May I intervene briefly?
Independent Inquiry in the Department of Justice: Statements.
I will facilitate the Deputy.
After the House adjourned there was a Whips' meeting. While, unfortunately, no satisfactory progress was made, Fianna Fáil will participate in the debate, even though it is highly unsatisfactory. We raised three matters. We asked that the letter of 1 November be published by the Taoiseach. This was refused. We asked that the questions put down and deferred this week be answered by the Taoiseach. This was refused. We are grateful to the two gentlemen who prepared the report for the Government in which they highlighted that there were matters at which they did not look. It would do a service to this House and the public outside if a detailed and comprehensive examination of what happens in the Department of Justice was carried out by a committee of the House which should be able to examine individuals and papers.
I permitted a brief intervention.
Unfortunately, the answer was "no". The Taoiseach is wrong in this matter and the Government is being extremely unfair to the Opposition but we will participate in the debate.
May I be shown the same courtesy, please?
I do not see why not.
The Government proposes to proceed with a series of statements on the independent inquiry in the Department of Justice. As I said this morning, the manner in which the Government proposes to deal with this issue is a complete and utter charade. It is trampling on democracy in this House. We have been seeking for two weeks to make it accountable and to have certain key questions answered but we have failed.
Elaboration should be left for the debate.
The Progressive Democrats do not intend to participate in this charade but will come back to the House tomorrow when we will be able to ask questions to which we want answers. For that reason we will now withdraw from this charade and come back when we are able to ask questions.
Chinks in the coalition.
I express my appreciation and that of the Government to Mr. Seán Cromien and Dr. Ed Molloy for their work in preparing this report.
They have carried out their tasks with conscientiousness, diligence and speed. I thank them for recording that they received the fullest co-operation from the management and staff of the Department of Justice.
In the words of the report, what happened was quite inexcusable. What happened in this case was a chapter of accidents, each of which reinforced the adverse effects of the other.
The report states that the circumstances which led to the failure to delist Judge Dominic Lynch are unlikely to recur because of the dire consequences which have followed. The inquiry team expressed concern, however, that from what it has learned about the Department they might recur in some other section. It states: "This strongly confirms the need for changes in organisation and work practices..."
I accept the findings and recommendations of the report and have already moved to introduce changes and reforms to tackle many of the issues raised. I will take actions in the short, medium and long term to ensure "nothing short of a comprehensive transformation of the Department of Justice" is carried out.
In essence, the report echoes the processes that I and the Government started last year. Let me mention but a few. Regionalisation of senior management in the Garda Síochána took place in 1995; further civilianisation of the Garda Síochána is taking place; major information technology programmes for areas of the criminal justice system were commenced; the first drug-free unit in our prisons was opened this year; an expanded Supreme Court which can now sit in two chambers was established; 800 prison places are in the process of being provided which will allow for better management of offenders; and a major programme of criminal law reform is taking place, including measures to use the time of gardaí and prison officers more efficiently. In May this year I obtained the approval of the Government to set up an independent courts service to run the courts and further actions on the implementation of that decision were taken both this and last week. I have also obtained the agreement of the Government to establish an independent prisons agency, something that was recommended 11 years ago but not acted on by previous Governments. It is now happening.
I accept all of the findings and recommendations of the report. There are two separate issues to be considered. There is the question of what is needed in the Department to ensure we never have a repetition of the administrative failures that arose on this occasion and to address the organisational, management and systems problems outlined in the report and the question as to what actions may be taken in relation to the way the officials at the centre of this matter discharged their duties.
The report echoes the Department's own SMI study which has been ongoing for a year and which will be published in December. In that statement the Department readily accepts the challenges it faces and the need for major change. The inquiry team acknowledges that documents it has seen of work in progress on the SMI strategy clearly reveal that the Minister, the Secretary and senior officials of the Department have been identifying the actions required. The clear thrust of the report is that nothing short of a comprehensive transformation of the Department is called for. The Government will do just that.
I will detail the actions I have decided upon and which I communicated last night to my Government colleagues to implement the findings and recommendations of the report. To modernise procedures in the Department, the best management, organisational and information technology expertise of the Department of Finance supported by external consultants who are experts in their fields will be made available to support the Department in implementing the recommendations of the report and any other changes that may be required. As the report specifies, the Department has already identified the need for change but, for the reasons mentioned, will need support if senior people are to have time to participate in the planning process. In this context, a decision has been taken to appoint, through TLAC, an official at deputy secretary level by 1 December.
Second, immediate steps will be taken to assess the scope of what needs to be done and to draw up appropriate terms of reference for the management consultants. The consultants will make a critical analysis of the functions of the Department of Justice and will recommend medium-term and longer-term solutions to the problems identified in the report of the independent inquiry. The terms of reference of the management consultants will include examination, as a matter of priority, of the need for a dedicated EU division in the Department. I will indicate later the reasons for examining this specific issue as a priority. The consultants will be asked to produce an interim report by 1 February, 1997.
Third, the work of the management consultants will be overseen by a small steering group with secretarial back-up, consisting of one person who is a private sector member of the SMI co-ordinating committee, the Secretary of the Department of Justice and the official at deputy secretary level who will be assigned to the Department for a two year period to provide critical support for the process of change. The specification for this post will be drawn up immediately by the Departments of Justice and Finance. The steering group will provide progress reports on implementation to the Minister every two months in the initial stages.
Fourth, the report states that management must confront individuals who are deemed to have failed. In accordance with the Civil Service disciplinary code, disciplinary proceedings are being initiated in the cases of certain officials referred to in the report.
Fifth, as the Minister and the Government as a whole treat with the utmost gravity the findings in the report more specific to the failure to inform Mr. Justice Lynch that he was delisted from the Special Criminal Court the following immediate measures have either been or are being taken. The assistant secretary who headed up the courts division of the Department before Ireland's Presidency of the EU is being recalled from his duties in Brussels where he has been spearheading the Justice and Home Affairs Council. All Government decisions affecting the Judiciary — whether new appointments, delisting or whatever — will be referred to the assistant secretary in the courts division and it will be his or her personal responsibility to ensure that those concerned implement the decision and that the Minister and Secretary of the Department are immediately provided with written confirmation that the action has been taken and that all necessary follow-up procedures have been implemented.
More widely, arrangements have been put in place which will require all assistant secretaries in the Department to ensure that all Government decisions affecting their areas of responsibility are implemented and to obtain reports at least once a week on the action taken in their divisions in relation to implementation of such decisions. Assistant secretaries will report to the Secretary on a weekly basis — or immediately, in the event that difficulties are identified in the implementation of any decision or decisions.
The rostering arrangements for annual leave are being urgently reviewed as it is clear that leave arrangements contributed to the difficulties in this case. As well as this, detailed instructions are being drawn up to ensure there is a specific and detailed assignment in writing of current work from an officer who is taking authorised annual leave, to another named officer.
The existing procedures are being expanded whereby all future correspondence to the Minister from Members of the Government, the Attorney General, the DPP, members of the Judiciary and other major public officeholders, whatever their import will be shown to the Minister and copied to the Secretary of the Department immediately.
That was always the case.
In addition, the computerised correspondence tracking system referred to in the debate last week will be in place next week. There was no such computerised tracking system when the last Minister was in office.
Will you account for your own——
The procedures followed in the Minister's office are the procedures followed by my predecessors——
——for dealing with Government decisions are being strengthened and improved.
No bloomers, then.
Letters will be opened?
By way of setting in context some of the decisions I have announced, I think it is right to advert to the major pressures, highlighted in the report, which the Department of Justice has had to face in recent years. They are, briefly: first, a general increase in crime and lawlessness which has, among other things, resulted in serious prison overcrowding with relentless pressure for early prisoner releases. I have done more to tackle that problem in my time in office than any of my predecessors.
Second, there has been enormous growth in a short period, of European Union work, a development greatly accentuated during the EU Presidency. This pressure arose because of the "Third Pillar" provisions of the 1993 Maastricht treaty. Part of the outfall was that last year alone, for example, a relatively small number of middle management officials had to service 280 Justice and Home Affairs meetings abroad as well as preparing for five European Council meetings.
The third factor is the demands on senior staff to work on the Northern Ireland peace process and related activity. I and a small number of senior officials in my Department have been deeply involved in the Northern talks process, which commenced last June. The Department had been centrally involved for quite some time prior to that with attempts to deal with the issue of arms decommissioning which, as everybody knows, has bedevilled progress in the Northern talks. The Secretary of the Department, in particular, has been closely involved in this process and in other aspects of the peace process which he cannot delegate to others.
Fourth, there has been, in the words of the inquiry team, "a heightened awareness among the general public of issues such as personal rights and crime with a consequent increase in demand for information by Members of the Oireachtas and the media". By way of a practical example of the impact of this, the number of Parliamentary Questions to the Department ten years ago was about 670; already this year it is well over 2,000. The report goes on to say that the only significant way in which these demands were addressed internally within the Department was to seek some additional resources and that the additional resources provided over the years were entirely inadequate in the circumstances.
Resources have been provided in areas such as probation and welfare and forensic science during this Government's term but, over the past ten years, the core administrative staff complement has only gone up by about 5 per cent. Most of those, incidentally, were provided this year on a temporary basis to meet our EU Presidency obligations. They were not provided three or five years ago.
The combined effect of the pressures generated in the Department of Justice over the years and the need to contain staff numbers in the Civil Service generally, for wider policy reasons, resulted in a situation where senior management were, in the words of the report, "trapped on a treadmill of crisis management" with simply no time available for planning. However, while the report paid tribute to the staff of the Department that they handle so many routine and, especially, unique and unexpected transactions under pressure with so few errors, it took the view that human error in this case cannot be explained away entirely as being due to the organisational, management and systems weaknesses in the Department. Deputies will know that I have come into this House twice already to make as full statements on the circumstances as I possibly could on the basis of the established facts that were available to me at those times. In the course of my first statement on Thursday, 7 November, I said:
...in the particular circumstances that have arisen here, and in order to avoid any suggestion of lack of objectivity, it would be right to have a person or persons outside the Department involved in this investigation.
The action I took — which was unprecedented — cannot be faulted for its openness, its honesty and its objectivity. I doubt if anybody in this House can credibly disagree with that proposition.
As long as you——
Please, no interruptions.
It is worth saying in this House that the report confirms the account of what took place that I gave to this House before the inquiry and confirms that the actions taken by me on 5 November on receipt of the Attorney General's letter and on 6 November to rectify the failure, commenced with my query to an official in the courts division. In the intervening time since I spoke on 7 November, there has been much speculation, rumour, innuendo and allegations and many of these points have since been shown for the political point-scoring they were. The report gives the lie to allegations of cover-up and, among other things, lays to rest the suggestion that a senior counsel — whom Deputy McCreevy named in this House — had specifically warned the Department and had threatened to go public if the situation was not resolved. Deputy McCreevy has now clarified that there was no basis whatsoever for his suggestion.
There has been much debate on the Attorney General's role. The report clearly indicates that the Attorney General's letter of 2 October should have prompted action by the Department. The inquiry team concludes that its reading of the Attorney General's letter would lead it to infer that "urgent action was required upon it". It also stated that the most critical transaction from the point of view of potential consequences, namely, the delisting of a member of the Special Criminal Court, was least well served by a formal process or precedent. Before any letters from the Attorney General or Judge Lynch came into the Department two months had gone by and the Government decision had not been fully implemented. Even after the two letters came in, during the first 14 days or so of the third month, these still did not produce action until a second letter from the Attorney General was received by me on 5 November. As the report said, "this was inexcusable".
Full access to the Department was available to the inquiry team. I wonder whether any of the Members who say this report is not enough would, when they were in charge of Departments, have opened their doors to such critical examination.
They would have opened their correspondence.
I spoke to the inquiry, as did the Attorney General and the senior counsel. In all, 14 persons were interviewed inside and outside the Department. While stating that the management and staff of the Department of Justice fully co-operated with the inquiry, the inquiry team clearly states that the results of its efforts to follow the paper trail came to an unsatisfactory dead-end at crucial points, with key individuals unable to recollect important details or failing to recognise the seriousness of vital correspondence. This is most unsatisfactory for the purposes of identifying with exactitude who did what or failed to do what was necessary. Even with this lack of detail, however, it is evident that the investigation felt that human error had been made. Importantly, the report stressed that any fair apportioning of blame would have to advert not just to present incumbents in all key positions — presumably, Civil Service and political — but also to missed opportunities and failure to initiate change in the past. The record will show that many previous inquiries "ran into the sand", to borrow a line from the report.
Mistakes were made in Departments in the past and I do not recall any inquiry such as this ever being instituted. I stress again that this report will be acted upon. Work has already commenced on its implementation. I assure this House, on my behalf and on behalf of the Government, that the most comprehensive and far-reaching actions are being taken and will continue to be taken to address the fundamental changes required to totally transform the way in which the Department of Justice operates and thereby deliver a better, more effective criminal justice system to the people. That is, and must be the primary objective of any democratic Government.
Fianna Fáil is participating in this debate under protest. Through our Leader, we made legitimate demands of the Government which have not been met, and I will set out what these demands are. We asked that the Minister for Justice, the Attorney General and the Taoiseach accept full political responsibility for what happened, as required by law under the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, as amended; that questions to the Taoiseach, as well as those to the Minister for Justice, relating to the responsibility of the Attorney General be answered by the Taoiseach; that the Attorney General's letter to the Minister of 1 November 1996 be published and that a Dáil subcommittee on security and legislation be established to investigate and hold hearings on the entire affair, given the admitted inadequacy of the inquiry. These are legitimate demands which could be expected to be met in any democracy but which the Government decided to ignore for reasons best known to itself. On that point, as with much more relating to this sordid affair, the jury is out on the street.
There are two significant statements in the Minister's speech to the House and in the report of the inquiry team. The report states: "Management must, therefore, examine the degree of culpability attaching to individuals and take appropriate action while having regard to established procedures and, as we have suggested earlier, the track record of individuals". The Minister for Justice in her speech stated:
...the report states that management must confront individuals who are deemed to have failed. In accordance with the Civil Service disciplinary code, disciplinary proceedings are being initiated in the cases of certain officials referred to in the report.
The Minister for Justice makes much of the inquiry's report on the fact that individuals must be confronted. It appears that individuals — civil servants — are to be sacrificed. To any reasonable person it appears the bounty hunters of the rainbow Coalition Government will take the heads of the kittens for the sins of the lions. The seriousness of this sorry saga is underlined by Article 40.4.1 of the Constitution which provides: "No citizen shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law".
On 1 August 1996 the Minister for Justice brought a memorandum to Government and had it passed. She failed to have that Government decision implemented and the result was that in the most sensitive court in the land, a bogus court handed down bogus decisions on the most serious of offences and charges. The Attorney General had heard some time around the end of September 1996 that there was a problem with the Special Criminal Court and he wrote to the Minister for Justice on 2 October 1996 advising her of that. The Minister said she did not receive the letter of 2 October 1996 but that she received the letter from the Attorney General of 1 November 1996. She said she received the letter from Judge Dominic Lynch dated 2 July 1996 but that she did not receive the letter he sent to her on 10 October 1996. Why did the practices and procedures, which are much criticised in this report, work in regard to two letters from the Attorney General and the Judge of the Special Criminal Court but not in regard to two other letters? It is rather strange to say the least.
Even stranger is the letter of 10 October 1996 which the Minister for Justice said she did not receive. According to the report, that letter arrived in the Minister's constituency office and by some miraculous device — I presume it was not by way of paper plane — turned up subsequently in the courts division of the Department of Justice. Neither the Minister for Justice, her personal assistant nor anybody who was interviewed knows how it got there or how it arrived on the file.
The Minister for Justice has admitted that she does not know what goes on in her Department, her personal office and her constituency office and that she does not receive or, alternatively, does not respond to letters she receives from the Attorney General and judges of the Special Criminal Court. In those circumstances I am legitimately entitled to ask if the Minister for Justice does not know about these vital matters, what does she know? To whom is the Minister for Justice responsible if not responsible to the Attorney General and judges of the Special Criminal Court? The truth is that when the beauty board, decorations and smokescreens have been put to one side, this fiasco is down to one thing; the gross negligence of the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General whose gross negligence resulted in the Special Criminal Court sitting in a bogus court handing down bogus judgments which affect the security of the State.
I want to expand on the role of the Attorney General in this sordid business. It was patently wrong of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to come into this House and pretend that the Attorney General was merely the legal adviser to the Government and that it was not his responsibility to ensure action was taken when he first learned of the bogus court. There is ample legal precedent to support the view — the incontrovertible fact — that not alone is the Attorney General the legal adviser to the Government, he is also the guardian of the public interest.
In the Supreme Court judgments in the case of the Attorney Generalv. Hamilton, No. 1 of 1993, page 250, two Irish Reports, and 1993 IRLM at page 81, the view of the late Mr. Justice McCarthy may be taken as representative of the court's view on the role of the Attorney General. He stated:
The nature of the office of the Attorney General charges him with the duty to enforce the Constitution, whether it be in the protection of the unprotected, as in Attorney Generalv. X. or in a claim of public right or otherwise. It follows that... if the Attorney General considers that the [certain] conduct ... involves a possible constitutional breach, he is entitled, in his own right, to invoke the jurisdiction of the courts. Independence of function in this context has its duties as well as its rights.
Nothing could be clearer than that the Attorney General not only had a right to take action when he learned of the bogus Special Criminal Court, he had a duty under the Constitution to do so inasmuch as the Minister for Justice had when she first learned of this débâcle.
The role of the Attorney General can be stated to involve two separate and distinct legal functions. He is, in the words of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, the legal adviser to the Government, but he is also the guardian of the public interest. In his capacity as guardian of the public interest he had a duty to act — I cannot stress that enough — when he learned there was an impression among the Judiciary that Judge Lynch was still a member of the Special Criminal Court.
The Attorney General would be well aware that the question of the correct composition of the Special Criminal Court can and has given rise to litigation in the past. Twice in the past 14 years the issue has come before the High Court and the Supreme Court. It came before the High Court in 1983 in the State (Gallagher)v. the Governor of Portlaoise Prison and in McGlinchey v. the Governor of Portlaoise Prison in 1988. The Attorney General must have been aware of the consequences of a person sitting as a judge in a court where he is not entitled to sit as he personally appeared for the applicant in the leading Irish case dealing with the matter, the State (Walshe) v. Murphy in 1981.
For anybody to suggest that a request for clarification discharged the Attorney General's duty in this grave matter is not just nonsense, it is downright dishonest and untrue. There was nothing which needed to be clarified. The Attorney General, as one of the greatest legal brains not just of his generation but of this century, would have known that better than anybody else. He would have known also that previous Attorneys General intervened by taking action in the High Court and the Supreme Court when they saw the Constitution or laws of the State under challenge, sometimes in the certain knowledge that it would create a serious political problem for the Cabinets of which they were members. There was no such problem in this instance. The Attorney General had a right and a duty to act and there was no political difficulty in doing so.
The Supreme Court has upheld the right of the Attorney General to apply to the courts. It has gone further than that and declared that court intervention by the Attorney General is an obligation. In the case of the Attorney General (SPUC) and Open Door Counselling in 1988, the late Mr. Justice McCarthy stated: "It is a power, function and duty imposed on the Attorney General by the Constitution". The duty of the Attorney General to apply to the court as guardian of the public interest when he sees laws or the Constitution of the State under threat was upheld subsequently in the X case and in the case of the Attorney Generalv. Hamilton which arose from the issue of Cabinet confidentiality.
When the Attorney General learned that a Special Criminal Court judge was acting beyond his powers and should not have been on the court, why did he fail to act? When he realised the Minister for Justice had not acted following his letter, why did the Attorney General not apply to the High Court? Knowing that the Minister for Justice was in dereliction of her duty, why did the Attorney General not carry out his obligations under the Constitution? The answer is something for which we will forever search but it is certain that the Attorney General was in dereliction of his own duty and that made him as culpable as the Minister for Justice.
It is true that under Article 30 of the Constitution the Attorney General is obliged to advise the Government in matters of law and legal opinion. The truth of the matter in relation to this also is that the Attorney General failed to advise the Government, having previously failed to advise the Minister for Justice. In "The Irish Law Officers" by Professor Casey it is stated that the term "Government", when used in Article 30, is equivalent to the Cabinet, and this is the basis for the Attorney General's constant attendance at Cabinet meetings. Why did the Attorney General not raise this matter at Cabinet when he had not received a response from the Minister for Justice?
If the Special Criminal Court was not capable of dealing with the most serious criminal cases, it must surely be apparent that the entire Government crime package was a farce. It gives me no pleasure to say it but the Attorney General singularly failed to discharge his obligations under section 6 (1) of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, where he is charged with "the administration and control of the business, powers, authorities, duties and functions of the branches and officers of the public services specified...". The Attorney General failed to advise the Government as the Cabinet under that Act or the Constitution.
This is an extremely serious matter because it means the Government was not properly advised by the first law officer of the land, and was as ill served by him in this matter as it was by the Minister for Justice. The failure of the Attorney General to act in the discharge of his statutory duties affects the entire court and judicial process. The Attorney General had a responsibility in the appointment of judges under the Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, and the removal of judges under the Judges of the Courts of Justice (District Court) Act, 1945. Traditionally the Attorney General notifies all judges of new appointments. Surely it would have been the simplest thing in the world for the Attorney General to have notified Judge Dominic Lynch that he had been delisted as a member of the Special Criminal Court. When he learned of this rumour in the first instance, he wrote to the Minister for Justice. The Minister for Justice failed to act and, even then, the Attorney General wrote to the Minister for Justice rather than taking the responsibility on himself.
The Attorney General is also responsible for the Chief State Solicitor's office. What steps did the Attorney General take to advise the Chief State Solicitor's office that a judge in one of his superior courts was acting without appointment and that his decisions were tainted? The Attorney General — and this is an extremely serious point — also has responsibility under the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987 for determining whether to proceed on extradition warrants to Britain. What steps did the Attorney General take to determine whether the parties detained in prisons on the direction of Judge Lynch at the Special Criminal Court were not also the subject of extradition applications? That is an extremely serious matter. Any subsequent extradition of any such individual would clearly be open to challenge.
Under Order 60 of the Rules of the Superior Courts of 1986, the Attorney General as guardian of the public interest must be notified of any court applications that involve a constitutional challenge of any law. If a constitutional challenge is mounted by any of the prisoners currently claiming their detention is illegal, how can the Attorney General, as guardian of the public interest, act as Attorney General? Surely, in the light of all of this, a serious conflict of interest arises. At that point will the Attorney General stand aside? Can he appoint another senior counsel to act on his behalf as he did in the Goodman court applications because of his involvement in that case prior to his appointment as Attorney General? Perhaps not. Nobody knows. The Attorney General acted or, alternatively, did not act, depending on which view one takes. One thing is certain, he did not act when he should have acted. Will the Attorney General ask the Taoiseach to act on his behalf as he did in May 1995 when he was involved in another conflict of interest arising from his legal advice to Mr. Russell who subsequently resigned from the Attorney General's office? In short, who will act for the Attorney General as guardian of the public interest? While the Attorney General wrote to the Minister for Justice, he did not, if one accepts what the Minister for Justice says, advise her in any proper sense, nor did he advise the Cabinet or the Government in any proper sense. Nor did he contact Judge Lynch. He did not intervene by application to the courts as guardian of the public interest. For fear of a further fudge by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the Minister for Justice, let me make it clear that I am not talking about powers but about grave duties, under the Constitution, under legislation passed by this House, not to self-serving Taoisigh, Tánaistí or Ministers for Justice, but to the ordinary people. I am speaking of dereliction of duties to the citizens of this land. The Constitution exists to protect those citizens and it is the duty of the Attorney General to uphold it. It is the duty of the Minister for Justice to obey that Constitution. None of these events have occurred in this sordid business.
It is clear the Attorney General must come before a committee of the Dáil to explain the circumstances and his role in the Judge Dominic Lynch affair. The precedent has been set. Former Attorney General, Mr. Fitzsimons, appeared before the Select Committee on Legislation and Security on 7 December 1994. Indeed, the Taoiseach, as Leader of the Opposition, in March 1994, pressed in this House for a mechanism to have the Attorney General answerable to the Dáil on the discharge of his duties as guardian of the public interest. The Taoiseach, for his part, must answer fundamental questions. He must tell this House, in justice to the people, at what point the Attorney General learned of Judge Lynch's continuing service in the Special Criminal Court, and whether he realised the serious implications of an invalidly constituted court. I have no doubt that he did. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice must say what conversation if any they ever had with the Attorney General about this extremely serious matter during the month of October 1996. The Minister for Justice and the Taoiseach must be accountable and responsible to this House for the omissions of which they are clearly guilty.
The Taoiseach suggested that the letter of 1 November 1996, written by the Attorney General to the Minister for Justice is in some way privileged. It is no longer privileged. We know its essential contents. We know, in general terms, precisely what advice the Attorney General deemed necessary and what the situation is in relation to the legal advice. All we are asking for is the precise terminology used in the letter which was sent by the Attorney General to the Minister for Justice. I do not see what the secrecy is about. The probability is that in thehabeas corpus applications before the High Court discovery of that document will be sought. It is difficult to understand why a cloak of secrecy is being thrown around this saga at every turn in the course of events.
The letter sent by Judge Dominic Lynch on 10 October 1996 to the Minister for Justice was marked "personal". It arrived in the Minister's constituency office but she says she did not see it. Those who have investigated this matter state clearly this letter is a mystery they have been unable to resolve. They say the trail leads into the sand. I humbly submit that the reason the trail leads into the sand is simply that all trails and all roads lead back to the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General. The complicity of the Taoiseach is not yet clear. The dereliction of duty of the Minister for Justice and of the Attorney General will be clear for all to see.
The people will not be satisfied that the Government should discipline civil servants arising out of this affair. They will not be satisfied that the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice, whose function it was to ensure that the decision of the Government of 1 August 1996 was implemented, should escape scot free. If the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General walk away from this sordid business we, as a people, will have to abandon, any question of there being political accountability here ever again. The consequences are that our democracy, which was borne in conflict among ourselves, which was involved in the 1937 Constitution and which was upheld by every Taoiseach, every Minister for Justice and every Attorney General until now will have been demeaned irretrievably because of the sins of omission of the Minister for Justice and of the Attorney General, the failure of the Taoiseach to do his duty and the fact that the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Welfare decided to conspire with the Fine Gael Party to achieve their stated aim of keeping the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice in office.
I wish to address the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Welfare. Whatever about comparisons with 1994 or with any other period or grievances they may or may not have in relation to this party and however much they may not wish the Government to come apart, let them recognise that their duty goes beyond political expediency and opportunism. Their duty in this matter goes to the root of democracy and is related to the democratic institutions of the State. In short their duty in respect of this matter relates to the Special Criminal Court which is charged with most serious business and with the security of the State. That being the position, the question which the Minister for Social Welfare and Tánaiste must face is whether they will obey their constitutional duties. Will they face up to the fact that the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General must resign? Will they continue in a Government which has shamefully ignored its constitutional obligations in the persons of the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General? If the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Welfare say they will continue in Government that is an answer I will have to accept, but it is one which the people need not and must not accept when they are made to account for this business. As sure as night follows day there will be a price to pay. The people are proud of their Constitution and their democracy and the manner in which politicians have been accountable under the Constitution and under the terms of that democracy. They will not tolerate the actions, the inactions, the omissions and commissions of those who ignore the 1937 Constitution.
Since the Attorney General is not a Member of this House I reject absolutely the unfair attack on him made by Deputy O'Donoghue. The Attorney General acted in an appropriate manner on every occasion and did so in writing. He is absolutely without fault in any of this. It is grossly unfair for a Member to attack him in this way when he is unable to defend himself.
He can come before a committee and defend himself.
Old Mother Reilly again.
The Member in possession without interruption, please.
Will the Minister of State stop waffling?
Old Mother Reilly of the Opposition benches.
Let us have the same level of order as obtained for the previous speaker.
The Minister of State cannot string two words together. He is a waffler. He is Mr. Mini-Europe.
Let us have an orderly debate, please.
The futility of inconsistency on the Opposition benches is extraordinary. If one drives around the city or the country one will see billboards about the bail referendum urging people to vote yes. Deputies opposite, including Deputy O'Donoghue who is leading for Fianna Fáil, twice defeated a bail referendum amendment Bill in the House. We have to listen to allegations of waffle. What sort of Opposition is this that it cannot make a case for anything without getting involved in extreme comments?
The Minister of State's party voted down two Bills on bail.
I would like to commence where Deputy O'Donoghue left off, with the 1937 Constitution. It is a fine document but I am sure it is not without fault. One of its weaknesses is that we do not have anybody in this jurisdiction akin to the Lord Chancellor in the British system which we pretend to follow. It may or may not be desirable to have somebody exactly in the role of the Lord Chancellor in Britain who has three hats. We have an independent Judiciary, which is right and proper, but we also have a Judiciary which seemed not only to be unaccountable but almost beyond reform, at least until this Minister brought forward a proposal for an independent services authority for the courts, something I have advocated for a long time. If we are looking at the 1937 Constitution we might consider how we will make the Judiciary more effective and more efficient without interfering with its independence. I shall come back to that point later in my contribution.
In the current fog of Opposition charges there is a danger that the key points in this controversy may be lost sight of. Serious mistakes were made in the Department of Justice in the handling of the Justice Lynch case. However, these mistakes were not of the Minister's making and as soon as the Minister heard of the situation decisive action was taken. An inquiry was instituted, a statement was made to Dáil Éireann and fundamental reforms in the administration of the courts and prison systems were put in train. Contrast that with the prevarication of Fianna Fáil in November 1994 or during the beef tribunal. The Opposition is trying to turn this sorry affair into a storm designed at least to damage the Minister and at best to damage the Government. The plot simply has not worked. Its wild allegations and charges only go to show the paucity of its argument. Allegations by Deputy McCreevy about an eminent lawyer contacting the Department of Justice have been withdrawn. These allegations had no substance, yet they found their way into a Sunday newspaper as the main story. That newspaper returned to the story last Sunday to question my personal integrity for having the temerity to say I was reliably informed that these allegations were without foundation. I made a factual and truthful statement.
Fianna Fáil has engaged in hypocritical flights of indignation on the Justice Lynch case, calling for the Minister's resignation while conveniently forgetting the three judicial appointments during their time in Government which led to difficulties but never even the suggestion of ministerial resignation. There were four cases of which I am aware of judges who sat on the bench, three in Fianna Fáil's period in office, while not entitled to do so, through no fault of theirs. I hope I do not cause them any personal embarrassment by mentioning their cases. It is important that they be placed on the record so that all of the facts are established.
First, there was the case of Mr. Justice Murphy, who had been in the Land Commission, who I understand did not have the requisite qualification but was appointed a judge. Second is the case of Mr. Justice Lavin who was appointed to the High Court by a Fianna Fáil Government when there was not even a vacancy in that court.
I do not think he had been appointed, he had been nominated. The Minister should get his facts correct.
I thank the Deputy for allowing me to put that right. Then there was Mr. Justice Mahon who was due to retire at 65 and was not informed he had reached the expiry of his term. It was presumed he had been granted an extension and he continued to sit on the bench for another year. All of whose decisions, I understand, had to be validated subsequently.
Did not one of those cases involve an incorrect date of birth?
There was also the question of Mr. Justice Ruane who sat on the bench from 1977 to 1989 while apparently not qualified to do so. According to one estimate, he heard something like 54,000 cases, including serious ones involving imprisonment. When it was discovered he was not entitled to continue to sit on the bench he continued to be paid right up to 1992 even though he did not hear another case.
They were errors. In at least three of those cases I am sure their ultimate effect was unintentional. Was any Minister's resignation sought? Did any Minister seek to offer his or her resignation? Did any inquiry take place? Was there proper accountability to this House in the manner now called for by the Opposition? In no case did that happen.
This is a serious case of electionitis. Fianna Fáil, having behaved badly in Opposition, are preparing for the 1997 contest, hoping to draw it out as long as they can until the campaign eventually begins next year. It is very clear that under this Minister and Government there was accountability and an inquiry undertaken by two eminent people who within a week brought forward an excellent report setting out the position as they had ascertained it. Under this Government and Minister there has been a full inquiry into the circumstances along with a comprehensive list of recommendations which propose, in the words of the report, nothing short of a comprehensive transformation of the Department of Justice.
For a long time it has been my belief that many of our problems arise not through lack of legislation but from inappropriate administrative arrangements, not so much through a lack of law as a lack of order.
If we are serious about dealing with the problems faced in the courts, in the Department of Justice, the Prisons Service, the Garda Síochána we should have the courage to place responsibility where it properly lies.
I want to read into the record part of a letter the writer sent to the national newspapers. He sent it to me following comments I made on the radio because he happened to agree with me and was very surprised at some of the outburst which had preceded it. This person is a former Assistant Secretary in the Civil Service, now retired. The letter states:
What is going on here? Attention should be drawn to two features.
Firstly, Government and the economy have become highly complex. The best course of action in many issues involves finding the optimum mix in a calculus of advantages and disadvantages. Because there are not deep-seated ideological differences between parties, there is limited scope for major policy differences with which Opposition parties can hope to engage public attention in a gripping way. Thus, Opposition is pushed back on trying to show that the Government of the day is performing incompetently. Meantime, the growing complexity of Government means that, conveniently for Opposition, the scope for "cock-ups" is increasing. Parliamentary debate is increasingly becoming a game of "catch the Minister".
Secondly, the banality that often ensues has its good side if it leads people to the realisation that the goings-on of politicians are not as important in life as appears. However, Opposition parties are doing a disservice to the political process in the degree to which they personalise their criticisms, often quite losing a sense of proportion in their efforts to get at a particular Minister. Many of us are accustomed, say, to hearing people on "Morning Ireland" and other current affairs programmes presenting strongly opposed cases on many issues without having to portray one another as knaves or fools. Many politicians are, willy nilly, stoking the fires of cynicism among an already sceptical public.
That puts the position very well coming as it does from a retired senior civil servant who is free to present his views and has written that letter to the newspapers.
While we personalise our debate and behave like parliamentary monkeys — having paid ourselves peanuts, we now behave like parliamentary monkeys — the real issues go untackled.
I should like to contradict one journalist who reported that, when I spoke in this House in July last, there were only three or four Members present. I do not know how many Members were behind me but I do know there were at least eight Members opposite nodding agreement when I said that, whereas we had introduced a lot of law and more law reform was to come, in my view there was a serious problem with order and that we politicians were pretending to take all of the responsibility when by no means did we have all of the authority to do so. To follow that argument through, if every Minister had to resign because of every mistake made in his or her Department it would make the job of Ministers absolutely impossible. Politics has become unattractive enough for everyday Deputies and Senators without rendering it altogether impossible for Ministers to discharge their ministerial responsibilities.
On that earlier occasion I said I should like to see prison reform. The fact that a prisons board is to be established is a very welcome development. I hope we will go the whole hog and take on the reform of the prisons system so that those who enter prison without a drugs problem will not come out with one and become part of the vicious cycle of crime.
When was the last occasion that this Government was subjected to pressure to do something about prison reform? The occasion was July last and it came from a Minister in this House; it certainly did not come from the Opposition Benches. When was the last occasion pressure was exerted for reform of our prisons? It was when we occupied those Benches opposite, when I presented the contents of a joint Fine Gael front bench/Young Fine Gael discussion document on prison reform and sought prison reform and a prisons board. Why is it that Deputy John O'Donoghue and Fianna Fáil are so concerned about the crime problem that they have erected billboards around the city and country advising people to vote "yes" in the forthcoming referendum on bail, having twice voted down a Bill in this House? Why is it that that party has not even once addressed the question of prison reform, the conditions in which prisoners serve their sentences, not in a manner that will afford them maximum opportunity to be rehabilitated but rather in a manner which contributes to the problem?
This is the first time since the Whitaker report we have had such reform, for which I thank this Minister and Government. It is something I have been seeking for some time. Yesterday we were given another lecture by an eminent member of the Judiciary who is against the bail referendum and who apparently announced — if the newspaper reports are correct — that she will not vote in it. Many Deputies may have understood the point I was trying to make last July. I am sorry to be so blunt but I am sick and tired of being lectured by judges. Most Members have made the same point to mesotto voce. Judges blame successive Governments for this, that and the other. Yesterday a judge delivered what amounts to a political opinion on voting in the referendum.
The courts badly need to be reformed. They have served us well and must remain independent, but they have been eulogised to the extent that they believe they can do no wrong. It is true to say that the courts have upheld the rights of citizens on occasions when we have shirked our responsibilities. This is another shortcoming in de Valera's Constitution. However, it is also true to say that councillors, Senators, TDs and MEPs vindicate the rights of citizens and communities on a daily basis without any credit from journalists. Yet we do not believe we are without fault. The courts must look at the way they do their business.
Some smart questions have been asked. For example, does the Attorney General not talk to the Minister and do Ministers not talk to each other? Does anyone think it strange that judges do not seem to talk to one another and did not raise the matter among themselves? It is clear that this issue arose out of a series of cock ups. Human nature being what it is, mistakes can be made by everyone, including judges, Ministers and civil servants. What is important is that we use this occasion to reform the courts, the prison service and the Garda Síochána. In so far as it is our responsibility to do so, the dog must start to wag the tail. I am not suggesting that the courts, which are independent, are part of the tail and need to be wagged, but they must be accountable. I welcome this development and ask those lawyers, some of whom are eminent, who criticised my comments in the past to consider what I am saying and to look at the reforms needed in their area. They are members of the judicial part of government and if we are not able to reform them without oppressing their rights then they will have to meet us half way.
We have started down the road to serious reform under the Minister. If it took this cock up to speed up some of these reforms then it is welcome. The Minister has been trying for some time to bring about these reforms and I am glad they are at last being introduced. When discussing law and order and the running of Government, we should remember that when the Ministers and Secretaries Act was enacted in 1924 the Government's budget was approximately £30 million. The Government's budget is now approximately £15 billion and it has a huge number of agencies and Departments. It is nonsense to suggest that the Minister is responsible for the actions of all her staff, from her driver to the doorman to the Secretary of her Department or that she should take responsibility if, say, her driver knocks down someone. Ministers cannot be asked to take responsibility for every mistake in their Departments to the extent that it is immediately a resignation issue. That is not real politics and the Opposition has gone off on a tangent at a time when the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues should be devoting their efforts to the Presidency of the European Union where real advances have been made in the justice and home affairs areas.
This issue is a ball of smoke and it is outrageous that it has gone so far and been allowed take up so much parliamentary time. It is disgraceful that we should have engaged in so much personalised and vulgar abuse instead of addressing the real issue, that is the need for order and the taking of responsibility by those who are capable of doing so, whether they are members of the Judiciary, prison service or the Garda Síochána, so that we have a reformed system which works properly and where social justice is the central concern.
I am participating in the debate under protest as we have not been given the information we require to make a worthwhile contribution. I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Smith.
That is agreed.
It was clear from the outset that the terms of reference of the inquiry were too narrow. The Taoiseach was unwilling to spell out the terms of reference when asked to do so and said they would become clear when the report was published. The terms of reference of the inquiry were too confined and narrow and the outcome is consequently predictable. The two distinguished gentlemen who carried out the inquiry stated that they did not have sufficient time to consider the matter fully and were making the report available at this time because they had been directed to do so.
The Minister told us action is to be taken, that is civil servants are to be disciplined. This was obvious from the outset as the inquiry was designed to get at civil servants. The Minister said the report stated that management must confront individuals who are deemed to have failed and, in accordance with the Civil Service disciplinary code, disciplinary proceedings are being initiated in the case of certain officials referred to in the report. That is a disgraceful conclusion and it is essentially a ministerial whitewash issue. In ways it is also a Government whitewash of it as the three leaders in Government agreed to the procedure.
The Minister referred to the normal procedures to be followed when a Government decision is handed down. It is important to bear in mind that we are not dealing with pieces of paper, trying to find where they went or looking for a paper trail. Rather we are dealing with the non-implementation of a Government decision. This decision was not taken by civil servants, it was taken by their political masters in Government.
The Minister informed us that existing procedures are being expanded so that important correspondence from other members of the Government, the Attorney General, the DPP or members of the Judiciary will be shown to the Minister. I held various ministries and, to my knowledge, it was never the case that a letter from another Minister, the Cabinet or any of the officeholders to whom the Minister for Justice referred would not be first shown to the Minister to whom it was sent. A copy would then be made and given to officials for appropriate action to be taken. The Minister would be aware of such letters from the outset. That has been the experience of myself and other Members who served in ministerial office.
The Minister of Justice's statement rings hollow and does not sound like a factual description of what happens in the public service, which is a good public service. The only people coming out of this affair with egg on their faces are civil servants, who are to be disciplined as a result. The Labour Party lined up behind Fine Gael and Democratic Left and stated that it should be written into the Minister's speech that civil servants will be disciplined and everyone will be happy. Everyone will not be happy because this issue involves many other fundamental issues.
The Minister made reference to the vital role of the Attorney General and Deputy O'Donoghue has already alluded strongly to this. The Minister stated that there has been much debate as to the Attorney General's role. She further stated that the report identifies that the Attorney General's letter of 11 October should have prompted action by the Department. The Attorney General's letter should have prompted action on his own behalf, not to mention that of the Department. The Attorney General is a constitutional officer with separate constitutional responsibilities and duties. When informed of this situation, the Attorney General should immediately have seen the dangers involved and should have acted instantly to ensure that no person was unlawfully imprisoned or detained.
Under the Constitution the Attorney General has a responsibility to ensure the protection of citizens and the vindication of their rights. When the Attorney General became aware of the reality on 2 October he should have moved instantly. He should have informed the Taoiseach by word of mouth and in any other way he saw fit. The letter was designed to cover his back and ensure he could later state that he had spoken to the Minister and sent her a letter. The Attorney General is central to this issue because he has a responsibility to vindicate the rights of the ordinary citizen. It is clear that the Attorney General was aware that the Special Criminal Court was unlawfully constituted and allowed it to proceed with its business.
It is for this reason that we require answers in connection with these matters. The Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, attempted to gloss over this issue last week. Quite obviously he tried to suggest that the Attorney General's role is as a law officer and an adviser to the Government. However, the Tánaiste and Members are aware that the role of the Attorney General is twofold. The Attorney General's second crucial role involves the protection of citizens, which is central to this discussion because he should have acted on that basis. We must inquire if he acted? Did he advise the Taoiseach? Is that information being kept from the House? I cannot understand why a brilliant person, who is well versed in the law, would not take the required action in an area of such gravity. We have not seen the end of this matter yet. The report stresses that the study is incomplete and more work will have to be done in that matter.
We operate under the Ministers and Secretaries Act. It is the democratic guarantee to ordinary citizens that their rights will ultimately be defended and overseen by Ministers in all Departments. I am aware that the Government wishes to hive off a great deal of this responsibility. This will require careful consideration because, if Ministers do not retain that responsibility, the democratic control of the ordinary people in relation to the Executive and its actions will be tremendously weakened. That cannot be allowed to happen.
We want the questions which were put to the Attorney General to form part of this debate. Since the investigation is incomplete, we believe the matter should be referred to a special committee of the House where it can be given the time and attention it deserves.
The following is a quotation from the summary of the inquiry:
What happened in this case was a chapter of accidents, each of which reinforced the adverse effects of the others. There were, as we have outlined above, strong ameliorating factors which explain much of what occurred. However, there was also human error. We have considered whether, on the basis of the information which has been placed before us, we are able to assess the respective contribution of flaws in the system and human error. We are satisfied that, because of the short duration of the Inquiry and the speed with which it necessarily had to be prepared, this is not possible. It is not possible either, and for the reasons of equity and natural justice we would not consider it desirable, to attempt to allocate blame between individuals. However, we have to say that what happened was quite inexcusable.
The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Gay Mitchell, has a brass neck to enter the House and accuse the Opposition of playing politics with the circumstances in which two honourable gentlemen, Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy, state categorically that "what happened was quite inexcusable".
Someone must be accountable and, in our democracy, the buck rests with the Minister of the day. If this were the only circumstance in which this Government encountered grave difficulty, perhaps one could state that these things could conceivably happen. However, those of us who served in ministerial office heretofore cannot understand it. Civil servants bring serious matters before Ministers on a regular basis. There is only one conceivable circumstance where this might not be the case, namely, where they decided, for whatever reason, that a Minister was incapable of making decisions.
There has been much running around Government Buildings by Ministers going in opposite directions, chasing their own personal agendas and causing more confusion than occurred at the Tower of Babel. The ongoing confusion has resulted in the mismanagement of every problem the country has faced during the past two years. From the peace process to hepatitis C, spiralling crime rates to BSE and the horrific escalation of drug abuse to this latest episode in a series of blunders, where a judge continued to preside over the Special Criminal Court when the letter terminating his period of office had been submitted to the Department of Justice months before, indecision has quickly plunged problems into crisis. The Departments of Health, Justice, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture, Food and Forestry are nothing but a shambles.
The Government built this castle on high moral ground. Where is the morality in the handling of the hepatitis C scandal? It is obvious the Government's attitude is that only women are involved. I am sure if men were affected in similar numbers the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, would not have used his energies to block court cases, protect the culprits and cause untold hardship to victims and their families. Indecision and stalling mechanisms have been the Government's policy on that matter, which sadly is resulting in the death of women.
Where is the morality in the tolerance of the current crime levels? At one time Fine Gael had a reputation for being tough on crime. Where is its decisive toughness now? It has been diluted, eroded and sidelined by Democratic Left. Where is the morality in the crisis facing farmers? The mishandling of the BSE crisis by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, is nothing short of disgraceful. Farm incomes are being dealt one blow after another by policy and lack of policy. The 10 per cent clawback in milk quotas is his latest blunder. If he did not hold such a serious position he would be a comical figure, remembered for his sexist "man of a woman" remark but, unfortunately, the men and women who make up the farming community will have no shortage of reminders of the reign of Ivan the terrible.
Where is the morality in allowing the drugs problem to rage through the country like a plague? Entire communities are living in a nightmare world where drug dealers openly ply their trade.
That did not start today or yesterday.
In desperation some communities have taken to the streets begging for action. Even the most closely knit rural communities are being penetrated by this poison. Where is the morality in the breakdown of the peace process? When Fianna Fáil left Government there was peace in Northern Ireland for the first time in 25 years and there was a political process in place to consolidate that peace. The Government sat back and watched it wither. When it was in crisis where was the Minister for Foreign Affairs? He was in foreign parts sorting out conflicts in other parts of the world while our peace process crumbled.
It is obvious from this latest episode of blunders that the Government is not working. Its buzz words of openness and transparency were thrown to the wind a long time ago. Under a cloak of political correctness it will do anything to stay in office and we will do everything in our power to ensure it does not.
Last week the Tánaiste was able to make snide remarks in the House and continue to lie about Fianna Fáil Ministers during the fall of the last Government. In view of the latest circumstances, how can he justify his stout defence of the indefensible? Where does he stand on truth and trust? He has never been, or will never be, the conscience of Fianna Fáil, but how can the people trust a man who can stand over that level of incompetence and failure to get at the truth or, if it is got at, to reveal it? How can the people trust a man who stands over an inadequate inquiry into a matter that lies at the heart of our democratic system, the workings of the Department of Justice, and fails to ensure that justice is done?
There has to be culpability when something so serious goes so wrong. Someone must be responsible to the people. When the Department of Justice, and the Minister who presides over that Department, falls into such dangerous disarray, the people deserve the truth. That is why we want a special committee of the House to deal with the matter. We are not putting the country to undue or unnecessary expense. We merely want to find out what is at the root of this problem.
I have tried in the past few minutes to indicate that this is one in a series of unbelievable blunders by the Government. It is time accountability and truthfulness were brought back into the House. We will insist on setting up a special committee to get at the truth and to have the questions relating to the Attorney General answered by the Taoiseach so that at some stage in the future we can get back to doing the real business of Government and Opposition. Fianna Fáil will do everything it can to make sure there is trust and confidence in our justice system but, unfortunately, that is not possible today because questions remain unanswered. Someone is hiding the facts behind this circumstance.
Nobody is hiding anything.
That is not good enough. The facts must come out in the open at a special committee and the Government must agree to it.
The report of the inquiry into the delisting of Judge Dominic Lynch from the Special Criminal Court panel makes sad reading. I am familiar with many of its statements because of my dealings with the Department of Justice in the past quarter of a century. A sad catalogue of errors occurred as the decision was passed from official A to official B and so on down the line to official G, but not implemented. I welcome the proposal to set up a tracking arrangement in the Department to provide proper lines of communication and to update its technology. This should have been done many years ago under successive Ministers for Justice. It is a welcome move following the failure to communicate the decision taken on 1 August last. Similar strategic management and tracking systems for correspondence should be established in all State and semi-State bodies, particularly in health boards and local authorities, from whom public representatives find it difficult to get information because of the absence of a modern information technology system.
I categorically deny the statement in theSunday independent of 17 November that “Six Labour TDs think Owen should step down”. That is not accurate. No Labour Deputy made a statement of that nature. The article states, “Despite the support in the Dail last week of the Tánaiste, Dick Spring, six Labour Deputies who have spoken to the Sunday independent feel that the Minister should have already resigned”.
Would the Deputy call them snakes in the grass?
The article goes on to state: "Without exception, they were willing to be quoted as supporting Mr. Spring's defence of Mrs Owen, but when asked for their candid opinion off the record, the unanimous verdict was that the Minister should have resigned". That is a fabrication, an anonymous statement and purely the imagination of the authors. It is inaccurate.
Shoot the messengers.
Charlie McCreevy put his foot in it.
Is the Minister saying that no senior counsel——
Deputy Ahern will have ample opportunity to put his views on the record. While that type of leading article in a main Sunday newspaper may not be out of character, it is inaccurate. I strongly criticise an anonymous article of that nature which gives the impression that a substantial number of Labour TDs had no confidence in the Minister. We clearly supported the view expressed by the Tánaiste in the House. We would not prejudge this report and come to such a conclusion.
Uno duce, una voce.
We are satisfied that the report in no way suggests that the resignation of the Minister is warranted.
Did the Deputy ever expect it would?
I know the Department of Justice probably better than most people in the House having dealt with it for almost a quarter of a century and I have had some bad experiences with it. Under Deputy Owen's stewardship, I have for the first time experienced the human face of the Department of Justice. I do not say that lightly because I have been extremely critical of the Department. I found the Minister open, considerate and courteous at all times in regard to matters which I brought to her attention and I also found the officials, prison and departmental, open for the first time. There has been a sea change in dealing with the Department.
For example, on one occasion I questioned why the visiting committee reports in the late 1970s had not been published for five to six years, even though the visiting committee legislation in 1925 states that they should be published on an annual basis and that the public are entitled, on request, to peruse them. I was refused the reports and had to go to the High Court to seek a copy of the annual prison reports. The Department of Justice refused to make the reports available to me in Dublin and informed me that I had to go to each prison to view the reports. I went to Portlaoise prison, was put into a portakabin and told I could read the reports but not take notes. I went to Cork prison, arrived ten minutes late, was not allowed into the prison to see the reports and had to go back to Dublin empty handed. I had to return to the High Court to get the Department to make the reports available to me in Dublin and it was forced to do so. That is the type of experience I and other members of the public have had in terms of the obsessive secrecy and communication difficulties within the Department. I have not had such experiences under the present Minister's stewardship and I deal with the Department more often now than in the past.
A concern of mine for the last two years has been to enact legislation for the transfer of sentenced persons. While I and the prisoners concerned and their families have had major difficulties with the Home Office, we have not experienced such difficulties with the Department of Justice in terms of its response to claims or its courteous attitude in dealing with queries. There is a new human side to the Department despite the criticisms in this report, which can still be made. The critical one in the summary recommendation of the report by Mr. Cromien and Mr. Molloy is the failure of the Department to adapt to major external forces and trends. It has not kept up with the changing times in dealing with the matters under its responsibility in an effective and institutional manner that is watertight and streamlined. That has led to the mistakes that we have talked about.
I refer to the main decision taken by the Minister which is the establishment of a prisons board. It is long overdue and was proposed officially in 1985 by the Whitaker committee of inquiry, a Government appointed body. Unfortunately, it has been sitting on the shelf, despite various Governments being in power since then. It is an extremely important proposal on the day-to-day administration of prisons which are a huge and sensitive business because of the throughput of large numbers of people — 8,000 to 10,000 people on an annual basis. It proposed that this should not be dealt with through the Civil Service, which was never the appropriate body for dealing with the nuts and bolts of prison administration, but through an agency or a board that would have specific responsibility. There would be far more authority delegated to the prison governors. It is strange that a prison governor has minimal responsibility for his jurisdiction and cannot make minor decisions with regard to people under his supervision without referring back in all cases to the Department.
It is also particularly important with regard to the nature of the prison system and the changing profile of prisoners that other agencies should be given an equal footing in prison administration and deal with the problems which arise alongside the security agency. If it is taken that the primary purpose of imprisonment is to deprive somebody of their liberty and the secondary purpose is to rehabilitate them so that they come out in a better state than when they went in, we must look carefully once the doors are closed behind them. The profile of prisoners has changed dramatically and a substantial number are inside for two types of offences, drugs and sexual. That was not the case two decades ago. A huge number of prison places are taken up by these prisoners who serve long sentences. A level of services has to be put in place to deal with them.
Any addict will commit crimes to feed his addiction but that does not mean that punishment is the solution. The solution is to take steps to wean them from addiction and provide them with proper counselling and treatment services so that when they leave prison they are drug free or can attend an external counselling service if necessary. Likewise there has been a modicum of response in terms of the treatment and counselling of sexual offenders. Given that one prison and half the space in another is occupied by offenders in that category, it is time we put in place a thorough and comprehensive set of such services.
Having initially considered the question of security provided by the Department of Justice, we must now consider the provision of services from other Departments, the first and foremost being a medical service by the Department of Health. I have never understood why local vocational education committees were empowered and given responsibility for providing educational services and no effort was made to give local health boards responsibility for the provision of medical services. A range of medical services is provided in the community, particularly in relation to drug offences, but a similar range of those services is not provided in the prisons. Only a few years ago it was denied that drugs were available in a prison setting and now we are lucky to find part of the prison system that is drug free. That is part of the changing profile of the prison population to which we have not adequately responded although the Minister has provided a drug treatment unit and a drug free unit in Mountjoy, both of which are long overdue. Nevertheless, a greater focus on the provision of medical services in the prison system is required.
The provision of education and training services in prisons is extremely important because prisoners have very little to do. They twiddle their thumbs in their cells, are locked up and are not gainfully employed. There is every reason to put in place adequate education and training services. That is why I would like a prison board established which would give equal status to the provision of what have been Cinderella services in the prison system in the past. I look forward to the establishment of the prison board and its effective operation.
I attended a fine production of Westside Story in Mountjoy last Monday night. I compliment the Minister for her vision in allowing that type of development. The prisoners put on a full scale production of the show to which they invited the public. There was a good deal of cheap propaganda put out about it, not by Fianna Fáil but by the Progressive Democrats in terms of the availability of tickets to the public for a show staged in an enclosed area within the prison walls. It would not have given rise to any lapse of security. That type of development is required to bring members of the public, particularly decision-makers and professionals who deal with prisoners, into contact with them. The proceeds of that production went to The Irish Association for Victim Support, which was welcome. That is the type of development required in a realistic approach to crime and punishment in our society.
The other major development of an independent Courts Service is also welcome. Developments are required in the District Court area. I welcome the news that additional courts will be provided, but the courts have too great a work volume with which to deal. District Court judges do not have enough time to deal with their work with the result that it is difficult for justice to be adequately administered.
New members of the Judiciary should have to undergo an educational-induction process prior to becoming a judge to ensure they are informed about the type of work on which they are about to embark and that they learn from the experience of other members on the Bench.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Seamus Brennan.
Carlow-Kilkenny): That is agreed.
Difficulties arose during the day on the ordering of business. Fianna Fáil's requests were quite simple. One was the publication of the Attorney General's letter of 1 November with or without the paragraph relating the legal advice with which the Government appears to be extremely reluctant to part company. The other two issues were more important. One concerned the questions we tabled to the Taoiseach in relation to the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice to which we requested answers irrespective of this debate. It was part of the understanding among the Whips when they met last week that the production of this report would not prejudice our right to have those questions answered. Unfortunately, the Government also saw fit to refuse that request and to break that commitment. The most important request was that made by Members on this side of the House to have a committee of the House investigate this issue.
It is fitting that I remind the Minister of the contents of the document, A Government of Renewal, to which her party and the other two parties in Government are party. Members of the Government said this Government would be more open, transparent and accountable. Their aims included reforming the Oireachtas to ensure the various organs of the State and the holders of high office in the State would be more answerable and accountable to the Legislature. What have we got so far? We have got a redefinition by the Minister and the Government of the word "accountable". They also said they would ensure Dáil Éireann has real power to investigate matters of serious public concern and that all holders of high office, including the Attorney General, would attend all relevant committees as appropriate. They further said that they would form a committee of investigation to investigate matters of serious public concern from time to time.
Apart from reneging on their earlier stance on Cabinet confidentiality the Government has reneged on other issues including this. In the Lowry affair they said they would amend the terms of reference of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies to allow us to investigate matters in those areas of public concern, but they hid behind the rules of the House.
On 15 December 1994 the Minister for Justice said, "at the very centre of political character there has always resided the principle of accountability." She has forgotten the fine words she uttered in 1994. On the Arcon affair, as reported at column 1136 of the Official Report of 27 October 1994, the Minister said "under the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 a Minister is responsible for everything that happens in his or her Department." She has forgotten what she said.
I have some gems of statements made by the Taoiseach but the best one was made on 30 November 1994 when he said "every time there is a political crisis in this House this Government seeks to blame administrators and turn it into an administrative crisis." What have we got in this report before the House? The report is a whitewash trying to put the blame on poor unfortunate civil servants.
In November 1992 the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring made a comment. I presume he was referring to the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, when, as reported in the Official Report, 5 November 1992, vol. 424, column 2314, he said:
This is the Taoiseach who says, over and over again, that the buck stops with him, but who makes every effort he can to ensure that the buck lands in the lap of the civil servants who work for him on behalf of the State.
This was a statement from someone who promised to reform Dáil procedures.
In the Official Report, 15 November 1994, vol. 447, column 52 the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, stated in relation to Mr. Harry Whelehan:
Irrespective of whether he [the Attorney General] personally saw the file ... [the Attorney General] bears ultimate responsibility for the manner in which his office failed ....
In applying that statement to this case we could substitute the Minister for Justice for the Attorney General.
Deputy Hogan, who appears as his masters direct, in the Official Report, 26 October 1994, vol. 446, column 951 stated with regard to the Arcon affair: "The Minister must admit that as head of his Department he is responsible for whatever action his officials take."
We do not have to go back to 1994 to find out how quickly this Government has turned on its words. On 12 November 1996 the Taoiseach told the House: "We need to know now not only what happened but when and why it happened. Only a completed inquiry will enable us to achieve that." He went on to say: "This emphasises the commitment of the Government to make information available and to account for its actions to the democratically elected representatives of the people." Today the Taoiseach hid behind the procedures in relation to the parliamentary questions
The Members from the Deputy's party walked out and made a show of themselves.
He refused to come to the House and answer questions. All the fine words he said a week ago are as naught.
The Deputy walked out. It was a big mistake.
The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy De Rossa, tried to airbrush the Attorney General out of the matter. They tried to say he had no role in the affair. When the Attorney General was put on notice that there was a problem in the Special Criminal Court he should have acted. He had a duty as legal adviser to the Government. If he were my legal adviser and he did not notify me of a problem I would get rid of him before too long.
If a lawyer learns about structural defects in a housing estate, for example, at a social function and he subsequently allows his clients to buy houses in the estate, he cannot wash his hands of the matter at a later stage. In this affair the Attorney General tried to do just that — he tried to claim it was not his job to insist that the decision was implemented. He was put on notice and he had a bounden constitutional duty to contact the Taoiseach to tell him there was a serious problem in the court and a duty to let the citizens know and to protect their interests.
The Special Criminal Court is not an ordinary court. It was set up to deal with serious crime. It takes away the right of a citizen under the Constitution to a jury trial. Nobody knows better than the Attorney General that every legal procedure must be adhered to meticulously because the Special Criminal Court decides the liberty of citizens without the right to a trial by jury. The Attorney General neglected his duty. He wrote a letter to the Minister for Justice. I wonder if the Attorney General and the Minister for justice are speaking to each other because it defies logic that he should write a letter to her and not follow it up given that he meets her so frequently. He also wrote a second letter to her on 1 November.
With regard to this report, it is unprecedented to ask private individuals to investigate whether office holders have performed their constitutional duties. It might be said that was not in the terms of reference of this report and that is one of the main reasons we were against the report in regard to the issue of political culpability. The accountability of office holders should be tested in this House, nowhere else. The Minister for Justice has redefined the issue of accountability by believing that she only has to appear in the House.
We asked for the matter to be investigated by an Oireachtas committee. The attitude of this Government may be contrasted with that of previous Governments when asked to set up a committee to investigate issues of concern. The commitments in the programme for Government with regard to special committees of investigation were balderdash. When the leaders of the three parties in Government formed the Government they decided to do what they liked. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Deputy De Rossa have treated this House with contemptible arrogance in not allowing a committee of the House to investigate a matter of serious concern.
The Deputy is disorderly. He should refer to the Minister for Social Welfare.
The Deputy should refer to the Minister by his title.
The Minister, Deputy De Rossa.
The Deputy does not know the Standing Orders.
The Government's attitude is in contrast with that of the Government in 1982 when it set up a committee at the behest of the Opposition. The Government at the time changed the Standing Orders of the House to allow the investigation of a minor allegation made by the Opposition which proved to be without foundation. In 1994 a committee of this House investigated events connected with the House.
The Government should be ashamed of its arrogance. My party would never go as low as the Government.
In most other jurisdictions a political fiasco such as this would have brought about the resignation of the country's Attorney General and Justice Minister. However, ours is no ordinary Government. It came to office with a promise of openness and accountability, yet it fails a litmus test of that promise.
Deputy O'Donoghue dealt with the role of the Attorney General in this affair. A total of 16 prisoners had to be released, rearrested and brought before the courts. The Attorney General and the judge involved sent two letters each to the Department of Justice. The Minister, the Taoiseach and the Attorney General do not offer themselves as being accountable — they shrug their shoulders and put the matter down to an administrative failure. So many prisoners released, rearrested and brought back before the courts hardly indicates just an administrative failure. What would have happened if they had already been sentenced by the Special Criminal Court? If they had to be released they could not be charged with same crimes again. That little clerical error would have turned into a criminal error.
Faced with this fiasco, instead of resignations the House today got a list of proposed actions from the Minister for Justice in order to ensure this does not happen again. First, we are to have the best management, organisational and information technology expertise — we are going to have computers in the Department of Justice. Will that answer letters and ensure the Minister is responsible? Like hell it will.
The second action the Minister will take is to "draw up appropriate terms of reference for management consultants". These consultants "will carry out a critical analysis of the functions of the Department of Justice".
The functions of the Department of Justice are written in our Constitution and laws and we all know them. We do not need to draft terms of reference so that management consultants can find out what the functions of the Department of Justice are. That is utter nonsense and an insult to this House. The first two actions of the Minister will be to get more computers and an analysis of the functions of the Department. That is very interesting but it would be much better to just answer the letters.
Or open them.
The third proposed action is that "the work of the management consultants will be overseen by a small steering group with secretarial back-up". They will not be left on their own because that would be too simple — they could not see to it that letters were answered or that judges were told of decisions. The steering group will consist of senior members of the Department, members of the private sector and Deputy Secretaries assigned from other Departments.
There will be a steering group to oversee the management consultants inquiring into the functions of the Department of Justice. That is patent rubbish and nonsense. There is no need to bring in management consultants to find out how to tell a judge that the Government has transferred him. One does not need management consultants, topped up with a steering group, in order to answer the Attorney General's letter. One does not need all this paraphernalia to respond to a crisis such as this. The simple things should be done properly. Letters should be answered, Government decisions should be conveyed and the business of the Department of Justice should be conducted properly.
This is all a smokescreen and the lamest, limpest response I have ever seen. The first three proposed actions of the Minister are the provision of new computers, management consultants to analyse the functions of the Department and, in case they get carried away, a steering group of officials to keep an eye on them while they analyse those functions. So far we have not got anywhere.
The fourth proposed action is that management will "confront individuals who are deemed to have failed". However, we are not told who these individuals are. We are certainly not told if the people who are really at fault — the Attorney General, the Minister and the Taoiseach — will be confronted. Will the people who are really at fault be confronted? This side of the House has strenuously and trenchantly attempted for days on end to have that confrontation and we will continue to do so. Confronting the individuals who are deemed to have failed is just looking for a scapegoat in the Civil Service. According to the quotation from 1994 cited by my colleague, Deputy Dermot Ahern, an administrative person has to be located every time there is a political problem, which is precisely what this Government is doing. The first four actions of the Minister amount to a bottle of smoke.
The fifth proposed action of the Minister is to appoint an Assistant Secretary in the courts division who will have — and this is a classic —"personal responsibility to ensure that those concerned implement the decision". It will no longer be the Minister's job to tell people that the Government has made a decision but will be the job of an Assistant Secretary. The words "personal responsibility" are an interesting choice by the Minister. Since when is it not the responsibility of a Minister leaving a Cabinet meeting to ensure a decision is implemented? Is that now to be the responsibility of an Assistant Secretary in the courts division?
If this House accepted that, it would mean that if in the future a Cabinet decision was not implemented while a Minister was at home or on holiday, she could point to this speech and say that years ago an Assistant Secretary had been given personal responsibility for implementing that decision. It is a classic cop out to give an individual such personal responsibility. If the Minister wants to make such a change she will have to amend the Ministers and Secretaries Act. She cannot suddenly say in a smokescreen speech that she has decided Assistant Secretary "X" is responsible for carrying out Government decisions. Assistant Secretary "X" was not elected or appointed to the Cabinet but the Minister was and she is responsible. There is no proposal in this speech to change the Ministers and Secretaries Act, which the Minister should do if she really wants this to happen.
These proposals for action are a total smokescreen. In case we are not fully convinced, there is a further gem which I read a few times to ensure it meant what I thought it did. It states "More widely, arrangements have been put in place which will require all Assistant Secretaries in the Department to ensure that all Government decisions affecting their areas of responsibility are implemented". We are to have a new regime whereby Departments will be responsible for carrying out Government decisions. What a wonderful, new, breathtaking, creative piece of speechmaking. The Minister stated she is proposing to take five actions, of which this is one.
She forgot the sixth.
Government decisions will now have to be carried out by the Department. That is not new.
Deputy Brennan is struggling. It is very hard for him to make a speech. He is always struggling.
I have made it quite clear that the Minister's response to the House comes down to five or six courses of action, all of which are total nonsense. They reiterate existing provisions, pinpoint individual members of staff and say it will be the personal responsibility of an Assistant Secretary. That is a lame, unacceptable response. The only proper response to this fiasco is for the Minister, the Attorney General and the Taoiseach to do the honourable thing and leave their posts forthwith.
While what happened in the Department of Justice is a mystery, the approach of the Opposition to this debate is equally mysterious. It is in a quandary about how to handle this debate. It argued last week that the period of time allocated to the motion of no confidence was insufficient. The Government agreed to the Opposition's request and there was a two day debate last week on that motion. The Opposition almost had difficulty in ensuring the debate lasted for the full two days. It was offered two days this week to debate the report of the inquiry because we know of its thirst for argument, but it is not happy.
The Deputy can run but she cannot hide. That is what the Government has been doing.
Deputy Ahearn is entitled to speak.
If Deputy Ahern cannot win the match after being on the field for four days he should go to the sideline. The Opposition has been given four days to debate this issue and it is not winning.
Face the people.
The Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, has been totally exonerated by the report of the inquiry in the Department of Justice into the delisting of Judge Dominic Lynch from the Special Criminal Court panel.
It was a mystery.
We all realise that such an inquiry should never have been necessary and what happened in relation to Judge Lynch's removal should never have happened. The Minister for Justice acted correctly in setting up this inquiry which we all acknowledge was conducted by very able, experienced and well respected persons. Those who read the inquiry report will see it is quite clear and honest in highlighting the alarming and almost unimaginable deficiencies in the Department of Justice. It is a matter of grave concern that business is operated in such a cumbersome, outdated and inefficient manner.
However, the appalling incompetence within the Department did not start when the Minister took up office in December 1994. She inherited a Department, with its structure and systems, which had been headed by a Fianna Fáil Minister for the previous nine years. During this time these deplorable and ineffective structures were allowed to grow. Nobody had the time or the courage to introduce the changes that were blatantly necessary to meet the growing demands on the Department in an increasingly crime and drugs dominated society. All previous Ministers operated under the same structures and system as the Minister. They are in no position to throw stones at her.
The task for any Minister for Justice is so daunting nowadays that it is surely impossible to expect her or him to be a watchdog over the different sections of the Department. The Minster rightly devoted her time and energy to introducing major anti-drug packages, a major anti-crime package, reform of the bail law, reform of the courts, the provision of additional prison spaces and a root and branch review of the Garda Síochána. These were her priorities and I congratulate her on them. Surely the Opposition does not expect that her task as Minister should have been to scrutinise the work of her officials and that of her civil servants. If she had to devote herself to such duties, the radical reforms and measures she has introduced would never have appeared and we would all have been the losers.
The Minister has been badly let down by those whom she trusted, those whom she believed would give the same attention to detail, the same energy and commitment and hold the same standards as she applies to her duties. I was appalled but unsurprised by the statement in the report to the effect that there appears to be a culture within the Department which supports a strong tendency to deal only with what is considered to be "my own job". No Department or business could survive within that culture. It is lethal to allow it to develop and it must be eradicated immediately. A culture of "my own job" inevitably leads to nobody being responsible for some jobs. This should not be tolerated. Mistakes, errors and omissions are bound to happen without a co-operative teamwork spirit. This is essential because those working in or running a Department must realise that they are running the country. This means that one job is everybody's job and it is the responsibility of everybody to ensure that no work is undone.
Is the Department alone in its administrative and structural deficiencies? Perhaps it is time to investigate the workings of all Government Departments. It is all too easy to be anonymous within the system. Once one is anonymous one is not blamed. Yesterday I telephoned a Government Department from my constituency office. I encountered seven answering machines and failed to speak to anybody. New and better technology is no substitute for people. It should not be used where competent and resourceful staff is needed.
The inquiry established the sequence of events to the best of its ability but it is perhaps regrettable it did not establish who was responsible for the failure. While it must be recognised that there is work overload and that some staff have little or no experience — these factors have been highlighted as one of the causes of the failure — it must also be recognised that someone did not deem it his or her job to deal with the letter in question. In a Department so crucial as the Department of Justice, there is no room for anybody at any level assuming that somebody else did the job. The report makes clear that officials repeatedly assumed that other members of staff were dealing with the matter. This is not good enough.
The Opposition has called on the Minister to resign. There is no reason she should do so. Would the resignation of a Minister do anything to correct the inefficiencies outlined in this report? Would it bring about the necessary reforms in the Department? As always, the Opposition is only interested in resignations, not in improving the system and not in ensuring that failures such as this will not happen in the future.
The recommendations contained in the report, which include an overhaul of the outdated structures in the Department, are the most positive outcome of the inquiry. The report makes clear it is vital that they are addressed immediately. We must allow no opportunity for a repeat of this situation. It is alarming to consider that the most basic deficiencies within the Department include a lack of communications, structures and well established procedures. The inquiry team has warned that its report should not be left to gather dust. It rightly calls for the political will and the financial commitment to implement its recommendations. I am glad the Minister stated in the House today that they will be implemented in full.
The report exonerates the Minister by finding a failure of procedures, an inappropriate institutional framework, weak management, staff inexperience and shortcomings in personnel policy and practice. The state of decay within the Department did not take place in the past two years. The Minister has discharged her responsibilities and duties in an able, dedicated and responsible manner. She has never abdicated her responsibilities, reneged on her duties or abandoned her work. She has not diminished her desire to create a safer, fairer and more just society.
The Opposition has sought the resignation of the Taoiseach, the Attorney General and the Minister. However, it must accept that there will be no head on a plate. The Minister should be allowed to get back to her work and to continue her programme of reform and action. She has introduced more reforms to the justice system than any Minister in recent times and has worked unceasingly to tackle the twin problems of crime and abuse.
I am proud to be a colleague of the Minister, Deputy Owen, and of her record. The best the Opposition can offer is to allow the Minister for Justice and the Government to continue their work. It should allow the Minister to provide the reforms and actions that people want but which were not implemented until the Minister took office. The letter will be debated for four days. This is sufficient time and our duty is to allow the Minister to get back to work. She should be allowed to continue her excellent work in helping people to live in a safer and better environment than they had in the past.
I intended to start at a sprint pace but I will do a middle distance jog. The Taoiseach told the House on 12 November in relation to this sordid matter:
We need to know not only what happened but when and why it happened. Only a completed inquiry will enable us to achieve that.
On the same day the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, said she wanted to make it clear that all the facts would be established and made known to the House. In addition, she said "the key issues in the inquiry were to establish precisely what happened". The Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, said on 12 November "that we need to get to the bottom of this saga and sort out the areas where there are personnel and procedural logjams". The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, on 12 November 1996, in one of the most spiteful contributions to the House in recent times, said "the ramifications and implications of the investigation would be followed wherever they led. We know where they led."
They led to the Minister's office, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Taoiseach. The first paragraph of the inquiry's report states:
The results of our efforts to follow the `paper trail' came to an unsatisfactory dead-end at crucial points, with key individuals unable to recollect important details, or failing to recognise the seriousness of vital correspondence.
The key individual in the Department of Justice is the Minister, Deputy Owen, who is responsible for the Department's activities. The report further states:
It has to be said straight away that the result of our enquiries here was very unsatisfactory .... In this unsatisfactory way, the trail in relation to the Government Decision ran into the sand.
The Opposition has been asked to accept this report. However, we and the people do not accept it. I challenge the rainbow coalition to consult the electorate because it is horrified by what has gone on in the name of Government over the past two years. In common with most people, I have observed with horror and amazement the administrative anarchy over which the Minister, Deputy Owen, has presided in her time in the Department. The drip feed of information on this grave matter has been accompanied by a major attempt to pass the buck.
The Government passes the buck to civil servants or to programme managers, who were supposed to streamline the system and ensure Government decisions were effected. The report states that the Minister's programme manager also received a copy of the Government decision. They are paid over £45,000 a year and the Minister should insist that they do something. The Minister passed the buck to information technology. The Minister, the Attorney General and the Cabinet have behaved pathetically in this sordid matter. Do any of them have the slightest concept of their solemn duties to the people and the House?
We have heard enough bunkum in recent years about openness, transparency and accountability. However, we have seen it in high relief in the past few weeks in the House where Ministers, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leader of Democratic Left have, in the most craven manner, clung to office at all costs and dragged unfortunate backbenchers in to hold up this sordid edifice which passes for Government. The behaviour of all concerned is disgraceful but nothing to date could adequately prepare one for the shocking disclosures in the report on this affair.
Before considering some of the points in the report, we should consider the fact that the two people asked to carry out the investigation in the Department of Justice in a week found it necessary to make nine substantial recommendations regarding the Minister's operation. If they could do that in seven days, what would they have recommended if they had the time they said they needed to carry out a proper examination of the way the Minister for Justice operates? I was a Minister for some time and there are no circumstances under which a responsible Minister, having carried a memorandum to Government which was passed by the Cabinet, would not ensure the decision was implemented. The Minister as a member of the Cabinet has a duty to do so.
I feel sorry for Government backbenchers when they hear the Minister has made another appalling blunder for which there are no excuses. How can they defend the indefensible? There are no circumstances under which that type of thing should happen. However, two memorandums were prepared in the Department and when the Minister finally received a letter addressed personally to her, she rang an unfortunate individual in the courts division but she was unable to communicate the message that the judge involved was Judge Dominic Lynch. The unfortunate civil servant did not know about whom she was talking and they got the message mixed up. What should one think of a Minister who cannot deliver a message in relation to an unconstitutional matter?
While the Cabinet decision to accede to Judge Lynch's request was circulated to five individuals, the Minister totally failed to receive the information or to act on it. What should one think of a report which mentions some type of systems failure? The one consistent factor in a systems failure is that it consistently fails to operate. However, in this case, it does not operate consistently. Some letters are seen but others are not seen; some communications find their way to the Minister's office but others do not. How can there be a systems failure where sometimes it works and other times it does not? It is an appalling way to treat such an important and constitutional matter. Criminals can take solace from the way the Department of Justice is being run. If the Minister makes a hames of the most urgent and imminent decisions, not once but several times, how can we expect justice to be run properly in this democracy?
What should we make of the Minister, Deputy Owen's amazing performance regarding the Special Criminal Court débâcle? I do not doubt her personal integrity and good intentions but she has no alternative but to admit that her time as Minister for Justice has been a profound disaster. From the start she appeared to totally fail to grasp the importance of her Department and the vital need for control, vision and accountability on her part. Apart from the welcome plagiarisation of Fianna Fáil legislation, expertly put together by Deputy O'Donoghue, her attempts to further the process of law reform has been virtually non existent. She boasts about what has been done in that area, but the trail of those reforms leads to Deputy O'Donoghue. The Minister and the Government have no option but to face the music and the wrath of the electorate before they do any more damage to our fragile democracy.