Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Tá sé sin ceart. The findings of the Moriarty tribunal form another chapter in the sordid history of the golden circle of the powerful and the wealthy in this State. It is without question an indictment of Deputy Michael Lowry. It is an indictment also of the Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left Government in which he sat at the Cabinet table as Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. Above all, it is an indictment of the political culture that has dominated this State for decades.
While the tribunal does not use the word “corrupt”, its findings amount to the same thing — the awarding of the State’s hugely lucrative second mobile telephone licence was corrupt. The Minister responsible, Deputy Lowry, received substantial sums of money from the winning bidder, Denis O’Brien, before and after the awarding of the licence. Fine Gael also received substantial sums of money from the same source.
The spotlight has quite rightly fallen on Deputy Lowry. Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of censure. That motion should be taken today, voted on and supported by all Deputies in this House. I would ask that the Government’s intent on the motion of censure would be clarified before the conclusion of the statements. It would send a very clear signal that the political culture of corruption and cronyism is ending for good.
The spotlight must also fall on the former Minister, Deputy Lowry’s Cabinet colleagues, especially the former Taoiseach, John Bruton. Mr. Bruton, now president of the Irish Financial Services Centre, said recently that the Irish people need to regain seriousness and self-respect. In his role as Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton did little to enhance national self-respect. His close ministerial colleague and chief Fine Gael party fund-raiser was none other than Deputy Lowry. The scandal exposed by the Moriarty tribunal happened on the watch of the then Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton, but he has escaped with relatively little censure for his role in it. He was at the very least, negligent in allowing Government business to be done the way it was by the then Minister, Deputy Lowry. He was aware at the time that the then Minister, Deputy Lowry, was a tax evader and had availed of the 1993 tax amnesty. It says a great deal about politics in this State just before the start of the Celtic tiger that such a figure could be appointed to Cabinet. One of the less publicised findings of the tribunal is the pocketing by the then soon-to-be-Minister, Deputy Lowry, of €34,500 between 1989 and 1992. That was money from Dunnes Stores that was supposed to be given in Christmas bonuses to the workforce of Mr. Lowry’s refrigeration company. Such a culture could flourish because Mr. Bruton kowtowed to corporate interests. That was hardly surprising since they were, after all, funding Fine Gael to the hilt.
I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has said the Government will move to ban corporate donations. Fine Gael has a great deal of ground to make up in this regard. It clearly spent millions of euro in the recent general election yet it does not publish its party accounts, something we in Sinn Féin have been doing for years. The tribunal has described the $50,000 payment to Fine Gael from Telenor-Esat as “secretive, utterly lacking in transparency and designed to conceal the fact of such a payment”. Mr. Bruton did return this money, but the truth of what had happened was only revealed after probing by the media. It was carefully concealed and begs the question as to what other significant corporate donations to Fine Gael were or are being concealed. The question has been put by my party colleague and leader in the House on a number occasions this week and last. Were there other donations to Fine Gael either directly from Mr. Denis O’Brien or any of the companies in which he has an interest?
In 1997 we got a snapshot of the range and level of corporate donations to Establishment political parties when a box of files on donors was, apparently inadvertently, thrown into a skip outside the head office of the Progressive Democrats during a clear-out. It was removed from the skip and sent anonymously to a Sunday newspaper. The donors included Tony Ryan of GPA, De Beers diamonds, Tara Mines, Waterford Glass and Larry Goodman and there were donations from executives in firms such as Stokes Kennedy Crowley and Arthur Cox & Co. There was £12,000 from Smurfit’s in 1987 and again in 1989, and £30,000 in 1992. If there had been a similar skip mishap outside Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil head offices, perhaps more information would be to hand today.
Fine Gael should publish its accounts, including corporate donations. We have repeatedly pointed out that in key policy areas, including economic strategy, there is little difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. While Fine Gael always attempts to refute this, it is much more vehement in its denial that it is the same as the other party in terms of political culture, cronyism and corruption. This may be true, but only to a certain extent, which is no comfort to the Deputies opposite. The difference is that Fianna Fáil has been in government far more often and for longer in the history of the State than Fine Gael and the opportunities for those of its members who have been corrupt have, therefore, been far greater. Boy, have they availed of these opportunities.
The media and political debate is focused predominantly on individuals because the tribunal’s inquiries and findings were based on the conduct of individuals. However, there are wider implications for the conduct of politics and Government policy. There was, apparently, nothing illegal or, on the face of it, corrupt about the privatisation of Eircom, but in its results it was far more disastrous than the awarding of the second mobile phone licence. Strategic infrastructure was sold off and the Government threw away its responsibility to develop the telecommunications infrastructure of the country in a properly planned and equitable manner, with the profits being ploughed back to maintain and upgrade that resource. Instead, the general public was invited to be a shareholder and when that venture collapsed, leaving many thousands of small investors out of pocket, the company was sold off. Among the principal beneficiaries was none other than Tony O’Reilly who profited to the tune of many millions. This may not be termed corrupt in the legal sense, but I believe it was a corruption of the role of the Government and a betrayal of the public interest.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are at one on the policy of privatisation. In the last Dáil they both supported the privatisation of Aer Lingus. We learned yesterday that the chief executive of the privatised Aer Lingus received €1.32 million in salary and bonus payments in 2010. The golden circle has changed but, very sadly, only in form and personnel.
I will conclude with some questions which I hope the Taoiseach and the Minister will answer. They will have an opportunity to respond later in the debate. Will the Taoiseach state whether Fine Gael will publish its accounts? Will it publish its list of corporate donors, especially in the recent general election? The Taoiseach said yesterday that the Cabinet had directed the relevant Departments to provide a comprehensive report for the Government within four weeks on the report’s recommendations in order that appropriate action could be taken. Will that comprehensive report be published and brought before the Dáil for our consideration? The Taoiseach promised to bring forward legal and constitutional provisions to ban corporate donations. When will these provisions be brought forward?
Before making what I hope will be the unanimous decision to pass the motion of censure, in respect of which we take some encouragement from the Taoiseach’s remarks earlier, I hope all of these questions will be fully responded to before this business is concluded today.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The Moriarty tribunal report, the travails of the tribunal, the various legal challenges and some of the really acidic invective, particularly that directed towards Mr. Justice Moriarty, confirm once again for the public, in a very depressing way, the unhealthy and corrupting relationship between politics and at least some big businesses. People’s worst suspicion that there is an unhealthy insiders’ boys’ club version of politics running its writ in the State has been reconfirmed.
Deputy Michael Lowry says he is innocent of any wrongdoing and is entitled to defend his good name and reputation. He is equally entitled to challenge the findings of the tribunal. However, he was allowed yesterday, with the indulgence of the House, a full hour to launch invective and abuse not only against the tribunal and its process but also against Mr. Justice Moriarty in a very personal way. Rather than coming to the House as a Member to give an account of himself, challenge any factual errors and present an alternative case, he chose to heap abuse and invective in the course of one hour period.
The tribunal was established by the Oireachtas under terms agreed in this House. It has done its work and returned with his findings. It is incumbent on the House not only to accept those findings but also to follow the logic of that acceptance. It is for that reason Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of censure against Deputy Michael Lowry. We believe it should be a cross-party motion and that the Government should make time available to debate it. It is essential outside this rarefied environment that the electorate, the people, see very clearly that when findings of such a serious nature are laid before the House in respect of a Member thereof, the Dáil will act, even if the actions available to it are woefully inadequate. It is a matter of absolute urgency that the Taoiseach make good his commitment of this morning and allow for the motion to be taken. Ideally, it should be a cross-party motion.
Understandably, the vast bulk of media and political attention generated by the publication of the Moriarty tribunal report has focused on Deputy Michael Lowry, but there are wider considerations. The Deputy was the key Minister of the rainbow Government. The Taoiseach was a member of that Government, as were Deputies Richard Bruton, Brendan Howlin, Ruairí Quinn and Michael Noonan, all of whom are back in the Cabinet. The decision to award the licence was a major one and proved extremely lucrative. To that extent, those who were members of the Cabinet at the time in question need to examine their own role and answer therefor in accepting Deputy Michael Lowry’s recommendations. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who was Minister for Finance at the time in question, was a member of the Cabinet sub-committee on communications which had prime responsibility for the licence approval. According to the tribunal’s report, Deputy Michael Lowry, as Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, sought a meeting with the members of the sub-committee in October 1995.
The object of that meeting, on Deputy Lowry’s part, was to seek the support of the Taoiseach, John Bruton, the Labour Party leader and Tánaiste, Dick Spring, and the subcommittee members for his proposal to begin exclusive negotiations with Esat Digifone on the GSM licences.
The Moriarty tribunal report states, “the party leaders and Mr. Quinn collectively approved the recommendation made by Mr. Lowry that exclusive negotiations should be opened with Esat Digifone”. All of those there at the time later claimed that Deputy Lowry had told them that Esat Digifone had proven to be the only plausible applicant. In light of what we now know, that was, to say the least, a very contentious verdict at which to arrive.
In fairness to those other Ministers who gave their assent in 1995, they were clearly led to believe that there were no outstanding issues to be examined or resolved. The Moriarty tribunal report suggests that the documentation which Deputy Lowry used to persuade his then colleagues of the virtues of Esat Digifone’s case were not perhaps what they seemed at the time. Nobody is suggesting, and I am certainly not suggesting, that there was any hint of impropriety on the part of any other Minister in that Government. However, they ought to hold up their hands and accept they were perhaps at least somewhat negligent in giving their approval, particularly given the huge value of the licence to the winner.
Another issue that touches upon the Government is the role of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. He was a key member of the group responsible for organising fundraising on behalf of Fine Gael. In that capacity, he was the conduit for several substantial donations from Denis O’Brien. Mark FitzGerald was also involved in party fundraising and he recalls that shortly after one fundraising event in October 1995 he met the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and Denis O’Brien, at a meeting initiated by Denis O’Brien.
If that meeting did take place, there are serious questions to be asked and responded to by all of those who were present, including the Minister, Deputy Hogan. Here, according to Mr. FitzGerald and Mr. Justice Moriarty, a person who had donated significant sums of money to one of the Government parties was meeting a Government Deputy and seeking to find out about a licence application that was potentially, and indeed proved to be, of immense value to Mr. O’Brien. This is something that surely warrants further attention and clarification from the Minister, Deputy Hogan, given that I understand he claims to have no recollection of that meeting ever having taken place.
Fine Gael is now committed to ending corporate donations and we very much hope this proves to be the case, but just as it demanded full explanations from Fianna Fáil regarding that party’s relationship with corporate donors and favours that may or may not have been asked or performed, Fine Gael also needs to come clean on this aspect of its past. Indeed, it would appear from reports of large sums collected by Fine Gael for its most recent election campaign that we are not talking simply about the past. We are talking about close links between Fine Gael and big business that reach right up and into the present. We know that some of those who contributed recently to the Fine Gael coffers have included property developers who are now under the auspices of NAMA and the EBS, which had to be bailed out by the taxpayer.
Given what we now know about favours sought and granted on the basis of similar donations from similar sources in the past, Fine Gael needs to show it has decisively turned its back on the seedy culture of financial ties between big business and politics. It needs to move rapidly to end corporate donations and ensure that any legislation provides for the full disclosure of all donations. As part of being clear about its past, Fine Gael should publish a full list of all corporate and business donations which it received as part of its fundraising for the recent general election campaign. This in itself would go a long way to restoring the trust of the people and of the House in its elected representatives following the revelations in the report.
Deputy Peadar Tóibín: The Moriarty affair highlights a number of major problems that demand immediate resolution. Why did the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government of the day not prevent this from happening? How, as a State, can we create a fair system in which bids such as these can be evaluated? Another major question is on how Government parties have been funded in recent years. How can we investigate wrongdoings such as this without placing a disgusting cost on the shoulders of the Irish citizens? What level of real censure can we bring to bear on people guilty of such wrongs?
With regard to the first question on how Fine Gael and the Labour Party allowed this to happen, yesterday in his speech Deputy Lowry asked, “Does any politician here believe that John Bruton, Dick Spring and Proinsias De Rossa would be so stupid as to allow the likes of John Loughrey and me to pull the wool over their eyes in some way or other?” The answer to this question is in the 14 years and 2,438 pages of the report. Implicitly, it states that at the very least the wool was pulled over the eyes of the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government.
However, the report goes further than this. Not even a month into the Government’s tenure, it is already entangled in allegations by an eminent tribunal judge. In addition to suggestions of unprecedented and inappropriate ministerial interference, serious questions have been asked about the flow of large funds through Fine Gael headquarters at the time when John Bruton was in charge. With regard to the $50,000 donation from Esat Digifone and Telenor to Fine Gael, the report states it is regrettable that Fine Gael and other parties to the transaction made no disclosure to the tribunal, even though they had a substantial degree of knowledge about the clandestine circumstances involved. Why, if this money was handed back, could Fine Gael not answer the tribunal? Is this the transparency and openness in public office that we can look forward to in the next term? Given the enormous sums of taxpayers’ money that went into these tribunals, it is deeply unsettling that the Government cannot make these disclosures.
While we can discuss Mr. Lowry, we must also have recourse to the other members of the Government who find themselves in Cabinet again. In the national interest, is it possible to have published the Cabinet papers of the then coalition Government which relate to the awarding of the mobile phone contract to Esat Digifone?
The Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, has said that the report has exonerated Fine Gael Ministers, but have the events that occurred exonerated Ministers? One leads by example and the example that has been set by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has been appalling. Political reform was one of the buzz words of the recent election. If the new Government is serious about political reform, if it is serious about openness, transparency, disclosure and bringing the political system closer to the people, now is the time to make a goodwill gesture to the people and publish all papers relating to this matter.
The tribunal findings are not just an indictment of an individual or maybe even a number of political parties but rather they are a shocking indictment of our whole political and justice system. That the rich and powerful can buy favour with the establishment political parties is shocking and deeply unfair. That there is no efficient system to bring wrong-doers to justice is also shocking. The tribunals have no teeth. The parties embroiled are still able to remain as Members of the Dáil or even compose the Government, yet, millions of euros of taxpayers’ money has been used to produce a substantive document on foot of which there is no power to impose a serious sentence. The Moriarty tribunal report just lends more credence to the fact that our political and justice systems are in dire need of reform and that we need to design, implement and use a series of checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful. We need to ensure that our Constitution is a framework for government that allows for the exercise of political power which is in the ownership of its citizens. We need to ensure that our way of governing ourselves has the means to be successful for the common good with increased democratic accountability and the capacity to adapt to the changes that constantly descend upon it. Our citizens need to ensure that the State’s decision-making processes are transparent, structured and disciplined. These structures need to inspire confidence.
The Oireachtas has consistently failed to exert sufficient scrutiny over the Government and public bodies. This is largely because it has not had the powers to perform these functions and many Members are distracted by clientelism. We need to copper-fasten new ways of governing ourselves to avoid the kind of muddling through, lethargy, lack of foresight and setbacks that blight previous efforts at reform. To ensure this, we need to crack down on white collar crime, strengthen laws and give the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation additional resources. There should be annual publication of independently-audited accounts by political parties, including income and expenditure accounts and a party balance sheet. I repeat the call made by my colleagues to the Government parties to publish a full list of donations to their parties. We need to reverse the dilution of the Freedom of Information Act and introduce legislation to protect whistleblowers. While I accept that these initiatives may take time to research consider and implement, there is nothing to stop political parties taking the last three steps themselves.
During the election, Sinn Féin said there was a pressing need to change the law to allow for the impeachment or removal of any Deputy from the Dáil involved in corruption, deliberate misuse of public money or fraud. With a total of €42 million, 14 years and more than 2,000 pages later, it is very clear that this needs to happen as a matter of priority. This is the reason Sinn Féin has tabled the motion before the House that Deputy Michael Lowry should be censured.
At a time when Irish people desperately need transparency in public life, when major political donations have been shown to adversely influence public affairs and when the nation’s reputation has once again been sullied by how the issuing of a lucrative mobile phone licence was dealt with, the Government must now play a leading role in the political clean-up that needs to be undertaken. If the Government is serious about reform, it should provide us now with a timetable for the implementation of that reform. The reaction by the Government will be the litmus test of the capacity and will of the new Government to address corruption and to instigate genuine reform. Never again can we have a situation whereby corrupt or questionable dealings are referred to toothless tribunals.
The golden circle became the golden circus. We must not lose sight of the cost of this golden circus, as the tribunal has been called. The tribunal has cost €41 million. What can one get for €41 million? The previous Government’s national recovery plan proposed to cut spending in a whole host of important areas. A total of €22 million was cut in schools capitation grants. There has been a significant reduction in funding throughout the State. We should bear in mind that this money means opportunity lost for the people of Ireland and that it is being taken out of their pockets.
Within 24 hours of its publication the Moriarty report was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda Síochána, which are the bodies responsible for the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences. The report is being studied by the Garda Síochána at present. It has also been referred to the Revenue Commissioners. This clearly illustrates that the Government regards the contents of the report as extremely serious.
As Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, I am particularly conscious of the responsibility that rests on all of us not to do or say anything that might undermine or interfere with the role of the Garda or the DPP and so prejudice possible future criminal proceedings. I remind the House that in the past a statement made by a Minister had such an effect.
My priority as Minister is to ensure that the criminal law is such that successful prosecutions are possible when criminal offences have been committed. It is not appropriate that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence should prejudge such matters. Therefore, in the circumstances, I do not intend to make any comment on the findings in the Moriarty report with regard to the conduct of Deputy Lowry or any other person connected with the licence granted to Esat Digifone or with regard to the dealings detailed in the report in which it is stated individuals were engaged. These matters are under consideration by the Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions will decide independently whether any criminal charges should be brought.
The Taoiseach in his contribution has already referred to the recommendations for substantial reform contained in the Moriarty report, as has the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Many of the reforms recommended already form part of the programme for Government and a commitment has been given to implement badly needed reforms in respect of areas addressed by the Moriarty report. The recommendations of the tribunal did not specifically address broader issues concerning the investigation and prosecution of white collar crime. This is a subject firmly in the programme for Government. The programme contains a commitment that rogue bankers and all those who misappropriate or embezzle funds or who are engaged in any form of white collar crime, will be properly pursued for their crimes and that the full rigours of the law will apply to them.
In his report, Mr. Justice Moriarty made a number of recommendations concerning the future operation of tribunals of inquiry. These recommendations broadly refer to matters concerning the duties and responsibilities of persons appearing before the tribunal as witnesses or requested by it to provide certain documentation. The programme for Government contains a commitment to reform and update legislation with regard to tribunals of inquiry. In this context, it is noteworthy that a previous Fianna Fáil-led Government published the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 but this was left languishing on the Dáil Order Paper for more than six years and never completed its passage through the House. I have arranged for its restoration to the Dáil Order Paper and the Bill will be dealt with as a Report Stage measure.
I am pleased that many of the provisions in the Bill as it stands would appear to address concerns expressed by Mr. Justice Moriarty and the recommendations suggested by him. Deputy Micheál Martin is the Leader of Fianna Fáil in this House and he pirouetted on the morality soapbox in response to the report. He failed to explain to the House why the Government of which he was a senior member failed to enact this important legislation over an extended period of time. In so far as any additional legislative changes are necessary to address the Moriarty recommendations, my Department will examine the recommendations in consultation with relevant Departments and the Attorney General, with a view to their implementation, as appropriate, within the context of the Bill now restored to the Order Paper.
In the brief time available to me, I wish to address two matters of importance connected with the Moriarty report, the response to it given by some of those involved in the tribunal hearings and also the response of Fianna Fáil. Members of the Judiciary are precluded by their independence and constitutional status from entering into controversy or responding to attacks made on them. However, such was the unprecedented and virulent nature of the attacks made last week on the tribunal chairman, who is a respected senior member of the Judiciary, and on the Judiciary as a whole, that I felt it was necessary for me, as Minister for Justice and Law Reform, to condemn the entirely unacceptable statements made.
In the normal course of the administration of justice, an unsuccessful party may often express disagreement with the decisions of a court. Individuals may also disagree with the conclusions of a tribunal whether a party to a matter under inquiry by a tribunal or simply someone commenting on its conclusions. In expressing views individuals are entitled to be critical and complain about the outcome. This is human nature, and is perfectly reasonable and proper in a democracy. What occurred last week went substantially beyond any critique that is acceptable and was intended to bring the Judiciary into disrepute and to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice. The personalised nature of the assault on the integrity of Mr. Justice Michael Moriarty by Deputy Lowry in this House last night is also entirely unacceptable. In so far as the Deputy or any other person alleges that the tribunal expressed opinions or reached conclusions for which there was no basis in evidence, a mechanism is available by way of judicial review to the High Court to have such matters addressed. That mechanism was previously utilised in the case of Kirrane v. Finlay. I am sure those who have made intemperate comment on the tribunal’s report are fully aware of this possibility and it is for them to decide whether they wish to take any such action.
An independent Judiciary is something we have taken for granted since the earliest days of this State. I think it appropriate, given recent events, to remind Deputies just what that stock phrase means. An independent Judiciary ensures that judges’ decisions are taken solely on the basis of law, independent of any fear, favour or influence, whether personal, political or media driven. The power of judges to uphold the Constitution and strike down aspects of our law is a fundamental bulwark against the risk of tyranny and oppression. Guaranteed this independence, the judicial system in a democracy serves as a safeguard of the rights and freedoms of all the people. We have been well served by our independent Judiciary and to imply otherwise — indeed to accuse judges of conspiracy and bias — is entirely unacceptable and wrong. To make reference to the availability of appeal system within our courts to suggest the judges are incapable of reaching proper decisions is also incorrect, as Deputy Lowry suggested last night. The appeals system is an inherent part of our judicial system, just as the possibility of judicial review is available to those who believe they have been wronged by a tribunal. I will not be found wanting in protecting and ensuring their independence is strengthened and secured.
I now turn to the responses, in particular that of the new leader of Fianna Fáil. On 9 March on the nomination of Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, reflecting on the outcome of the general election stated:
He promised that Fianna Fáil’s approach in the Dáil “will be to provide constructive opposition”. His initial contribution in the Dáil last week on the Moriarty report, and as repeated both in his speech yesterday and on the Leaders’ Questions this morning, starkly illustrate his incapacity to keep such promises or to change the traditional dishonest obfuscation beloved by Fianna Fáil Party members. On the one hand, Deputy Martin says that he accepts in full the Moriarty report and the recommendations contained in it and, on the other, he has consistently and persistently deliberately misrepresented and selectively quoted from the report. He has engaged in what can at best be charitably described as nauseating hypocrisy, selective recall and moral ambivalence. He seems oblivious to the political credibility gap of enormous dimension which contaminates much of what he has so far said. He is presenting as someone who has emerged after 20 years lost in a political twilight zone suffering from amnesia and oblivious to events in which he has personally participated. He seems even incapable of remembering the recent secret deal concluded by Fianna Fáil with Deputy Lowry subsequent to publication of both the McCracken report and part 1 of the Moriarty report designed to preserve and maintain Deputy Martin’s ministerial status in Government until February of this year.
In his obsessive wish to inflict political damage on the Government and in particular the Fine Gael Party, Deputy Martin has predictably made heavy weather of the unwanted $50,000 donation by Esat via Telenor to Fine Gael in late December 1995. He has chosen to ignore that in February 1996 when the then leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach, John Bruton, learned of the donation, as Mr. Justice Moriarty records at paragraph 62.04: “That donation was unwelcome to the party, and was rejected by the party leader.” He also chooses to ignore that unknown to John Bruton instead of these moneys being returned they were retained in an offshore account by the late Mr. David Austin and, as the report records in the same paragraph, “subsequently introduced to party funds, disguised as a personal contribution by Mr. Austin”. It is clear from the report that Mr. Jim Miley, based in Fine Gael headquarters, who received this sum on behalf of Fine Gael, believed the moneys received to be a personal donation by Mr. Austin and when in receipt of them had no knowledge of what had occurred in February 1996.
Deputy Alan Shatter: When subsequently learning of the origins of these moneys, Mr. Bruton for a second time rejected them. Only the late David Austin could have known why he conducted matters in this way and sought to furnish funds to the Fine Gael Party a second time that had already been rejected by the then leader of my party. It is grossly dishonest of Deputy Martin to turn the probity of John Bruton and the Fine Gael Party on its head and to engage in old style Fianna Fáil smear politics.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I will conclude in a moment. His conduct on this issue is proof that despite his promise of new politics from Fianna Fáil nothing has really changed. This is starkly further illustrated by his choosing to besmirch the good conduct of the Fine Gael Party and to ignore the morally reprehensible conduct of his own party yet again referred to in the Moriarty report on which he has remained silent. In this context the report referred to £160,000 raised by Fianna Fáil, of which £75,000 ultimately found its way to that party and the remainder was retained by Mr. Charles Haughey for his own personal expenditure. I expected a more honest and straightforward response by Deputy Martin to the publication of the Moriarty report. It is disappointing that the new approach to politics promised by him on 9 March last has been so rapidly abandoned.
I wish to put on record of the House the extent of my involvement in dealing with the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters carried out by Mr. Justice Moriarty. Chapter 48 of the report is the section which is of most personal interest to me. It retraces, in an exact and comprehensive manner, the events leading up and including Wednesday, 25 October 1995. I wish to say in the first instance that I am completely satisfied that the events, as recounted in the tribunal report, are entirely consistent with my own recollection and with my evidence to the tribunal of inquiry.
The practice of the then rainbow Government was that all Cabinet meetings would be executive decision-making meetings. My diary from the time accurately records that on Wednesday, 25 October 1995, the meeting of party leaders, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications was due to take place at 4 p.m. that afternoon. This was known as the Aer Lingus committee or otherwise, as noted in my diary, party leaders re budget finance matters.
The tribunal report states that in advance of this Aer Lingus meeting, the then Taoiseach, John Bruton, had met the then Minister, Deputy Lowry, to discuss what would turn out to be the recommendation made by the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications on the mobile telephone licence. Deputy Lowry has also stated in evidence to the tribunal that I had spoken to him, in advance of the meeting with the party leaders, about the recommendation he would be making to Cabinet. Deputy Lowry has also suggested in his evidence that I had intimated to him my satisfaction with how the mobile telephone competition had been carried out and with the final result. It has been claimed that my satisfaction with the process was based on a briefing I had received from my officials earlier on Wednesday, 25 October. I do not agree at all with this evidence by Deputy Lowry and I stated as much when giving evidence before the tribunal. My diary of Wednesday, 25 October 1995 involved a series of meetings ahead of the party leaders’ meeting, all of which took place outside my Department.
I simply did not have the time to read and review the memorandum prepared by an official in my Department regarding the mobile phone licence competition. I had no knowledge of the outcome of the competition before attending the party leaders’ Aer Lingus meeting at 4 p.m.  The meeting of Wednesday, 25 October took place at 4 p.m as scheduled. At that meeting after we had concluded the scheduled business of the meeting, which concerned the Cahill report and restructuring Aer Lingus, Deputy Lowry informed John Bruton, Dick Spring, Proinsias de Rossa and myself that the mobile phone licence competition had been completed, that Esat Digifone was the clear winner of the competition and that it had won by a clear margin over the other consortia.
It is my recollection, as noted in chapter 48, paragraph 60 of the tribunal report that Deputy Lowry presented a league table score which covered each of the applicants in the competition. Given the scale of difference between the numerical scores provided, I was satisfied that the outcome of the process had selected a clear winner. It is worth quoting the following section of chapter 48, paragraph 60, for the benefit of the House. It states:
I also wish to read into the record of the House two separate remarks made by Mr. Justice Moriarty when evaluating the evidence made by all who attended this meeting. Again, I wish to quote from chapter 48, paragraph 64, which refers to the briefing document provided by Deputy Lowry to the party leaders and me:
It was on the basis of this information, which can only be described as misleading and factually inaccurate, although it did not appear so at the time, that the three party leaders of the rainbow Government and myself, as Minister for Finance, were misled by Deputy Lowry into giving what amounted to a de facto Government approval.
We were told there was pressure for the information to be released because it would leak to the wider public and since there was a clear-cut conclusion which would be ratified by the Government at its next full meeting we might as well make the knowledge public. We collectively decided to so do. I will conclude my remarks with one final quote from the report of Mr. Justice Moriarty from chapter 48, paragraph 66: “in consequence of the approach taken by Mr. Lowry, the opportunity for scrutiny or consideration by his Cabinet colleagues, or their advisors, was significantly curtailed”.
Deputy Phil Hogan: I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I welcome the publication of the report of the Moriarty tribunal and commend Mr. Justice Moriarty on the detailed and considered work that he and his team have done in producing a report of such depth and scope. This is a serious report with strong recommendations which need to be assessed and implemented. I accept the findings of the report and commend the decision of the Taoiseach to refer the report to the DPP and the Garda for investigation as to any further enforcement or prosecutions that may be warranted.
I have asked my officials in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to examine the recommendations in the report and to identify what changes to policies, practices and legislation need to be implemented following the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Moriarty. Any such changes will be identified within the four week period outlined by the Taoiseach and brought to Government at the earliest opportunity.
From a personal perspective, I regret the efforts of some of the Deputies opposite to try to cast a smear over my character arising from the publication of the report. In the first instance they have peddled a suggestion that Mr. Justice Moriarty was critical of evidence that I provided to the tribunal in my efforts to assist it in its important work. The judge in the report was not critical of my evidence to the tribunal. In fact, he made no adverse comment in regard to my evidence to the tribunal. For the record, I should also further state he made no adverse finding or conclusion concerning me, which I know is a source of great disappointment to some people.
Of course, there is good reason for this. Aside from the fact that I assisted the tribunal fully in its work, as every elected Member should do, I was also remote and detached from the events that led to the awarding of the licence to Esat Digifone. As Deputies may recall — Deputy Mary Lou McDonald may not be aware of this — at that time I was a backbench Deputy, having resigned a junior Ministry following the inadvertent release of budget material some weeks before. I took responsibility at that time for the indiscretion, resigned my junior Ministry and went to the backbenches.
From there I dedicated myself to the organisation of Fine Gael and to serving my constituents in Carlow Kilkenny. I had no hand, act or part in the process to award the licence or in the subsequent decision to award the licence by the Government. Listening to the sanctimonious comments from Deputy Martin and his colleagues reveals the breathtaking hypocrisy and double standards that are now the common currency of the remnants of a once proud political party. Listening to Deputy Martin, one could be forgiven for forgetting that Fianna Fáil was also a significant recipient of donations from Mr. O’Brien.
Indeed, while a Minister Deputy Martin was forced to admit that he personally solicited political donations from Owen O’Callaghan, the developer who has featured centrally in the Flood and Mahon tribunals. Deputy Martin criticises the evidence that I gave to the tribunal, yet he tends to forget evidence that he provided to the Mahon tribunal on 15 November 2007 when he said that he had no recollection of being at a meeting with Bertie Ahern and Owen O’Callaghan in Government buildings, despite the detail of the meeting being recorded in the former Taoiseach’s departmental diary entry at the time.
Deputy Martin told the tribunal, prior to the surprise emergence of the entry in the former Taoiseach’s diary, that in regard to his part in the meeting with Mr. O’Callaghan he never brought Mr. O’Callaghan to meet other politicians. I ask Deputy Martin and Deputy Kelleher to have less of the pious preaching about credibility in evidence to tribunals and less of the Punch and Judy politics that Fianna Fáil wishes to perpetuate and sought to change in the recent general election. All this has come from a party that has had the franchise on debasing Irish politics and public life through whip-rounds, pick me ups, cronyism and post-dinner collections for a party leader. Spare us the hypocrisy.
There are Members opposite who have tried to fix me with guilt by association because I have been an acquaintance of Deputy Lowry’s for many years. Deputy Lowry has no association with Fine Gael for the past 14 years. In fact, his association and voting record in the Dáil over the past eight years in particular would suggest that he has been a bigger supporter of Fianna Fáil than Fine Gael. Furthermore, there are many revelations about Charles Haughey in volume 1 of the report, who was a family friend of the current Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Martin. That should not mean that the findings against Mr. Haughey in this report about funding and finances are the responsibility of Deputy Martin, but he chooses to reverse that principle in respect of others in this House. So much for his view that we must change the politics as usual that he tried to perpetuate in a political reform document dealing with issues like these during the general election.
It is difficult to come to terms with the methodology of Sinn Féin fundraising. Needless to say, a ban on corporate donations will not cover Sinn Féin practices, at home or abroad. We need to examine in the context of forthcoming legislation the unaccounted for golden circle of Sinn Féin funding from the United States, some of which is channelled through Northern Ireland for elections in the State — that is true.
Deputy Phil Hogan: It was Fianna Fáil, not Fine Gael, that cut secret deals with Deputy Lowry. It was Fianna Fáil, aided and abetted by the Greens, which cobbled together secret arrangements and kept that information from public view to keep a discredited Government in power beyond its expiry date.
I hold no truck for those found to have behaved as described by Mr. Justice Moriarty and they should be subject, as they have been put to by the Taoiseach, of the full rigours of all of the various agencies of the State.
There is another political smear being put forward, that I had access to the Moriarty report, before its publication, in its draft form. This is another false statement put forward as truth by people who do not know the difference between lies and truth, and is totally without foundation. I would challenge those Deputies who have made that assertion to state so outside this House.
There are elements in the report which give cause for concern, that is, the level of legal fees that have been imposed and agreed by Fianna Fáil Ministers who sat here and agreed all of those fees for those who carried out this work.
Deputy Phil Hogan: The experience with the Moriarty tribunal has shown that this system of inquiry is by its nature deliberative and slow as well as being costly for the taxpayer. The scale of legal fees has been a national scandal for years and despite promises to tackle the problem that they present, legislative action on this front has been slow to take off. I have every confidence that the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Alan Shatter, will deal with those matters as they are urgent. We must also review our regime of ethics in public life to ensure that we have a robust, effective and respected ethics and standards in public office structure, and I will challenge anybody in that matter in comparing my actions in the past as a politician in this regard.
The issues uncovered by the Moriarty tribunal are troubling and deserve serious consideration. I am glad to have the opportunity to refute some of the issues of misinformation that have been to me by persons who should know better. I would ask Members on all sides, and, indeed, the public, to accept my bona fides in this matter and to acknowledge it is far-fetched that an alleged meeting in a coffee shop by a backbench Deputy could result in influencing the outcome of a mobile telephone competition.
The report of the tribunal exposes a political culture and a modus operandi which, over a decade and a half ago, led to the awarding of what was effectively a licence to print money in circumstances that, quite frankly, were ethically and morally dubious.
The programme for Government agreed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party makes a number of commitments to political reform that I particularly welcome in the light of the report of the Moriarty tribunal. The commitment to seek to reverse the effects of the Abbeylara judgment will be particularly welcomed by those who balked quite legitimately at the cost of that tribunal, but there were many other commitments to political reform that are of even greater value to our democracy. I particularly welcome the commitments in the programme for Government to enact whistleblowers legislation to remove the implied general delegation of ministerial statutory powers to civil servants.
People are horrified by the events which led to the establishment of the tribunal. They need to know that money cannot buy political favour, that corruption can be reported without fear of retribution, that Ministers and civil servants have clear delegated responsibilities and that the Executive will be fully accountable to the Oireachtas. For us to restore Irish politics to good standing we must never again be complacent about seeking the highest possible standards in all aspects of our public life.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. This must not be the last time we have such a debate about the standards and levels of probity the people of this Republic should be entitled to expect from those they elect to represent them.
Deputy Michael McCarthy: Essentially because time does not allow me to go further, I will make one point. There has been condemnation of the work of politics and the work of this House, and, indeed, the reputation of politics in general that has been dragged through the mud because of what has gone on in this country as a result of a link between politics and business. People in this country have a right to approach their Deputies, their public representatives, about issues. There have been approximately 1,500 Members of this House since the foundation of the State and the vast majority of them were hardworking, decent and honourable. The activities of a few have cast a dark shadow over public life. It was Tipp O’Neill who said that “All politics is local”. I make no apologies to anybody for the access that people in their communities have in terms of the political system and their Deputies. It is our role and duty.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): I thank Deputies Nash and McCarthy for their co-operation. We are now moving into the time for the Technical Group and there are six speakers who have 30 minutes to share between them.
In my contribution, I will pose questions where I feel I need to be satisfied about conflicts. One of the roles of an Opposition Deputy is to hold the Government to account. As a consequence, I have questions for Fine Gael about those conflicts. I also have some questions for Deputy Lowry and for Deputy Martin.
I read a large part of the Moriarty report. I did not know what to expect before I put the disc into the computer, but found the report was well argued and logically structured. It was clear that when a conflict arose Mr. Justice Moriarty resolved it on the balance of probabilities.
I then listened to Deputy Lowry last night, who completely rubbished the report. In the time available to me, I want to ask Deputy Lowry a few short questions. First, how does the Deputy account for the fact that, according to the tribunal findings, “in advance of the closing date of the competition, Esat Digifone had available to it confidential information regarding the weighting matrix adopted by the Project Group, that it was not entitled to have...”? Deputy Lowry exonerated all of the public servants last night and I have a particular reason for asking that. I simply cannot reconcile that, in the context of his speech last night.
Deputy Lowry also spoke about Mr. Ben Dunne’s “unorthodox” payments methods. Surely Deputy Lowry should have refused to be paid in that way because it led to tax evasion. I do not understand why he would not have refused that.
I suppose most of us aspire to financial independence. When we buy a house, we go to a bank to look for a mortgage, or at least people used do so. Deputy Lowry would have us believe he received £147,000 through an offshore account less than two months after the mobile telephone licence was granted in order to invest in property. Why was this money repaid on the day the McCracken tribunal was announced? I believe Deputy Lowry’s position is untenable and if politics is to again become a noble profession again, he must resign.
This tribunal has cost a small fortune. What members of the public cannot understand is why, at the end of such a lengthy and expensive process, no one is seen to pay the price. When we see people going to jail for small debts such as non-payment of a television licence, the lack of sanction for such wrong doing as has been highlighted in the Moriarty report, and previously the McCracken report, is breathtaking.
As I stated, one of the roles of an Opposition Deputy is to hold the Government to account, and I have questions to pose to the Taoiseach and to Fine Gael. Does the Taoiseach accept the conclusion reached by Mr. Justice Moriarty on the meeting between Mr. Mark FitzGerald, the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and Mr. Denis O’Brien at Lloyd’s Brasserie in Dublin? The tribunal sided with Mr. FitzGerald’s version of events. Mr. Fitzgerald, as I understand it, was a Fine Gael trustee and son of former Taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald. Mr Justice Moriarty stated it was “difficult in the extreme to conceive” of any realistic reason or motive why Mr. FitzGerald would give false evidence. If he accepts Mr. Moriarty’s findings in this regard, has he raised the matter with the Minister, Deputy Hogan; if not, why not? If so, can he tell us the content of the conversation between them? Just before the general election, on 5 February, Deputy Hogan said the incoming Government could limit both the duration and terms of reference of a tribunal. He stated in The Sunday Business Post that the State’s two main tribunals of inquiry would be given “no more than a few months” in which to get their houses in order and finish all their work. Furthermore, he said one of his party’s first priorities in Government would be to write to the tribunals setting out a proposed timeline for their cessation. I understood a draft copy of the report was send to all witnesses, but I accept what has been put on the record by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, that he did not see that report. I believe it was fair to assume that he had, as a witness to the tribunal, but I will not press that issue. Has the Taoiseach — it will be he who responds on this debate — spoken to the Minister about his motivation for making his comments?
The tribunal found that payments made with regard to the infamous golf classic were by way of bank drafts — this pertains to Ms Carey’s testimony. The tribunal report states this was “indicative of a desire for secrecy”. Can the Taoiseach state why there was a desire for secrecy? I understand the total of the donation was £4,000 and that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, was chairman of the organising committee. The largest donation given was £5,000 for the Wicklow by-election in 1995. There appears to be a conflict of evidence over how this donation came about. The Minister testified that the donation arose from an inquiry made to him by Ms Carey as to whether Mr. O’Brien or Esat could be of assistance to the party. He said it was in this context that he mentioned to her the forthcoming Wicklow by-election fundraising lunch. However, Ms Carey told the tribunal it was her understanding that Mr. O’Brien had himself spoken to Deputy Hogan and had agreed to make the payment. In his report, Mr. Justice Moriarty sides with Ms Carey’s account.
I have two final questions before I conclude. Has Mr. Denis O’Brien made any other donation to Fine Gael other than those listed by the tribunal and has the Minister, Deputy Hogan, ever enjoyed a business relationship with Denis O’Brien? Also, has the Minister met or communicated with Mr. O’Brien since the tribunal?
Deputy Mattie McGrath: I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this important issue. After 14 years we are no closer to a just conclusion to the allegations of corruption in the allocation of the second mobile telephone licence to Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone in 1995. It might have been thought that after 14 years, costs of over €40 million and a 2,000 page report the matter would finally be clarified but that is not the case. The two people most involved, former Minister, Deputy Michael Lowry, and Denis O’Brien deny the accusations made by Mr. Justice Moriarty in his report. Now it is up to them, if they wish, to mount a challenge in the High Court.
The whole saga is very damaging for our international reputation and the rule of law in our society. It sends out a wrong message to people all over the world looking at our country and its current dire situation, not to mention the effect on ordinary people, those out of work, those struggling to maintain businesses and those with family difficulties, not to mention the issues with regard to the economy. Previous Governments should have been more focused on providing fairness and equality and honest opportunities to everybody. If illegal or criminal activity is suspected on the part of any individual, that should be a matter for the Garda and the DPP.
It is unlikely that we will ever get to the bottom of this controversy or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. However, there is a strong possibility of further legal hearings and further costs for taxpayers. For that reason the use of these ineffective and outrageously expensive tribunals of inquiry must be questioned. What is the benefit of not referring such issues to the courts and normal legal structures of the State from the outset? The State either operates according to the rule of law or does not. I strongly believe that anybody who steps outside the law, no matter who, should be investigated by the Garda and the case should then be sent to the DPP and the file sent on for prosecution. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has significant powers to prosecute but everyone is entitled to be considered innocent until proved guilty. If we lose this process, we lose something of serious value for the country.
In recent days there has been unbalanced media commentary. I do not blame the media for this but refer to allegations of possible telephone tapping. I wonder why these allegations have come out now. They demonstrate how removed the whole drama has become from people’s daily lives. This has become a trial by media, twitterings and other forms. Given the crisis facing this country, the immediate and damning effect of this scandal is that the suggestion of corruption will further deter foreign investment. It will deter the interest of our own entrepreneurs and prevent them from getting involved in business and bringing forward their ideas with passion. It will also deter foreign investment lending and international co-operation, which will further undermine our people’s confidence in the institutions of the State. This is a serious issue at a time when we are trying to renegotiate our interest rates, the so-called bailout and other matters at European and international level and at a time we face a forthcoming visit of Heads of State of major powers. It is also damaging to the body politic and to our situation as a nation.
The Moriarty tribunal report shows that after 14 years of evidence gathering, any final resolution to the case is unlikely and that costs can only soar further as the case progresses. Therefore, I suggest that the most important challenge for the House is to enact the reforms about which all parties have been talking to ensure that these circumstances cannot be repeated. Oireachtas committees have a powerful role in this regard. They have done valuable work in the past but the Abbeylara case interrupted that work. It is in committees these matters should be investigated.
The sad and shameful list of tribunals set up in recent years makes evident the need for fundamental reform and a cultural change. I will not bore the House with the list of tribunals because Members are well aware of them and the time and costs involved. It is sad that nobody can be prosecuted by the tribunals and they have no basis in law. It is a sad list of events that led to the necessity to establish such a series of tribunals because of the alleged unlawful activity of people in public office who were supposed to serve the people. This is one of the ways through which Ireland portrays itself to the world. Therefore, I call on the Government to prioritise the reform of public service and procedures so as to put an end to this shameful state of affairs and bring back integrity to the forefront of Irish political life.
There should be only one rule of law for every man, woman and child in the country and the matters in question should have been referred to the Garda. Why should we wait for 14 years of investigation by a tribunal, at enormous cost? We have seen the huge costs and seen the bill grow. The bill is close to €42 million currently but that does not include third party costs or applications for legal aid which have yet to be reviewed and adjudicated on. If Mr. O’Brien has so much money to throw around I call on him now to make some of it available to charity, for example to a children’s hospital, so as to create good will and restore his own good name.
Deputy Thomas Pringle: Yesterday in the House, the Taoiseach said that Deputy Lowry and the Moriarty tribunal report represented a culture typified by arrogant, mercenary and immoral politics that almost ruined our reputation. I believe the report represents one of the last shovels of dirt on the grave of our reputation, rather than a proverbial nail in the coffin. The Moriarty tribunal report states that Deputy Lowry had an indirect and insidious influence on the awarding of the second mobile telephone licence and that he and others then went on with wholesale falsification, concealment and delay that confirms the validity of the report’s findings. Does a referral of the report to the DPP and the CAB mean we will see further delays and inaction? I am reminded of the length of time it has taken, after the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, to see any arrest taking place in the context of the clear fraudulent activity that went on there.
I also listened with interest to Deputy Lowry’s contribution yesterday to see if there could be an alternative interpretation put on the report. All I heard was more of the complaints to which we have been treated since the report was published. I believe that Deputy Lowry feels hard done by, but because he is the person who was caught. Sadly, the kind of influence he brought to bear on the process is nothing unusual in our society. The only thing that is different is the scale of the rewards to the individuals involved.
In 1995 and 1996, money was flowing into Fine Gael to clear off its massive debts of over £3.5 million. Deputy Lowry was widely touted as the financial messiah who had saved the party. Now we know how that was achieved. In the run up to the recent general election, I am sure that money flowed to Fine Gael and probably the Labour Party as well, as the Galway tent route had dried up and Fianna Fáil was clearly on the way out. The money and the influence has to find a home. As long as we have a political system that is funded by vested interests, politicians can be bought to provide favours, contracts and the rest, and the system will never change.
It is time that the Government lived up to its promises and banned corporate and individual donations from people who could have an interest in State contracts. There are three things that the Government can do. First, Fine Gael and the Labour Party should publish all the donations they have received in the last year and show us that they are serious about changing our political system. They can also ensure that those who obstructed the Moriarty tribunal are made to pay when an order for costs is made against them, especially in light of Supreme Court judgments made in respect of the Flood tribunal. Any changes required in the law to make that happen should be made.
The Taoiseach can also announce to this House the deals that have been done with Deputy Lowry and the other two Independents who supported his election as Taoiseach a couple of short weeks ago. Maybe then we might believe that the Moriarty tribunal and other tribunals are to be a thing of the past.
Deputy Seamus Healy: I accept the findings of the Moriarty tribunal. While I fully accept the right and entitlement of the people of north Tipperary to elect Deputy Lowry to Dáil Éireann, I believe that in the circumstances, he should resign. In light of this report, there is a need for a fundamental change of ethos in Irish politics if political life is to be redeemed. We have heard more of the same in this report. We have experienced Bertie Ahern and dig outs, banks waiving the debts of politicians, Ben Dunne and Charlie Haughey, Ben Dunne and Michael Lowry, Denis O’Brien and Fine Gael, and we have also seen the huge planning debacle. The interface between business and politics in this country has been a cancer in the body politic, and this will remain the case unless there is fundamental change.
There has been much talk recently that clientelism in Irish politics is about fixing potholes. The real clientelism in Irish politics is about the process through which political parties become clients of the very rich, including tax exiles. There is no wealth tax in existence in this country. The banning of corporate and individual donations is absolutely necessary and must take place, but that is not sufficient. The State must fund the political system and it can do that in a very modest way. It can also level the playing pitch for everybody involved in the political process as a result. That would be a small price to pay.
There is also an absolute necessity for electoral reform, and I believe there is a need to legislate for a popular initiative whereby people can rescind Acts passed and decisions made by governments, particularly governments under the influence of the rich. This particular procedure is available in some European states and in some states in the US. There should be a facility for constituents to recall TDs and Ministers in the event of something occurring that is similar to what we have seen in this report.
There has been much talk about the introduction of a list system as part of general reform. If we had such a system for the 2007 general election, then we could have had Mr. Seán FitzPatrick here as Minister for Finance. Was he not an economic guru at the time? I want to emphasise that I am absolutely opposed to the list system. Not only do we need to ban corporate and individual donations, but the funding of political parties and politicians through the State is absolutely essential if the cancer in the system that we have seen over a long number of years is to be destroyed.
Deputy Clare Daly: I want to take the opportunity to make a couple of comments on this disgraceful episode in Irish corporate and political life, which clearly exposes the link between big business and politics. It was laughable to listen to Deputy Martin this morning trying to goad the Taoiseach about the close relationship between Fine Gael and big business. Perhaps he was a bit jealous at how good Fine Gael is in this respect. While that might have demonstrated an enormous brass neck, the reality is that when the Taoiseach was answering questions this morning, he clearly accepted the Moriarty report’s findings on the actions of Deputy Lowry, but he was much more coy about the report’s implications for the Fine Gael Party. I am not really surprised, because the report is as much an indictment of Fine Gael as it is of Deputy Lowry. It gives us a glimpse of the culture of the day.
This was a massive and exceptionally lucrative privatisation of a State licence. It was a decision which provided the opportunity for a very small group of people to enrich themselves beyond belief. Is it not unacceptable that a group of Ministers, who sat around the Cabinet table of the rainbow Government and who sit around the current Cabinet table, allowed a situation to develop in which the then Minister with responsibility for communications effectively rushed that decision through, which resulted in Esat Digifone obtaining the licence? Not one of them bothered to ask why that happened. Is it not unacceptable that a Fine Gael TD in that rainbow Government — former communications Minister Jim Mitchell — was a paid adviser to Mr. Denis O’Brien while he was sitting as a serving TD at the time the Government was awarding the licence? Can the Government explain how Esat Digifone was given exclusive rights to access Garda stations for the erection of its mobile phone masts, shortly after obtaining the licence? Let us be clear. Esat Digifone was allowed to erect these masts without planning permission. While the State’s own mobile phone company, Eircell, had to go through lengthy planning permission in order to erect mobile phone masts, Esat Digifone was given exclusive rights to Garda stations without the need for any planning permission whatsoever. That is one hell of a free ride and unfair advantage.
It is a matter of public record that as a result of this venture, Mr. Denis O’Brien netted himself a clear £250 million profit. This did not generate any revenue for the Irish taxpayer, given his tax exile status. This decision set up Mr. O’Brien’s wealth. It was the plateau on which he later built a multi-billion euro empire. I support any investigation to be carried out by the likes of the Criminal Assets Bureau, because anybody who privately enriches themselves in that way owes such money to the taxpayer.
I would like to speak about the role of the Judiciary, which has featured significantly in this debate. I do not subscribe to the view that the Judiciary is some form of modern deity. It is not the case that its decisions cannot be called to account, that it is beyond reproach or that it is always right in any scenario. There have been enough poor judicial decisions to give rise to an understanding of why that might not be the case. The members of the Judiciary should be accountable for what they do.
Having said that, I would like to make it clear that the idea that the judge who compiled this report decided over a decade ago, for some unknown reason or reasons, to start a vendetta against Deputy Lowry and Denis O’Brien and has carried a grudge ever since does not hold any sway. There is no reason that such motivation would be present. We should accept it is much more plausible that a Deputy who has previously misled the House and the Revenue Commissioners would have such questions to answer.
Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: If the figures provided by the Taoiseach during his speech on the programme for Government are correct, some 9,000 people have left this country since the recent general election. In other words, the equivalent of the combined populations of Roscommon town and Carrick-on-Shannon have emigrated. At a time when we should be dealing with such an emergency, we are tied up with this charade.
I do not know whether it was more difficult to listen to Deputy Lowry telling us he has been done wrong, to people in Fine Gael telling us they want to change things in the future even though they benefited from the old system to get elected, or to people in Fianna Fáil talking about how they are bothered by corruption. I have made up my mind — I am most bothered by Fianna Fáil coming in here to talk about corruption.
I listened to Deputy Calleary earlier when he spoke about those who think we are “all at it”. In his opinion, why do people think politicians are “all at it”? Why do they think we are all on the take? It is fairly obvious that one of the main reasons they hold that opinion is that his party has proven in the past, and will probably prove in the future, that not all politicians are whiter than white.
When I listened to Deputy Lowry as he read his script yesterday, I thought he sounded convinced that he has been wronged. I suppose if one did not know an awful lot about it, one could have been slightly convinced by him yesterday. Regardless of what he says, at the end of the day his case does not add up. I know who I believe. I believe Mr. Justice Moriarty rather than Deputy Lowry.
That we needed a tribunal in the first place is what really confuses me about this whole situation. Deputy Lowry is not the only politician to have been investigated by this State for the last 14 years. After I ran in my first general election in June 1997, the State clearly started to investigate me. There was no need for a tribunal for someone like me. The State simply sent the Garda Síochána after me.
If Deputy Lowry believes he has had a stressful 14 years, he should think again. He should try being strip-searched on six occasions. He should try being searched on 18 other occasions. He should try being incarcerated on two occasions. He should try having his friend’s children pulled out of a bed in the middle of the night by those who are investigating his activities. He should try having the State threaten his future and that of his children. If Deputy Lowry tries all of that, he will see what is stressful.
As far as I can see, when the State wants to protect important people, it organises a tribunal. There is one rule for one class of people and another rule for those who do not have money to do their talking for them. Last week, I was deemed to be such a threat to the future of this State that an editorial in the magazine of the Garda Representative Association, Garda Review, expressed unease about my election to the Dáil.
My crime was not creaming hundreds of millions of euro or pounds from the State, taking backhanders, allowing people to die on hospital trolleys or shuffling money around the world as a tax exile. My crime was to allow a seed to germinate — shock, horror. Many other people are committing such terrible crimes at the moment, but they will not be treated as Deputy Lowry has been treated.
How serious is the State about going after real wrongdoers? Will there be an editorial in next month’s Garda Review calling for an end to political corruption? Will it call on the State to change its tax laws so that people like Denis O’Brien pay their fair share? If there was a few more quid in the State, the members of the Garda might not have to pay the universal social charge. The reason I do not think we will see such editorials is that this country has one law for the rich and another law for the poor.
Now that the matters in the Moriarty report have been passed on to the Garda, it is important for the force to act with the same level of urgency as it does when it is dealing with the average person. If that does not happen, the people of Ireland will lose faith in politicians and the law forever more, which would be a sad day. Approximately a month before the general election, a nice Polish man told me that I make a bad politician. When I asked him why, he told me it is because I keep telling the truth. Is that not a sad indictment of what people think about politicians?
Deputy Michelle Mulherin: Earlier today, Deputy Adams argued that by passing a motion of censure against Deputy Lowry, we would send a strong message to the public about the disdain of this House for the events and forms of behaviour that are described in the Moriarty report. What is the message to which Deputy Adams refers? Should we pass a motion of censure that imposes no consequences or penalties on Deputy Lowry? If we find him guilty in such a manner, will it be seen as trial by democratic vote? Should we show how indignant and affronted we are in Leinster House as a means of demonstrating that we empathise with the public? The last thing the people need is the bleeding hearts of politicians. In a situation like this, such an approach would do nothing to boost the country’s morale or give people confidence that we are addressing the heart of the problem. This is no more than political posturing on the part of Deputy Adams, who has stolen a march on Deputy Martin on this occasion.
It is absolutely unbelievable that it has taken 14 years for the evidence to be heard, conclusions to be reached and the final report of the tribunal to be published. I remind the House that 17 civil servants gave evidence to the effect that they did not see or notice anything untoward. All of this was done at a cost of over €150 million. The matter has yet to be considered by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Director of Public Prosecutions. The people’s sense of justice has been offended in a manner that compounds the view that there is one law for an elite in our society and another law for the rest of the general populace. It is clear that the system has not worked. It has shown itself to be unwilling or unable to work to achieve justice.
Rather than repeating what has already been said, I would like to conclude by asking a couple of questions. The report finds that Deputy Lowry was up to his neck in it, but are the staff damned as well? Can or should they be exonerated, or is there a shadow over the conduct of officials in the entire Department in this matter? When I served as a member of a local authority, my observation was that tenders could not be interfered with. I would like answers to questions about such first principles. How did the whole system break down to the extent that we reached the point we are now at?
Deputy Billy Kelleher: I welcome the publication of the Moriarty report, the findings of which are quite disturbing on many fronts. While I would have preferred more time in which to speak, I will use the minute available to me to emphasise that although the Taoiseach has embraced the findings of the Moriarty report in this House, he has not really embraced the full report. He said that he was exonerated in the report and that Fine Gael, in particular, was exonerated in the report. If the Taoiseach had read the full report, he would know that far from being exonerated, Fine Gael is clearly implicated with regard to its questionable fund-raising activities.
I would like to ask the Taoiseach some questions. How many other forms of funds were transferred through Jersey accounts or other off-shore accounts? Was the Telenor contribution the only one to be channelled through an off-shore account? This report is a damning indictment of the hermetically sealed tendering process that was put in place by the 1995 Government and undermined by the members of that Government. They met Mr. O’Brien on numerous occasions even though the guidelines from Cabinet clearly stated they could not meet bidders and they had to have witnesses available if they did so. They undermined the position themselves.
Deputy Michael Lowry: I thank the Members of this House for the courtesy shown to me while I made my statement yesterday. I endured only one vitriolic intervention from Deputy Stagg, a man who has endured his own controversy and received compassion from this House in his difficult times. Deputy Stagg threw a nasty slur across the floor of this House intimating that Professor Michael Andersen was paid to give his evidence and he wanted to know who paid him. This is absolutely not true and not even the Moriarty tribunal has ever alleged this.
Professor Andersen gave evidence when his long-standing request for an indemnity was met. His standing as an expert in the field of mobile telecommunication competitions is beyond reproach. He is also and academic and author of real standing. He was the only expert in this field to give evidence to the tribunal. Just because the Moriarty tribunal could not deal with his stark “inconvenient truths” they simply whitewashed his evidence completely out of the equation. This “let’s pretend Andersen never happened” approach is not a licence for Deputy Stagg or anyone else to cast ill-considered and ignorant aspersions across the floor of this chamber.
Would Deputy Stagg wish to cast a slur on all of those witnesses as well? Is he saying that 17 civil servants were paid to give false evidence? Maybe those witnesses were all part of a conspiracy to corrupt the licence competition process 15 years ago and all came together in the 15 years since to perjure themselves consistently before the tribunal? Maybe all of those witnesses were bought and paid for too? The question one asks is could all of them, with Michael Anderson, be wrong.
Last night I referred in my opening address to this famous money trail. I want to deal now with the property transactions. It is a fact that no money was ever received into my bank account, my family or any of my business of mine from Denis O’Brien. I have never received any money from Denis O’Brien or from anyone on his behalf. The Moriarty tribunal has engaged in a cynical exercise of presenting two English property transactions and a loan agreement in a slanted and deliberately incomplete manner to give the impression that I was the net beneficiary of €147,000, €300,000 and €420,000, amounting to a total of €900,000 approximately. To give the false and misleading impression that I got €900,000 approximately is an intentional and malicious misrepresentation of the facts. I did not get €900,000. I benefited with a big fat zero from these properties.
Let me go through these three properties and dismantle the notion that I walked away with €900,000. The first was the property transaction at Carysfort Avenue in Blackrock. I purchased the property on 17 July 1996. The purchase price was IR£200,000. I was a Minister at the time, which required my attendance in Dublin on a regular basis and I needed a residence in Dublin. I obtained a mortgage for the full purchase price IR£200,000. I entered into a personal loan agreement with David Austin, who is now deceased, for IR£147,000 to fund the refurbishment to make it habitable. This loan was fully documented and drawn up on agreed commercial terms between myself and Mr. Austin. I subsequently had no need for a second home in Dublin. I never occupied the house as renovations had not been completed. I sold the house back to the builder in January 1997. I repaid the mortgage of IR£200,114.55. As per our written loan agreement, I repaid the loan in full together with interest directly to David Austin’s personal account on 7 February 1997, which totalled IR£148,816.93. The money trail shows that he spent his own money after it was returned by me. This was a loan, pure and simple. There was no net financial benefit to me in this transaction. The IR£147,000 was received as a loan and repaid on commercial terms in full and with interest.
Commentators have referred to the Spanish property. The Spanish property transaction and the loan between Mr. Austin and myself are clearly two separate and distinct transactions. It is not fair to draw a link between them considering the evidence and documentation put before the tribunal.
Mansfield was purchased in September 1998, three years after the licence was granted and two years after I was a Minister. I paid the deposit of 10% on this property. I paid for that 10% out of my own bank account. Aidan Phelan paid the balance of the purchase price of £300.000 which he had lodged in the English solicitor’s client account. It is important to remember this money went to the solicitor’s client account and the record proves clearly I never received any money of any description from this solicitor’s client account. To this day, Mr. Phelan and I own that property. Mr. Phelan owns 90% and I retain the 10% which I duly paid for with my own money. My 10% ownership and Aidan Phelan’s 90% ownership is legally reflected in the registered title deed documentation. This Mansfield property still exists. It was never sold and the fact is that my 10% is worth little or nothing today. I received no payment or benefit in this deal. It is a total fiction to say that I got £300,000 from this property. There is no money trail.
In 1999, four years after the licence was granted and three years after I was Minster, I negotiated the purchase of a property at Cheadle through a company, CatClause, which was legally registered in my name and the purchase price was £445,000. As I was already in partnership in the Mansfield property with Aidan Phelan — I had 10% of that property as I said — he agreed to pay the 10% deposit on the Cheadle property. I had difficulty in organising finance to complete the purchase and that has been given in evidence by several witnesses. The reason I had difficulty in completing the purchase is because any loan was subject to an independent personal guarantee. I failed to get a bank guarantor so my loan was disapproved. Due to my inability to raise the funds Aidan Phelan took exclusive ownership of the deal. It is a fact that he sold the property years later and it was he who discharged the loan to Woodchester Bank because he was responsible for it and he retained the full proceeds of the sale. All this documentation was given to the tribunal and it was backed up with legal and accounting details. Contrary to the impression deliberately created by Moriarty that I received €420,000, the fact is that I received absolutely nothing from this transaction. There never was €420,000 paid to me by way of loan or otherwise. The alleged €420,000 Cheadle payment is a complete and utter lie.
It was proven to the tribunal that I actually did not benefit from any of these transactions. There is no pot of gold at the end of some rainbow in north Tipperary or elsewhere. The financial trail is actually far more mundane and unimpressive than the tribunal would have everyone believe. The evidence and the facts show that the so called money trail goes nowhere. However, in the case of a tribunal, and particularly in the case of this tribunal, opinions do not have to reflect the facts. Opinions can be infinitely more interesting and scandalous because opinions never have to be proven.
Every transaction in every bank account that I have had since 1986, either in my name or in the name of my companies, were trawled. The distinction between me and others who have been investigated is that I was able to account for every single transaction in every account. The same went for all accounts held by my late mother, brothers, sister and children. I ask the Members of this House to reflect on the enormous level of intrusion that can be visited upon a citizen by a tribunal of inquiry. The pressure brought to bear would have been too much for anybody, including me, had it not been for the kind support of my family, friends and supporters. I owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
This tribunal report is a triumph of innuendo over evidence, a triumph of supposition over fact. It is truly a bad day for Ireland when citizens can be subjected to the incredible levels of ridicule and contempt that I and others have endured on the basis of unsubstantiated opinion. I have endured it with great strain but I refuse to buckle under it.
My conscience is clear. I do not accept Michael Moriarty’s baseless opinion and I will not apologise for something I did not do. I have a life and a career and I will go back to these. I am still standing. I know that I have a valuable and worthwhile contribution to make and I intend to make that contribution.
Deputy Martin, Fianna Fáil and others can continue to make me a political football by way of a politically convenient censure motion. It is my intention to contribute to that debate, whether it is constitutional or not, and highlight the hypocrisy of Deputy Martin in his career in politics. However, when the debate is over, I will not give my detractors the satisfaction of putting the motion to a vote. The House is free to pass the motion, but I advise the House that I have no intention of resigning my position as a democratically elected representative. I will not walk away from the overwhelming mandate that was given to me by the constituents of north Tipperary and south Offaly.
I also emphatically reject the sneering and snide references to gombeen politics and parish pump politics that seem to delight certain sections of the media. Contrary to what might be suggested in the media, the constituents of north Tipperary are every bit as intelligent and politically sophisticated as in any other part of the country. I am proud to serve the people of north Tipperary. I have performed my role as their elected representative to the very best of my ability and I will continue to do so until they decide otherwise.
The Moriarty tribunal has not done the State some service. In the fullness of time, its contribution will be exposed for what it is: a scandal of epic proportions. In recent days, the media have misrepresented a number of facts, particularly about the position of the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda authorities. Yesterday evening the Garda authorities issued a statement clarifying their position.
I have been bombarded with suggestions from the news media, particularly radio and television, that the CAB is already investigating matters. The media should not present hypothetical scenarios as the truth. It is sensationalism of the highest order. The media have been notified of the facts by the Garda representative body and the press office. As late as an hour ago I contacted the Office of the Garda Commissioner to establish the factual position. In any case in which a tribunal report is given to the Oireachtas, it is also submitted to the relevant authorities, including the Garda, for their observations and comments and so that they may pursue the matter if there is something to pursue. Rather than presenting this to the public as a fait accompli, the media should report the reality, which is that the Garda is examining the report. If there are questions to be answered, I will be happy to answer them. In these circumstances, we are dealing with real facts and real evidence, and that will be the key test.
I have explained my position to Dáil Éireann. I intend to remain as a Member of this House. I will await the outcome of the Garda examination. If the matter is pursued, I will obviously defend myself, as others will. I will await the decision of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and then I will make a decision about what the future will hold with regard to this report. There are options available to me in my own jurisdiction and outside it, including the High Court, the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Let us wait and see whether the opinions of Mr. Justice Moriarty hold up under the scrutiny of the law of this land.
An Ceann Comhairle: The order of the House states that Deputy Lowry has 20 minutes to speak, after which we will move on to a 60-minute question and answer session. As Deputy Lowry has not used the full 20 minutes, we can now proceed to the question and answer session.
Deputy Joe Higgins: The Taoiseach is not present, although he indicated to me yesterday that he would take questions on Fine Gael’s involvement in this matter with regard to finances received by Fine Gael from Mr. O’Brien.
An Ceann Comhairle: That is what was agreed by this House and we will proceed with it. If the Taoiseach intends to come to the House, he may be under the impression that there are still five minutes to go, because Deputy Lowry did not use his full 20 minutes. I cannot tell the Deputy whether the Taoiseach——
An Ceann Comhairle: Excuse me. I am adhering to the rules as laid down in the House. The order stated that Deputy Lowry would have 20 minutes. He used 15 minutes. There are five minutes remaining, so I am moving on to the question and answer session, which was ordered to take place not later than 5.40 p.m. If Deputy Martin wishes to put a question, I ask him to proceed. I am sure he will get an opportunity to ask further questions if the Taoiseach arrives.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The Taoiseach made it clear that he would come to the House. I will explain why this is important. We have only 60 minutes and we have not been given any indication of how this will be divided between members of the Opposition. The Taoiseach said he would answer questions only about Fine Gael fund-raising and that the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, would deal with questions about the awarding of the licence. I do not agree with that division. I have particular questions, as do other members of my party, for the Minister, but——
An Ceann Comhairle: Perhaps he will be here, I do not know. I am going by the order that was made by this House, which was that after Deputy Lowry’s contribution we would have a 60-minute question and answer session with either a Minister or a Minister of State. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, is present, so if anybody wishes to put a question I ask him or her to do so. Does Deputy Martin have a question?
Deputy Micheál Martin: Yes. As I outlined yesterday in my speech, on 2 March 1995 a memorandum went to Cabinet setting out the process for the awarding of the mobile licence. The guidelines were clear, as outlined by the Cabinet, in terms of how Ministers should behave: any meeting with bidders should be attended by at least two extra witnesses, and these should be recorded immediately; and social exchanges with bidders should be avoided. The Cabinet agreed that this was essential to ensure the transparency and objectivity of the competition. The point I made yesterday was that it is in the major deviations from the content and spirit of the process agreed by the Cabinet on 2 March 1995 that the most serious issues arise for Ministers of the then Government.
Does the Minister accept that the guidelines, which were intended to protect the integrity of the process, were breached, and that the process was disgracefully compromised by a conspicuous pattern of fund-raising by the Fine Gael Party during a time when the competition was well under way? It is extraordinary that up to €28,000 was raised in a short period while the competition for the licence was under way. Will he accept that it is incredible that no one within the Fine Gael Party shouted stop, and that the conspicuous pattern of fund-raising, specific to a particular donor who was involved in a consortium competing to win the licence, was wrong and inappropriate?
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Deputy Martin was incorrect in describing what was decided at Cabinet. Back in March 1995, the Cabinet decided, in accordance with best practice in Europe at the time, there ought to be a competition to decide this issue. The protocol that Deputy Martin thought applied at Cabinet on 2 March 1995 never happened. Once established, the project team, comprising the Departments of Finance and the then Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, decided on the protocol that ought to guide it in the decision.
The Cabinet decision to award the second GSM licence was in accordance with an aide-mémoire brought to the Cabinet a month earlier by Deputy Martin’s former colleague and then Minister, Brian Cowen. He set out the framework and eight criteria that were subsequently used in the ranking for the competition. His ministerial successor did not see any reason to change these. The Cabinet agreed that, in accordance with practice across Europe at the time, there would be a competition. The project team came into being and through a tender process brought in consultants from outside, AMI, to advise it. They agreed the protocol that ought to apply.
There seems to be conflicting evidence as to whether this was supposed to be entirely ring-fenced from the Minister. On the last occasion, we dealt in some detail with the almost impossibility in practical terms of denying all interaction between civil servants and the Minister. The then Secretary General of the Department Transport, Energy and Communications, Mr. John Loughrey, subsequently used the phrase “hermetically sealed”.
Deputy Martin is correct that it is the finding of the Moriarty tribunal that the seal of confidence was breached. However, most departmental officials, although most are now retired, believed this was an internal protocol to ring-fence the process from any outside interference or contact. Some of them would also have believed that if they answered a question from the Minister, it would not be a breach of the protocol.
It is important to remember a competition was established in accordance with best practice. It was a matter for that competition project group, having drawn up a protocol to guide it, to produce a successful bidder. It was the task of the Minister of the day to report this to the Cabinet. It was not the task of the Cabinet to second-guess it. I am amazed at the commentary outside and in the House during the debate that the Cabinet was somehow defective in the discharge of its duties by not second-guessing the reported outcome of the competition.
Instead, such an action would have been to undermine the entire process. The process was to ensure the Cabinet was not involved. Once the process was completed, it was to report who was the successful bidder. To have Ministers second-guessing that would only have been to invite representations from unsuccessful bidders and so forth. The quote that Deputy Martin relied on is nowhere in the report. The report is long enough without him adding some imaginary findings to it.
Yesterday, the Taoiseach said the Cabinet had directed the relevant Departments to provide a comprehensive report to it within four weeks on the Moriarty report’s recommendations so that appropriate action can be taken. What actions are being contemplated? Has any specific action been contemplated already? Will these departmental reports be published and brought before the Dáil for its consideration?
What steps have been considered to protect the public interest and ordinary citizens from any adverse outcomes in actions taken by those who believe they were wronged in the second mobile telephone licence award? This is a legitimate concern. Citizens have already been wronged in the process. It is unacceptable that this may be compounded by our citizens having to take up any outlays that might be adjudged attributable to the State as a result of this debacle, particularly when they have been stretched financially already.
Yesterday, Sinn Féin tabled a motion of censure on the Order Paper. Have the Taoiseach and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources considered its wording? Will they provide an opportunity at the conclusion of this question and answer session for the Dáil to unanimously endorse a motion of censure? In my view, and in that of my colleagues in Sinn Féin, this would send a clear message from the House.
Questions about the relationship between Fine Gael and Mr. Denis O’Brien have been put to the Taoiseach several times. The Moriarty report contained information about payments made to the Fine Gael Party which would appear, in the main, to have been through traditional fundraising activities. It also specifies particular contributions that were directed to constituency fundraising activities.
As I asked the Taoiseach’s predecessor before, has he carried out a thorough investigation within his party as to whether any other payments were received either directly from Mr. Denis O’Brien or any company associated with him nationally, regionally or locally? Is the Taoiseach satisfied, and what steps has he taken to be satisfied, that this is the full extent of Mr. O’Brien’s transfer of funds to the Fine Gael Party over the period that was under scrutiny by the Moriarty tribunal over 14 years? Can the Taoiseach give us absolute clarity on this matter?
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): I agree entirely with Deputy Ó Caoláin that the public interest ought to be the primary concern. Legal proceedings are under way and their purpose is to seek to ascribe responsibility for the wrongdoing of others to the State. In the process, this will run the risk of exposing the taxpayer to paying the bill. That is why my ministerial colleagues on these benches have stressed that they must have regard to these complicated legal proceedings. The question of protecting the public interest means that the first thing one must do is ensure nobody in the current Government makes any remarks in this House that might be used in the subsequent legal proceedings and might expose the taxpayer. God knows the unfortunate taxpayer has been exposed, battered and bruised sufficiently in the past two or three years by our predecessors in government. Our objective is to ensure that does not happen here. For that reason, we are constrained in what we can say.
My formal remarks this morning dealt in some detail with changes that have taken place in the 16 years that have elapsed since these decisions were made. There is now a regulatory system that decides this kind of matter at arms length. If spectrum was being auctioned today, it would be a matter for the regulatory authority. It would be free from political or ministerial interference.
I had a quick glance at the Sinn Féin motion and I have no difficulty with it. For the legal implications I have just explained, the motion will have to be run by the Office of the Attorney General. In any event, the Taoiseach made it plain in the House this morning, in answering Leaders’ Questions, that it is the intention of the Government to table a motion.
With regard to the four weeks injunction on Departments to study the report and to come back with their considered assessments of the action required from each Department to implement the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal report, the purpose was not to produce a compendium of the reports that should be published. Rather, each Department is to take the necessary steps to cause to be implemented the recommendations appropriate to that Department.
In referring to the programme for Government and the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal, the Taoiseach set out a number of matters. The first of these was the abolition of corporate donations. Deputy Ó Caoláin asked about this matter. It is the intention of the Government to bring forward a Bill to terminate corporate donations. One of the Sinn Féin Members, whose name I do not know because I saw him on the monitor and his name was not in the title, was railing against the inadequacy of this measure because it will permit powerful individuals to make contributions qua individuals. The only way to deal with this under our Constitution is to limit the amount such individuals, no matter how wealthy, can make to a political party or politician. It is the intention of the Government to deal with this in respect of the threshold that will apply. One can join a football club or a political party and make a contribution as an individual. People are entitled to join Fianna Fáil, even if they are misguided. Nothing can be done about that.
The point of the Cabinet decision to which the Taoiseach referred is that, within four weeks, the Departments must pore over the report and come back with the steps they will take to implement it. Apart from the question of corporate donations, other matters include the registration of lobbyists and legislation for the protection of whistleblowers, which is relevant here. Another matter is the restoration of provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and the amendment of the Official Secrets Act to retain criminal sanction only where vital interests of the State are threatened.
We will reform legislation governing the relationship between the Minister and civil servants and scrap the rules limiting the evidence of civil servants appearing before Oireachtas committees. Another point is to overturn the Abbeylara judgment. When in opposition I introduced a Bill to restore inquiry by parliamentary committee. It was argued in this House that, given the nature of the Abbeylara judgment, a constitutional referendum is necessary. At that time, the banking issue was the topic of discussion in the House. Unlike other Houses of Parliament, there has not been an inquiry into the banking collapse in this country. We are determined to ensure Oireachtas committees will have the power to inquire into matters of public interest as appropriate. These are examples of the issues we intend to bring forward.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Taoiseach respond to the questions I asked of him? I refer to the censure motion and the exercise in establishing funding donations received by Fine Gael across the board from Mr. O’Brien or associate companies.
The Taoiseach: I hope we will have the serious support of the House in respect of the changes we want to make. I am serious about this. I have asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform as a matter of priority to ensure that the two principal items of legislation are brought forward as quickly as possible. I hope to have a full and thorough debate on this.
Regarding the question on contributions received from Mr. Denis O’Brien over the period in question — July 1994 to May 1996 — on 21 June 2003 the Fine Gael general secretary wrote to the tribunal of inquiry following the request for information about any contributions made by Mr. O’Brien or any of his companies to Fine Gael. The entire number of contributions he made available was furnished to the tribunal. This included ten constituency events and five national events, one of which was the New York fundraiser that was the subject of the Telenor cheque that we have already dealt with. That information was provided in full to the tribunal. If Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has other information, I would like to hear it.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I ask that the Taoiseach would put the submission to which he refers on the record of the House. That is reasonable. It would be a proper way to deal with it. My second question related to the censure motion. I ask the Taoiseach to address both matters.
The Taoiseach: I will check to see whether the information to which I referred was part of the public discussions in the evidence given before the tribunal. It was a letter written by Fine Gael after a trawl was conducted throughout all of the constituencies and of the then Deputies and Senators.
In respect of the censure motion, I understand that the Whips met and an agreement was reached, but as we speak I cannot give an answer as to what agreement has been reached. I will check the matter before the conclusion of the debate.
Deputy Joe Higgins: In the past two weeks I have noticed when the Taoiseach is asked a series of two or three questions by a member of the Opposition, which we are entitled to do, that he does not take a note of the questions as they are asked and then he forgets to answer perhaps two out of the three. I respectfully ask that the Taoiseach would make a note of each question.
An Ceann Comhairle: I remind Members that a number of Deputies wish to ask questions. We now have 36 minutes left. Deputies should get on and ask questions please. It is up to the Government to reply.
Deputy Joe Higgins: ——there were a lot of rezoning controversies in 1992 and 1993. Developers and landowners occasionally used to send bottles of wine around to councillors’ homes at Christmas time. It was a sensitive issue and I never accepted them. Keeping that in mind, does the Taoiseach think that two or three years later, in 1995 and 1996, it was appropriate that Mr. Denis O’Brien, an applicant for the most valuable licence in the history of the State, should make no less than 14 donations to the Fine Gael Party, and that the Fine Gael Party, which had the granting of the licence in its power, should accept those donations?
Does the Taoiseach not think it was reckless, inappropriate and unethical, in particular to accept a donation for £4,000 from Mr. Denis O’Brien in September 1995, less than two months before the granting of that licence? We now know from the “Dear Denis” letter sent by the current Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, that he expressed the gratitude of Fine Gael to Mr. O’Brien for the barrels of wine that he provided for a gala dinner to the amount of £3,000. Again, that was weeks before the licence was to be granted. Was that not inappropriate, unethical and reckless?
The tribunal stated that the licence was awarded as a result of a nefarious relationship between a businessman and a politician. Mr. O’Brien is consequently a billionaire. Telenor made perhaps a billion or more. I did call for the Criminal Assets Bureau to look into the matter; I accept the report is to be sent to it.
Deputy Joe Higgins: Regardless of all that, does the Taoiseach personally believe that the State should now pursue the recipients of the licence to recover the funds from the profits that were made that properly belong to the people? Does he personally believe that should happen?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Higgins’s party was not formed when the events under discussion were taking place. In so far as fund-raising activities by the Fine Gael Party were concerned, they neither relied upon tents nor balaclavas. In that sense the regulations in force were adhered to. They were changed by that rainbow Government. They have been changed since and they will be changed in the extreme from now on.
I made the point about the circuitous route taken by that the infamous cheque from Telenor and that the Taoiseach of the day, the then leader of my party, on being informed of that in the first instance said that it should remain where it was. When the source of the contribution eventually transpired, he demanded that the cheque be returned forthwith, although it had lain in an account for a considerable period before it moved to the general secretary of Fine Gael being drawn on a bank in Dublin in another name.
The Taoiseach: I have made the point that I consider that this was handled incorrectly. I published the advice of the senior counsel that was given to the party on our website last evening. That is there for the Deputy to read if he wishes. In hindsight, the evidence, eminent though it was, should have been overridden by the party. I have said that clearly.
I am conscious of the fact that a number of cases are pending. I have heard contributions and public reports about them. It is not for me to adjudicate on whether claims should be made back. That is a matter that will emerge as people make decisions about what they want to do following the publication of the Moriarty report.
As I understand, agreement has been reached between the Whips that in respect of the matter of natural justice that it was not possible to take an agreed censure motion this evening but that it will be taken tomorrow morning without debate.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Earlier in the debate I was in my office reading and I watched a procession of Ministers come forward to speak in the debate, ably led by the ever-constructive Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Shatter, who proceeded to ignore every substantive fact in the Moriarty report and instead — without a prepared script — attacked me and the Fianna Fáil Party. The election is over. Blaming Fianna Fáil bogeymen for everything simply is not going to cut it anymore. I put it to the Taoiseach that I want real responses to the questions that are being asked.
On the pattern of Fine Gael fund-raising between 1995 and 1996, I asked the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, whether he considered it wrong and inappropriate to facilitate that conspicuous pattern of contributions of up to €28,000 from Esat Digifone in a short period at a time when a competition for a licence was under way for the single most lucrative contract ever awarded by the State. It is clear from the report that the strategic purpose of that was to build influence within Fine Gael. Does the Taoiseach now accept that it was incredible that no one shouted “Stop” within the Fine Gael Party and that it was wrong and inappropriate? The point on the Telenor payment is that all sorts of benign language is being used about it being “incorrect” and that the money was returned but it was Fine Gael which solicited the donation and issued a false invoice about consultancy work in regard to it. It was Fine Gael which ensured the money went to an offshore account so as to make it covert. Does the Taoiseach accept the covert nature in which that payment and all the other payments were handled? We know from the letter from Sarah Carey to the Minister, Deputy Hogan, about the golf classic that the donor did not wish anyone to know he was making the donation. In the context of a competition, such covert behaviour was wrong and inappropriate. Somebody in Fine Gael should have shouted “stop” regarding the conspicuous lobbying and fund-raising. It was clearly designed to enhance the influence of the consortium on the Fine Gael Party at the time. Was the Telenor donation just an isolated incident? Was it part of a covert corporate fund-raising campaign by Fine Gael? Does that explain how Fine Gael cleared at the time a €1.6 million debt, about which there was no clarity or transparency? Can the Taoiseach assure us that no other donations travelled the same route as the Telenor cheque? The Taoiseach used the phrase “circuitous route” but I would use the phrase “deliberately covert and secretive route”.
The Taoiseach: There was certainly no covert operation within the Fine Gael Party. I found the entire business of the Telenor incident to be absolutely unprecedented. Deputy Martin could have been as vehement about the activities of the person, now deceased, who put this in place. I refer to the €60,000 that went to a former leader of the Deputy’s party but I did not hear the Deputy comment on that. Be that as it may——
The Taoiseach: The point is that the person who initiated a phone call to the former leader of my party, and former Deputy, John Bruton, about contributions being available from Telenor was told by the latter that the money should be left where it was. That person made arrangements for a €60,000 payment to a former leader of Fianna Fáil.
It was not Fine Gael that arranged for an offshore account, nor was it Fine Gael that arranged for a cheque, drawn in another person’s name, to be sent to the party prior to the 1997 election. It was the Fine Gael general secretary who received the cheque and assumed it was a legitimate contribution according to the regulations at the time. When it became known that the cheque’s original source was Telenor, the leader of the party ordered that it be sent back. That took quite some time but that is what happened.
The Moriarty report makes it quite clear that the contribution was unwarranted and unasked for and that the leader of the party ordered that it be sent back. I know of no covert operation. I have never heard of any operation such as that suggested by Deputy Martin. The event in question was quite some time ago. I can put my hand on my heart and say I have no knowledge, good, bad or indifferent, about anything remotely parallel to this ever having happened in the Fine Gael Party. I do not know whether it happened in Deputy Martin’s party. The tribunal and its report dealt with the Telenor contribution as being distinguishable given the way it had arrived. It was sent back by the party when its source became known by the then leader, who gave evidence and testified in respect of the matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am trying to be fair to everybody. There are more Members in the Chamber than Deputy Martin; there are many Deputies waiting. Will Deputy Martin please respect the Chair? Does Deputy Dooley want to ask a question?
Deputy Timmy Dooley: I want to ask the Taoiseach about a well reported fund-raising dinner that took place in October 1995, two days before the second mobile phone licence was awarded. It has been alleged that a senior member of one of the bidding parties was present at that function. While the fund-raiser clearly falls within the guidelines, as the Taoiseach has suggested, questions obviously arise therefrom. Based on the clear guidelines that were developed by the Cabinet on how one should deal with bidders and their associates, which guidelines refer in particular to the necessity to have two independent witnesses present, could the Taoiseach identify for us those witnesses who were present to ensure that the integrity of the process was maintained? Can he indicate what consortium was represented and the individuals concerned? Will he give some broader details to show that the integrity of the process was maintained while the fund-raiser was taking place?
The Taoiseach: I can confirm the position. On 18 June 2003, the general secretary of Fine Gael responded to Mr. John Davis, solicitor for the Moriarty tribunal, in respect of what Deputy Dooley mentioned. The fund-raiser was a constituency fund-raiser for the Mayo constituency. The two attendees in question, Mr. Jan Stenbeck and Mr. Håkan Ledin, were associated with the companies involved with the Eurofone consortium, which was one of the parties listed in the schedule to the letter from the tribunal on 21 January 2003. Both of these gentlemen attended the function uninvited and did not make a contribution. They were invited by the late Sean Murray, who was a partner in Grant Thornton and who paid the contribution. I was obviously unaware of any connection with these people and did not speak to them at all in respect of anything concerning the second GSM licence. This information was provided to the tribunal in the interest of completeness and to assist because, while the two gentlemen were present, they were not invited and did not contribute. It was suggested that, in the interest of being up-front and thorough about this matter, the tribunal should be informed of it when they wrote to Fine Gael. The tribunal assessed and considered that; that is the position.
Deputy Gerry Adams: I welcome the agreement on the motion of censure. I have two very brief questions. One of the Taoiseach’s predecessors, the current Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, banned corporate donations, but they were then reinstated. Will the Taoiseach explain why he reversed the decision? Given his statement this morning that representations and lobbying by business people ought to be transparent, does he agree that all parties in this House should publish a list of all corporate and business donations?
I have never been able to get my head around the fact that we give away natural resources from the Corrib gas field off the west coast of the Taoiseach’s county. Given the content of the Moriarty report and that Deputy Lowry was involved in the issuing licences in connection with the Corrib gas field, should that process be made subject to investigation, but by An Garda this time? Will he refer the matter to it and ensure it will have all the relevant licensing and revenue terms granted to the Corrib consortium?
The Taoiseach: We can deal with that from a number of perspectives on other occasions in the House. I have views on the balance between making a location reasonably attractive for exploration in the first instance and the State availing of opportunities either to take equity or higher royalties depending on what might be discovered.
The Taoiseach: The State does not have the resources to do this but opportunities exist for positions to be adopted. Last summer, a well was drilled north of Corrib at a cost of €75 million.  It proved to be without any product, so it is a case of structuring properly the tax situation taking account of technology and attractiveness.
In respect of the question on corporate donations being banned, when Deputy Michael Noonan became leader of the Fine Gael Party, he banned corporate donations and none was accepted. When I was elected leader of the party in 2002, it was in a state of some “demotivation” shall we say. I carried out an analysis of our inadequacies in organisation and our capacity to reach out to people and in the party’s ability to promote issues in the interest of the country and people. Unfortunately, it costs money to drive a modern political party. I suppose absolutely transparent State funding of all parties might well be an ideal position but in the current circumstances the electorate certainly would not thank any State for doing this. From the point of view of being able to fight elections and compete with a large and very strong Fianna Fáil Party at the time, obviously the Fine Gael Party had to fund itself and within the legal constraints we did so.
Having streamlined our capacity to raise money from our supporters and from persons who support the party throughout the country, it has been well publicised that we were able to raise €1 million or €1.2 million in recent years, 90% of which through the sale of tickets for our national draw to party supporters and others who support the party throughout the country. This is the position.
I reversed the decision to ban corporate donations, with the approval of the party, shortly after I became leader. As I stated, we will move on early production of a Bill to ban corporate donations and to end the link between big business and politics. This is not to state there are not people who have always complied with every piece of legislation who want to support parties and who have supported parties and non-parties over the years. Deputy Adams can be clear that our fund-raising activities have complied entirely with the laws of the land. I feel it is time to move to a point of banning corporate donations and we will do this as soon as we can.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies Lowry, Pringle, Ferris, Michael McGrath, Collins, Murphy and Boyd Barrett have yet to speak and 14 minutes remain in the slot. I will take questions from two speakers at a time. I ask Members to ensure their questions are fair to everybody.
Deputy Michael Lowry: Against the background of this report, which is based on opinions, I can understand why the House wishes to table a motion of censure and I have no objection to it. I wish to place on the record my desire that when the Taoiseach and Ceann Comhairle are framing the wording of the motion of censure the House does not prejudice my position as a Member of the House and as a former Minister, and that it would not prejudice in any way the action I may take a future date.
I am sure the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, has been well briefed by departmental officials. Will he confirm that the principal parameters of the competition for the second mobile phone licence were set down and agreed by the previous Government to the one of which I was a member and by my predecessor, Brian Cowen? Will he also confirm that the project team protocol applied only to the project team and not to the Cabinet or to the Minister of the day? It would be entirely impractical and completely unworkable to suggest that this protocol applied to anybody other than the members of the project team. It was the project team that had access to information, not the Cabinet or the Ministers including me. Will he also confirm that the then Government, of which he was a member, was a rainbow government with three leaders, namely, John Bruton, Dick Spring and Proinsias De Rossa. All of the serious decisions were always made in advance; whether it was a day, week, or morning prior to a Cabinet meeting they were cleared in principle by the three leaders. This was the standard practice when I was a member of that Government.
I have been damned by the Moriarty tribunal with regard to the licence because the report suggests that somehow I circumvented a decision of the Government. The protocol and procedures were advised to me by the then Secretary General of the Department, John Loughrey. If the Minister checks his files he will see that I acted at all times on his advice and in line with the clearing process that had become standard in that Government. Will the Minister agree that the idea of the Cabinet of that time being in a position to change a decision of a project team that we as a Government established would have been second guessing? We had an example of second guessing when the Meteor and Orange applications were brought to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court judges unanimously found that no Government could second guess the decision of an independent team with regard to an application. Does the Minister agree this applies to the decision made in 1995?
Deputy Thomas Pringle: In light of the Taoiseach’s contribution yesterday at the opening of the debate and in light of his desire to have fully open and transparent politics in operation in the House, I ask him to put on the record of the House any deal done with the three Independent Deputies, namely, Deputies Lowry, Healy-Rae and Grealish, who supported his election as Taoiseach in recent weeks. Will he outline what arrangements were put in place to secure this support?
The Taoiseach: I will deal with Deputy Pringle’s question. No deal was done with any group of Independent Deputies. As the Taoiseach, it is my duty to extend courtesy to every elected Member but no deal, good bad or indifferent, was done. Deputies were quite free to express their vote either way on the election of the Taoiseach.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I have already stated that the tribunal report attributes the genesis of the competition to the former Minister, Mr. Cowen, who was the Minister with responsibility for communications at the time. He brought an aide-memoire to Cabinet and the entire business was discussed as to the merits of an auction system as compared to a “beauty contest” as it was called. Some people have revived the merits of the auction approach. When one examines it one finds that the European Commission had difficulty with a new entrant being treated differently from Eircell. The debate eventually came down in favour of a beauty contest. I refer to a letter from the commission to the Minister which stated: “The commission is not in favour of such an auction procedure for granting mobile licences.” The Irish policy priority in the mid-1990s was to catch up with developments in the mobile market where we were lagging significantly behind the rest of Europe. The commission intervened and made very plain that it would not permit a situation where the new entrant was treated less favourably than the existing company. The Department of Finance subsequently during the period of the rainbow coalition Government wanted to raise some moneys and that is where the figure of £25 million came from, £15 million from the new licence and £10 million levied in Eircom in a more complex way. Once the Department satisfied its budgetary figures it was happy and it was considered that the best way to get a new entrant into the market was through the beauty contest. The answer to the Deputy’s question is that the parameters were set down by the previous Minister, Brian Cowen and the decision sought from Cabinet by his successor did not really seek to change this in any material way. The decision of the Cabinet was to set up this competition in accordance with best advice at the time. The whole purpose of the competition was that it and not the Cabinet was to do the job. It is true that the protocol was subsequently established by the project team and it recruited AMI Consultants by tender. The proposition that somehow the Cabinet should have second-guessed this would be to undermine the very basis of the system that had been agreed. It is a different issue entirely as to whether the protocol worked or whether the process worked as was envisaged. A report was given to Cabinet as to the identity of the successful bidder and the Cabinet is not going to insist on awarding the contract to the number two or a subsequent bidder. This second-guessing would not have been acceptable.
The protocol did not apply to the Cabinet as the Cabinet was not involved once it made the decision. It was then a matter for the project team to get on with the business. As the Deputy said, it was a rainbow coalition Government, comprising three parties. I would rather put it that where there were difficult decisions or contentious decisions, it was the practice of the three leaders to meet before Cabinet and to hammer out the points at issue. A system of programme managers was in operation at the time which was a very good system. The programme managers tended to meet a few days before the Cabinet meeting——
Deputy Martin Ferris: The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte referred in his contribution to an independent regulator free from political and material interference. Will he ensure that the Commission for Communications Regulation is made directly answerable to the Minister and accountable to an all-party committee so that Members can publicly examine issues arising with regard to communications?
Deputy Michael McGrath: I will be as brief as all the other speakers. The Taoiseach knows that on 2 March 1995 the Government decided that a recommendation would be put by the Minister to Government in time for a final decision on the granting of the licence by the end of October 1995. I refer to the Moriarty report, chapter 61.07:
In other words, it was not for Deputy Lowry or the project group to award the licence but rather it was the Government’s function and responsibility to award it. Can the Taoiseach say how he and every other Minister in the Cabinet allowed the Cabinet and the Government to be bypassed in the awarding of the most valuable licence in the history of the State? In the context of the events of that afternoon of 25 October 1995, when the then Minister, Deputy Lowry, the Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton and Mr. Spring——
Deputy Michael McGrath: If I may finish, Mr. Bruton, Mr. Spring, Mr. De Rossa and Mr. Quinn were there. According to the Moriarty report, on the basis of the evidence, they would not have been aware at that time of the concerns of certain members of the project group, of the doubts surrounding the finances of Esat Digifone, of the departures from the evaluation methodology, of how close the result had been——
Deputy Michael McGrath: ——that the work of the Courtyard group had been guillotined. They would not have been aware that the final report from the project group was not even available on that date. Mr. Justice Moriarty said that based on the evidence they would have wished to explore matters beyond the level of consideration given by them on that afternoon if they had known these facts. Can the Taoiseach please, for once and all, give an account of what happened on the afternoon of 25 October?
An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry, Taoiseach, we have run out of time. In accordance with Standing Orders, I made it quite clear there would be a debate for one hour. I am now obliged under Standing Orders to call on the Minister to reply and he has 20 minutes to do so. I made this quite clear earlier.
An Ceann Comhairle: I did not ask for the co-operation of the House. I am complying with the Standing Orders which were agreed. I asked speakers to be unselfish to think of other Deputies but they did not comply. I now call on the Minister and ask him to please proceed.
Deputy Micheál Martin: An attempt was made to clarify this that would have made for a smoother operation if we were responded to by your office, a Cheann Comhairle, and by the other Whip, but there was no response.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I again put on record on behalf of the Government our thanks to Mr. Justice Moriarty. I deplore the intemperate attacks made on his integrity and motivation. In saying that I do not take any issue with any Member of the House who wants to dispute a particular finding or wants to dispute a matter of fact from any tribunal report. However, what we heard last night and what we have heard over recent days is simply not acceptable.
I thank colleagues on all sides of the House who contributed to the debate and more especially to those who sought to make thoughtful contributions; the report deserves no less. The necessity to restore confidence in politics and the necessity to restore respect for the practice of politics ought to be a democratic imperative to which everyone, including every Member of this House, ought to subscribe. Some speakers certainly sought to do that. Some speakers in particular went out of their way to acknowledge that the programme of reform contemplated by the Government goes much further and represents a sea change in the practice of politics in this country, if implemented. Unfortunately other contributions sought to make political capital from the debate, which I suppose is to be expected; I will come back to that in a moment.
All sides are agreed that the acid test for the present Government is implementation of its programme of reform. The real litmus test is how the Government will react to the recommendations in the report and to the recommendations in the programme for Government. I again confirm that we are interested in a radical reform of parliamentary and institutional issues. Institutional and parliamentary reform is quite distinct from the issue of corporate donations which has tended to dominate the discussion. Corporate donations and the influence that might come from them is one aspect of this debate. However, apart entirely from that our institutions are in need of radical reform as is the way we do business in this House. The Government is determined to carry through that programme of reform.
I believe Deputy Calleary made the point that in listening to some of the debate inside and outside the House one would get the impression that this was a particularly corrupt democracy. He went on to make the point that a very small number of Members of this House have abused their positions, with which I agree. Some commentators fairly make that point and others do not. Whether it is for the purposes of selling newspapers or whatever, they paint it in the most garish light possible and they get considerable assistance from some Members of the House here in trying to do that.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Deputy Kelleher is sitting beside the man who is the leading graduate of the academy of financial jiggery pokery that was Fianna Fáil for so many years. He comes in here, puts on his Mother Teresa face and starts lecturing us on these issues.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: ——but in all fairness I cannot believe Deputy Martin made the contribution he did. His younger colleagues were very careful to take the report on its merits and to look forward. They wanted to see whether the Government will implement the reforms. However, you came in with no other purpose than to seek to link what has transpired to Fine Gael in the futile attempt to damage the Government.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I am talking to the Deputy through the Chair. I regretted that because he is the Deputy from whom we heard so much during the general election campaign about new politics. He gave all sorts of assurances through all his interlocutors that politics would not and could not go on as it went on before and he would do it differently. He claimed there would be no more Punch and Judy politics. He comes in here a couple of weeks later and is back in the same old routine for those of us in the House long enough to remember what Fianna Fáil was like in opposition. Deputy Martin does not have the troops now to muster that kind of response. He appeared on Pat Kenny’s radio programme today and when asked whether his criticisms of Deputy Lowry were not hypocritical given that Fianna Fáil relied on Deputy Lowry for a majority in this House for so many years, he said “Ah, sure we didn’t know then what we know now”.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I also have the transcript of the McCracken report, which Deputy Martin and Mr. Ahern had before they entered into the deal with Deputy Lowry. That report was very clear in stating:
Deputy Martin had that report and he also knew it when his party renewed the deal in 2007. All of what we are discussing here was already in the public domain yet Fianna Fáil entered into the deal to rely on Deputy Lowry, and Deputy Martin now comes into the House and behaves as if he cannot remember his name.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I know what is in the Moriarty report but a number of people on the other side who wanted a debate on it last week could scarcely have read the cover, never mind the report. They were complaining about the Taoiseach not conceding a debate last week or complaining about the Taoiseach avoiding questions on it when he came in here about an hour after receiving it. There was such humbug about the Taoiseach avoiding answering questions. Deputy Martin had three opportunities each day to ask the Taoiseach on Leaders’ Questions about this issue if he wanted to do it and to give the rest of us an opportunity to read the report, and then come in and discuss it. However, a number of Deputies, including Deputy Ferris, wanted us to discuss it immediately before any of us read it. That does not do——
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: We have, and in considerable detail. Furthermore, we have allowed a two day debate a week after its publication. Some two months after findings of the McCracken report against Mr Haughey were published Fianna Fáil finally conceded a debate on it for 90 minutes. It is a great help to have people to check things for you; I was used to doing it for myself. I asked someone to check what happened and the person found that Deputy Martin voted against an amendment to allow questions and answers after the 90 minute debate. After all of Mr. Haughey’s depredations and the voluminous report, we came in to discuss it, we got 90 minutes and no questions and answers. We tabled an amendment for questions and answers and Deputy Martin voted against it.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: That is the track record and it does not augur well for the future. How he conducts the business of his party is entirely a matter for Deputy Martin. However, as far as a new agenda is concerned it seems to me that there is very much an old agenda and nothing has really changed.
A number of points were raised. Deputy Pringle wanted to know whether the Government would demonstrate good faith and introduce a Bill to impose costs on those who obstructed tribunals. That is not necessary. As most Deputies in the House will know, it is a matter for the sole member to make a decision about costs and no doubt he will make that decision in due course. It is not my business to seek to influence him but no legislation is necessary to give him the powers Deputy Pringle seeks.
Deputy Calleary wanted to address the question of inquiry by parliamentary committee and since the Deputy intended it in good faith I am not going to ask why he did not do much when he was on this side of the House. Many years have passed since the Abbeylara judgment. I do not want to keep picking on Deputy Martin but I cannot see any other faces on the other side of the House who were in the last Government.
In all the years since the judgment there has been no attempt to refurbish the law on inquiry by parliamentary committee. Everyone in the House knows there were very particular reasons for the Abbeylara judgment. Most people in the House know that there is a question mark over the wisdom of the inquiry having been embarked on in the first place by parliamentarians because it came hot in the wake of the DIRT tribunal. The issues involved in tax evasion in the DIRT inquiry were completely different from a case where a man died.
It is not a matter for parliamentarians to adjudicate on the killing, lawful or otherwise, of a man in those circumstances. In any event, the Abbeylara judgment struck down, in a very particular way and within a very definite rubric, inquiry by parliamentary committee. We have been waiting for the best part of ten years to see the law refurbished on that and it has not happened. This Government has agreed to do it.
Deputy Calleary pleaded for a committee system that is less plentiful than that of the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, where anybody who did not get a chocolate sweet as a Minister of State became chairman of a committee. It is not the best basis for establishing a committee structure. Deputy Calleary recommended that there ought to be a more considered approach to the committee architecture on this occasion. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of the work done by many of the committees established by the former Government and the one before it was immensely good.
When our friends in the media criticise this House, they should note that they have not reformed themselves much. They are not in a position to cover much of the work done in many of the committees. For example, most of the media makes arrangements to cover the Committee on Public on Accounts but they are not geared up to cover all of the committees in the House. They would see that immensely good work is done, notwithstanding the proliferation that happened under the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. I am satisfied that it would show this House in a good light if the committee system was re-established with a purpose, such as that which Deputy Calleary had in mind.
I do not think that any Member of this House believed that he or she would see the day where there was agreement between the parties on the banning of corporate donations. I do not believe that any Member of this House would have thought that such a sea change would have happened in Irish politics. I do not know what happened in the previous Government. The Green Party element of the previous Government pledged that it would introduce a Bill to ban corporate donations. It is still where it was, in the ether. The previous Government never enacted it and that is the test.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: It was not enacted and the Government sent poor former Deputy John Gormley away without one of the trophies he had promised his people. It was an admirable objective on his part but one which he failed to implement, I presume because of obstruction by the other party in that Government. Given what has happened in politics as I understand it — Deputy Martin can correct me if I am wrong — Fianna Fáil has committed to supporting the Government’s position on that issue which is a remarkable change and one which I welcome. We will give him the opportunity to vote on it as soon as possible.
There is a very tight timeframe, four weeks, to meet the Taoiseach’s injunction that individual Departments revert to him with proposals for the implementation of the Moriarty report as it relates to them. Apart from that, when the programme for legislation is published colleagues will see a number of measures that are designed to restore respect for and confidence in politics in this House. As I said, that will be the litmus test of the reaction to this affair.
It is unfortunate that something that transpired 16 years ago is only now being debated in the House. It obviously is not acceptable that the inquiry into something of such importance and public interest should take the length of time we have experienced. The report goes into considerable detail in explaining why that happened but we have to take the responsibility on ourselves to inquire in a more speedy, effective and cheaper way into issues like this.
The DIRT inquiry brought a lot of kudos to this House and restored confidence in it for many tens of thousands of our citizens because they could see for themselves the work that was being done, apart entirely from the €1 billion that was recovered for the Exchequer. Apart from that, the citizen could see for himself or herself the performance of politics in this House and when we restore inquiry by parliamentary committee it will enhance the quality and value of scrutiny of measures in this House in the future.
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