Tuesday, 27 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair wishes to mention that even though the subject matter of the motion of censure, of its nature, relates to the alleged conduct of a Member, the standard rules for debate apply and Members should  refrain from making derogatory remarks. There is a long-standing tradition that Members should not criticise or make charges against a person outside the House as he or she is defenceless against accusations made under privilege, and I ask for co-operation in that regard. I am sure all Members will agree that it is in the interest of the standing and dignity of this House that these rules are adhered to by Members.
On a separate point, on the Order of Business today I indicated I would bring the House up to date on a complaint that has been received from a person outside the House in respect of Standing Order 58. Members will appreciate that, under Standing Order 58, it is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle at this stage as to how the matter will be dealt with. His office has had a number of exchanges of communication with the person concerned and these are ongoing. The Ceann Comhairle hopes to deal with this matter in accordance with the procedure laid out in the Standing Order as soon as possible.
I have many problems with Deputy Gildea's behaviour but I will confine my remarks to two aspects. The first point I wish to make relates to privilege. There is absolute privilege for all of us in relation to remarks made in this House. That privilege goes to the heart of our democratic system and indeed is a feature of genuine democracies all over the world, but with it is an obligation to be absolutely accurate and honest in everything we say. Privilege is one side of the coin, the obligation to be absolutely accurate and honest is the other side. We cannot have one without the other.
We move this motion of censure because the traditions of the House require that when a slur  of this nature is made, a technical apology is not enough. What is required of Deputy Gildea is that he specifically accepts and states that Deputy Owen, as Minister for Justice or otherwise, never received payment from CMI and never got involved in operationally directing the activities of the Garda Síochána in Donegal or elsewhere, and that he never had any basis for the outrageous, unfounded allegations he made about her in this House last week.
I particularly regret the failure of the Government to support this motion of censure. I also regret its failure to persuade Deputy Gildea to make the appropriate personal statement. For four and a half years, the Government has been able to get the Deputy to do its will. No doubt his support has cost it or, to put it more accurately, it has been at some cost to the taxpayer. By failing to persuade him on this occasion, the Government is implicitly supporting Deputy Gildea in his blatant breach of one of the fundamental codes of behaviour of this House. I regret this failure and regret that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats should be complicit in Deputy Gildea's slur on the holder of one of the most sensitive Ministries in our system.
There is another dimension that relates to parties outside the House. A letter has been sent to the Ceann Comhairle, a copy of which was circulated to me, and I wish to quote from that letter. The gentleman writing the letter is Mr. Raymond P. Doyle. I do not intend to quote the letter in full but I will quote some relevant parts of it.
I write to you as my only means of redress for a grave wrong and injury perpetrated on me by a member of the Oireachtas who, in so doing, shamelessly and with total disregard for the unfair limitations imposed on ordinary members of the public to protect themselves against such unfair attacks, abused the privilege of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I refer to the unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations made in the Dail on Wednesday last by Tom Gildea, T.D., against Cable Management Ireland Ltd. and, by direct implication, myself as Chief Executive of the company up to the time of its acquisition two years ago. I can offer you absolute assurances that neither I nor the company nor anyone representing the company offered, or paid, any inducement to Deputy Nora Owen at any stage. Neither was any such inducement offered or paid to any other politician and it is shocking and reckless in the extreme for such allegations to be made by Deputy Gildea, especially in circumstances where I do not enjoy the rights conferred by privilege of the Oireachtas on him.
It is a matter for politicians to consider how such abuse of the rules of procedure and privilege devalues politics in general among an increasingly sceptical public but you will understand that my over-riding concern is that my good name and reputation should be irreparably damaged in a manner that allows me no form of fair or proper redress.
 The fact that Deputy Gildea has offered his apology to Mrs. Owen and her Party for any hurt caused is of little comfort to me and to the many fine people who held positions of responsibility in the Board and management of Cable Management Ireland Ltd.
This is a scandalous and entirely unacceptable situation and I feel strongly that it makes the case for removal of this privilege so that members of the public, such as myself, can take appropriate action through legal procedures open to one and all at every level.
Mr. Doyle goes on to make a series of allegations about issues in Donegal related to the MMDS system and the participation of Deputy Gildea and his supporters in such activities. He goes on to say then that he, in a public place, recently has been made the subject of remarks which held him up to ridicule and which damaged his good name. I take the point made by Mr. Doyle.
There is a major issue also for persons outside the House who are abused under privilege. We are seeking to redress the damage done to our colleague, Deputy Owen, by taking this extreme move of moving a motion of censure on Deputy Gildea. There are also issues for persons outside the House which we cannot remediate here but, in the first instance, the Ceann Comhairle and, in the second instance, the Government of the day have an obligation to vindicate the good name of persons outside the House.
I wish to make a second point in relation to Deputy Gildea's contribution last week. One of the principal results of Deputy Gildea's unwise intervention was to move the focus away from the McBrearty case and I cannot help asking if that was the intention of Deputy Gildea's statement last week. The Deputy's activities are, of course, a matter for himself and his constituents but his contribution to the debate last week was extraordinary. He is not a Deputy who contributes at length to debates in this House and the fact that he intervened last week in such a forceful way was particularly unusual. Anybody reading the reports of what happened in this House last week could come to the conclusion that we had not discussed what is potentially one of the most serious set of allegations ever made against the Garda Síochána anywhere in this country.
When the Government gets the support of four Deputies in this House it has an obligation to the behaviour of those Deputies. They should take Deputy Gildea aside again and ensure that he makes an appropriate statement in the course of this debate tonight.
The principal issue from which the focus was removed last week is an issue which we regard with serious concern on this side of the House. Our concern was reinforced by the affidavits sworn by the McBrearty family and heard in the High Court on Friday last. Nothing whatsoever has been done since to allay the concerns that were expressed so eloquently by all the Deputies on the Opposition benches who spoke last week. We regard this as an extraordinarily serious issue.  It has been overshadowed by the internal difficulties that have been caused by Deputy Gildea's allegations. The man who sat on his hands last week, the present incumbent of that high office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has an obligation to deal with the McBrearty affair. Allegations against the Garda Síochána, or against any police force in any democracy in the world, which are not cleared up at the first available opportunity are like rust or acid – they eat away public trust in the Garda Síochána. Once one's trust in a police force goes, the public no longer have full confidence in it and we have a crisis on our hands.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, for reasons he has not explained to the House, was extraordinarily tardy. He knew, or should have known, that a request for an exhumation order had been lodged in his Department as far back as September 1997. He must have known that this request was subsequently withdrawn at the request of the Garda Síochána. He must tell us why he did not ask the reason this was done or, if he did ask, the reply he got. He must have known that a file was sent from the Garda Síochána to the Director of Public Prosecutions and that its recommendation on that file was that the fact of murder could not be established and consequently that there was no case. He must have known this fact as far back as late 1997, four years ago. He must have known that the Director of Public Prosecutions, having examined the file, reaffirmed that there was no case, sometime in the course of 1998, three years ago. Why did this continue for so long until the eventual exhumation took place and the State pathologist said the injuries were consistent with a hit-and-run accident, not with the allegations made in statements, which now appear to be totally fraudulent, that the unfortunate individual was beaten to death?
These are serious allegations for the Minister to consider. This debate was totally blown out of the consciousness of the House and that of members of the public last week by Deputy Gildea's intervention. I do not want to spend three hours, tonight and tomorrow night, dealing with him. It is the intention of my party to get back to the substantive issue and ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform what he intends to do about the behaviour of certain gardaí in County Donegal.
I am not doing this out of a lack of support for the Garda. I am proud of the force. As Minister for Justice, I saw what it had to endure in certain circumstances. We have a great Garda force, but unless public confidence is re-established and all these allegations are dealt with, we will have a serious problem.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): It is now one week since we debated the McBrearty affair and everyone will have read the newspaper reports and editorials and heard the radio and television com ments, all of which were critical of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue's performance and his failure to act or even appreciate the gravity of the debacle over which he is presiding. It has been a bad week for him and there are worse weeks to come.
This is not just about the unfortunate death of Mr. Barron, although that is very important. Five years and one month after he was left to die on a lonely Raphoe roadside the person who drove the car that killed him is still at large. The Minister and the Garda have failed to establish who killed him. They have also failed to establish who, at Garda level, made the decision to change a road traffic accident to a hit-and-run case and then into a murder investigation.
The Minister has failed to establish the reason the McBrearty family were singled out as the murder suspects and left destroyed, emotionally and commercially. He stood idly by as the vital exhumation order was rescinded four years and one month ago. He stood idly by and failed to ascertain who made the decision to cancel the order. He stood idly by while a very good ban garda, whose honesty helped to shine a light on the forged signature of Mr. Frank McBrearty junior, was intimidated and harassed out of the job she loved and left a broken person. He stood idly by as Garda inquiry after Garda inquiry went through the motions, but yielded nothing other than charging one garda for the illegal possession of a firearm and five other civilians, many of whom have criminal records, with other offences. He stood idly by in regard to the establishment of who planted the explosive device at the MMDS at Ardara. He stood idly by as the Diver family were subjected to exactly the same nightmare as the McBrearty family. He stood idly by and failed to establish who was responsible for the decision to divide up the explosives find and plant them across the Border giving the false impression to the RUC that Garda surveillance work had uncovered subversive paramilitary plots.
In spite of repeated pleas from Deputy Howlin and me in the past two years, the Minister has again failed to establish a sworn public inquiry to end this charade once and for all. He stood idly by for four years and four months—
Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Deputy Rabbitte kindly agreed to give me some of his time. The Minister stood idly by for four years and four months and allowed the reputation of the Garda force to be sullied by his inaction and ineptitude. He stood idly by as public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system was badly damaged and allowed to ebb away over what the public sees as nothing other than a cover-up by him. He has clung to excuses pleading constraints imposed by civil actions, but they are no longer a problem as the McBrearty legal team has removed this fig leaf.
 The Minister has hidden behind the guise that criminal prosecutions were an impediment, but none of the gardaí named in the High Court last week has been prosecuted to date. He has bought time by promising an independent inquiry if the Garda inquiries are unsatisfactory and fail to establish the facts. They have failed to establish the truth and still the Minister prevaricates. He has presided over Garda inquiry after Garda inquiry, all of which have been conducted behind closed doors where evidence was not taken under oath and none of which we have seen, let alone come into the public domain.
Last week the Minister sat here and stared mutely ahead as Deputy Gildea vilified the reputation of one of the most honourable Members of the House, Deputy Owen. He sat silent and consenting as Deputy Gildea trotted out a tissue of falsehoods. Any self-respecting Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with a comprehension of the word “justice,” would have intervened and put an end to the character assassination of one of the most honest and effective Ministers for Justice this country has ever seen.
Not alone has there been no action, there has not even been a pretence of action. As if to add salt to the wounds of the McBrearty and Diver families, gardaí who were closely involved, some of whom were named in the High Court proceedings on the issue of the circular letter blackening the McBrearty name, have actually been promoted by the Minister in the meantime. The McBrearty and Diver families were put in the dock by the failure of the Minister to discharge his responsibility. If he was present tonight, I would say to him that he is well and truly in the public dock now. There is huge public disquiet at what he has allowed to happen and his failure to deal with this issue as well as his repeated objection to the Opposition's request for a sworn inquiry, the only credible course of action.
The Minister can announce all the new prison spaces that he wants and trot out his record on Garda recruitment. He can parade the crime figures and statistics, but he will be remembered as having failed to deal with a crime which lay on his doorstep. Terrible wrongs were perpetrated against innocent people. Gardaí grossly abused their position while public confidence in the police and the system of justice which he was supposed to protect were undermined. He failed the system and the public. He can whistle all he wants past the graveyard, but the gates of the political graveyard are open for him because he failed to act.
Mr. Rabbitte: The measured tones in which the debate is being conducted are appropriate. Everybody on this side of the House would prefer that precious and limited Private Members' time could be devoted to one of the major issues of the day. Unfortunately, the Government's inaction has provoked this debate and there is very little that the Opposition can do. Debate is now  unavoidable because what has been said cannot be allowed to stand on the record without some censure. Parliamentary privilege is a precious construct and its abuse a serious transgression to which the Dáil cannot turn a blind eye. It is a privilege conferred by the Constitution for the very good reason that a Member can represent his or her constituents without fear or favour. It is ironic if by the actions of one of our own Members a privilege conferred by the Constitution can be impeded by the conduct of one of our own elected Members. If it were to be ignored by this House, it would establish a precedent. This is a gross abuse, by common consent on both sides of the House, of parliamentary privilege and if left to rest on the record of the House, any Member could come in, make any baseless allegation, no matter how outrageous or unfounded, and return the following day and say “I'm sorry. I withdraw that”. That simply is not acceptable in terms of why that privilege has been conferred by the Constitution in the first place.
In this case the abuse seemed entirely incidental to the debate but was, nonetheless, considered, calculated, deliberate for all of that. The debate last Wednesday night was of fundamental public importance. Deputy Higgins has has referred to the grave nature of the issues involved in terms of confidence in the Garda, the abuse of one family's rights, the oppression of that family, the destruction of its livelihood and the attempt, apparently and allegedly, to frame one of its members for the crime of murder. It could scarcely be more serious than that and, despite that, this distraction was thrown into the middle of it. The gravamen of that accusation remains on the record of the House to this moment. The gravamen of the accusation has not been withdrawn by Deputy Gildea. He has compounded the offence. He has refused on three occasions the opportunity provided to him to withdraw the essence of the worst part of that accusation.
I refer to the judgment of Mr. Justice Geoghegan in the case of the Attorney General v. The Honourable Mr. Justice Hamilton Sole Member of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry, in terms of the importance attached to the privilege conferred by the Constitution on Members and why. Mr. Justice Geoghegan states:
In this regard it is relevant to note the absolute immunity conferred on members of each House of the Oireachtas by Article 15.13, which provides that the members shall not in respect of any utterance in either House be amenable to any Court or any authority other than the House itself. That means I think a Tribunal such as this, though it has great powers, is still an agent of both Houses for a specific task and is not in the position and has not the powers to discipline a member which is possessed by each House. So if a Dáil Deputy is summoned before this Tribunal to explain utterances made by him in the House he is no more amenable to it than he is to any Court.  Not only can he not be disciplined; he cannot be made to explain to his utterances. He could not be made answerable to any Court for this utterances in the House even if he had been guilty of the grossest contempt of Court. He could affect the most serious criminal trial but could not be attached for contempt of Court in respect of something said in the House. That is unlikely ever to occur, but none the less it gives an idea of the extent of the immunity that members of each House possess.
That sums up the privilege. Central to that finding by Mr. Justice Geoghegan is his conviction and that of the court that such a Deputy is amenable in this House if there is a gross abuse of privilege according to the rules of the House.
The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Seamus Brennan, told several elements in the media earlier that he does not know what is the problem because Deputy Gildea has come into the House on two occasions and apologised. That is similar to what the Taoiseach said when he opened Senator Dan Kiely's constituency office last Thursday, a working day. He said he could not understand what was the problem because Deputy Gildea had come into the House, withdrawn his statement and apologised. If that was the case, what was Deputy Brennan doing for the past 48 hours trying to extract a statement in the House tonight from Deputy Gildea? What was the point of trying to get him to come in here and make a full statement and a full withdrawal if it is now the view of the Government that he has already complied with that?
I was in the House when this happened along with my colleagues, Deputies Howlin and Quinn. I heard and I saw what happened. Nobody in this House has greater respect than I for the extraordinary quality, skill and speed of the work of our parliamentary reporters. I do not know to which authority of the House I ought to address this but it is matter of some concern that in recent years there has been a growing tendency, presumably at the direction of someone, to alter the record of the House by inserting the terms “interruptions” where perfectly audible interventions are made.
Mr. Rabbitte: That is a growing pattern in recent years which distorts the record of the House and ought not be permitted, as has been remarked on by a number of media people who watched the debate. Deputies Howlin and Quinn will testify to this. I made several interventions at the time pleading first with Deputy Gildea but, latterly, with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to intervene. I do not know which constitutes the record of the House, the television representation of it or the transcript, but it is something we ought to clear up.
I know as well that we have taken to elaborately edit some of the verbal infelicities of some  Members of the House, even some in senior office. It reaches a stage where it is no longer an accurate record of what is said in the House. That is wrong and requires to be addressed. In this case Deputy Gildea had plenty of opportunity to desist from what he was embarked on but he was embarked on it deliberately and calculatedly.
Mr. Rabbitte: In that situation it is important that should be on the record of the House otherwise it distorts what happened. A totally baseless charge was apparently incidentally tossed into a debate but at the same time tossed in in a deliberate and premeditated fashion.
I do not know why we had such an untypical outburst. I do not know why the use of language by Deputy Gildea was so untypical. I do not say that Fianna Fáil wrote the script for him but the old test of cui bono? is a good one. Who benefited from this gross distraction during one of the more serious motions that had been tabled in the House for a long time by Deputies Howlin and Shatter? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform obviously benefited from his performance and lamentable negligence on this issue. It was a distraction and was treated as such in the media over the weekend. Deputy O'Donoghue refused, although express claims were made to him, to intervene, even though as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform he knew exactly the import of what was happening. I regret that he displayed a great deal of pleasure.
Unfortunately, there are a number of Ministers associated with the fact that the situation has worsened. Deputy O'Donoghue sat on his hands, seemed to invite it and certainly did nothing to discourage Deputy Gildea. The Tánaiste seemed paralysed and unable to respond to the simple request for a one hour debate that would have disposed of this matter. We were told throughout the weekend that we could rely on the Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Brennan, and that he would fix it. It appears he not has not fixed it and, furthermore, it looks like he has lost 25% of his entire portfolio in looking after Tom, Jack, Harry and Mildred. While we are in this situation the Taoiseach decided to open yet another pub. How there can be more unopened pubs in the Taoiseach's constituency is beyond me. He can absent himself on Wednesday. He can head off on Thursday to open a constituency office on a piece of road that Deputy Spring caused to be built in Tipperary North and the heir apparent, the dauphin from Cork, can come into the House and lecture the Opposition for not being prepared to sit on Friday. It is a fantastic situation.
The position is regrettable and throws light on the role of the Independents who have extraordinary access to the holders of office. They do not seem to have to learn the rules of the House or learn their way around the House. I thought they met with the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, once a week to get their riding instructions. It  now seems they meet with him to give him his riding instructions. A dedicated Civil Service corps is devoted to their every beck and call. While the rest of us do constituency work, a dedicated corps of civil servants exists to guide the Independents around the House any time the Minister is not available.
This was a Faustian pact between the Government and Deputy Gildea to renege on his own constituents, the people of Donegal. It was an issue of the most fundamental importance to the citizens of Donegal. Deputy Gildea had given a commitment to the Diver family and the McBrearty family on how he would act and vote in this House. In order to distract attention, he came to this House and for the first time in four and a half years made a calculated assault and an attempt at character assassination of Deputy Owen, for which he did not produce one shred of evidence, while her successor in office sat happily on his hands and did not interfere. That is a most grievous situation. Throughout the weekend, the media generally expressed it in those terms. I heard one radio reporter say that the we conducted ourselves like children here last week. If any member of the media in this House had such an allegation of criminality made against him or her, he or she would leave the gallery, there would be a picket by the NUJ on the gate and I would be with them on that picket. It is important that the media reflect on what was alleged in this House. Otherwise one could just bring down the shutters, stumble in later at night or the next day saying “there is so much pressure on me . . . I want to finish my script . . . can I apologise?” and that is the end of the matter. It is important that space is created – I agree with the Tánaiste on this matter – for robust political debate and exchange in this House. That is not the same as ad hominem personalised attacks such as Deputy Gildea engaged in. Therefore, it is important there is some sanction and that there is seen to be some sanction. Having to take up so much valuable Private Members' time is wrong. The matter could have been disposed of in one hour. It ought to have been disposed of in one hour, but because of the Faustian pact between the Deputy and the Government, it cannot let him down. It bought his vote, he stays bought, and the Government cannot concede the hour for the motion of censure the situation required.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Before calling on Deputy Gormley, during the course of Deputy Rabbitte's address he referred to the reporting in the House and the reporting of interruptions. The words used about “interference” would be seen as a reflection on the reporting staff. I would appreciate if the Deputy would clarify the matter.
Mr. Rabbitte: There is an editorial decision made somewhere to polish the record and to put in “interruptions” when there are perfectly audible interventions. It has been going on in the House for a number of years. The record ought to show what is stated in the House.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: When taping a number of interruptions made at the same time, I understand it is not possible to pick them up. There is a long-standing tradition in the House that they are referred to as “interruptions” and not recorded.
Mr. Gormley: I am not here this evening looking for a pound of flesh nor am I here to do Deputy Gildea down. I want to make a contribution which I hope will bring some balance to this dispute. I know Deputies Gildea and Owen, both of whom I believe to be decent people. What I would like to do here this evening is to establish the facts as I know them. I was at the Whips' meeting at the time and I must say, all of us were quite shocked at the contribution, including the Government Chief Whip. I subsequently saw Deputy Gildea in the Chief Whip's office and I believe he was very confused. The Chief Whip asked him to withdraw the remarks. I do not believe it was a Fianna Fáil plot as Deputy Rabbitte said. I do not believe Fianna Fáil wrote the speech because it was a hand-written speech which he wrote himself.
However, it was a very serious abuse of Dáil privilege which we cannot tolerate. That is why I support the motion of censure. It is incumbent on Deputy Gildea to make a personal statement because his remarks were extremely damaging to a Deputy in this House. All of us could find ourselves in a similar situation at some stage. If some Deputy is so irresponsible as to stand up and make base charges against another, there is nothing we can do and the allegation can stand. What compounds it is not the fact that it is said in this House but that it can be reported in the radio, press, television and be on the front pages of newspapers. As it is not libellous, it could go on for days and days and in the meantime the person's reputation is ebbing away. That is not acceptable. Another reason it is so damaging is that politics now stands at such a low ebb, people will say to themselves there is no smoke without fire and so on. We have tried to do something over the years to deal with that situation. I call on Deputy Gildea to come in here and make that statement. It will not cost him anything but it will help this House enormously. We need clarity in this House because clearly Deputy Gildea was  confused. He did not know what to do next. The Ceann Comhairle can play a role by coming in and making clear to the Deputy what to do. Perhaps there should be a meeting of Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The rules need to be laid down so that there is an immediate retraction and fulsome apology showing that what was said was completely unsubstantiated. We can get our act together in this House in this regard.
The next election will be fought on the whole area of integrity within politics. I note with some interest the selection of the new Fine Gael candidate in Dublin South East. I am sure Deputy Fitzgerald has also noted it with some interest. On the issue of integrity, I hope Fine Gael will learn something from the Green Party, and I say this to the new candidate in Dublin South East. The Green Party has not ever accepted a corporate donation. We have not accepted donations from developers or banks. In fact, when a bank sent us a donation it was sent back immediately. We have stuck by that policy. I hope other parties will learn from that. If the next election is fought on the issue of integrity in politics, people will see that the Green Party has lived up to its word. We do not just talk about it, we do it. People should consider what happened in Dublin County Council on the issue of rezoning. When my colleague, Deputy Sargent, received a cheque from a developer and asked did anyone else receive one of these, he was rounded on. He was verbally abused and physically attacked. This House needs to clean up its act and get clarity on Standing Orders so that we do not have a repeat of that which went on here last week. That is why the Green Party will be accepting this motion of censure.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan): I wish to share time with Deputies Blaney, Brian Lenihan and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue.
I wish to make clear where the Government stands on this issue. These remarks should not have been made by Deputy Gildea. There is no foundation or substance to them and we join in the apology to Deputy Owen, her family and her party for any hurt caused. We are totally satisfied that there is absolutely no foundation whatsoever to the allegations. It is for that reason I wish to make clear to Deputy Owen that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats join in that apology to her.
The amendment notes that Deputy Gildea has withdrawn the allegations made in Private Members' time on 21 November as formally requested by the Ceann Comhairle. It notes that Deputy Gildea apologised to the House, Deputy Owen, her family and her party on 22 November. It further notes that the present practices and procedures of the House, as far as we are concerned, have been complied with in this regard. For those reasons, we have asked that the Dáil accept the withdrawal given by one of its Members, accept the custom and practice of the House and accept Deputy Gildea's apology. That is a request in the amendment which is put to the House.
I have never had an interest in trading insults with members of the Opposition about any issue. I have always believed in doing my job and dealing with criticism in the ordinary way. The trading of insults across the floor on these and other issues has added substantially to the damage to political life. One of the effects is that the other party Whips and I have been engaged in Dáil reform measures for some time and we hope to bring those to fruition very shortly. It is worth noting that six or seven measures under the broad heading of “ethics” have been endorsed, with very little division, by the House over the past 12 months. Those measures will add considerably to the betterment of politics and will enhance political life substantially.
A lot of hard words have been said in this Chamber over the years. I do not want to dig out precedents about statements that had to be withdrawn. I invite Members to look back over the record and take note of the things said. Some of the statements were extremely harsh, personal and hurtful to family and friends, but the Ceann Comhairle intervened and the remarks were withdrawn. In many cases no apology emanated. People were called liars—
Mr. S. Brennan: I had the opportunity to have a brief discussion with Deputy Gildea and some other Deputies in the lobby after the incident. He showed me the script which was in his own handwriting – I think Members appreciate that.  There was no input from anybody that I know of, other than himself, in the script.
Standing Order 58 has been referred to regarding the letter from the former chief executive of CMI. This side of the House fully accepts the statement by the former chief executive. If the Ceann Comhairle in his wisdom decides to call on Deputy Gildea under Standing Order 58, which relates to persons outside the House, and puts that to him, I have little doubt he will accept the content of the letter.
Deputies have spoken about the matter of honour in the House and I have elucidated our position in regard to that. Deputy Gildea has friends, family, constituents and newspapers writing about him too.
Mr. S. Brennan: If a Member of Dáil Éireann has to withdraw a remark and subsequently apologise for it, are we to say that in the future the word and the apology given to this Assembly is not to be accepted? I have consulted the records as best I can in the short time which was available and can find no motion of censure on a Member of the House for a matter like this or any other matter.
Mr. S. Brennan: I am an admirer of good parliamentary tactics and have no doubt that if I were on the other side of the House and there were Independent Deputies supporting the Government, I too would be trying to dislodge such a Deputy.
Mr. S. Brennan: I believe they are honourable people who are entitled to their opinions and entitled to support whoever they want. To denigrate them or to describe them as being bought is not in the nature of this House. Deputy Rabbitte said that the matter was being allowed to stand on the record. The matter is not being allowed to stand. I did not interrupt the Deputy and he should let me finish my remarks.
Mr. S. Brennan: I would prefer not to, thanks. We are not allowing the remarks to stand on the record. We do not approve of this. It should not have happened and we dissociate ourselves from it. If Deputy Gildea feels that he has done enough in issuing the apology, humiliating him further and-—
Mr. S. Brennan: Last week I suggested that the matter be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. That is what happened in the case of a former Deputy in 1994. At that time a Fine Gael Deputy refused to withdraw an allegation against a senior member of the Judiciary and the matter was discussed at the committee. No motion of censure was tabled in that case.
Mr. S. Brennan: Many Members opposite me tonight were in the House at that time. A Member of this House has made a full withdrawal and given an apology. The issue is whether we accept that apology or throw it back in his face. I suggest we accept Deputy Gildea's apology to the House—
Mr. Blaney: I support the Government's amendment to the motion before the House to censure Deputy Tom Gildea. I have known Deputy Gildea since I came to this House and for some time previous to that. He represents his constituents to the best of his ability and with great commitment. At times one can get frustrated about what takes place in one's own area and when Deputy Gildea made the statement that he did last Wednesday night relating to Deputy Nora Owen, it was one such occasion.
The fact that Deputy Gildea withdrew his offensive statement when requested to do so by the Ceann Comhairle and subsequently apologised to Deputy Owen, her family and her party fulfilled the requirements of courtesy and proper ethics of this House. Deputy Owen has over the years been harassed, as people may or may not know, on issues that Deputy Gildea felt strongly about in his own area. This may have contributed to his comments. This is not the first time that we have seen incidents like this arise in the House and while I agree that the statement should not have been made, the withdrawal and apology were genuine and unreserved in their content and should have been accepted in the same genuine spirit in which they were made. I therefore unreservedly support the Government's amendment to the motion.
Mr. B. Lenihan: As both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste pointed out on Thursday, the Government has been unequivocal in stating that these comments should not have been made and it is correct that they have been withdrawn and accompanied by an apology. I join the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Brennan, who spoke earlier in this debate, in expressing my regret and sympathy to Deputy Owen on the unfounded allegations and gross abuse of parliamentary privilege which took place in this House last Wednesday evening.
It is important to remember that the privilege of speaking in this House and the absolute protection it enjoys under the Constitution imposes a co-relative duty on us to respect that and to ensure that, in our procedures, abuse of it does not take place. It has long been the precedent in this House that a Deputy who makes such an allegation is asked to withdraw it. Deputy Gildea withdrew the comments and subsequently apologised. I regret the fact that there was a delay between his withdrawal and his apology, but he did do so.
The Opposition is fully aware that the appropriate step to be taken if they wish this matter to proceed further is to refer it to the Committee  on Procedure and Privileges. That procedure was adopted when a Fine Gael Deputy made unfounded attacks on the President of the High Court, the Attorney General and the Judiciary in 1994. If this procedure was acceptable to Fine Gael when a statement by a Deputy of theirs was in dispute, it is hard to see why this procedure is not acceptable in relation to an independent Deputy like Deputy Gildea.
The matter is very clear in Standing Orders and in salient rulings of the House. Deputy Rabbitte used the expression “a gross abuse of parliamentary privilege” in the course of the debate. I do not disagree with that characterisation of what happened, but the salient rulings of the Chair on this point are very clear in stating that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges is the proper place to discuss gross breaches of privilege. That ruling goes back to 1932 and has been reiterated many times in this House. When there is an abuse of privilege and the Member does not withdraw, the option for the Chair is to permit the offended party, by way of motion, without notice to refer the matter immediately to the Committee. That did not happen on this occasion and I do not fault or criticise Deputy Owen, who quite rightly came into this House and defended her reputation on the instant. That is the proper procedure to follow.
In these circumstances, it is improper for the principal Opposition party, Fine Gael, to institute a boycott of Dáil Éireann. Taken together with their earlier decision to boycott the National Forum on Europe, where essentially the federalist case has now gone by default, we are dealing with a principal Opposition party who are not addressing serious political issues that must be debated in our public life. I am not clear whether Deputy Noonan has disavowed his earlier suggestion that Deputy Gildea's comments were written as part of a Government conspiracy. I welcome the intervention of Deputy Gormley, who has personally satisfied himself on this matter by examining the texts of the speech. There is no question of there being a concerted conspiracy on the part of the Government in the production of Deputy Gildea's speech. Indeed, as Deputy Blaney pointed out, this is a matter about which Deputy Gildea felt very strongly and expressed those feelings wrongly and deplorably in his form of utterances.
I call on Deputy Noonan, if he has not already done so, to withdraw the charge that there was a concerted effort by the Government to produce this speech. His refusal to acknowledge this undermines his stated intention to ensure that unsubstantiated allegations are not made. We cannot have one rule for one Deputy and one rule for another. The suggestion by Deputy Noonan is far less in gravity than what Deputy Gildea said and I am not suggesting otherwise. We can all make strong allegations in the heat of the moment and Deputy Gildea has withdrawn them, accompanied by an apology. The entire transaction is most regrettable but the Minister of  State is correct in the amendment to the motion which he has tabled.
We must see if the practices of this House are inadequate to deal with this problem – and they have been looked at in recent years – and revisit them. Perhaps the provision in Standing Orders whereby the Member has the discretion to inform the Chair if he intends to make a statement which is potentially defamatory should be looked at again in terms of imposing an obligation on Members who have a fixed intention of making such statements. The procedure proposed by the Chief Whip, the amendment to the motion, is correct in terms of the traditions and precedents that must apply in this House.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Much has been said and more has been written about the debate that took place in this House last Wednesday. It is important that this fact be stated clearly. Prior to the commencement of last Wednesday's debate, Deputy Owen had an unblemished reputation for honesty. At the conclusion of the debate that reputation was not diminished nor was it in doubt. It is not in doubt today nor is it in any way the subject matter of this debate. The subject matter is the manner in which this House regulates its own affairs. Article 15.10 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that each House will make its own rules and Standing Orders with power to attach penalties for their infringement. It is necessary, having regard to the week that has passed, for it to be clearly understood that the regulation of the business of this House is exclusively a matter for this House.
Others may comment but we, the democratically elected representatives, make the decisions. We are answerable in respect of our decisions only to the electorate and not to any intermediate body. It is important that this House is consistent in that we are not seen impulsively to change the rules or make them up as we go along. The issue we must address tonight is what, if any, action is appropriate to be taken by this House against a Deputy who makes a false accusation, withdraws the allegation and subsequently apologises. Happily such allegations are rarely made.
One of the exceptions related to remarks made by Deputy Jim Mitchell in Dáil Éireann on Wednesday 23 March, 1994. Deputy Mitchell made certain comments which impugned the independence of the Judiciary making particular reference to then President of the High Court and the sole member of the judicial inquiry into the meat industry and cast serious doubts over the impartiality of his report on the tribunal which was then under preparation. Furthermore, he made a very serious attack on the then Attorney General and questioned his fitness for office.
The matter was referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which accepted Deputy  Mitchell's apology, the allegation made by him in regard to each of the three areas outlined to be unreservedly withdrawn and reported to Dáil Éireann accordingly. That did not mean that the false allegations were not made; they were left to linger and fester on the record of the House before being withdrawn. An apology was tendered and that was the end of the matter. We heard no demand for censure. Indeed I do not remember a call by the Labour Party for Deputy Rabbitte to be rebuked or censured when then President of the High Court and subsequent Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Hamilton, found after inquiry that a serious allegation made in this House about another Member of this House by Deputy Rabbitte was “baseless”. Why is it necessary to change the rules now?
Mr. O'Donoghue: Why now is the time of this House engaged in debating a demand that Deputy Gildea be treated in a manner different from any other Deputy? If that were the full extent of this debate it would be strange enough, but it is not. It has been extended to include an attack on myself. It is asserted that as I was present in the Chamber at the time of Deputy Gildea's contribution, I bear some responsibility for not in some way seeking to prevent Deputy Gildea from addressing the House. This is an extraordinary assertion.
Mr. O'Donoghue: It is an extraordinary assertion, coming as it does from the Fine Gael Party, whose present leader was not alone in the House when a scurrilous and offensive allegation was made against me, but who brayed with enthusiasm as the allegation was made. He did not on that occasion do as he now suggests I should have done. Why not? The answer, of course, is that he did not because it is nonsense to suggest that there was ever such a rule or such  a duty. As its day of destiny with the electorate creeps ever closer, Fine Gael is becoming more desperate. It would appear that no stunt is too juvenile or too trivial.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Yesterday Fine Gael dispatched children in fancy dress who caused public disorder on the streets of Dublin, in an effort to conceal the absence of any meaningful health strategy on their part. A political party with a history such as Fine Gael's should think twice before resorting to street disorder. A white coat is a poor disguise for a blue shirt.
Mr. O'Donoghue: As the party's popularity lessens, its tactics become lower. For the past week some members of Fine Gael have lurked in the political mire, furtively manipulating a whispering campaign. It has been suggested to journalists that a phrase in Deputy Gildea's contribution—
Mr. O'Donoghue: The leader of Fine Gael himself claimed that Deputy Gildea's contri bution was “not all his own work”. In the corridors of this House cowardly character assassins lurked and whispered. Now that is what I call dirty tricks. It is now known, as a result of decent journalistic endeavour, that the claim advanced about a phrase in Deputy Gildea's contribution being used by a senior Fianna Fáil figure is false. The phrase in question was last used in this House by Deputy Rabbitte. Prior to that it was used by the present Attorney General, by the late Deputy John Boland and by the former Labour Deputy John Horgan.
The whispered invective uttered in the corridors of this House sought to point the finger in a different direction. However, the falsity of those claims is of no consequence to Fine Gael. When are we going to get a withdrawal, a retraction, an apology, from Fine Gael for the groundless innuendo that Fianna Fáil was involved in preparing Deputy Gildea's script? Not tonight, I would suggest. Not tomorrow night, nor any other night.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The party of openness and transparency has become a party of panic and paralysis. Furtiveness and scheming appear to be the order of the day. I find it quite remarkable that a senior spokesperson in Fine Gael, which was involved in the formulation of the Garda in this State and which was responsible, let it be said, for many of our democratic institutions, to be allowed by his leader and his party to assert in this House that I should cast aside legal principles and very strict precedent in order to seek some short-term gain in relation to the Donegal affair.
The reality, as everybody with even a scintilla of knowledge of the law knows, is that it is not possible for me to ask that a public inquiry be established while the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is independent in the exercise of his functions, is deciding whether or not to charge people. It is not possible for me to establish a public inquiry while people are charged before the criminal courts of this country. It would not be possible even if the McBrearty family were to withdraw all of their civil claims. They are not the only people with civil claims.
There have been criminal procedures in place in this State for a protracted period of time. These have stood the test of time and have been honoured by men like John Costello and Dr. Garret Fitzgerald. I would expect no less of the present leader of Fine Gael than to follow in that tradition and to honour and respect those principles and not to try to undermine them by pretending to the Irish public that it is possible for me or any other Minister for Justice – a position Deputy Noonan once held – to establish a public inquiry in the face of criminal proceedings before the courts.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy Noonan should tell the Irish people the truth. He should not come into this House or send his spokespersons into this House to seek to undermine the legal principles upon which the State was founded and by which it has been well served.
I deeply regret the innuendo that it was possible for all legal procedures and principles to be cast aside for some populist reason best known to Fine Gael themselves, or indeed to Deputy Howlin and the Labour Party.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I say that with the greatest of respect. It is necessary for the simple reason that I may not undermine the very principles which are at the base of the foundation of the State's institutions and I will not do so, nor would anybody with any bit of sense expect me to do so.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The reality is that I am as anxious as any Member of this House to get to the bottom of the Donegal affair. I have stated on numerous occasions that it is my wish to see the matter brought to a close in the interests of the Garda Síochána and of the public. I have explained that I am deeply concerned—
Mr. O'Donoghue: Let nobody fool anybody with this call for a public inquiry without regard to the criminal proceedings taking place. The DPP is currently considering whether or not to bring further charges. That is a matter for him; he is independent in the exercise of his functions.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I will not interfere with him in the exercise of his office, nor have I ever done so. Nor have I ever, at any point since becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, abused in the slightest way any of the institutions with whose responsibility I am charged. I would not do that, out of respect for this House and respect for myself.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I ask the Members of this House to respect the laws and principles which have been laid down over generations and which have served the people well. I ask in particular that the main Opposition party, Fine Gael, do so, for it was they who set up many of the very institutions they now seek to ask me to undermine by ignoring the principles upon which they are based.
Mr. O'Donoghue: This motion is unnecessary. It is known to be unnecessary. We should not travel the route of inventing new rules which apply only when it suits the mock indignation of a jaded Opposition.
Mr. O'Donoghue: It suits them to bulge with bogus indignation rather than to engage in real political debate. That is the enemy of the Opposition. It is not I. They can find common cause on  procedure and pronouncements but not on policy, so they shy away from policy and squander their parliamentary time in photo-opportunistic walk-outs and stunts. So be it. They have squandered four and a half years in a lethargic haze; I suppose a few more months will not make much difference.
The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Brennan, said during his contribution that many hard things are said in this House in the course of political debate. I agree with him. Members, from time to time, say hurtful things about each other and make allegations that are untrue or simply go over the top. The remarks are withdrawn, usually immediately, and that is the end of the matter. Deputy Gildea's performance here last Wednesday night, however, was quite different. It requires a different kind of approach from the House.
Last Wednesday night, Deputy Gildea found himself between a political rock and a hard place. He had to decide whether to vote as his constituents and fellow county people would have wished him to, to support the Opposition motion calling for a public inquiry into the McBrearty affair, or whether to honour his deal with Fianna Fáil and vote with the Government. It was a dilemma with which many Members will identify – loyalty torn between constituency and party or, in this case, the private deal with the party. Unlike most Deputies who have found themselves in this uncomfortable position, however, Deputy Gildea chose not simply to explain and argue the reason for his vote, however difficult. Instead he chose, perhaps with help or advice, to calculatedly set out to damage the good name and reputation of another Member in order to distract attention from his own shabby voting intentions.
Last Wednesday night Deputy Gildea did not go over the top in the heat of battle. He came in with a thought-out speech prepared in advance and making the most serious accusations, some of them allegations of criminal activity, against Deputy Owen which – on his own admission since – he knew to be untrue. His half-hearted and belated withdrawal and subsequent apology for those allegations does not wipe the slate clean. These actions came only after he was apparently advised to do so by the Government Chief Whip and they are therefore as politically expedient as the approach which caused him to make the allegations in the first place.
The House should censure Deputy Gildea for these remarks for a number of reasons. First, because of his abuse of the privilege of the House in order to protect himself from the redress which would normally be open to any citizen for the accusations he made against Deputy Owen.  Second, so that the House can collectively assert that we will not support or tolerate unfounded allegations made by one Member against another under the privilege of the House or against people outside the House.
It is right and proper that public servants, whether elected or appointed, should be called to account for their behaviour. However, there is a growing belief in recent times, perhaps in the wake of the tribunals, that it is open season on politicians – that any kind of base motive can be attributed to any person who serves the public through elected office and that any kind of allegation can be levelled with no comeback. It is regrettable that a Member should have chosen to go down this road and it is time we put paid to that notion.
The third reason we should address this relates not so much to the question of conspiracy as to where the speech came from but rather to the pattern Deputy Gildea's speech follows. In recent times there has been a pattern of a new and perhaps successful debating tactic being adopted by some Ministers to rebut Opposition criticism. The new approach is to ignore the substance of the Opposition criticism and to lash out instead at Opposition Deputies. The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, used the tactic last year when he attacked Deputy Owen to distract attention from the public apology he was forced to give to another Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, regarding the deregulation of taxis. The Minister for Public Enterprise used the same trick some weeks ago when she turned her own disastrous performance on public transport and enterprise – Aer Lingus, Eircom and Luas: the litany is quite long – into snap, crackle and pop slapstick which the fourth estate found much more hilariously funny than pensioners who have lost their savings on Eircom shares or commuters who are stuck in city traffic. Whether Deputy Gildea was taking a leaf from the O'Dea-O'Rourke style of parliamentary debate or whether he had assistance in crafting his speech we perhaps will never know. However, unlike Deputies O'Dea or O'Rourke he went further than the normal political charges, however funny or not, which are levelled in this House and he entered the realm of personal attack.
Deputy Gildea twice did a disservice to his constituents last Wednesday. The first was by voting against the motion supporting a public inquiry into the McBrearty affair. The second was that by the attack and tactic he used to distract attention from that, he succeeded in deflecting public attention from what is a serious issue which is very important to the people of his county.
Mr. Shatter: Regarding the events in the House last Wednesday evening, nobody who heard Deputy Gildea's utterances or observed the way he conducted himself could draw any conclusion other than that he was engaged in a calculated  and cowardly attack on a Member of the House. The most serious allegations were made against Deputy Owen, allegations in respect of which there was not a scintilla of truth.
As for how the House should deal with the matter, it is worth recalling that when Deputy Gildea was first asked if he would withdraw the statements he made, he said “No.” Then he asked to be allowed to continue with his speech.
Mr. Shatter: There was no question of him withdrawing, having suddenly realised the enormity of what he had said. The House was adjourned and I recall walking past the Chief Whip's office when Deputy Gildea, having left the House with greater haste than usual, was in there discussing his script and what he should do next.
The Government is being disingenuous in suggesting that the apology necessary from Deputy Gildea was forthcoming. He withdrew the allegations under protest. He apologised in the House to Deputy Owen and her family but he did not do something that both the Chief Whip, Deputy Brennan, and Deputy O'Donoghue belatedly did here this evening. The Chief Whip said: “There is no foundation and no substance to the remarks of Deputy Gildea.” We are asking that Deputy Gildea come to the House and say expressly that there was no truth, no foundation and no substance to the allegations he so calculatedly delivered but Deputy Gildea has declined. He has lacked the courage to do so.
Deputy O'Donoghue was sitting in the House when these events occurred last Wednesday. I was briefly out of the Chamber and observed them on the screen in my room, then I returned to the Chamber. I asked Deputy O'Donoghue to disassociate himself from the remarks of Deputy Gildea and to intervene with the Ceann Comhairle. He was asked to consider the approach to be taken by the Government and to disassociate himself from what was said. Deputy O'Donoghue sat silently in the House like the cat who just had the cream put in front of him, with a self-satisfied expression, delighted, in effect, that the focus attaching to him—
Mr. Shatter: —Deputy Owen's unblemished reputation for honesty was not affected by what happened here last Wednesday. The truth is, as the Minister knows and as Members witnessed, that the Minister sat silently in the House last Wednesday throughout the whole controversy, content with the events and refusing to intervene. He did not take any action.
Mr. Shatter: The Minister did not have the decency last week to stand up and say the allegations made against Deputy Owen were untrue and that her record was unblemished. This is an extraordinary debate. Deputy Blaney informed us that Deputy Gildea's comments last week derived from some sense of frustration with events in his constituency, that he was driven to  the outburst he calculatedly scripted before coming into the House.
Mr. Shatter: Deputy Gildea's contribution was his first in the House with the exception of a previous 30 second intervention. For a Deputy so driven, his presence hangs like Banquo's ghost over this evening's proceedings. He has not even had the courage to come into the House to listen to Members' contributions and make a contribution to restore his own reputation rather than Deputy Owen's. The reality is that Deputy Gildea is a very special Deputy, a fact underlined by the contribution of Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Brennan. Deputy Brennan properly disowned Deputy Gildea's remarks but spent part of his extraordinary contribution love bombing Deputy Gildea to ensure he remains part of the gang of four which supports the Government.
Mr. Shatter: What about Mr. Doyle who has written to Members of this House? Will Deputy Gildea come into the House and acknowledge that his allegations against Mr. Doyle last Wednesday are also without substance? I challenge Deputy Gildea to come into the House before this debate concludes tomorrow evening and have the courage to acknowledge that his allegations in respect of Deputy Owen and Mr. Doyle were wrong, untrue and lacking in substance.
I want to refer briefly to two other matters. We witnessed earlier a bombastic performance from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform which, frankly, was more reminiscent of his behaviour in Opposition than his behaviour in Government.
Mr. Shatter: He has attempted to change his style as a Minister but tonight he returned to the bombast. A challenge relating to the McBrearty affair was issued to the Minister in the House last week which he refused to accept and it was reiterated this evening by Deputies Noonan and Jim Higgins. While the Minister addressed aspects of the affair, he has studiously avoided dealing with one particular issue. We now know that in October 1997, the Minister received a request from the Donegal district coroner to exhume the body of the late Richie Barron. We now know that some six days later the Minister was asked  by the Garda to put that request on hold and we know it was four years later when the Minister finally admitted to the House that he had received such a request and did not proceed to order an exhumation. Why, in the plethora of Dáil questions tabled by Deputies Howlin, Higgins and myself, did the Minister not inform the House over a four year period that the possibility of an exhumation arose directly as a result of an application from the Donegal district coroner in October 1997? Why, with all of the subsequent controversy which occurred, did he not ask the Garda Síochána why it first applied to the district coroner for an exhumation order and why, after the coroner applied to the Department, the gardaí asked him to put the application on hold?
Why did the Minister never investigate or pursue this matter? Will he inform the House whether he questioned the Garda Commissioner about this matter or made contact with the garda who first sought the exhumation order and subsequently requested it be put on hold to ask him why the Garda changed its mind? These are serious questions which the Minister has refused to answer for the second week running. It is regrettable that so much time must be taken up with Deputy Gildea's contribution when the Minister has refused to answer questions on an issue of serious public concern.
Mrs. Owen: The great parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, who is often quoted in this House, said in 1789 “an event has happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to be silent”. The matter we are discussing here this evening is such an event. My fervent wish is that I could turn the clock back to 7 p.m. on 21 November 2001 and live the life I was leading then as a robust parliamentarian whose good name was intact.
I accept that Deputy Gildea withdrew his comments in a qualified manner. I accept that he apologised to me and my family for the hurt caused but the sad fact is that, because our utterances in this House are reported with privilege, the media had the right to repeat everything Deputy Gildea said. For the past six days I have had to defend my good name, something I did not have to do at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, 21 November. Deputy Gildea may well have been hounded too and may not have had a very pleasant six days because of what he said but I cannot imagine that the hurt he feels comes anywhere close to mine.
Members of the media were entitled to ask me questions because of Deputy Gildea's comments. Those very questions imply there was some truth in his comments although I know everything he said was untrue and unfounded and that he does not have a scintilla of evidence to sustain it. I have spent the past six days fending off people who mean well, making jokes about this matter such as “What did you do?” and “Who were you working for?”.
 However, there was a silver lining to last Wednesday's events and I want to sincerely thank my colleagues in the Labour Party, the Green Party and, particularly, the Fine Gael Party for their immediate support when those outrageous allegations were made. The spontaneity of that support and people's belief that the allegations were untrue will stay with me. Many Fianna Fáil Members have also offered their support, particularly Deputy Power who, when we asked the Government to bring this terrible saga to a speedy end with some reflection of good on the House, had the courage to support our request.
Mrs. Owen: —but ruined them by going on to refer to our mock indignation and early electioneering. This is a serious matter. Today I find myself in the eye of the storm, put there by Deputy Gildea who I wish was present so that I could look at him and make him realise how hurtful and damaging his actions were. I stand here for all Members, present and future, because if what happened to me, and the manner of its withdrawal, is allowed to stand, we will rue this day and some other Member will suffer as I have suffered, as Mr. Doyle has suffered and as the Garda has suffered by the allegation that I could have ordered it to follow a particular course of action and that it could not tell me it could not do so.
I thank all those who have supported me in my hour of need. I ask Deputy Gildea to come to the House and explain himself. I am not responsible for his anger at something that happened in County Donegal. If this is how he pays me for his anger today, he may pay someone else in the same way tomorrow.
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