Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Leaking of Government Information.

Bertie Ahern

Question:

6 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the result of any of the investigations recently held into leaks. [8552/95]

Mary Harney

Question:

7 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if the Government has concluded its investigation into Government leaks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8826/95]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.

I believe the leaking of confidential data in the hands of the Government is wrong. The Government is frequently involved in commercially sensitive matters, and the leaking of the information can prejudice the position of the taxpayer. Leaking of information about issues for consideration at Cabinet can prejudice the position of individual Ministers on the issue by forcing a public reaction on matters that have not yet been fully considered by all relevant Ministers. It also undermines the principle of Cabinet confidentiality as established under the Constitution. All are bound to abide by constitutional provisions, unless and until they are changed.

For these reasons I have taken a serious view of the leaking of confidential Government information from the outset. I have always understood that there is no complete solution to this issue, and that it is a problem that affects all Governments in democracies. It is inherently difficult to trace the source of leaks, particularly in regard to information that is conveyed orally rather than in writing. That, however, is not an argument for not instituting such investigations as are possible. In two instances which are already on the public record, the Government has been able to identify the source of the premature disclosure of information and responsibility has been accepted by the parties concerned. This is a significant and valuable development, and has few precedents in the life of previous Governments.

In relation to the investigations which were instigated at my request, I have now received the report of the Secretary of the Department of Finance on the investigation into the leaking of budget material. The report does not identify any sources of leaks other than the two sources to which I have already referred.

I had asked that a critical part of the investigation should be the recommendation of mechanisms designed to avoid the recurrence of incidents of the kind we had experienced. The report contains a number of recommendations in this regard. These are under consideration and an announcement on the action which it is proposed to take in relation to them will be made in due course.

The other investigations instigated at my request were conducted by the Government secretariat and concerned incidents of premature disclosure of matters which were under consideration by the Government. None of these investigations revealed the sources of the leaks.

As regards the inquiry which the Government and the Secretary of the Department of Finance held into the leak of the report on the third banking force prepared by Fry, Rothschild and Stokes Kennedy Crowley and about which I was interviewed by senior gardaí, how many other Ministers were interviewed?

That is a separate question. This question is about investigations I initiated. I suggest that the Deputy table a question to the Minister for Finance who will no doubt give him as much information as he can on that investigation.

The question asks about the results of recent investigations. When the gardaí arrived at my office they did not say there was a distinction between whether it was the Taoiseach or the Minister for Finance. That is not a fair interpretation of the question. If the Leader of the Opposition is to be questioned at length about a report he might or might not have had — in this case I had it but did not leak it, as the Taoiseach knows from the results of the investigation which I am sure he has seen — it is fair that members of the Government who also had the report should be investigated.

I am answering questions solely about investigations I initiated. I am not ministerially responsible to the House for other investigations. However, I will endeavour to obtain the information the Deputy is seeking and give it to him as soon as it comes to hand.

I appreciate that.

Order. I called the Deputy twice and Deputy McDowell is now offering.

It is a personal matter.

Both the Chair's office and the Taoiseach's office are quick to rule out questions. The question is properly worded but the Taoiseach does not want to answer it. In future when Opposition Members are investigated at great length we might know the results of the investigation when we put down questions about the matter.

The Chair has no personal interest in this matter.

I am glad to know that the Chair is not under suspicion. Regarding the two matters where there was an outcome to the investigation, am I right in thinking one involved Deputy Phil Hogan and the other the Department of Social Welfare? Will the Taoiseach outline the circumstances in regard to the Department of Social Welfare? We were told we would be given the facts when they were ascertained but we have not heard anything since.

I gave considerable information about the leak in the Department of Social Welfare on a previous occasion. I am not sure if the Deputy was present.

The Taoiseach did not tell us the root of it.

This information was passed indirectly by an official to another party who passed it on to the media. The person in question admitted responsibility. In my reference to the matter in the House when I gave details about it, I drew attention to the fact that credit should be given to the person concerned for having the courage to admit what had happened rather than put everyone to the expense of proving it. Disciplinary action was taken in this case as was proper. I do not know if the House needs to know the nature of that. If it wishes, I can provide it. I have given the details of the matter already but if the Deputy wants to put down a separare question I will get them for him again.

The Minister for Equality and Law Reform commissioned an opinion poll on divorce and the findings were leaked to a Sunday newspaper. I understand that most members of the Government did not have access to that poll. Were the findings in the hands of programme managers and Government advisers? If so, which Government advisers had access to them?

That is transparency.

It is a separate question.

It certainly is.

Following the initiative I took in the matter, a departmental circular was issued to all officials and Government Departments clearly indicating that where a leak of information occurs the initiative in regard to conducting an investigation into the source of the leak rests with the Department concerned. That responsibility has been firmly fixed on each Department. Any leaks which occur now will be investigated by the Department in the first instance and any questions Deputies may wish to ask about leaks would more appropriately be addressed to the Department in question.

Who is in charge?

Have Government members been circulated with the findings of the poll?

They were briefed on the matter today.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that he will conduct an investigation if this morning's newspaper reports on section 153 turn out to be true when the Minister for Finance circulates the new amendment this afternoon?

That is a multiple hypothesis. The question is so brilliant that I do not think the Deputy understands it himself.

It is carrying transparency to its limits. You leaked the White Paper on Education, the Green Paper on Broadcasting, the budget and section 153.

Anything on justice?

As regards the Taoiseach's reply that Departments will be responsible for holding the investigation, does he believe it is good practice for persons to be judges in their own cause?

It is a matter for secretaries of Departments in their capacity as heads of the Civil Service in their Departments——

To take on the Minister.

——to initiate such inquiries. They will have authority to investigate all people who might have access to the documents in the Department. I have absolute confidence in the integrity and effectiveness of the secretaries of Departments in initiating such investigations. I compliment the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare on his effectiveness in discovering the cause of the leak to which earlier questions related. I am happy about that. However, if wider assistance is necessary, my office and that of the Government Secretary is available.

It is true that only the Labour Party had access to the results of the opinion poll on divorce prior to its publication by way of leak? Does the Taoiseach agree we should have a code of practice for programme managers and Government advisers, given their possible propensity for leaking information, as in the main they are not civil servants and do not have the political culture of being secretive and discreet with their information?

I have no reason to believe that programme managers as a group should be any more subject to suspicion in this matter than any other category of persons.

Their track record is not good.

I urge secretaries of Departments who have responsibility to initiate investigations into leaks to ensure they are comprehensive and take account of all those who could be responsible. As regards the data on the opinion poll on divorce, that was made available some time ago to those Ministers of all parties in Government who are members of the Cabinet sub-committee considering that matter.

May I ask a final supplementary?

The time has come to proceed to Priority Questions.

I will be brief.

Under Standing Orders some 20 minutes are permitted to deal with Priority Questions, which must commence now.