Wednesday, 24 May 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Fahey, to the House and I warmly welcome the opportunity to move this important and much needed Bill. As Members are aware my former colleague, Pat Gallagher, drafted and moved a similar Bill this time last year. He put forward a  comprehensive, cogent and well-founded Bill which would have radically changed the way lobbyists operate. To its eternal shame the Government decided to vote down the Bill on that occasion. Given what we have learned in the intervening 12 months about the role played by certain lobbyists in the corruption of the political system, I genuinely believed the Government parties in the House would have put to one side their petty political jealousies and taken a principled decision to support the Bill.
The proliferation of paid lobbyists prowling the corridors of power makes regulation of their activities inevitable. The public has the right to know who has lobbied, is lobbying and will lobby politicians, and for whom and why lobbying takes place. The shocking disclosures by Frank Dunlop, lobbyist extraordinaire, to the Flood tribunal in recent weeks revealed the web of intrigue, bribery and corruption spun by one professional paid lobbyist to secure the interests of his clients, namely, big business and big developers.
If the legislation had been accepted by the Government when first introduced in the Seanad a year ago it would have prevented some wrongdoing in the intervening 12 months. Had it been in place 15 years ago it would probably have made the Flood tribunal unnecessary. The lobbyist, his clients and their activities would have been a matter of public record. The web would not have been spun and politicians and public servants could not have been ensnared.
The Government voted against a similar Bill introduced by the Labour Party 12 months ago. While agreeing with the principles in the Bill the Government said more research was necessary. The amendment tabled by the Government today makes precisely the same point, namely, that the Labour Party has tabled a good Bill but that the Government does not want to accept it yet. Nothing has been done by the Government in the past 12 months to show it has the slightest intention of regulating lobbyists. The cancer is now clearly evident and the Government should not be found wanting a second time. It can support democracy by supporting the Bill. It would be a belated but welcome conversion which would uphold the standing of the House and demonstrate the seriousness with which we treat the current public mood of revulsion caused by the near daily revelations of alleged corruption and malpractice in so many areas of public life.
However, the amendment in the name of Senator Cassidy has dashed those hopes. It will be most strongly resisted by the Labour Party and other Senators who have correctly recognised the unprecedented growth of the lobbyist industry over the past number of years and the urgent need to put in place a fair regulatory system. The amendment tabled once again proposes prevarication instead of action and lethargy instead of parliamentary innovation.
 The amendment refuses to address the core issues covered by the Registration of Lobbyists Bill. It puts all progress on this front on the méar fada. Unfortunately for the Government, the long finger approach was the stance it adopted in June 1999. The Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, declared in the House at that time that “there are a number of initiatives in hand which are relevant to ensuring the highest standards of ethical behaviour and conduct and guarding against wrongdoing in public life. I expect the standards Bill will be published later this year.” He went on to say “This Bill will provide an opportunity to consider bringing lobbyists within the scope of the new commission”. Not a single thing has happened since then. Lobbyists still operate without public transparency or a regulatory framework. A standards in public office Bill has not appeared despite being promised on numerous occasions.
How on earth does the Government expect us to accept an amendment which again postpones action on this vital issue, given its disgraceful track record of indolence and inaction over the past 12 months? The shocking evidence of Frank Dunlop to the Flood tribunal has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that lobbyists need to operate within a regulatory framework in order that decision-makers and citizens can be aware of their clients and the vested interests they represent. It beggars belief that in the wake of such evidence the Government is still resisting this important Bill.
The action of the Government is not only damaging public confidence in the political system but is damaging the lobbyists' profession. Members of the profession support the introduction of a fair regulatory framework, such as that proposed in the legislation. They are annoyed and disgusted at the bad name of their profession which the Dunlop revelations have engendered. The Government alone is intent on adopting an ostrich-like position on this crucial issue. That demonstrates how after three years of the comforts of power the Government is rapidly losing touch with the electorate. It believes that it has a monopoly of wisdom and if the collective wisdom of the Government is not to do anything, then nothing will be done.
Lobbying has become established as a permanent feature of our system of parliamentary democracy and decision making and in future years the practice of lobbying is likely to become more sophisticated and intense. There is no reason this Bill cannot be accepted by the House at the second time of asking. Detailed examination of the legislation can be undertaken on Committee Stage. It is designed to disclose the activities of lobbyists and their clients in the public interest, and is not aimed at preventing or stopping them.
 If powerful groups in society are using public affairs consultants to change laws or influence public policy then the public has a right to know about such activities and who is behind them. It is a simple democratic principle, which the Government seems intent on rejecting again. There are no formal rules relating to the activities of lobbyists, yet there are laws on our Statute Book, such as the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, with which public representatives and public servants must comply. Under the new planning legislation similar standards will apply to elected local authority representatives.
Furthermore, if public and private companies are required by law to declare the names of their auditors and legal advisers in documents submitted to the Companies Office and in annual reports, legislation should be introduced which requires lobbyists to make similar declarations about those for whom they work. The Bill will go some way towards correcting the perceived notion or suspicion that lobbyists are able to gain unfair advantage for their clients. This impression has been further reinforced by Frank Dunlop's evidence at the Flood tribunal. The legislation would require individuals who, for payment or reward, lobby politicians or senior public servants to register their activities with the Public Offices Commission and this documentation would be open to the public for inspection. Nothing more drastic or radical than that is proposed. The legislation covers representative and non-governmental organisations which employ in-house lobbyists to influence office holders, in addition to covering those whose business it is to act as professional lobbyists, such as public affairs consultants.
I will not delay in regard to the detail of the Bill. This is the second time in 12 months that the House has discussed this issue and nothing has changed in the intervening period. The Government has not done anything despite its stated commitment in this House. Given the Government's failure, surely it is time that this House behaved like a proper legislative body and sent a strong message to the Executive that if it fails in its duty to govern and to live up to the commitment it gave to this House last year, then as an elected assembly we should proceed with this much needed legislation. If we fail to do so, it will be a sad day for the standing of this House.
The public is deeply shocked by the revelations of the past three years and, in particular, by the evidence emanating from the Flood and Moriarty tribunals. It is not good that the Progressive Democrats Party and Fianna Fáil spout fine words about standards in public life and the need to address issues. We have heard such words before and know how shallow and easily forgotten they are. It is time to take action and put on the Statute Book a rational and fair system for the registration of lobbyists. That is the question before the House. I ask Fianna Fáil and the Pro gressive Democrats Party members not to turn their backs on this measure for the second time in 12 months. Enough is enough. We must accept the Bill and debate it on Committee Stage.
Mr. Ryan: Cuireann sé íona orm a laghad agus a thug an páirtí is mó sa Rialtas faoi ndeara an rud a bhí soiléir don chuid eile againn le beagnach fiche bliana anuas. Cuireann sé íona orm go raibh siad ábalta a bheith ag féachaint ar rudaí, ag éisteacht le daoine agus ag éisteacht leis an gclampar a bhí ar siúl faoi chaighdeán a bhí á chleachtadh ag daoine faoi leith ach nár thugadar faoi ndeara riamh go raibh sé ar siúl and as if by miracle in the past few weeks there has been an overwhelming movement by Fianna Fáil, in particular, to carry all of us on to a new plane of righteousness. Let us deal with reality. There is nothing new in this legislation. Fianna Fáil has had almost a year to talk about and reflect on it and to bring forward its own proposals. It did nothing until something outside these Houses, from which it could not escape, galvanised it.
Fianna Fáil's conversion seems at best skin deep to many people because any party that experiences a revolution or conversion of a fundamental nature would not attempt to promote somebody whose impeachment it was prepared to seek a year ago. It now proposes to reward with a £140,000 per year post a person who resigned in order to prevent Fianna Fáil from going through the political discomfort of an impeachment and it ignores the hurt and the pain of that.
Fianna Fáil has not learned the standards that the rest of us believe politics should be about. There are many decent people in Fianna Fáil but they have allowed their loyalty to what used to be a wonderful national organisation—
Mr. Ryan: In the days when it was a major and decent national organisation. I learned a long time ago that my future lay elsewhere. I regret that many decent people in Fianna Fáil never learned the same and still have difficulty learning it now.
Mr. O'Flaherty was not appointed by accident. It was widely reported without contradiction that there was active lobbying on his behalf by Fianna Fáil barristers and again, irrespective of the public's view, Fianna Fáil responded. Apart from standards, Fianna Fáil also had a difficulty recognising what the rest of us could. It had a leader for almost 13 years whose lifestyle all of us recognised was irreconcilable with his parliamentary income and who we now know was granted the munificence of £8.5 million over that period, yet Fianna Fáil did not notice. Nobody wondered while the rest of us stood back in awe and asked how was he getting away with it. Fianna Fáil members stood back and then lined up one after another and said they never wondered how he maintained that lifestyle. The rest of us were struggling after three elections in  the 1980s to cover our costs but the leader of Fianna Fáil was involved in a grandiose experiment in the highest quality of life which involved purchasing shirts from Paris, islands off the west Kerry coast and mansions in north County Dublin, yet nobody in Fianna Fáil asked where he got all the money from.
Mr. Ryan: Suddenly they converted to a long-winded essay in righteousness, which is what the amendment is and we will come to it in a minute. In the same period, we had the appalling record of many of their councillors in County Dublin who could not see what the rest of us saw – that something was very suspect. They could not see it, but the rest of us could smell it. They were so self-righteous that when a party colleague of mine dared to suggest as much, she was inundated with threats of libel action by outraged members and former members. They are not suing her now, however. The comments were repeated less than two weeks ago in The Irish Times but nobody is suing. They did not notice then, either.
Mr. Ryan: However, there is one principle Fianna Fáil will support forever. It will make sure its friends can make money, so it will protect lobbyists who are its friends by preventing legislation such as this from going through the Oireachtas.
Mr. Ryan: It will prevent the banning of corporate donations because that suits Fianna Fáil whose one remaining core value is money. That one is unshakeable. It will look after its friends and their money, no matter what. That is what this amendment is about.
Mr. Ryan: That is why this party will not accept a nonsensical amendment which attempts to draw us into the mud Fianna Fáil has created. We are having none of its mud. We are not accepting the spider's invitation to visit the web. We will stay outside where we have some standards and we will not be enmeshed in Fianna Fáil's problems.
—conscious of the need as a matter of urgency to restore public confidence in the political system by the enactment of legislation to modernise and strengthen the criminal law relating to corruption, and noting the publication of the Government's Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2000, and further proposals for legislation to restate and amend the law in relation to corruption in public office published by Fine Gael and the Labour Party,
—noting the commitment of the Government to publish a Standards in Public Office Bill which will contain comprehensive proposals to reform and amend the law relating to standards in public office in accordance with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and the Houses' Committees on Members  Interests and noting that the Bill will provide for the necessity for tax clearance certificates for persons elected to the Oireachtas,
•the constitutional rights of citizens to freely seek election, establish political parties, organise for political and democratic purposes within or without parties on terms of equality before the law, and free from arbitrary or invidious discrimination in relation to the provision of publicly funded support,
•the constitutional rights of independent candidates and candidates for new parties to organise politically between elections without being subject to invidious discrimination in favour of established political parties,
•in the first instance, the nine legislative proposals already announced relating to the funding of political activity, both between and during elections [a Standards in Public Office Bill, the Registration of Lobbyists (No. 2) Bill, 1999, the Registration of Lobbyists Bill, 2000, the Electoral (Amendment) (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill, 2000, the Public Representatives (Provision of Tax Clearance Certificates) Bill, 2000, three Prevention of Corruption Bills and the Local Government Bill, 2000],
—noting the proposal to appoint an Expert Group in consultation with the Party Leaders to assist and advise that committee. The terms of reference will require it to report back to the Party Leaders not later than 30 September, 2000, so that all necessary legislative changes can be introduced and considered by the Houses of the Oireachtas not later than 31 December, 2000,
This amendment is a comprehensive response to the motion. I take great solace from the recent indication by the Taoiseach that he has made contact with Deputy John Bruton, the Leader of Fine Gael, and Deputy Quinn, the Leader of the Labour Party, in an effort to further the creation of a better political atmosphere concerning donations and lobbyists.
At its recent Ard-Fheis, Fianna Fáil established an internal committee to ensure the highest possible standards for party candidates in future local and national elections. The party will impose severe rules and restrictions on proposed candidates for election. This is a major development by the main Government party. To suggest for a minute that our party has not taken any action in this regard is rather unfair. We must not forget that the Flood and Moriarty tribunals, which have unearthed many unusual activities, particularly in the Dublin area, are still sitting. The jury is still out as regards the investigations being carried out by both tribunals. Even if it takes another 12 or 15 months for them to report their findings to the Oireachtas, we must await the outcome before casting aspersions or condemning without trial based on what we may have read in the newspapers.
It is also notable that the only person of major concern who has pronounced himself as a lobbyist is Frank Dunlop, and we must proceed carefully in this regard. Do we follow America, which has a registration system for lobbyists, or do we closely examine the outcome of the tribunal before moving in that direction? I have an open mind on this issue. The whole political system has  been rocked, and the Government fully recognises that. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and other senior Ministers recognise the absolute need for trust in respect of people who hold positions in the three branches of Government, namely, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.
It would be remiss of me not to comment on the matters raised by my colleague, Senator Costello, concerning Hugh O'Flaherty. Some of the Members on the Independent benches put the matter in a nutshell. Going back to the Sheedy affair, they felt that this well established, renowned and highly respected legal intellectual was hard done by in a situation where he was compelled to resign. Be that as it may, he committed no crime or major wrongdoing, yet as a result of a compassionate interview while he was out for a walk he and his family have suffered considerably. It would be unfair, in the context of the Bill proposed by the Labour Party, to drag this unfortunate individual into the political domain. I spoke about this matter on the Order of Business this morning and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further other than to say that the appointment is made and he is a very capable individual – there is probably none better. Is he to be penalised for a simple misjudgment or human error of a rather trivial nature? That was the whole basis of the problem.
Mr. O'Donovan: We must not lose sight of the fact that there have been major difficulties in our political system, and that applies to all parties and to all politicians. Those difficulties must be addressed in a sensible fashion and the Govern ment amendment indicates that in a matter of months, not years, many of the proposals and suggestions put forward by the Labour Party – probably a majority of them – will be taken on board. That is a welcome development. I welcome the debate and the amendment is a wise and prudent way to proceed.
Mr. O'Dowd: At about 5.40 this evening I was watching the news on television and a list of names and amounts of money was broadcast on the screen. I thought the list was never ending – perhaps it was not that long – but it included the names of all the people whom the Moriarty tribunal has identified as giving money to one Charles J. Haughey, and the sum came to something like £8.5 million. I wondered if all the other people watching that programme felt the way I felt, that it was an utter disgrace and that the current phase we are going through in our history is creating a major question of credibility and confidence in the whole political system. I am not lecturing anybody. I am simply saying what I saw on television this evening.
The power that we have, as elected representatives, comes from the people we serve. It is a power to look after the interests of the people. It is a trust between the public and the elected representatives and this Bill is about enforcing that trust in a legal way. It is about ensuring that what we have seen in the past will cease and hopefully will never happen again, but legislation in itself will not solve the problem because human nature is human nature and regardless of the legislation we pass, what is in the heart and mind of somebody when they are lobbied or when they make a decision is something only they know. Sadly, as a result of the information coming to us from the tribunals our country has been shown to be very corrupt.
It is true to say that sin is not all on one side. There are question marks over politicians of all parties. What we have to establish tonight, with this Bill, is that we collectively, as a group of politicians, are determined and committed to changing the situation as quickly as possible. The Government amendment, while it has a lot of nice sounding phrases, is putting everything back to 1 December 2000 but the people cannot wait that long for this action.
Power is held in trust and should be used only for the benefit of the people. Lobbying is done not just by paid lobbyists. Lobbying is done by everybody. It can be done by a farmer stopping someone on the side of the road or a businessman talking about the changes he wants to see in the budget. Lobbying is not and should not be a dirty word because lobbying, in effect, goes to the heart of what Government is about. To use a different phrase, it is listening to the different interest groups. Lobbying is legitimate provided it is transparent and that no attempts are made  to corrupt people or to change their view for monetary or other reasons.
The Labour Party Bill goes to the heart of that issue. It is endeavouring initially to ensure that there is transparency in regard to the clients of the paid lobbyists, that we know who they are and that there is no delay in the passing of the Bill. As the Labour Party speakers said, they want the Bill passed immediately. When the next election comes around we will all stand before the people but the people are getting extremely cynical about what they are seeing and it is up to us to put our house in order. This Bill is clearly the first step on that road.
Shortly after becoming a Member of this House three years ago, I listened to a statement by a former Minister of this Government who is no longer a Member of the Oireachtas, Raphael Burke, in which he said he was drawing a line in the sand. I believed him. I took him at his word. Some line, some sand. I attended the tribunal and listened to Mr. Dunlop giving his evidence. I was appalled by what I heard and no doubt we will be appalled in the future by what we will hear from that gentleman. I watched Mr. Redmond talk about his public life and I am disgusted and shamed by it all because it affects all of us. That people in positions of authority abused those positions for their own personal gain is an absolute betrayal of the fundamental relationship that there must be between the people and the legislators.
My children ask me what is happening in Leinster House. They want to know the meaning of all the talk about brown envelopes and plastic bags. What are we about? Have we lost our way? We must go back to the foundation of the State, when idealistic men in all parties and in none served the people honourably and to the best of their ability. We must insist, as political parties, that everything is seen to be transparent. There has to be an end to this shameful carry on. It shames all of us when people who are called public representatives are engaging in this behaviour.
It is essential if legislators, ministers and public officials are to act ethically to provide them with the support, both technical and emotional, needed to perform their arduous public duties. In addition, they must be provided whether in a full-time or part-time position with adequate salaries to enable them to have a lifestyle appropriate to their position. This is not a lavish lifestyle but one which enables them to provide for their families and which compensates them somewhat for the stresses put on family life.
 One of the issues that goes to the heart of our political system is that people in public life are not paid properly or adequately for the work they do. If they were paid properly, they could do their work and have the normal lifestyle – not a lavish one – to which they are entitled. This would address the temptation which has been there for many people. I have no problem saying that Deputies should be properly paid – they are very badly paid. I am not a Deputy so I can say that without claiming to have an interest in the issue.
Those in private enterprise are well paid for doing a good job, while those in public life are not so well paid. This lack of balance needs to be openly addressed. This House must pass this legislation without delay. We must do it now and I urge those in Fianna Fáil to change their minds and support this necessary legislation.
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): Let me begin by reaffirming the Government's position. There is no place in public life for corruption or wrongdoing. That message is clear, simple and unequivocal. Public service, by definition, is about serving the public. It is about serving the citizens of this country to the best of our ability. Whether a politician or an official, the fundamental duty of every public servant is to serve honourably and without fear or favour. Most of all, it is our duty to deliver to the highest standards and accept in ourselves and others nothing less than the best.
We all understand that this Bill is prompted by the current spate of revelations in relation to contributions and payments to politicians. Revelations of corruption are intensely damaging to every politician and do huge damage to the body politic. Everyone, irrespective of whether they ever took a contribution of any kind, is damaged. We must act urgently and effectively to remedy that damage and to restore the faith of all our citizens in politics, politicians and the public service.
We must deliver a comprehensive legislative response to public concerns about corruption in the political process and public administration. That legislative response must also be robust, constitutional and fully teased out in all respects. If we do not get the right solution once and for all, we will have failed the people and ourselves. We must move urgently but we must get it right. The Government motion aims to combine the twin objectives of urgent action and the right action. The Government motion sets out very clearly the rationale for the action and timeframe which we propose in order to progress this Bill. I stress that the Government is not opposing the Bill. I fully endorse the laudable intent behind it, as do all my colleagues. We all agree on the ultimate objective. The strategy for getting there must be one that ensures we deliver on that objective.
 The motion has two main components. First, it sets out a substantial, comprehensive agenda which will ensure that all the complex issues involved can be thoroughly examined within an all-party framework backed by an expert advisory group. The all-party committee will be set up immediately and will consider, in the first instance, the nine legislative proposals already announced relating to the funding of political activity, both between and during elections, a Standards in Public Office Bill, the Registration of Lobbyists (No. 2) Bill, 1999, the Electoral (Amendment) (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill, 2000, the Public Representatives (Provision of Tax Clearance Certificates) Bill, 2000, three prevention of corruption Bills, the Local Government Bill, 2000, and the Registration of Lobbyists Bill, 2000. It will also consider further measures to prevent corruption in public office, the need for statutory regulation of lobbying activities, the protection of whistleblowers and related matters.
The Government has agreed that the all-party committee and the expert advisory group will be given all the support, advice and back-up they need from the relevant Departments. The work of the committee will be facilitated and assisted in every way. The motion also sets down an explicit tight timetable for the completion of the committee's work. The timeframe is deliberately ambitious and demanding. The urgency and seriousness of the situation requires nothing less than fast, effective and comprehensive action. The committee will be mandated to report back to the party leaders no later than 30 September. This will enable all the necessary legislative changes to be introduced and considered by the Oireachtas before the year ends.
The Government firmly believes that the all-party committee working to an unrelenting timetable on all the complex issues is the best way forward. We have got to get this right. We are expected by the public, by citizens throughout the country, to get it right. We have a collective opportunity to set the rigorous standards which are rightly required of politicians. We have a collective opportunity to repair the damage done in recent times and we have a duty to go beyond that and to set the quality benchmark for the conduct of public and political business by everyone from here on.
It is for the Oireachtas to get this right and it is appropriate, therefore, to proceed on an all-party basis to find the correct and lasting solution quickly. Let us use our collective wisdom to good effect. On that basis and in the interests of the public good, I commend the Government motion to the Seanad. This strategic approach and the timetable will deliver on our shared objective. By postponing the Second Reading of this Bill until 1 December we can achieve a well thought out consensus.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister although I do not welcome his views. I was delighted when he said he was not opposed to the Bill although he went on to criticise what it is trying to achieve. I am in favour of registering political lobbyists but I doubt if that will go to the heart of the matter. To do that, we must control the act of lobbying. Lobbying is good for democracy and only becomes dangerous and undemocratic in certain circumstances. When only those with resources can negotiate the bureaucratic maze of lobbying it becomes undemocratic because those with money have better access than those without it. Lobbying also becomes undemocratic when, as in 99% of cases, it happens in private. The majority of approaches to Ministers, officials, Deputies and Senators are clearly above board but because they take place privately, they became inherently dangerous. This privacy means there are no safeguards against the improper influencing of decisions. I am proposing that lobbying should take place openly and should be above board.
Legitimate lobbying has no reason to fear a blaze of publicity, quite the contrary, but by allowing a private system of influencing decisions to develop we also create a mechanism for abuse. This is what we are afraid of. If we are serious about controlling the potential for abuse, we must have a different system. How do we create such a system? I have already proposed a preliminary examination of legislative proposals to abolish private consultations with vested interests when legislation is prepared. This would be replaced by an open and public forum into which everyone could have an input. The Department would draft the legislation, taking these contributions into consideration. All these contributions would be on the public record and no others would be allowed.
However, lobbyists seek to affect more than legislation. To bring this into the open, we could create a system whereby every approach to a Minister, official or an elected representative must immediately be placed in the public domain. Every letter seeking to effect a decision would be immediately published on the Internet on the day it arrived. The record of every meeting and telephone call of a similar type would be immediately published in the same way. The Internet provides us with the technology which was not available previously and enables us to publish the records of such lobbying with the speed and ease of access necessary to make such a system work. Records would not gather mould in an inaccessible basement until they were found. They would be instantly accessible to and easily searched by  anyone with a computer and Internet access, which applies to almost everyone.
This is not a fanciful idea. If one writes to the prime minister of any Scandinavian country, one's letter will instantly enter the public domain. We have the technology to extend that idea in a simple and practical way. Lobbying is a positive element in democracy.
We should encourage it but it must take place within a system which is open and transparent to prevent it from becoming corrupt and undemocratic. That is the proposal and that is the direction in which we should go. We recognise the problem, let us be sure to do something about it.
Mr. Ross: I congratulate Senator Quinn on his very constructive proposal. This is a difficult area to address, particularly the definition of lobbyists and what they should do. Senator Quinn has suggested that everything should be open and transparent. It is a fine suggestion and I am in favour of it.
I would like to hear Fianna Fáil's response to his suggestion because its response to this motion is deplorable. The Minister's speech is an insult to the House, full of meaningless jargon. I have been in the House long enough to know one thing – when a Fianna Fáil Government proposes an all-party committee it does not mean it. It is a way of kicking the matter to touch. The Minister said that an all-party committee would be the solution and that we should use our collective wisdom to come to a conclusion. We never hear that about the budget or controversial legislation which the Government wants to ram through. We never hear it about appointments to the Judiciary or the European Investment Bank. Suddenly, however, when lobbyists are involved, there is time for our collective wisdom and we will all sit down together and agree some extraordinary solution which Fianna Fáil will endorse. This is simply nonsense.
Mr. Ross: We are not all in this together. That is exactly what we are not because the Labour Party, to give it its due, tabled a very similar Bill a few months ago. We were not all in it together then. Does the Minister know what his Government did? Its Members came in and voted it down. They voted it down for no particular reason other than that they did not want their lobbyists discriminated against or having to register. Now, because public opinion is rising up against the Government, it suddenly says it is in favour of all sorts of politically correct measures.
I am in favour of going even further than Senator Quinn. The system as it exists at the moment lends itself to abuse. I do not like lobbyists because they are a damn nuisance to be quite honest. I do not like lobbyists in this House because they are a damn nuisance and because I do not know to whom I am talking. I am happy for lobbyists to contact me in some ways – via the Internet, as Senator Quinn suggests, or by writing to me. That is very healthy. The problem is, however, that there are so many lobbyists hanging around this House under the guise of some other activity that a person would not know if he is being lobbied or if he is having a normal conversation. Occasionally I am bought a drink, thinking that a person likes my company, only to discover some extremely large organisation is lobbying me. It is not a frequent experience but, from time to time, I have been talking to someone who has bought me a drink, having a great time, when I suddenly find out he is a lobbyist and wants to talk to me about something else.
Mr. Ross: There are people behind the Senator who are also lobbyists. Most of his party's Senators were not even elected to the House – they were all nominated, coming in by the back door. Was the Senator elected to this House?
Lobbyists should not be allowed into this House because they are paid. There are some people who leave the Civil Service to become lobbyists but still have special access to this House. That gives them a great advantage over others. There are those who become lobbyists when they lose their seats and they have access to Ministers.
I came across an incident recently which I found very disturbing. The managing director of  a very large company in this city said to me that the company paid so much money to a certain person for access to Ministers. That is very unhealthy. Most people do not have access to Ministers but big business can buy access to them while small groups, small businesses and people without money cannot get near Ministers. That must be remedied.
Mr. Dardis: The Minister has summarised the position accurately, particularly with regard to one statement – we all agree on the ultimate objective, about which there is no dispute, that is, the regulation of lobbyists. We want to ensure our democracy works openly and fairly. The question is how to do that.
I have looked at the Bill and there are several defects in it, not least in the Title, where it mentions the “greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest free and open access to central and local government”. Those are very imprecise words to put into legislation. Even from a technical point of view there are deficiencies in the Bill.
It is fair to say that the vast majority of those who enter Leinster House are motivated by the public good, a desire to improve the State and to help its citizens. We must, however, concede that we reflect the society in which we live. It is one of the great strengths of our democracy that it provides Houses which are extremely representative of the State. There are wealthy people and people who are not wealthy, professionals and labourers or unemployed and so on. If it has that merit, it must also have the defect that within that population there must be some people who do not subscribe to the required standards.
The manner in which we deal with those people is seriously deficient. I am a member of the sub-committee of the Committee on Finance and the Public Service which has looked at the issue. It is very difficult to devise procedures which will exert a discipline severe enough to act as a deterrent to those engaging in activities which are not illegal but which are undesirable.
The practical difficulty with the legislation is how one defines a lobbyist. There are definitions in the Bill but does it mean that the Irish Farmers Association or the Vintners' Federation, or any other group, must now provide a schedule of all the people who work for them and their interests? That is not intended and it should not happen.
Where individuals are employed by large corporations, or even by the bodies about which I have spoken, they should be required to declare their interests. When they come to Leinster House we should know about them. We are presented with a difficulty where, say, people acting on behalf of a  bank, whether they are the executives or members of the board, come to see the Minister. How does one overcome such difficulties? In all the circumstances, it is reasonable for the Government to take a measured view, proceed along the lines proposed and come back with a system which will stand the test, constitutionally and otherwise, to achieve the objectives.
It has been my experience during my membership of the House that when we deal with legislation in an immediate response to a major public incident or outcry, or when deficiencies are found by the courts, the legislation is invariably defective and must be revisited and improved at a later date. Almost without exception that has been the case.
Senator Ross is incorrect that all-party committees do not achieve results or reach conclusions. I am a member of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, as is the Cathaoirleach, who knows we are dealing with a difficult subject in terms of abortion. There is wide consultation on the views of people and organisations, but conclusions will be reached which will be put to Government.
That brings me to the fundamental nature of our democracy. One of its great strengths is that Parliament is close to the people and there is access for everybody to their public representatives and even to the highest levels of Government. We are all aware of this. If a local national school has a problem we arrange a meeting with a relevant Minister. People who do not have great power can, should they so choose, have access to the highest levels in the State. That is as it should be. Intimate contact with people is one of the great strengths of our democracy and it has an impact on the legislation with which we deal on a day to day basis.
Lobbyists should be registered, particularly where there are individuals, and their interests must be declared. The point was well made by Senator O'Dowd on how one can prevent corruption. One cannot prevent corruption. If the people wish to be corrupt they will be. That is not to say there should not be law to deal with corruption. I am confident it is the Government's objective to bring forward that law. There is a terrible tendency – Senator O'Toole referred to it last week – to condemn people without due process and without trial. The way a Member of this House was treated by his party was disgraceful. I cannot believe for a moment that a member of his family would even consider doing anything improper. His service to the State over an extended period indicates otherwise and I do not believe he engaged in any impropriety. We must be careful not to reach conclusions which we are not allowed reach and which the courts would reach with great reluctance, if at all. There is a tendency in society to rush to judgment, adjudicate on matters best left to the courts and condemn people before they have the opportunity even to defend themselves.
Mrs. Jackman: The Fine Gael Party is delighted to support this Labour Party Bill. In fairness to the former Senator, Mr. Pat Gallagher, he was strong on this issue. We were extremely disappointed when the Bill was voted down.
I note from the Minister's presentation that there will be a delay until 1 December. What has been happening since Pat Gallagher introduced this Bill? It is an extremely long delay and there has been plenty of time for a response from the Government. I find it extraordinary, given the revelations which come to light week in and week out, that it is not shamed into accepting this Bill. The general public will demand an answer tomorrow when they realise that, once again, the Bill has been voted down. They will wonder what the Government is waiting for. Where will we be in December 2000? At this moment we do not know. We do not know if there will be an election. We will then be into the year 2001—
Mrs. Jackman: I am going to the finite where we are being asked to postpone it until 1 December when we can achieve a well thought out consensus. I do not see what will change between this and the first day of the last month of the year, apart from more revelations, which I hope will not be the case because the general public are so disillusioned. I wonder what will be their feelings on 1 December 2000. I have looked at the Bill and I cannot see what the prevarication is about. There will be time to propose those amendments on Committee Stage. It is not as if voting for the Bill on Second Stage means the Government is unable to have an input.
First and foremost we should have an open and transparent democracy. There is freedom of information in local authorities and, obviously, everything is open to the public. There is tremendous accessibility in that people can visit us at our clinics – people from the EU and the United States marvel at this. There are representations at social functions and even walking down the street. Everybody realises we are open and accessible. The Bill makes it clear there is a difference in the payment aspect, the awarding of any contract, grant, contribution or other benefit  by or on behalf of a public body. That is being considered today, as well as various other areas where there is a need or a desire to influence.
On Senator Dardis's comments about the IFA, INTO, ASTI and so on, it is clear that we need to have the expertise of such bodies in terms of the Bill. To take the IFA as an example, its representatives will speak to the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Independent members. This happens every day of the week. For example, the asthma society will come to speak to us. That society is open and transparent. They will go through the corridors here, lobby us and tell us what is the reality on the ground.
Mrs. Jackman: I am not saying that. Everybody knows we need legitimate people to keep us informed on extremely complicated legislation – the dogs in the street know that. The big question mark is the influence and the payment involved. There are numerous lobbyists. It will be easy enough to separate the organisations and associations the Government side is worried about from others whom we know because we hear their names every day. They are affiliated to political parties, they receive payments and have an undue influence on rezoning, legislation or whatever else. The public is not so stupid that it cannot make a distinction between the ordinary day-to-day clinic, where they have access to us to deal with matters. They should not have to come to us at all but, unfortunately, that is the system. I will return to the issues on Committee Stage.
Mr. Caffrey: Many people have probably never heard of lobbyists and do not know what they do. There is also a difference between the singular and the plural – Senator Dardis referred to lobbyists and lobby groups which are quite different. The fundamental definition of a lobbyist is a person who has acquired a special knowledge or experience by virtue of having been in Government, in a particular public institution or another body where they had access to information that is not available to the ordinary citizens. Ethics have a large role to play in this matter. A lobbyist can then set about selling this information or special knowledge to a particular person who may benefit substantially from it. That is my definition of a lobbyist.
The spate of revelations from the tribunals indicates that some of these lobbyists were armed with more money than the Western Development Commission has to spend in seven counties at present. That fact has added a smell of corruption to the issue of lobbying and it is the kernel of the problem. We can legislate all we like but we will  not prevent it with human nature being what it is. It is the individual who makes the decision to peddle knowledge to people who are prepared to pay for it. One might make an analogy with a clergyman who is prepared to sell the secrets of the confessional for money. That is the essential ethical problem we face with regard to lobbyists.
I have not read all of the Labour Bill but I endorse the main thrust of it. However, it will not achieve its goal. At present the Government does not intend to respond to it. The Minister's statement makes it clear that it will be deferred.
I have great respect for Senator Quinn's views but putting representations on the Internet is going too far. Imagine a letter written to a Deputy, Senator or Minister being available on the Internet half an hour later. If that was done Ministers would get very few letters within the space of six months. It is not an option. I presume Ministers still have clinics and people have access to them. An ordinary citizen can walk into a clinic to meet a Minister. Should there be a video running and that the person should be recorded so that we can see what they said to the Minister? We do not want knee-jerk reactions to the tribunal revelations. We should look at them objectively and see the human element involved and the temptations that exist in relation to money.
noting the proposal to appoint an Expert Group in consultation with the Party Leaders to assist and advise that committee. The terms of reference will require it to report back to the Party Leaders not later than 30 September, 2000, so that all necessary legislative changes can be introduced and considered by the Houses of the Oireachtas not later than 31 December, 2000 . . .
We have five more sitting weeks and by 30 September the expert group will have reported back to the party leaders. We will not have a knee-jerk reaction to the expert group's recommendations. We will adopt a common sense approach and put something in place that will stand the test of time.
These are changing times. The booming economy has brought about a new way of life. Fifteen years ago very few of us could have foretold the opportunities and difficulties that lay ahead of us or that we would have to amend existing legislation to cater for a new Ireland and the new opportunities that have presented themselves. I welcome the opportunity that this problem has brought about. We, as politicians, will bring in the necessary legislation and we will see that everything is put right.
 It is a great honour to serve and to represent one's parish, county and country. Senators are elected by the people of the 26 counties of Ireland. It is a wonderful honour to be a Senator and we have brought great honour to our families. It is a wonderful opportunity to achieve something for one's parish, county and the entire area. When we finish our terms of office we will be able to say that our hard work and endeavour has helped the families, school pals and the people in our parishes and counties. We can outline the work that we have done to highlight the difficulties that people experienced in their neighbourhood.
I feel very honoured to be a public representative from Castlepollard, County Westmeath. I was nominated by the people in my parish because they thought that I could advance the parish and the neighbourhood and improve their lot for the future. As a result they sent me to Leinster House to be their representative in Seanad Éireann. I have never underestimated their confidence in me nor the integrity they want me to uphold as a public representative. I come from a rural background in which a person's honour and integrity was their wealth. Public representatives were respected in the community for the honourable way they carried out their functions, particularly as it was done on a voluntary capacity most of the time.
The Houses of the Oireachtas are close to the people. We meet them on a daily basis at our clinics, at county council meetings and as members of the health boards and vocational educational committees. We make representations to Ministers, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and Ministers of State on behalf of local authorities. We arrange deputations on behalf of county councils, health boards and vocational education committees. This has been the precedent under which we as public representatives have been carrying out honourably our function and duty since becoming members of Seanad Éireann or Dáil Éireann. However, as previous Senators said, there is now a new means by which to access Ministers and members of Government, that is by way of lobbyists. In the past, these people were known at fairs throughout rural Ireland as “jobbers”.
Mr. Cassidy: People with such access have become very powerful in modern day life. The amendment provides for an expert group to advise the leaders of parties and report back by 30 September. It has five sitting weeks to get matters right and not give a knee-jerk reaction.
As the Deputy Leader of the House said, the media rush to condemn people without due process. I agree with the Deputy Leader who said that a Member of this House did not receive due process last week from his own political party. Be that as it may, it is about time members of all parties in both Houses of the Oireachtas addressed the proposal that a press council be set  up, which would be a good thing. Many years ago there was a newspaper whose byword was, “We print the truth of the news”. Much innuendo is being printed at present which is causing a lot of hardship for families and members of families. Much of the coverage is based on rumour which is being used to sell newspapers. I do not think anyone has anything to fear, but the time has come when journalists and editors who print stories which are untrue should have to answer for their actions to a press council or other authority. At present there is no means by which to condemn these people. After all, Members of this House must account for their stewardship to the electorate approximately every three years. How we conduct our affairs and how hard we have worked to represent those who elected us to either of these two Houses is the barometer for the contribution we make.
By the end of this year, with all-party agreement and acceptance of the amendment tabled here this evening, I look forward to being in a position to facilitate all parties in the House and all Members' requests. I do not think anyone in the House objects to the setting up of a lobbyists' register which is so urgently needed.
Mr. O'Toole: I object to the fact that the Government has decided to try to bypass this legislation. It is the articulated testimony of all the parties that this issue needs to be addressed and it gives a completely wrong signal to say we will not do so until 1 December 2000. We could have taken Second Stage of the Bill and dealt differently with Committee Stage in due course. The message going out from here tonight is that the Government does not wish to address this issue and the reason for that decision is irrelevant. The fact that Mr. Haughey received £8.5 million will be carried on the news tonight and this is another subtext to that story which is not in our interest.
We need to take a number of urgent measures. First, we must give an absolutely clear signal to the electorate that elected public representatives will take the business of politics in hand and will be seen to deal with the issue of corruption and sleaze. We know that the vast majority of Members of both Houses are decent, honest, diligent public representatives, but the public do not know that and they certainly do not believe it. That is the reality, whether true or false – the perception becomes the reality. Politics is held in low esteem, the lowest it has ever been, and we need to deal properly with the issue.
The leaders of all the groups approached the Leader of the House recently and asked for an open debate on the issue. For instance, no decent Irish citizen watching television, in a pub or on the streets tonight would understand why the system here operates in the following manner, that is, if someone becomes an undischarged bankrupt, that person loses his or her seat in the House and is disqualified from standing for election. This can happen to people in business with out ever having a bad intention. On the other hand, the legislation provides that if a Member of either House has been involved at any level in bribery or corruption, or is seen to be corrupt or to have accepted bribes, the maximum penalty we can impose by way of self-regulation as politicians is that that person cannot sit in the House for the next 30 days.
I must take responsibility, together with others, for the legislation passed in my time, which is inefficient, inadequate and needs to be strengthened. The reality which must be dealt with is that we can only impose on someone a 30 day paid holiday as a punishment. On the one hand, we tell them to stay at home, that we will pay them for the 30 days, and then expect the ordinary punter, voter and member of the electorate in a cynical Ireland to believe this is some sort of punishment while, on the other, someone who may become an undischarged bankrupt through no fault of his or her own is disqualified and thrown out of the House.
Similarly in the case of former Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty, he is not a criminal, he did not commit a crime, he never accepted a bribe and he was not found to be corrupt. However, he made an intervention, sparked by humanitarian feelings, which, in the words of the report, was subject to interpretation, was unwise and showed bad judgment. Therefore, he made a mistake for which he deserved to be punished. I said last year, and I repeat, that I do not think he deserved to be sacked from the Supreme Court or forced into resignation. There were other ways of dealing with the matter. It is completely wrong for reports in this evening's newspapers to put Hugh O'Flaherty in the same context as people who accepted bribes, sold votes and were seen to be corrupt. It does nothing for the perception if we do not make this distinction. I agree with other Senators that the Government mismanaged the case of Hugh O'Flaherty last year and again this year, nevertheless it is important to distinguish between that and the fact that he is an honest man, a man of integrity who made a mistake. There are differences and if we are to do the job properly, we need to be seen to do so.
This raises the question of due process, which is crucial. I said here and in a number of interviews last week that a penalty of 14 days paid holiday is wrong. I am not referring to the issue or the person, but to the fact that the penalty is not adequate in the eyes of the public. Similarly, it is completely wrong for us to walk away from dealing with this problem. There must be due process which is basically the rights and tenets of natural justice whereby people have a right to see the evidence against them, a right to cross-examine and a right to give their side of the case, etc. I am not impressed by kangaroo courts, by political parties examining their own affairs. This is more important than political parties. Of course we must weed out the problems within parties but that cannot be the end of the matter.
 Our proposal would have complimented this Bill which was tabled by the Labour Party. We have to be heard to say that people who accept bribes for their votes and are seen to be corrupt have no place in the Houses of Parliament. I cite no further evidence than motion 21, which refers to Article 15.2 of the Constitution, to support my case. This House and the other House have a constitutional obligation to protect its Members against interference through bribery and corruption. We must do something about this, we cannot rely on the words and hope it will all fall into place. If voting records have been interfered with through bribery and corruption and if Members are being tainted, we have a responsibility to do something about it. We must deal with the problem before personalities become involved. Everything goes wrong when a name is mentioned. People are suddenly faced with party loyalties, friendships and all sorts of difficulties. If we deal with these problems before personalities become involved the matter can be dealt with in an objective and impartial manner. We have to be seen to take the lead in this matter.
We must also look at funding of political parties. I strongly believe that those who fund political parties should be open about it. I take a different view from both sides of the House on the question of funding political parties. I do not believe in false glass ceilings for contributions because I do not think it is workable. One cannot legislate to stop dishonesty. People will always find a dishonest way to do things. If we put a ceiling of £500, £5,000 or £10,000 on the amount of contributions allowed there will always be somebody who will find ten people who will give £999 or £9,999 etc. All political contributions, regardless of how they are raised, be it through a golf classic, etc., should be recorded in the audited accounts. It is that simple. It is not about restricting the amount of money which people can spend on an election or restricting the amount of contribution any one person or corporation can give. The problem should be dealt with by way of legislation.
I accept that there are strong arguments for putting a ceiling in place but the system must be capable of being policed and implemented. We should take the first step of ensuring whatever contribution is received by a party or person is recorded in the party's audited accounts of the election campaign. That should be our starting point.
The Criminal Assets Bureau should be set on those who have made fortunes by way of criminal acts of bribery and corruption. If current legislation is not competent to deal with that problem we should change it. We should also ensure that those who acted in a criminal manner to gain planning permission should be ineligible to seek permission for development in future. This is the only way forward. We should also apply compulsory purchase orders to the holding of development land. The Government or the local auth orities, rather than quangos or non-Government groups, should tell us who owns all the building and development land in the Dublin area. Those who are carefully parcelling out a couple of hundred acres of land every year so as to keep prices artificially inflated should be made known. We should incorporate three different types of housing – social housing, affordable housing and the rest – into the Planning and Development Act, with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government's positive and progressive proposals.
There are ways we can control and beat these people. We have the power and the authority. We can legislate to do it and we have the constitutional support to do so. We should be seen to clean up politics and move forward. I do not say any of this by way of high moral ground. I am no better than anyone else in this House or the other House. I do not put myself above anybody but I see this as a practical approach to put in place a proper structure.
Ms O'Meara: I was looking back at Senator Gallagher's contribution on this matter last year and it struck me that we are going around in circles. He referred then to matters in the media, the Paddy Duffy affair, regarding the publication of this Bill. We now have further issues regarding lobbyists and the need for them to be registered.
The Government's reaction that we should take a measured view and not have knee-jerk reactions suggests they do not consider this to be an urgent issue. As Senator O'Toole and others said, the public will laugh in our faces at that reaction. How long have we been waiting for the Standards in Public Office Bill? It is three years since the Taoiseach took office and we still have not seen it. The Minister spoke about the need for an urgent approach, that means at least six months delay. Let us not have knee-jerk reactions, let us have a measured approach.
The Leader spoke about his sense of honour and pride at being here. I, too, feel that sense of honour and pride. I am one of the new Members of this House to whom he referred. It was with great honour and pride for my community and family that I took my seat in this House, but I feel a great sense of shame at the moment. How could one feel anything but shame when one hears on the radio and television and reads in the media of bribes being taken and a former Taoiseach receiving £8.5 million in payments? How could one feel anything but shame being a politician in this country today? It is up to us to re-establish trust. Trust has broken down, there is no point in our pretending otherwise. There is no point in our going around this House with a sense of injured pride and hurt at what the media are saying about politicians. We must put our heads down and think of how we are going to work to re-establish trust in our political system. The consequences for our democracy are too serious to consider.
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the level of cynicism and sheer distrust of poli ticians and politics could lead to a turn-out so low that a political result cannot be trusted, a level of cynicism so deep as to be unknown. Let us not fool ourselves, we run the risk of doing that. Simply walking around with a sense of injured pride and hurt is not a good enough response. We have to move further than the public expect.
Ms O'Meara: We are not here as private citizens. We are not private citizens when we are reported in the press. We are public citizens and act on behalf of the public. That is the way in which we are reported, the way in which we must expect to be reported and the way the media should expect us to be reported.
How will we re-earn the trust of the public? It will take a long time and much more effort in this area than is currently evident on the Government side. We must grasp the nettle of resourcing our democracy, with which this and other legislation on the capping and regulation of donations to politicians, published by the Labour Party, deals. We must break, once and for all, in the minds of the public any perceived or possible connections between business and payments to politicians. We must separate and create a wide open space between politics and how it is conducted and business and donations and how they are conducted. The only way we can do that is to fund the political system, including political parties, our offices and the employment of our staff, and ban donations. That is the only way to create an untouchability about politics that must be established if public trust is to be re-earned and re-established in our political system. If we pussyfoot around the issue and say that we must have consensus on this, we will further damage the political system. We cannot underestimate the level of damage that has been done to politics.
Our political culture is changing and that is probably for the good, although it is with a sense of regret that I note the passing of the high regard in which politicians were held. One cannot but regret that public representatives who are in politics for only the best of motives, as we are, should be viewed as a bunch of crooks and criminals. Our political culture must change to ensure that at its heart lies the principle of accountability. In the same way as we demanded accountability for the decisions or lack of them that led to the death of people, such as haemophiliacs, and that led to children being abused in State institutions, an ongoing process of accountability must apply to our political system. The only way to ensure that is through a structure of strong legislation of which this is only one element.
There is much I could say about political lobbyists. I commend this Bill to the House. Many comments have been made on it. We would welcome amendments to this Bill. Each Bill that comes before this House is debated, amendments may be tabled to it by Members on all sides of the House and we come up with what we hope is an  improved Bill. This Bill is a start in laying the necessary framework for re-establishing trust in our democracy. That is an essential approach if we are not to go down the road of what would be a disaster for our democracy, for which many people worked hard and some gave their lives at the beginning of the last century. Let us not throw it away because of negligence and a misplaced sense of hurt about these serious matters.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I compliment my Labour Party colleagues on introducing this Bill. I am disappointed the Leader of the House, Senator Cassidy, deemed fit to vote it down by introducing an amendment, particularly given that this is not a slapdash Bill. It is detailed and contains many sections and a good deal of research was carried out in preparing it. If accepted on this Stage, the Bill could be amended on later Stages and thereby improved.
It is extraordinary that a politician of the Leader's experience would table an amendment that refers to noting the proposal to appoint an expert group. It is farcical and ridiculous that politicians would appoint an expert group to examine how the political system works and the corruption, which has been reported extensively in the media and is constantly being revealed. The greatest revelation was made today about the £8.5 million collected by Mr. Haughey, our esteemed former Taoiseach, over a period of years. Such corruption is a downright disgrace. To state that an expert group must be appointed when we know the reality of this matter and that it should not be dealt with here makes this House irrelevant.
This Bill deals with one aspect of the problem in this area, lobbyists. With regard to lobbyists, we are moving from the sublime to the ridiculous. We have a population of approximately four million, about half the size of the city of the New York, yet we are adopting the facilities and the type of nonsense one would find in Washington DC, which deals with legislation to cover the United States of America. We have lobbyists in this little island nation. Rather than introducing legislation to register them, perhaps we should introduce a Bill to abolish and outlaw them, as they interfere with the democratic system.
It is only 80 years since our democracy was established. When one thinks of what our ancestors and forefathers did to establish this democratic republic and that in such a short time some successors of the founders of this State could abuse their positions to such an appalling degree, we are no better or worse than a banana republic. There are states in Africa with dictators that have a more credible political system than we have. It is disgraceful that I should have to say that, but the evidence is there to prove it.
As a politician who comes from a political family, I very much resent that a handful of politicians can bring a bad odour and bad name to the entire body politic. In this laudable profession whereby we serve the people and deem it an hon our to be elected to do so, I will not accept that a handful of politicians can decry the names of those of us in the political system who are well motivated. It is appalling if that handful of politicians can get way with that. We have a responsibility to put in place legislation that will stop that at all costs. However, as Senator O'Toole said, there are people with a mentality to be corrupt and they will be so. Introducing all the legislation possible to deal with corruption will not root them out, but we must ensure within our party structure and by way of the legislation we pass in this House that action will be taken to prevent the type of abuses that have taken place.
One element of the problem in this area, lobbyists, is dealt with in this Labour Party Bill. Lobbyists have been used by developers and people in big business to get access to politicians, including Ministers and people well positioned in various Departments. I have a major problem with the use of lobbyists as we are talking about a sector of people who can afford to hire a lobbyist. I am talking about divisions in our society. Once the principle of employing lobbyists is accepted, we must acknowledge that a sector of the community can afford to employ a lobbyist to promote its cause and that another sector, which is more in need, does not have the resources to employ a lobbyist. There is a danger that the less well off will suffer while the better off can afford to employ a lobbyist to promote their cause.
Developers, and in some instances big business people, have employed lobbyists and given them vast sums of money to disburse among people in the public service and people elected to public office. That has been done for good, bad or evil as the case may be. Legislation must be introduced to ensure that those who give lobbyists money to disburse are made responsible for their actions, as it is wrong that they have been able to influence people in public office due to the money they have behind them. That is not a fair or democratic system. It is not what our society should be about. I hope the legislation to which Senator Cassidy has referred will deal specifically with all those issues.
In this House there is a variety of elected public representatives in various capacities. The majority come from the political party system while others are Independents. Within the political party structure there are various ways and means of providing funding, through fundraising events within the various parties and in some instances through donations directly to headquarters. I have a difficulty where a candidate is given money directly at election time or at any other time. It is highly dangerous for any person who stands for public office to accept money directly from any individual or group of individuals for the purpose of being elected. It should be outlawed completely in the party political structures and by legislation. Donations, if they are to  be made, should be made directly to the headquarters of the various parties.
Perhaps we should consider seriously the possibility of full State funding for political parties. There is a reluctance to follow that course because of a fear that the public would resent paying. Given what has come out in the wash recently, as a result of all the manoeuvres and manipulations in relation to the provision of funding, the public would be happy to provide taxpayers' money for political parties, independent candidates for election purposes and to cut out private contributions.
Once a party has been funded by any individual, company or organisation it is compromised. There can be no mistake about it, that party is automatically influenced. It is difficult to define “influence” because people can be influenced in a variety of ways. There are subtle ways of doing it. The reality is that if a candidate is funded directly by an individual he or she will be behoven to that individual if elected. That should not be allowed and it must be outlawed.
There should be a level playing pitch for candidates who stand for election. There are some candidates who have massive amounts of money, although that has been addressed because of the cap on spending at elections, while others have nothing. There will have to be a level playing pitch if there is to be democracy. We must strive to introduce legislation to regularise the position.
Dr. Henry: Following on from what Senator Taylor-Quinn has said, the Taoiseach has repeatedly said he does not get the feeling there is a public appetite for funding the political process from the public purse. I am not sure he is right. If there was a cap on the amount that could be spent by politicians they might be enthusiastic about funding the political process. It is an extraordinary coincidence that on a day when we discover a former Taoiseach, in the course of 17 years, received at least £8.5 million, £10,000 per week, from various bodies, institutions or private individuals we should be expected to believe this Bill is not needed immediately. I am an altruistic person but I have never heard of such largesse without some return being expected. Politicians who expect the public to believe they gave nothing in return for the large amounts of money some of them appear to have received are stretching public credulity beyond belief.
I am extremely disappointed with the Minister's reply to Senator Costello. The worst aspect of it is that it tries to put all who approach us in the same boat whereas we know people come with legitimate points of view to put forward. It is important to take their views on board. In some cases points of view have been put forward which  Departments had not considered. It would be a great pity if such approaches to politicians were thrown out at the same time as those who need to be discouraged from their immoral activities.
I wish the Minister could have supported the Bill. The amendment is a long-winded way of saying “Live horse and get grass”. It is no more than pushing the problem away into the future where it will not be dealt with.
Mr. Coghlan: I welcome the Minister to the House. I am sorry I did not have the opportunity to hear his contribution which, no doubt, was eloquently delivered but disappointing. I will read it myself.
I support the Registration of Lobbyists Bill, 2000. Its intent is good. In light of some of the shocking recent developments, which we must all face up to, it is long overdue. The Government's lengthy amendment, however belated, is welcome. That is not to take from the merit of the Bill which is laudable and timely. The measures to which it refers can be dealt with but there is nothing to prevent us accepting the Bill on Second Stage and allowing it proceed to Committee Stage where the Government can introduce the amendments it wishes. As the Government has a majority it could vote them through.
The Government voted down this Bill ten or 11 months ago on the grounds that insufficient research and consideration of the issue of lobbying had been conducted here. We have had a salutary lesson recently about the adverse impact of lobbying. While there may be some problem with definitions we are all aware of what is involved. I have no doubt the Government, given the resources available to it, particularly through the Attorney General's office, could amend the Bill on Committee Stage to good effect. I plead with the Government to allow the Bill pass Second Stage and proceed to Committee Stage.
Mr. Coghlan: I thought the Leader was saying something. I am always willing to listen to him. He does not always have the information I wish him to have or, if so, he is not always prepared to part with it.
Action is needed on a broad front. In its amendment, the Government refers to many of those items which I welcome but it should not be allowed take from the merit of the Bill. This is a good Bill and should be allowed to proceed.
Speaking more generally, I wish to refer to a statement by Deputy John Bruton. I do not think there has ever been a successful prosecution for corruption, which in the light of recent developments tells us something is wrong with our law. Last month Deputy John Bruton said in a statement:
The disclosures in the Flood tribunal today vindicate the value of this tribunal and are a  convincing answer to all those who have been complaining about it to the media and otherwise. These disclosures would never have been made if the full power of the tribunal had not been deployed.
He went on to argue that legislation should be drawn up to register lobbyists – a suitable Bill is now before us – and that a definition should be fairly widely drawn. He continued: “Lobbyists so defined should be banned from making any political contributions whatsoever.” He said the Corruption Acts, 1889 to 1916, should be amended, as he recommended that on 25 March 1999, so as “to place the onus on anyone in a position to make a decision which will benefit another person or company to prove that any payment made to him by that person or company was not made in order to influence that decision”.
The Bill published by Deputy Flanagan would help meet some of the issues raised. We supposedly live in an age of openness, transparency and accountability. There are some dark murky things in our recent past, one instance of which is the sale of Carysfort, all the facts about which are not yet in the open. We must clean up the tarnished image of politics and to do so we must be prepared to root out corruption, particularly in the planning process. Sadly some local communities have been adversely affected by very questionable planning decisions. Some utterly unacceptable practices have been exposed. Big donations and politics do not mix and we can only allow small contributions on a personal basis.
Earlier I heard people saying they were hurt. There is no point in politicians being hurt if we are not prepared to be proactive in putting matters right. That is why I plead with the Government to take a very firm step by accepting the Bill and then proceed to the rest of the programme as outlined.
As a constitutionalist, I am very concerned with fair procedures, due process and not rushing to judgment. I respect the work of both tribunals and we should not be trying to jump too far ahead. It is fine for parties to carry out their own examinations, but we must be careful. The majority of politicians are honest, upright and dedicated people and I do not like to see them being sold short. We owe a duty to our electorate and we should listen carefully to them. I believe they all want us to process the Bill.
Mr. Norris: Registration of lobbyists is very important and should be tackled in a particular way. My special worry concerns not just the general lobbyist from outside but the number of current and former Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas who are lobbyists and who, therefore, have special access and privileges. Even from my early days in the Seanad I remember how convenient it was to enter the Members' Restaurant, sit impertinently beside a Minister and bite his or her ear. That is all right if it is done on behalf of a voluntary organisation or a particular political cause or issue. When commercial companies are  involved, however, with former Members representing interests such as that of Rupert Murdoch, about which I am particularly sceptical, it is necessary to have some control, either in terms of access or by making it impossible for a person to simultaneously be a Member and a lobbyist. There is always the danger of the Trojan horse syndrome. Something could be unsuspectingly introduced into the body politic which could prove to be malign, and for that reason it is very important that we have a register of lobbyists and that we control the effect of lobbying.
The Leader said this morning he would make provision for us to range widely over the various scandals and issues concerning corruption in this debate, and I propose to do this, although not to the extent of tedium. Such debates are very important for a number of reasons, first, because of the degree of cynicism and disillusion which is being spread throughout the land and the very low esteem in which politics is held in general. I take the unpopular view that politics is a noble calling and a profession which attracts decent people, something I hope continues. I regard my colleagues in the House as fitting into this category, regardless of their political persuasion. However, that is not the perception of people outside the House. People frequently use the phrase “the politicians”– I was on a television programme the other evening when the phrase was used and I heard it again on the radio – as if we were a special category of human being uniquely susceptible to corruption, bribery and malpractice, which I do not believe is true. However, it is obvious that some Members have let down the profession and for that reason a cleansing of the Augean stables is necessary.
There are many in public life and in both Houses who are honourable and who have sacrificed themselves. The financial rewards, except in a few quite extraordinary cases, are comparatively small. I love politics. It is an honour to be a Member of the House and I hope the graduates of the University of Dublin, Trinity College, continue to demonstrate their political wisdom by re-electing me. It is also a pleasure, as politics is a fascinating game which is continually changing. In that way it is like a kaleidoscope of Irish life. Occasionally, even in this House, the weaker of the two Houses in terms of actual direct political power, one is able to do something which positively affects the lives of one's fellow citizens, something which is worthy.
A politician is an ordinary citizen who accepts an extra level of responsibility on behalf of the other ordinary citizens. Perhaps it is our own fault that we perceived ourselves as extraordinary or self-important in some way. Perhaps it is time we are brought back to earth and demonstrate that we are part of the plain people of Ireland, a great phrase in the 1920s and 1930s. If one examines the ongoing scandal and corruption, I believe the  country is suffering from scandal fatigue. We know it is necessary to get to the root of it and that it is important that it should be cleaned up but it is sickening that it goes on and on in a never ending mess. I hope at some stage it will be possible to draw a line under this as history and start afresh because if we do not manage to find a way of doing so, politics will be soiled forever.
It is not surprising that people feel bitter and cynical. I was listening to the wireless this afternoon and on “Five Seven Live” there was a fascinating collage which told it all. It featured little excerpts from the speeches of Mr. Haughey about belt tightening interspersed with details of his lifestyle. It is a tragic situation and it is worse that at local authority level people made large sums of money. Big developers and industrial interests handed out huge sums of money and they must have expected to get something for it. The result is seen in Ronanstown, north Clondalkin, where ordinary working class people have been deprived of the very things politics should have delivered to them, such as town centres and decent infrastructure. There is then the awful impertinence in this Republic where shops are classed as outside the range of such people and their children because they are working class and they are disbarred from some of them.
I refer to the O'Flaherty case because it is a danger signal for us. He is a decent man whose errors were not great. They were largely due to an inability to imagine the public perception and the way in which his acts would be interpreted. As I recall, he was out for a walk when he was approached by a neighbour and some friends, asked a question about a technical area of the law, indicated that a relisting might be possible and then some short time after asked the county registrar into his chambers to confirm his advice. The registrar relisted the case and everything subsequently happened. Mr. Justice Hamilton in his judgment said that his acts were inappropriate, unwise and capable of misinterpretation. That is interesting. In other words, what had been done was not so bad but it was capable of being interpreted in an almost criminal way. We will be in a very dangerous area if we allow people to be sacrificed simply because the public may ignorantly misinterpret their acts and attribute malign motives to them.
I hate listening to the way politics is being debased as the entire profession becomes partisan in undignified rows which break out night after night on radio and television with the main political parties slinging carefully prepared mud at each other. The slogans must be prepared somewhere because every person comes out with the same one, such as “Fianna Fáil are spreading the muck about”. The Fianna Fáil response is, “Join the commission – yes or no”. Ordinary decency must be brought back into politics if it is to regain respect and attract decent young people not just to vote, because they have stopped voting  in huge numbers, but to enter the profession of politics where they are more desperately needed than ever before.
Mr. Costello: I thank the 15 Members who contributed, which is one quarter of the membership of the House. That is a record for a Private Members' debate. As usual, there was a large number of valuable contributions and suggestions. I would be delighted to take a number of them on board if the Bill reaches Committee Stage.
Senator Quinn stated that lobbyists should conduct their business in the full blaze of publicity and that everything should be open, transparent and above board, which should be built into the legislation. He then said that vested interests should not be met through private consultations, as is the case at present, and that an open public forum should be established. He also stated that all documents and letters sent to a Minister should be available to the public immediately on the Internet. These are valuable suggestions.
Senator Ross went a step further and suggested that all lobbyists should be banned from the House because of the privilege accorded to it, especially those who are former Members or were political advisers in the Houses of the Oireachtas. That should be examined and it could be taken on board. Senator O'Toole pointed out that the only penalty that exists for wrongdoing by a Member under the rules of the House is to suspend him or her and punish him or her with a “30 day paid holiday”. That is hardly satisfactory. Senator O'Meara said that, as public representatives, we should be seen to go further than the public demands. Senator Taylor-Quinn made the  most radical proposal. She said the legislation should abolish the entire lobbyist industry, that the entire system should be eradicated and we should not think about regulating it. The Minister's contribution was quite derisory and involved nothing but slogans and jargon. No specific commitment was given and it was the most vague, derisory statement I have heard in this House for a long time.
We cannot accept the amendment for two reasons. First, it postpones until 1 December something that should have been addressed a year ago and, second, the commitments that were given then have not been acted on. How do we know that the commitments in the amendment will be acted on? An all-party committee backed up by an expert group has been promised. However, it may well not be established.
The amendment states there are already nine legislative proposals before us. We are the experts and we are members of a legislative body which can do a decent job in processing this legislation on Committee Stage. The public want us to get moving on this legislation and not put it on the long finger. We should take up our responsibilities as public representatives, demonstrate that our profession is above reproach and not sit on the fence any longer.
This Bill is one plank to shore up democracy. We, as elected representatives, are saying that our house has not been in order but we have specific measures, which undoubtedly can be improved upon, to address area which requires regulation. The legislation provides a specific framework which should be acted on immediately.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: As Senator Henry is aware, it was proposed to take her Adjournment matter. However, the Minister is unavailable  because of the vote. We will have to look at the pairing arrangements. I propose to adjourn the House until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow when the Senator's matter will be reinstated.
Dr. Henry: Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. In view of the fact that the vote has gone on so long in the Dáil, I agree to the Adjournment and look forward to putting down my Adjournment matter tomorrow.
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