souls that it amounts to arrogance. There were two whispers on the night Hugh O'Flaherty resigned, the first of which was that he had to stand aside. The other was, “We'll look after you as soon as we get the chance.”
Dr. McDaid: I wish to state categorically that at no time—
Mr. Connaughton: The Minister had no say in the matter.
Dr. McDaid: —were there whispers in the ear of Hugh O'Flaherty. No approaches were ever made by any Minister to him.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is not a point of order.
Mr. Connaughton: The Minister is out of order. The truth hurts.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should conclude.
Mr. Connaughton: The Minister cannot take it; he knows that what we are saying is correct.
Dr. McDaid: The Deputy should stop telling untruths.
Mr. Connaughton: Nine out of ten people believe that what I am saying is correct. The Minister knows this.
Dr. McDaid: That is not true.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy's three minutes are exhausted.
Mr. Connaughton: I am sorry that I did not have 23.
Mr. Belton: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. As my colleagues said, this appointment shocked the nation. It was shocked again today when it heard that a former Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil received £8.5 million over a period of 17 years. It is a while since I was in school but this works out at approximately £1,400 per day, not a bad sum.
The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance remind me of the Bermuda Triangle. Anybody who has ever got between them has disappeared. The Minister for Foreign Affairs disappeared. Two judges disappeared, one of whom has bounced back because he is an honourable man. He was also an honourable man when he disappeared. One Minister said that Fianna Fáil has been in power for 55 of the last 80 years, since the formation of the State. That is democracy at work but never before have so many people disappeared under one Government. One  day advisers were there, the next day they were gone. The question that is being asked the length and breadth of the country is, “When is the Government going to disappear?”
Mr. Byrne: In two and a half years.
Mr. Belton: That is what most people want. My advice to the Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fáil's first cousins – they are members of the one family—
Dr. McDaid: What happened to the Pogues?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister should allow the Deputy to proceed without interruption.
Mr. Belton: Democracy, please. The Minister often complained that he did not receive a fair deal. He should let me speak. My advice to the Progressive Democrats is that it should come out with its hands up while it still has time.
Mr. Sargent: The Taoiseach wrote to the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, last Thursday to tell me that he was setting out how he plans to proceed to develop a comprehensive and considered approach to creating a durable legislative framework to underpin confidence in the political system. The next day whatever confidence was left in politics was well and truly kicked in the teeth by the Progressive Democrats-Fianna Fáil nomination of former judge Hugh O'Flaherty who had shunned an Oireachtas committee seeking to get to the bottom of the Sheedy affairs and who by his actions, no matter how naive, had lowered the respect in which the Judiciary is held. The Green Party believes this appointment should not be made. It smacks of a deal done in a smoke filled room. To a public punch drunk by scandals it is the Devil looking after one of his own, or her own in the case of Deputy Harney.
This blatant political patronage raises serious questions. Were other qualified candidates considered for this lucrative position as vice-president of the European Investment Bank, as for the post of EU Commissioner? Why was the position not advertised given its importance and the need to vet the qualifications of any applicant? Why was there no independent appointment procedure as is normal for the most mundane position in the service of this State – the Local Appointments Commission being one example? Who is to prove that this nomination is not a pay-off for Mr. O'Flaherty taking the heat, along with his two colleagues, over the Sheedy affair? Is it not the case that the political handlers had to cut a deal to ensure their own survival? Otherwise, why would the wily Taoiseach, the cocky Minister for Finance and the high moral ground Tánaiste feel compelled to unilaterally spring this fresh controversy on a deeply cynical public?
This country is awash with well qualified people so why was there no interview process? If  any legal eagle wants to stand a good chance of advancement in their profession, they have to not just align themselves with a political party but they have to be socially and politically well in with their political masters and mistresses. This nomination reminds us of what is worst in the old school tie political patronage which sickens me and so many of my constituents. If they have a conscience, the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil should examine it closely. Confidence in the Judiciary and the political system depends on the outcome. If they do not have a conscience then at least let them consider the sensitivities of the bereaved Ryan family in Tallaght.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Everything that is repugnant in political life in this State is brought to light with the appointment of former Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty to the vice-presidency of the European Investment Bank. Fianna Fáil is blatantly handing out patronage to one of its friends for reasons we do not know, but we have our suspicions.
The vice-presidency of the EIB carries a salary of £147,000 per year. This highlights the absolute vulgarity of the European gravy train. It would take 15 years for a low paid worker to earn what Mr. O'Flaherty will earn in one year, courtesy of Fianna Fáil's patronage. The Government was prepared to allow a situation where Mr. O'Flaherty would be able to draw a pension of £40,000 per year from the taxpayer. My amendment to the Fine Gael motion – which I will support – which calls for the repeal of section 2(1)(a) of the Act providing for this pension, has been partly met not by the Government but Mr. O'Flaherty saying he will forego the pension. However, that is not enough and the Government must repeal that legislation forthwith.
This appointment starkly points up the sickening double standards in the political establishment. I do not believe that someone should be crucified for life for one mistake. However, look at how poor working class people are crucified daily in the District Court for offences largely arising from the effects of poverty and deprivation. For them, there are no lengthy deliberations in tribunals or tickets to the European gravy train but usually summary judgment and the inside of a prison cell.
In 1998, a sentence of six years was passed on an unfortunate young woman who was a heroin addict for stealing a handbag containing less than £1,000. However, three years after their unmasking, there is anonymity for the Ansbacher crooks. The appointment of Mr. O'Flaherty is the political establishment looking after its own in the most blatant and cynical fashion. This makes a mockery of the pious hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats that they take seriously the need to root out corruption, patronage and cronyism. It also makes a mockery of their pretending to be serious about rooting out all that is rotten in Irish politics. By this act they  consolidate and affirm all that is rotten in politics with the patronage of the establishment, the strokes and the giving of favours.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I support the Fine Gael motion. The air in the McEvaddy villa in the south of France where Deputies McCreevy and Harney have their holidays must be rare indeed. It has produced a mood of harmony and peace between these two Ministers and between them and the Taoiseach which allows them to weather debacles such as this without a ripple in their relationship.
I read the speech which the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, read in the House last night which was an extraordinary performance. He tried to present himself as the figure of blind justice, wisely selecting the most eminently qualified candidate for the post of vice-president of the EIB without fear or favour. However, he could not disguise the favouritism which led to this appointment. It was cronyism pure and simple. The Minister claimed that when Mr. O'Flaherty realised that his seeking to remain in office as a judge was threatening to compromise the integrity of the Judiciary, he did the honourable thing and resigned. However, we all know that he resigned after the Government notified him that if he did not do so he would be impeached.
The Minister asked if we are entitled to condemn such a man for the rest of his life for making a mistake for which he paid a huge price? The answer is no, but that is not the question. The question is should a man who was found to have acted wrongly in the Sheedy case and whom the Government threatened with impeachment be elevated to one of the most lucrative jobs in the EU?
The appointment of Hugh O'Flaherty is entirely inappropriate given his failure to account for his role in the Sheedy affair before the Oireachtas and the Chief Justice's strong criticism of his role in that affair. I opposed the legislation in the Dáil last year which awarded a very large pension to Mr. O'Flaherty and I share the public anger at this appointment. The issue, as far as the public and I are concerned, is not the personality of a judge but the credibility of a Government.
We should all be conscious that at the root of this affair is the tragic death of a young woman at the hands of a drunk driver. The case put a question mark over the impartiality of the justice system. It was seen to operate in favour of those with privilege and those with the right connections. The injustice was compounded by the three very special and generous pension arrangements provided for in legislation by this Government. Could workers in any but the most elite professions expect such privileged treatment? Of course not. The injustice has been further compounded by this appointment. It is not too late. Rejecting the views expressed concerning the irreversibility of the decision I call on the Minister for Finance and the Government to withdraw this nomination.
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): I fully support and endorse the decision by the Minister for Finance to nominate Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty for appointment by the board of governors to the post of vice-president of the European Investment Bank. It is critical that a person of the highest calibre is appointed to this post and, without doubt, Hugh O'Flaherty is such a person. His wide experience eminently qualifies him for the post of vice-president. The making of this appointment is a matter for the Minister for Finance.
Mrs. Owen: Pontius Pilate.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.
Mr. McCormack: I hate lies.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not use the word lies.
Mr. McCormack: I hate untruths.
An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy does not keep quiet I will have to take action.
Mr. Fahey: He has indicated that, before making the appointment, he had, in the normal way, consulted extensively with his colleagues in Government. I confirm that he spoke to me on the issue and I supported the appointment.
Mr. Quinn: Why?
Mr. Fahey: I will tell the Deputy why. The Chief Justice, Mr. Liam Hamilton, said that Mr. O'Flaherty's actions were inappropriate and unwise. However, he did nothing unethical or illegal.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: What? Is the Minister serious?
Mrs. Owen: Why did the Government put a loaded gun in his hand?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.
Mr. Fahey: He made an error of judgment and paid the highest price. Is there no sense of fair play in this House? I am taken aback by the viciousness of the attacks by some Opposition spokespersons in this debate. It does not do any good for the people who made such vicious attacks on this man's good name and character.
Mrs. Owen: It is no good for the Government.
Mr. Fahey: He made an error of judgment and he paid a price in terms of his career and reputation.
Mr. Allen: He was rewarded.
Mr. Fahey: It is a price that will always be associated with his good name.
Mr. Stanton: It was a short sentence.
Mr. Fahey: He could have expected to be appointed Chief Justice and he would have had 11 years in that position.
Mrs. Owen: Was he promised it?
Mr. Fahey: Are we now to conclude that Mr. O'Flaherty should, in addition to that price, be banned from ever again holding public office?
Mrs. Owen: How did he know he was going to get it?
Mr. Fahey: There are precedents on both sides of the House involving people who were made to resign their posts because of mistakes and who were subsequently reappointed. My colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, was accused in the House of being a Provo fellow traveller. Should he have been punished forever more for what turned out to be a totally inaccurate accusation?
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): There is no comparison.
Mr. Fahey: Could Deputy Noonan suggest that Deputy Hogan, an honourable man and one of the most respected Members of the House, who made a genuine mistake should be punished forever more? If so, it is a bad day for the Fine Gael Party.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): He got nothing.
Mr. Fahey: We as politicians—
Mr. Connaughton: That is rubbish.
Mr. Fahey: It is not rubbish.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please. The Minister should address the Chair
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): We are talking about a Supreme Court Judge.
Mr. Farrelly: Who asked him to make the mistake?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputies will have 15 minutes in which to reply.
Mr. Fahey: We as politicians owe it to ourselves and our profession to have balance, fair play and natural justice. Unfortunately, during the debate, an effort has been made by members of the Fine Gael and Labour parties to do down the good name of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty—
Mr. Quinn: We did not invent this.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): The Government fired him.
Mrs. Owen: The Government put a gun to his head and told him to resign so it would not have to impeach him.
Mr. Fahey: —and also to make a political scapegoat of the Minister for Finance. The Minister had the courage—
Mr. Quinn: The arrogance.
Mr. Fahey: —to make this appointment—
Mr. McCormack: Deputy Harney did not have the courage to say “no”.
Mr. Fahey: —even though he knew it would draw the type of venom displayed in the House. He did the right thing in appointing the person best qualified to take on this most important job.
Mr. Stanton: Why was he sacked?
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: In many ways the Minister, Deputy Fahey, summed up the Fianna Fáil ethos when he talked about Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty. He said that he did nothing unethical or illegal. My approach is not to point the finger at Mr. O'Flaherty but at the Government because it is appointing him to the post in Europe. However, I cannot allow the Minister's comments to pass. Would the Minister not consider unethical the actions of somebody who was found by the Hamilton report to have intervened in an inappropriate and unwise way? Would he say it was not unethical for somebody to intervene in a way that was damaging to the administration of justice? We should be honest and say that Mr. O'Flaherty's actions were contrary to his oath of office and the Constitution.
Mr. Fahey: He paid the price.
Mrs. Owen: What price? He got a £40,000 pension.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy, without interruption.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: The Minister said it was not unethical. That probably explains the actions of the Government because it does not know what ethics are; that is the ethos of Fianna Fáil. The Minister's statement sums up the outlook, culture and ethos of the Government.
I have never known such public outrage about a political decision as I have witnessed regarding the nomination by the Government of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty as vice-president of the European Investment Bank. I share this sense of outrage. The appointment ranks among the worst ever made by a Fianna Fáil led Government. To some extent, it reminds me of the appointment of Mr. Harry Whelehan to the Presidency of the High  Court and the subsequent loss of office by Fianna Fáil on that occasion. Perhaps that is a message for the Government.
This appointment is, and will be, seen as a further nail in the coffin of a discredited coalition Government. The public has been deluged with allegations of sleaze, sludge and scandal. So far it has given the benefit of increasing doubt to this Administration. However, the public, correctly, has lost patience with the Government on this issue. It is easy to understand the public reaction to this decision. As Members can see, the matter is the headline in today's Evening Herald,“Is this justice?”
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not display a newspaper.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I will put it away. The decision is arrogant and insolent. It spits in the face of Ann Ryan's bereaved family. It is at best a mistake and at worst corrupt. It should and can be reversed.
The leader of the Progressive Democrats Party admitted that the decision was a mistake and now is her opportunity to follow through with the logical consequence of that admission, which is to ensure that the motion is passed and that the Government's decision is either withdrawn or overturned. This is what should happen; it is a logical consequence of the Progressive Democrats Party's current position.
This debate is not about the qualifications of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty. Other than the fact that he has no experience of banking, I accept that he was an eminent jurist. That is not the issue. In my opinion, it was his eminence that made his conduct in relation to the Sheedy affair all the more culpable. The public and the Dáil are entitled to answers. The Dáil deserves an explanation but it has not got it. The House did not receive any explanation from Mr. O'Flaherty for his actions and nor did the Oireachtas committee. The Government has not explained why this extraordinary decision was made. There is no explanation from the Taoiseach about his role in the entire affair. He has not explained his representations on behalf of Philip Sheedy, the fact that he sent his close associate to see him in Shelton Abbey or that his partner, Ms Celia Larkin, was the first visitor to the O'Flaherty establishment following his resignation. Who knows what his role in the affair has been since; we have no explanations.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, has not explained his role or why he promoted this extraordinary appointment. Are we to continue giving blind support to a Government that treats this House and the country in this fashion? Most important, there is no explanation from the Progressive Democrats. Half of the Fianna Fáil Party is clearly against the proposal and the entire Opposition is against it. The Progressive Democrats Party has now admitted that the decision was a mistake and an error. In that situation, why  are they continuing to persist in propping up the Government, particularly regarding this decision?
Mr. McCormack: They are afraid.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: This is the moment of truth for the Progressive Democrats. They have admitted their mistake and now is their opportunity to put it right. They should support the Fine Gael motion.
Mr. Noonan: As I listened to speakers on the Government benches, it occurred to me that, while former judge Hugh O'Flaherty might be unfortunate in his enemies, he is particularly unfortunate in his friends because the two Deputies who claimed friendship with him made the most pathetic, incompetent and irrelevant defences of his character, good name and appointment that I have heard for a long time. He is not fortunate either regarding the Ministers who defended him. The Minister for Finance, who proposed his appointment, gave a child's guide to the activities of the European Investment Bank and accompanied it with a series of assertions that the man needed a second chance and Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty was the most suitable person for the job. That is all he did. He did not explain anything nor did he justify the action. He simply made assertions in a trivial speech which, if it does anything, contributes to the deliberate dumbing down of Parliament by this Administration, and it does not need much more of that.
Ministers and Deputies on the Government side might have heard Mr. Tom Kirby, the father of the late Mrs. Ann Ryan, in his interview with Marian Finucane this morning. He is a very forgiving man who believes people should get a second chance. He forgave Mr. Philip Sheedy. He said that, as in Mr. Sheedy's case, what Mr. O'Flaherty did was an accident and should be considered in that way, that he did not do it with any malicious intention. However, he went on to say that “they knew what they were doing, and that what they have done has made a better job for the man who resigned”. I believe that “they” in that sentence is the Government which the Deputies opposite support.
I do not understand the Progressive Democrats position. Its members admit they have made serious mistakes in agreeing to the nomination of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty as vice-president of the European Investment Bank. Being sorry is not enough, and the Tánaiste must take steps to ensure that the Government does not proceed with the nomination. Mr. O'Flaherty is not a suitable person for this position. That has been clearly demonstrated in the House. The Tánaiste has now admitted that there has been public outrage at the prospect of this appointment, yet she is not prepared to do anything to rectify the situation. To proceed to implement the decision, which she knows is wrong and which, on her own admission, is causing public outrage, is holding both the Dáil and the people in contempt. She  wants it both ways. She is like the penitent who confesses sin but has no firm purpose of amendment.
There is a pretence put abroad by the Progressive Democrats that the O'Flaherty appointment has passed the point of no return, that it is a fait accompli, that it can do nothing about it and that we must grin and bear it. That is not the position. The European Investment Bank has confirmed to Fine Gael that the Irish nomination is not urgent and can be changed. There are three vacancies for vice-president arising in the EIB at present, one of which will be filled by an Irish nominee. There will be a meeting on 5 June but it does not have to be filled on that date and we have been informed by the EIB that it can be filled by an exchange of letters. That is precisely how the Spanish intend to fill their vacancy later in the month of June. There is no urgency about it; it is reversible. If Progressive Democrats members want it reversed, they can say to the Taoiseach that they will not accept it, that a mistake was made, that there is public outrage about it and that they should reconsider and appoint someone more suitable for the position than Mr. O'Flaherty.
I argued that Mr. O'Flaherty was ineligible for this position on the grounds of unsuitability arising from the Sheedy case. I also believe he is not qualified for the job. The Government has asserted that he is uniquely qualified for the position, and Deputy O'Kennedy reasserted that when he referred to lawyers on the boards of banks. However, this is not an appointment to a supervisory board. This is an appointment to a hands-on, full-time banking job where one must assess investment decisions and where one must supervise professional bankers.
I obtained the list of the other appointees and it makes interesting reading compared with Mr. O'Flaherty's lack of qualifications. The President is the former deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance of Belgium. He was also Minister for Economics and Budgets. The French vice-president was head of financial markets, a senior treasury official, a former director of the World Bank, of the European Investment Bank and of the Bank of Central African States. The vice-president from Austria was the former chairman of the Austrian Postal Savings Bank and was a professor of economics at the University of Vienna. These are people with direct banking, economic and financial experience and are the type of people being appointed. The person from the United Kingdom is a senior UK treasury official with long experience in financial administration. The person from Germany is an economist and a former director of several German banks. The person from Greece is the former director of the Greek Industrial Development Bank and a former chairman of Eurosec, which is the largest Greek financial company. The person from Spain is the former executive president and chairman of the Spanish export credit insurance board and was a senior Spanish civil servant in the Ministry  of Trade. The person from Italy is a former senior official of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. The person from Holland is a former Dutch deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Economic Affairs and Minister for Justice and a former senior manager with the Unilever group. Where are the lawyers?
Dr. McDaid: It looks like they need one.
Mr. Noonan: Where are the people necessary to assess intricate legal matters? When these people want lawyers, they hire them. These people are bankers, they have long banking experience and that is their job. Anyone who reflects on the job they do sees immediately that not only is Mr. O'Flaherty unsuitable, he is also unqualified.
Mr. McGinley: The Government has been shown up.
Mr. Byrne: Not worthy.
Mr. McGinley: Claptrap.
Mr. Noonan: As vice-president of the bank, Mr. O'Flaherty would serve on the management committee which is a full-time collegiate body responsible for the day-to-day management of the bank recommending financial and policy decisions to the board of directors and ensuring they are implemented. I believe the EIB is very unhappy about Ireland's appointment. It has signalled this, especially in The Irish Times yesterday, where an EIB spokesman pointedly said that there was no time limitation on the nomination and that, if there must be a change, it can be made. He also said it was a practical institution.
Mr. Rabbitte: It is not too late to send Deputy Roche.
Mr. Noonan: He was trying to tell the Government that the EIB was embarrassed by the appointment and that perhaps it should reconsider.
The EIB is the world's largest multinational borrower and lender and has a large professional staff. In effect, it is a huge global bank. It manages more funds than the World Bank. Mr. O'Flaherty will not be in a supervisory position but in a hands-on banking position and he will be expected to adopt a hands-on approach. He will also be involved in borrowing on the world's capital markets and in assessing projects for EIB funds, such as transport projects, telecommunications projects and environmental protection pro jects. What does he know about borrowing on the world capital markets and assessing huge infrastructural projects? There is nothing in this eminent jurist's background which makes him suitable for this job. Not only is he unsuitable, he is unqualified.
The EIB also manages the debts of countries and reschedules their loans. Mr. O'Flaherty will have a major say in the management of the national debts of some countries. What qualifications does he have to manage the debts of European or Third World countries? Would the Government consider him suitable for a similar job in Ireland? I am glad the Minister for Finance is present because he might answer the question. Would he consider nominating Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty to run the National Treasury Management Agency?
Mr. Yates: Anything is possible.
Mr. Noonan: It is the nearest equivalent we have. He is an unsuitable candidate for this position because of his involvement in the Sheedy affair. He is not qualified to carry out the functions of a senior international banker. There is no need for the Government to proceed with this appointment and, if the Tánaiste—
Mr. McCreevy: The AIB believes that he is a very suitable appointment to the board.
Mr. Noonan: That shows the Minister's lack of understanding. That is a supervisory board; this is a hands-on, full-time, seven days a week, banking job.
Mr. McCreevy: The directors are not supervisors and Deputy Noonan should know that.
Mr. Noonan: There is no shortage of suitable candidates in Ireland to fill this position. They are in the higher levels of the public service and in the academic and business worlds.
I make an appeal to the Independents. The Progressive Democrats seem to have got themselves locked in and they cannot back off a decision in which they participated.
Mr. McCormack: They are afraid of it.
Mr. Noonan: The Independents participated in nothing. They are free agents who can vote with their consciences tonight. I appeal to them to vote against this appalling appointment made by the Government.
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
| Killeen, Tony.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
|Amendment declared carried.||Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.|
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
| Killeen, Tony.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Sheehan, Patrick. Shortall, Róisín.
| Upton, Mary.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
|Last Updated: 11/09/2010 03:09:20||Page of 190|