Independent Inquiry in the Department of Justice: Statements (Resumed).

Fianna Fáil is participating in this debate under protest because the Government parties have engaged in sharp parliamentary tactics to avoid answering legitimate Opposition questions to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice on her role and that of the Attorney General in this affair. Despite the commitments given by the Taoiseach in the House last week and the week before to the effect that he and the Minister would answer all questions, it is regrettable that they have essentially run away from answering questions tabled by the Opposition.

What does language mean in this Parliament? Does accountability mean anything in terms of commitments given to reform the Dáil, to change procedures and to facilitate the process of answerability? I ask this question because on 16 November 1994 the Taoiseach stated:

We need a new Government that will reform the institutions of this State to make every Member of this House who holds office truly accountable. We need reform to ensure that when the answers to questions asked in the House are not adequate the Ceann Comhairle can demand that a further answer be given.

However, the Government has not reformed the institutions of the State, changed the rules governing Question Time or given the Ceann Comhairle extra power to force Ministers to answer questions. As a Front Bench member of Fianna Fáil I have considerable experience in tabling parliamentary questions and the entire process is designed to avoid answering questions. I can give numerous examples where I received no answers to fairly routine questions. In one case the Minister for Education refused to disclose correspondence between her and Westmeath Vocational Education Committee. On another occasion I was informed that answers can only be given on a confidential basis and may not be published.

During last week's confidence debate, the Tánaiste made a very bitter contribution. He spoke in a hypocritical way about the need to introduce a freedom of information Bill. I make the charge that the Tánaiste must rank as one of the great political hypocrites of our era. He does not believe a word he utters and bandies words about. He referred to the urgent need for a freedom of information Bill, yet, in this case, our request that all correspondence sent to the Minister by the Attorney General should be disclosed has been refused by the Government which has taken a conscious, deliberate decision not to publish the Attorney General's letter to the Minister for Justice in connection with delisting Judge Lynch. It is appalling political hypocrisy that the Tánaiste spoke about the urgency of freedom of information when he did not really believe what he said. We do not have access to the basic and necessary information to which we are entitled to make proper and informed judgments on this case. For this reason we sought the establishment of a select inquiry by a committee of the House which would inquire comprehensively into this sordid affair and have access to all documentation in the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Justice and the Taoiseach's office. The committee would be able to interview everyone connected with the sordid episode involving the delisting of Justice Lynch.

Why is the Government afraid to publish the necessary correspondence? Why is it afraid to publish the Attorney General's letter to the Minister for Justice?

The Government is not afraid.

Why will it not publish the letter? The Minister should not refer to any nonsense about court cases because I do not believe her. In the past, previous Governments made correspondence available to this House and to a select committee of inquiry. If the Government believes in transparency and public accountability, why will it not agree to the establishment of a select committee of inquiry? Why will it not agree to make documentation and correspondence available to such a committee? We have not received adequate answers to these questions.

We also witnessed the sharpest of political tactics on the part of the Government in the manner in which it scheduled this debate. Undertakings were given to Fianna Fáil's Chief Whip that replies would be provided to questions to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice which were tabled for answer yesterday. The Whip was informed that those questions would not be ruled out of order or undermined by the scheduling of the debate on the inquiry report. However, that commitment was not honoured. Despite the fact that Fianna Fáil's Chief Whip reported in good faith to the party's Leader and Front Bench that questions could be tabled, the Government engaged in sharp practice and questions to the Taoiseach relating to this affair did not fall for answer. In addition, specific and precise questions to the Minister for Justice were not admissible yesterday. That says much about political accountability and the Government's obvious desire to run away from it.

I respectfully request that the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste put a stop to the hypocrisy of announcing and placing commitments into the Programme for Government about freedom of information and the need for this democracy to have greater access to such information. The Government does not believe in honouring those commitments.

I listened with great interest to the Tánaiste's contribution on Wednesday last. On Thursday, during Question Time, I asked the Minister for Education if she would make available and publish correspondence between herself and Westmeath Vocational Education Committee about a project in Montbard in France. At the end of her reply she informed me that it is highly unusual to disclose departmental files to the House and publish the said correspondence. She did this despite the fact that, under the 1930 Act, a vocational education committee is a public institution and any correspondence to the chief executive of such a committee isde facto a public letter and, in so far as vocational education committees are democratically elected bodies, chief executive officers are obliged to provide correspondence to their members. However, the Minister refused to make that correspondence available to the House. This occurred on the morning after the Tánaiste had spoken in eloquent terms about the need for a freedom of information Bill. That is nothing but hypocrisy.

The Government can argue that it is working on the Bill, checking the various drafts, etc., but there is no reason it cannot act in the spirit of a freedom of information Bill. There is also no reason the Government cannot increase the momentum by opening the files and allowing people access to the most routine correspondence, particularly parliamentarians who require such access to make informed contributions to debates in this House. The Government does not mean a word it says.

I have no doubt that the public are becoming fed up with the hypocrisy of the Tánaiste and his party. Last week, they witnessed a most hypocritical performance in terms of the issues and principles of public and political accountability to this House. It must be stated that political accountability does not exist.

We are asking that the Taoiseach answer question in the House about the role of the Attorney General, which is a legitimate and reasonable request; we are seeking the establishment of a select committee of inquiry to comprehensively investigate this affair, which would have access to all necessary documentation; we are seeking the urgent publication of the letter that the Attorney General sent to the Minister for Justice on 1 November and, above all, we seek political accountability. People must take responsibility. From the findings of the Cromien inquiry, it is clear no one is taking responsibility for the sordid nature of this debacle. It seems that civil servants must take the fall for political failure and negligence on the part of the Minister, the Attorney General and others in the Government.

On the major political issue involving calls for the resignation of the Minister, the findings of this report are very clear and definite: the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, is completely and absolutely exonerated from any blame. That has been established without any room for qualifications or challenge, no matter how hard the Opposition parties may try. That is the real reason those parties walked out of the Chamber yesterday. I am glad one party has seen fit to return. That is also the reason for the orchestrated and phoney protest about questions not being answered. Regardless of the questions the Opposition parties intend to table or the way they interpret the report and juggle its contents, they will find nothing which will enable them to revive their now flagging, if not completely fizzled out, attack on the Minister.

In the absence of some sort of ammunition, they opted yesterday for a tactical withdrawal. I am glad Fianna Fáil returned to take part in this debate, which has moved on. We are presented with an opportunity and imperative for a root and branch reorganisation of the Department of Justice. Practically every line of the report cries out for action in that respect. This matter is no longer concerned with the delisting of Judge Lynch; it involves the urgent reform of the Department of Justice. The report leaves no doubt about the extent of the work to be done. It states that nothing short of a comprehensive transformation of the Department of Justice is necessary. Even though the inquiry was about a specific area and worked against a strict deadline, what the two men involved unearthed caused them to call for a comprehensive transformation of the Department. I am pleased that Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy warned against allowing the report to gather dust. They obviously know something about politicians because, as we all know, many reports end up gathering dust. They are wise men in more ways than one.

The report confirms what we have suspected for some time, that the Department of Justice is pervaded by a culture of secrecy and has failed to adjust to changing times and practices. As head of the Government Information Service in the 1970s, I made modest endeavours to improve dealings with the media and to get away from the secrecy culture. When a high ranking official from St. Stephen's Green entered my office in Government Buildings he spotted a hairline crack in the paint and for the following three quarters of an hour I got a lecture on how a prisoner in Portlaoise prison could conceal enough explosives to blow out the walls of the prison behind a hairline crack of that nature. That was the end of my endeavours to get openness and to improve attitudes to public relations in the Department.

Under the heading "Causes of the Failures" the report states, "In the present organisational context [of the Department], the likelihood of human error is high; accidents are bound to happen". It goes on to state that it is a tribute to the staff of the Department that there are so few errors. What could be more damning in such a sensitive Department? The structure is such that accidents are bound to happen and the report expresses surprise that more accidents of this nature have not happened.

The mega-inefficiencies we are dealing with in the Judge Lynch delisting saga were not built up in the two years this Minister has been in charge or by the current staff in the Department. They were built up over many decades under successive Ministers and Governments and, to a large extent, are the products of the culture of secrecy fostered by some very senior people in the Department in the past. On the political side, it is interesting to note that in earlier years the Department was regarded for some time as a soft landing area for Ministers who were becoming less active. I believe it was during that period the Department went into its own orbit. That, of course, is no longer the case and the current Minister and her predecessors over a number of years will verify that it is no longer a soft landing place for a Minister.

Despite the fact that the report was produced in a tight deadline, it makes some courageous statements. It states, "In view of all that has been said in this Report and in the wider public arena over many years about the Department of Justice, this should be a defining moment for the Department". That is straight talking and puts it up to the Government and Members of the Oireachtas. In criticising the Department, we must accept that it has faced enormously increased pressures in recent years, some of which were outlined by the Minister yesterday. Its workload in dealing with crime and lawlessness, European Union matters, prison overcrowding and the Northern Ireland peace process has increased significantly. We must also admit that certain areas of the Department has been grossly understaffed. The Association of Higher Civil Servants stated that it could not guarantee an adequate service to the Minister under the present structures and staffing levels, an amazing statement from a trade union organisation.

When she became aware that a problem existed about the Judge Lynch delisting, the Minister, Deputy Owen, acted decisively, openly and speedily. She set up the inquiry and I am sure Members from all sides accept its objectivity. The report states that what happened was "quite inexcusable". That puts it mildly — in the political arena, it could be called the understatement of the year. The Minister made a statement and promised action. The report outlines the critical success factors for reforming the Department and we are told how we can help. I am confident that in the 12 months before the next general election the Minister for Justice will implement as many of those reforms as possible. We should heed the report's warning that, "If this report were to be published and then left, after a flurry of activity, to gather dust it would not be the first time such a fate befell a report such as this one". The present and succeeding Governments will need to keep this issue high on their agenda and ensure adequate financial provision and political support for the reforms advocated. The Minister has already acted. I look forward to her continued action in the coming year. I believe she will have the full support of the Houses of the Oireachtas and I hope she will have the full support of the Executive in transforming the Department, so that much good will follow from the sad saga of the Judge Lynch delisting case.

In setting up this inquiry the Government no doubt hoped it would assist it in its efforts at political whitewash. It did not get that type of report, which is a tribute to the integrity of those who compiled it. It is an indictment of the Minister that two distinguished public servants should have to go into her Department to find out what went drastically wrong, something she is incapable of establishing.

The inquiry represents an abdication of the Minister's constitutional responsibility for her Department. Management consultants are to be employed to reorganise the Department. Unfortunately, the Minister is forever running to catch up with the latest crisis. Every package of measures she announces is on foot of a new disaster. The Minister is not in charge, she is pushed from pillar to post by the pressures of one fiasco after another.

The identification of serious deficiencies in the Department of Justice does not exonerate the Minister from political accountability from an episode the court describes as "quite inexcusable". It is understandable that for reasons of equity and natural justice the authors of the report stated that they "would not consider it desirable to attempt to allocate blame between individuals". I am not surprised they are unwilling to single out individual civil servants for blame. That is not their task when the Minister, the Attorney General or the Government in general are not prepared to shoulder any part of the blame.

On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I compliment the authors of the report on refusing to scapegoat civil servants, who were doing their job but not given ministerial leadership. The House should thank the two distinguished public servants, Mr. Seán Cromien, who is well known to Members for his long service to the public and to many of the agencies on which he worked so actively, and Dr. Edmond Molloy for conducting the inquiry expeditiously and efficiently. They worked extremely hard and gave their time, though it was limited, to this case. Their report is a comprehensive and damning indictment of the way the Minister and her Department conduct their business. One has only to look at the headings —"No System in Place", "Failure of the Department of Justice to adapt to major external forces and trends", "Inappropriate Institutional Framework", "Inappropriate Organisation Structure for the Courts Division and Department of Justice", "Very Weak Management Processes", "Work Overload", "Staff inexperience and Poor Job Handover from Previous Incumbents", "Other shortcomings in personnel Policy and Practice", "Inadequacy of Information Technology, Support", and "Human Error".

There is no valid distinction to be drawn between the Minister and the Department. The Minister is head of her Department. Section 2 (i) of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, states that each of the Ministers, heads of the respective Departments of State mentioned in section 1 of this Act, shall be a corporation sole under his style or name aforesaid.

The Government may intend to reform this Act but they have not yet done so. The Act is not relevant to this case which is not about a minor misdemeanour by a junior official of which the Minister could reasonably be expected to know nothing. I am totally opposed to any reform that would diminish the Minister's responsibility for the fiasco in this case, which involves a Government decision and correspondence that ought properly to have had the Minister's personal attention. It is clear from the report that the problems go far beyond this particular débacle. The authors believe that there may be other disasters waiting to happen elsewhere in the Department. This does not inspire confidence. The report is particularly critical of management in the Department, but that cannot be divorced from the Minister who is appointed for the purpose of managing a Department. The report indicates that the Department operates virtually on auto pilot and there is little evidence of ministerial engagement or guidance. There was no one watching the control panel for the warning signals that were flashing. The Minister has not succeeded in putting a personal stamp of authority on her Department. The picture presented in the report is of a ramshackle Department, with no evidence of the Minister taking action to improve efficiency and accountability.

There are over 31,000 civil servants in this State. The number has risen by over 1,000 since this Government took office in December 1994. There is an ample number of public servants if they are properly deployed, managed and instructed to carry out and implement Government policies and instructions, but to work the system requires clear direction from the political head of the Department and senior civil servants. The report shows above all the complete failure of the Minister to manage her Department competently. It is no surprise that the débâcle happened under this accident prone Minister. Resources may also have been overstretched under other Governments, but under good Ministers, like the three previous incumbents, Deputies Geoghegan-Quinn, Burke and Collins, the essential jobs were done quickly and efficiently and civil servants were motivated to perform. Nobody had to ask in their day whether there was someone in charge. They inspired public confidence; the present Minister does not.

The inquiry does not answer many key questions relating to ministerial responsibility. The Minister sought and obtained a decision from the Government on 1 August. The decision should have taken effect from 7 October, not 1 August, as originally intended, but there was a mix-up. The Minister did not ask the critical questions which would have prevented her from asking for a decision to become operative on the wrong date. As a result invalid court sittings took place for two months longer than should have been necessary. There is no evidence in the report that the Minister was personally involved in any follow up after the Government meeting. It is not clear that she briefed any official on return from Government, or gave any instructions for a follow through on the decision. This is a basic part of a Minister's job.

This débâcle has gone on for more than two weeks and I want answers. It was always part of the routine job of a Minister that decisions relevant to him or her following a Government meeting would be checked by a competent senior official or that the Minister left the meeting and had a meeting with civil servants and the Secretary of the Department and then the matter was followed through. That was the practice we followed.

She must have believed that would happen automatically, an unwise assumption as experienced Ministers know. There is no precedent for this decision but I am still surprised in the circumstances that the Minister did not instruct her officials to draft a letter for her thanking the judge for his ten years' service on the Special Criminal Court. The absence of such a letter shows a lamentable lack of the human touch and gratitude by the State towards those who take on a difficult and sensitive task.

On 6 November, three months later, Judge Lynch was finally given a photocopy ofIris Oifigúil. What appalling rudeness and discourtesy on the part of the Minister towards the Judiciary that she could not reply in person to the judge's letters. If the Minister had gone through the decision with officials on her return to her Department and asked for a letter of notification and thanks to be drawn up for her signature to Judge Lynch, the débâcle would most likely not have occurred. I want to know why the Minister failed to do that. A copy of the decision went for information to the programme manager. Programme managers, if they serve any useful purpose, which is open to question, are there to monitor that the Minister's wishes and decisions are executed. The programme manager did nothing in this instance, casting further doubt on the value of that system.

The matter was important enough for the Attorney General to write personally to the Minister on 2 October but it is unclear whether he realised that the continued sitting of Judge Lynch ran the danger of invalidating the detention of 16 or 17 subversive prisoners. If the Attorney General did not realise the full implications at the time of writing the letter, it was a serious lapse on his part; if he did, he should have done more than write a letter. He should have spoken to the Minister either in person or by telephone by way of follow up. Although the Attorney General has effectively delegated his former powers in regard to criminal prosecutions to the Director of Public Prosecutions, as the primary law officer of the State he retains an overseeing role. Anything that would undermine a whole series of prosecutions of subversive crimes is surely the direct business and concern of the Attorney General. I do not accept that in writing to the Minister he was doing her a special favour outside of his responsibilities. The letter was issued by him in direct performance of his core duties, and there should have been a proper follow up. In the last paragraph of the Attorney General's letter he said that if Judge Lynch's delisting had been officially notified both to him and the President of the Circuit Court he would be free to write to Judge Kenny confirming that Judge Lynch was no longer a member of the Special Criminal Court. It is clear that the Attorney General is involved, informally at least, in correspondence with judges about the composition of courts. That corrects the point that has been made a number of times in the last week. He admits that in his letter. The Taoiseach has refused to answer questions put down to him on the role of the Attorney General, despite his responsibility for that office.

Nobody in Fianna Fáil misunderstands the importance of the EU Presidency. We have been internationally acclaimed as experts on the Presidency. Recently in this House Chancellor Kohl made remarks to that effect for which the party is grateful. The party understands that the Taoiseach has duties, but he should tell us when he is not available so that Members are not running around trying to get parliamentary questions in on time according to the rather strict guidelines of this House. It is not within our control to change and it fits in with the administrative system. Not alone did he not tell us but a Whip heard about it late last night and informed me early this morning.

The Taoiseach, as brazen as anything, said in the House yesterday that any questions not answered because they were disallowed by the Chair's office, with which we do not have any argument, would be taken next week and he would be glad to answer them. He said that 24 hours ago, knowing full well that he had no intention of being here next week and that those questions would be ruled out of order next week. No Minister of State will take questions relating to the Attorney General next week. Let us be sensible about that. Those questions will be ruled out of order by one device or another. All the Taoiseach had to say was that we should table them for the following week. I may be wrong, perhaps those urgent meetings of international importance were arranged only late last night, but I very much doubt that. Why did the Taoiseach say in a calm tone that he would definitely answer those questions next week when he knew he would be 1,000 miles from here? That was discourteous to the Opposition. Perhaps he would at least do us the courtesy of telling us when he will be here between now and 15 December. I understand he will be missing for quite a few days and I have no difficulty with that, but he should not play blind man's buff with the Opposition.

He misled the House.

He does not want to answer those questions because he does not have convincing answers. Maybe that is why he arranged a few meetings to get away from here. Far from this being a Government of openness, transparency and accountability we have a closed, impenetrable and unaccountable one operating behind a frosted pane of glass. That is clear for the world to see.

I warn the Taoiseach and his colleagues that if they are still tempted to come looking for heads, which some of them are useful at requesting and make an occupation of it, they cannot skirt around those of the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General. Until either or both are willing to carry their share of the blame, then and only then, to use the words of the report, is the Government entitled "to examine the degree of culpability attaching to individuals" in a wider sense, also having regard to the track record of individuals. It is precisely because of the track record that last week we called for these matters to be dealt with.

A statement in the report states:

Official G explained to us that an enormous volume of letters was received in the private office of the Minister every day. When a letter such as the one from the Attorney General came in, requesting the Minister to ascertain certain information from the Department, he felt that the appropriate way to deal with it was to obtain the information from the section concerned before showing the letter to the Minister. Otherwise, she could legitimately ask him what the position was and he would not be aware of it.

I do not regard that explanation as in any way acceptable. I am well aware that every Minister's office gets a large volume of correspondence, but that is no excuse for the Minister failing to be shown important letters at once. As the report states, "Our reading of the wording of this letter, which after all came from the Attorney General and referred to a Government decision, would lead us to infer that urgent action was required upon it". The real dereliction of duty is on the part of the Minister for not insisting from the outset that she be shown important letters immediately, at the same time as copies should be sent up to the Department.

From what the two eminent men who prepared this report have written it is clear that they strongly believe that the normal procedures in Government Departments, of which both of them are well aware, were not followed. These matters should have been passed to the Minister. They have used diplomatic language. Anyone reading the words of the report could only come to the conclusion that the authors are saying the procedure in the Department was that the Minister was not in the practice of looking at important letters. Otherwise it means, as in this case, that weeks might pass before she would see an important letter and her seeing it would be entirely dependent on the speed of response from the section concerned. No one seemed to regard a personal letter from the Attorney General to the Minister as of any particular urgency. Any Minister worth his or her salt would or should have inquired about the position on receipt of the letter and his or her private secretary would have undertaken to quickly find the answer to that. The fact that the Minister saw the letter would have provided some important in-built safeguard but it is her responsibility, not her private secretary's, that she apparently never insisted on seeing important letters from colleagues immediately. It shows up her deplorable lack of a hands-on approach to the management of her Department.

Deputy Burke said in the House last week that minutes are taken of Government decisions. The minutes of the Cabinet meeting at which this decision was made would have been read on the first Cabinet meeting held in September when the Government met after the summer recess. The procedure at Cabinet meetings is that the Secretary of the Government carefully reads the minutes of the previous Cabinet meeting. The normal practice in any Government of which I was a member is that Ministers listen at least to the minutes that refer to their Departments and are conscious of what is said about any decisions in that regard so that they can pick up on anything that may be wrong in the minutes. They may wish to comment on a decision or it might jog their minds to do something if they had not done it. Those minutes would have been read a month after the decision was made and nothing had happened. The minutes did not jog anybody's mind. The Minister might express her view on that.

The same problem arose with the letter of 10 October from Judge Dominic Lynch, which the Minister did not see until nearly four weeks later. A Minister for Justice should see immediately as a matter of course letters addressed to her by senior judges, gardaí, law officers of the State and Government colleagues so that he or she knows at once what is happening without having to wait for the Department to bring a matter eventually to his or her attention. It is puzzling that a letter from the Attorney General of 1 November, with post being carried by hand between Departments — at least it used to be when I was last in a Government Department — should not have reached the Minister until four days later. I am told by a colleague in the House that it takes exactly five minutes to walk from one office to the other. If one were to go through the Green, one might reach the other office quicker. In this case it took four days. It took another day and a half to realise that urgent action was required to regularise the detention of 16 prisoners in Portlaoise, with the Minister being pulled out from a performance of "Michael Collins". Those detained were released outside an inner gate of the prison and inside two outer gates and rearrested in the same place. As the form of release and other matters are subject to legal challenge, I cannot comment further on them at this time. The final fallout has yet to be determined. Surely it is enough that the security of the State was put at risk and that public confidence in the most crucial Department of State has been shaken to its foundations.

There is clear procedure in this House for getting to the bottom of political controversies. We opted to be part of this debate. We do not think much of it, but we are elected to this House to express our points of view, to put forward what we believe is constructive opposition, to give the democratic system some credence, to inform the public about what we believe is wrong and to ask questions. In this case, we want to ask questions relating to how an important judge in the Special Criminal Court could be wrongly in a seat of office dealing with subversive cases, possibly allowing the release of those prisoners, and in respect of which letters were being passed from the Attorney General, judges, secretaries, programme managers, assistant secretaries, heads of sections and nobody knew anything about the matter.

We are a good Opposition, but all those at whom we want to target questions are not before us. The Minister for Justice is present and has given a fair amount of time to this debate. We cannot ask questions of the Taoiseach who is not here and we do not have access to the Attorney General. We cannot get access to any of the letters relating to officials described in the report by various letters of the alphabet. Having had officials A, B and C on my mind for some time it is nice to proceed further with the alphabet. If this inquiry goes much further we may have to use the Greek alphabet.

Has the Deputy a good knowledge of the Greek alphabet? I did not study Greek.

The Minister cannot read English either.

As the Opposition we should be able to get answers for the people. In the past those who are now in Government sought inquiries and received the co-operation of Fianna Fáil when in Government. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe was active in an inquiry following Deputy Jim Mitchell's claim that the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, had the telephones in Leinster House bugged.

Deputy Doherty will tell the Deputy all about it.

An inquiry was started on 2 July 1982 which ran out of steam as soon as the campaign began for the by-election in Galway East in which Deputy Noel Treacy was successful.

On this serious issue we are asking for the matters involved to be teased out fully in an inquiry conducted by a committee of this House. Even if it is not possible to get quasi-judicial decisions from such a committee governed by a partisan parliamentary majority, it may discover the facts. That was the success of the Dáil committee investigating the events of November 1994. Members from my party appeared before that committee, although we did not particularly like it. However, we prepared ourselves over the preceding Christmas and we answered the questions put to us truthfully and honourably. We had already left Government and taken our medicine.

In this case members of the Government arrogantly defend their positions. They are answerable to nobody. They will not appear before a committee of this House. It is a shame.

It is political hypocrisy.

Are the Taoiseach, the Attorney General and others hiding? They are not prepared to answer to their colleagues in the House or to anybody else. The name of the game is to sit it out for a few days in the hope that something else will arise.

They go to Europe.

They hope another event will divert attention. This is one of the worst examples of a Government treating the people with contempt.

The Taoiseach has taken off again. The Tánaiste only comes to the House now and again, yet he was upset that I was not here to listen to him speak last week.

He is the Minister for Foreign Affairs — that is his job.

So what?

I will not be lectured by the Tánaiste on these matters. If he believes any of what he said two years ago he should be here to explain why this inquiry was necessary. He does not believe in what he said. It was a way to get Fianna Fáil out of Government. It did not matter what the subsequent inquiry turned up. We are now looking for straight answers and not one of the Labour Party Deputies is in the House. None of them has contributed this morning.

They are wrestling with their consciences again.

The most evocative phrase in the report is that "... the trail in relation to the Government Decision ran into the sand." That is what happens when the Minister and the Government refuse to accept the political responsibility which is properly theirs.

We will continue to demand that the Government be accountable. We may not succeed in the House because of our numbers but within the next year the Government will be forced to be politically accountable to the people. I look forward to that day.

Deputy Bertie Ahern made a couple of points with which I agree. He said that Fianna Fáil is a good Opposition. I agree that it is learning to be a good Opposition. However, it needs a little more practice and it should remain in Opposition for a long time to come. That may be its best contribution to the democratic system.

The Deputy also referred to the question of political accountability. If one identifies the issues raised in the debate a name will emerge for the person who should bear political responsibility for this administrative fiasco. I intend to name that person.

There has been a series of procedural wrangles as to how this debate should be arranged and how questions should be taken. It has been unedifying and the public will see Fianna Fáil in its true light — engaging in political play acting. It is a clear indication of Fianna Fáil's agenda. Last week Fianna Fáil and its current allies, the Progressive Democrats, were defeated on the motion of confidence in the Government. They made little or no impact with their various political attacks. Further desperate attempts are now being made to pin political responsibility on somebody in the Government, no matter who that may be. Their immediate target was the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, but when they made no progress they tried to broaden the issue and involve the Taoiseach. Now there is a focus on the Attorney General. These are the desperate attempts of an Opposition trying to make political capital out of a bad series of administrative errors in the Department of Justice.

Not a glove was laid on the Minister for Justice in the attempt to hold her politically responsible for administrative errors. Many of the Fianna Fáil Deputies have had experience in Government. They know well that if Ministers were responsible for all the administrative errors which occurred in Departments there would be no Ministers left. There have been appalling administrative problems in years past yet we did not have automatic calls for resignations arising from them.

In current values, over £1 billion has been spent in an attempt to eradicate bovine TB. The efforts go back over almost 50 years and have not fully succeeded. The difficulties experienced in implementing those attempts should not mean that successive Ministers should have resigned because they were not immediately able to solve the problem. Renewed efforts were made by different Ministers and we now have the ERAD scheme which, hopefully, will enable further progress to be made. It is hypocritical of the Opposition to attempt to pin responsibility on the Minister, Deputy Owen — who just happens to be the present incumbent — for administrative failures in her Department.

An attempt was made to involve the Taoiseach but that petered out early on and the Opposition could not lay a glove on him. A new attempt is being made to attack him via an attack on the Attorney General. Fianna Fáil is trying to provide retrospective justification for its own misdemeanours, which led to the fall of the last Government. It is seeking to draw a comparison between the administrative errors in the Department of Justice and what occurred a couple of years ago. That strategy or agenda, which calls for the establishment of a committee of inquiry, has been a total failure and was blown apart by the Tánaiste last week.

There was a total loss of trust between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party following publication of the beef tribunal report and the appointment of a President of the High Court by little more than half the Government after a walk-out of Labour Party Ministers. That was the extent of the crisis between the parties in Government.

There was also the controversy surrounding the statements in the Dáil by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, in relation to the Duggan and Smyth cases, which were dealt with in the High Court in London in recent weeks. I do not intend to go over the details other than to recall that that was the atmosphere surrounding the events which led to the fall of the last Government. The situation is now totally different and no comparison can be drawn.

Fine Gael has almost 50 years' experience of working in coalition Governments. Fianna Fáil is good in Opposition which is good for democracy. Its record to date — I am not sure whether this can be put down to the famous Kanturk philosophy that coalitions are temporary little arrangements — clearly suggests it is not good as a member of a coalition Government and has much to learn. It is best that it be given much more time in Opposition to learn this.

Efforts have been made to direct fire at the Attorney General and to involve the Taoiseach who is accountable to the Dáil for the Attorney General. Article 30 of the Constitution states: "There shall be an Attorney General who shall be the adviser of the Government on matters of law and legal opinion and who shall exercise and perform all such powers, functions and duties as are conferred or imposed on him by this Constitution or by law". The basic function of the Attorney General, therefore, is to act as law adviser to the Government with which he has a lawyer-client relationship. The report of the Constitution Review Group — the Whitaker report — which comprised eminent experts of all political views and persuasions and none, states: "That should entail no accountability to the Houses of the Oireachtas". It further states: "The Taoiseach should decide how much or how little he or she reveals of the advice as in any other lawyer-client relationship". There should be no pressure to reveal confidential advice given by a lawyer to a client, in this instance, by the Attorney General to the Government.

The Deputy has changed his mind.

The Attorney General has another function. Section 6 of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, mentions "the assertion and protection of public rights". This is taken to mean he is guardian of the public interest. It is mentioned in the report to which I referred that this function takes up, at most, about 5 per cent of his time in the average year and the review group came to the conclusion that a separate office should not be established to deal with it.

On the question of a possible conflict of interest between the function of the Attorney General to act as law adviser to the Government, on the one hand, and guardian of the public interest, on the other, the report states: "The Review Group considers that discretion as to whether a conflict arises should be left with the Attorney General who will have to act in the full glare of publicity and under the closest of scrutiny by the courts and under the legal system".

It is envisaged that the Attorney General will go to court as guardian of the public interest on some great constitutional issue, as happened in the X case, not what the Opposition has in mind. Its efforts to drag his name into the debate are pathetic and inappropriate and must be rejected. He is a man of outstanding legal ability which he applies in a correct and punctilious fashion. There is no evidence to suggest he has been in breach of his role and duties.

The Cromien-Molloy report outlines a catalogue of administrative errors. It is clear that, because of the systems in place in the Department of Justice, this was an accident waiting to happen. Attempts are being made under the Strategic Management Initiative to identify and come to terms with the difficulties and to take a strategic approach in dealing with them. This did not happen in the past and new systems are to be put in place. Work has been ongoing for a year or two and is virtually complete. The report, which will not be rushed, will be available shortly.

The report of the inquiry puts under the microscope a specific series of incidents which are but the tip of the iceberg. It is recognised by the Department and the Minister that the system needs to be updated and improved. As far as the details of the report are concerned, immediate steps have been taken. Every Department should take account of its findings from which there are lessons to be learned throughout the public service.

At a minimum, the principles of natural justice should apply to the officials involved who, it is clear, were operating under great pressure. I believe that will be so. It must be recognised that 50 staff were moved to work on the Presidency of the EU and that a huge extra workload had to be undertaken. The report indicates that some civil servants were negligent and this must be confronted and dealt with in a manner which takes the principles of natural justice into account.

It is also clear that the report identifies a system which has been in place for many years. When I hear hypocritical attacks by the current Opposition, I must remind Fianna Fáil that for seven of the last nine years the Minister for Justice was from that party and none of those Ministers did anything about the problems in that Department. These problems did not arise today or yesterday, they go back a number of years. The current proposals for the prison service are based on a report produced by Dr. Whitaker ten years ago, but it is only now that action is being taken. Dr. Whitaker must have felt like Rip Van Winkle when he saw the decision had finally been made by the present Government and Minister. This highlights the fact that nothing was done about that proposal by previous Fianna Fáil Ministers. That may be because some of them did not take much interest in the Department. One of those Ministers, Deputy Burke, was only a "half Minister" as he was Minister for Communications as well as Minister for Justice. He may not have been able to devote much time to this Department. I will return to this point.

The wild allegations against an eminent senior counsel were touched on in the report. I accept Deputy McCreevy's apology to the House but it indicates the careless, slipshod way in which Fianna Fáil has mounted its political attacks. Politicians are used to attacks — political attacks are meat and drink to us — but it was entirely unfair to attack an eminent lawyer outside this House who is not part of the political process. I was appalled by the interview on "Morning Ireland" featuring Deputy McCreevy and Mr. Barry White SC, because even at that stage the Deputy neither made an apology, expressed regret nor showed embarrassment at involving Mr. White in this incident without a scintilla of evidence. Such evidence leads me to doubt my earlier agreement with Deputy Ahern that Fianna Fáil is a good Opposition. I am glad the record has been put right and such an event should not happen again.

The question of how decisions of Government, legislation and Statutory Instruments should be communicated is relevant to this matter. On this point, one matter in the report has not received great publicity to date but should be highlighted. If one goes back through the centuries, one finds that decisions on legislation and on the actions of the Executive do not have much effect unless they are communicated. The Magna Carta was published in 1215 and signed by King John but that was not the end of the matter because the document had to be promulgated and made known throughout the kingdom. Forty copies were therefore made, signed and sent to the various shires of England. Thus began the promulgation of legislation, charters and Government decisions. The modern method of doing this is throughIris Oifigiúil.

That is not true.

I do not accept that.

What about the pink slip signed by the Government secretariat and copied to every member of Government?

I am coming to a sensitive area and the Deputy may know that I am about to indicate who bears ultimate responsibility for the failure to convey the decision to the person concerned. It is not so much that it was not promulgated — the decision was mentioned inIris Oifigiúil a few days after it was made — but that it did not reach Judge Lynch. The reason it did not reach him brings us back to the person who, in constitutional theory and political science, bears ultimate responsibility for this.

Iris Oifigiúil had been circulated to every member of the Judiciary until 1990, when I was Opposition spokesman on Justice and the “half Minister” for Justice was Deputy Burke, who was unable to devote his full time to that Department because he had another portfolio. As a penny-pinching, cost cutting measure, the Minister issued an edict that the circulation of Iris Oifigiúil to members of the Judiciary should be withdrawn. The Judiciary met because some judges protested and objected to this decision. As a consequence, individual judges who made a big issue of this continued to receive copies. However, as a general principle, Deputy Burke when Minister for Justice stopped the distribution of Iris Oifigiúil to members of the Judiciary.

This is touched on in the report, although not in great detail. If that decision had not been taken, Judge Lynch would have received his copy ofIris Oifigiúil in the normal way and would have seen the decision of the Government. That did not happen because the procedure was stopped. If one examines this matter and looks for political responsibility, this was the ultimate mistake made in 1990. Fortunately, the present Minister immediately restored this facility to the Judiciary. This event could not happen again because all judges will now be aware, as they were before 1990, of decisions promulgated through Iris Oifigiúil.

Tá áthas orm cúpla focal a rá faoi gach ar thárla le roinnt seachtain anuas agus, go spesialta, faoin mo taithí mar Aire Dlí agus Cirt ar feadh dhá bhliain. I was missed last week and I was flattered that it should have been mentioned on the national airwaves. Along with some Deputies opposite, I was abroad at a health conference which had been arranged for some time. Today I break a self-imposed silence of two years to talk about my experience of the Department of Justice.

As we all know, this Department is vitally important to our sense of citizenship and freedom. It is a big, complex Department. It has secrets but when one deals with organised crime, subversion and contract killing one must have secret methods and approaches. Such secrecy does not make for good PR, so for many years some prominent and powerful members of this Government have hated the Department of Justice and have wanted to emasculate, diminish and demean it. The current Minister, Deputy Owen, must seem like the answer to all their prayers because she has served them the Department on a platter. Which of them would now like to do the slicing? In so doing she follows a pattern she set from the beginning. The Minister, Deputy Owen, does not just pass the buck, she passes the blame too. Good mangers say that for every problem there is a solution, but the Minister has a new version of that: for every problem there is a scapegoat — eany meany miny moe catch the civil servant by the toe.

To the Minister's thinking, civil servants are not members of her team, professionals who are proud of what they do and committed to high performance, they are like heat logs. Any time she needs a good blaze to distract from her incompetence she sets fire to a few of them, with a great blaze and sparks, but in the end only ashes. The Minister's personal survival as Minister for Justice is worth any number of civil servants and their careers. Is it justice to demonise people who cannot defend themselves or their performance? Is it justice to portray a whole Department of people as stupid, lazy, secretive and generally useless? No, it is not. I was in that Department for two years and I know the Department and the people in it. During my time there, inevitably, given the areas covered by the portfolio, there was one crisis after another, but the crises were managed by public servants who were efficient and effective. It is amazing that a Department full of excellent people can, in less than two years, undergo such change.

As I drove into work this morning I passed the Department of Justice in St. Stephen's Green and I looked over the door to see something of which I am very proud, the name of the Department, An Roinn Dlí agus Cirt — the Department of Justice. That name was not over the door when I became Minister, but I decided in 1994 that it should be displayed proudly. The building is most unappealing architecturally and most depressing, probably the most depressing of all Government buildings in which to work. It has, however, two saving graces — the professionalism of its staff and its proximity to St. Stephen's Green with its beautiful pathways.

I remembered this morning all the survivors of the Department of Justice, many of whom are still Members of this House, such as Deputies Ray Burke, Gerry Collins, Jim Mitchell, Michael Noonan, Alan Dukes and myself, and about half a dozen other Members who acted as Minister for Justice in the absence of the Minister who must attend to business abroad from time to time.

In 1993 I was appointed to the Department of Justice. To my knowledge, in living memory Deputy Owen is the only Member of this House who asked to be Minister for Justice. Usually people are given the job, which is the most difficult of all in Government. The first greeting I received on arriving in the Department was from the private secretary and I asked him what the Department was like. He said that at the end of the day I was responsible for 10,000 gardaí, 2,000 prison officers and 800 civil servants.

On the work method adopted at the time, as everybody who has been Minister or even a Deputy in a constituency office is aware, that is devised by the political head. I examined each of the divisions of the Department and found out what work was under way and what was in the pipeline. I reordered priorities within each division.

The Minister's office is located on the fourth floor in what is referred to as the ministerial suite, consisting of the Minister's office, the private office, that is the office out of which the private secretary operates, the programme manager's office, the personal assistants' office and the constituency office, with a couple of yards between each office.

When I became Minister I discovered that a new office had been created for a programme manager. That person was supposed to smooth the operation of Government, iron out difficulties between Ministers and Departments and oversee implementation of Government policy. That was the job description then and I would like to know if and when it changed. At that time programme managers held their own mini-Cabinet meetings at least once and sometimes twice or three times a week, at which they oversaw Government decisions. The chairman of the programme managers, the programme manager for the Taoiseach, having trawled through all Government decisions, came to the meeting with an agenda and demanded to know from each other programme manager the position on the implementation of Government decisions. That person was aware on coming to the meeting of certain decisions that had not been implemented.

As regards the office procedures in place in the Department of Justice when I was in office, there was a rule that any communication from a Government colleague, including the Attorney General and the Chief Whip, a judge or the governor of a prison would immediately be brought to the Minister's attention. Any correspondence that came to the office marked private, personal or confidential was brought to the attention of the personal assistant to the Minister, who opened that mail and came directly to me with it. I then made the decision, as Minister, on how it should be handled. I raise this issue because in the report of the inquiry there is specific reference to the fact that the letter from Judge Lynch, marked personal, had gone to the personal assistant to the Minister. I find it extraordinary, therefore, that that person did not, as would have happened in my time in office, immediately bring the matter to the Minister for decision.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe is wrong in saying that the only way a person, including a judge, may hear about Government decisions is by way ofIris Oifigiúil. When I was in office I was involved in the preparation, presentation and execution at Cabinet meetings of every memorandum for Government and finally in the implementation of decisions. A pink slip, signed by the Government secretariat, was photocopied for every Member of the Cabinet and sent to the Minister's office in the Department after each Cabinet meeting. After each meeting I either returned to the Department or went to my office in the Dáil and communicated with the secretary of the Department or the appropriate official and always with the programme manager. There was then a full and detailed discussion of all the areas involving the memorandum for Government. We decided the events that had to take place in order to implement those decisions and followed through on that. That was done, inevitably, even before the pink slip from the Government secretariat arrived in the Department. The programme manager was crucial to this practice because he had to report back and would be pursued relentlessly by the chairman and other programme managers in the event that a Government decision was not acted upon.

The Minister at all times must be not only competent but seen to be in control, in charge and on top of the job. Since she may receive phone calls at all hours of the day or night, whether in regard to a prison riot, a murder, an arms find, a drugs haul, an arrest or a suicide attempt, she must be on 24 hour call.

When I became Minister for Justice I was told that the culture of the Department was secretive and closed and that the civil servants were all old, grey men who were opposed to change and new ideas. However, I found the Department open, willing to change and to work all hours to implement the Minister's desires and wishes. One of my earliest experiences was on prioritised, sensitive legislation, which every Member of this House, the public and every civil servant in the Department of Justice found extremely difficult to deal with from a personal point of view — everybody is aware of the legislation to which I am referring. Despite the personal difficulties with that legislation, the civil servants in the law division of the Department of Justice worked tirelessly and relentlessly pursued the parliamentary draftsman to bring it to fruition. I left a letter on the desk for my successor stating what I thought of the Department and its officials and she is free to publish that letter if she wishes.

The nature of the Department is that it has many secrets, and civil servants and Ministers for Justice go to their graves with many of those secrets. I regret the private secretary in the Department was the only one targeted by being named publicly in the media. That private secretary, on a day when I was answering parliamentary questions in this House based on information I had received not two hours earlier from the Garda Commissioner's office in the Phoenix Park, saw a headline in an evening newspaper which fully contradicted the information I was about to impart to Deputy Gay Mitchell, photocopied the article and the headline, ran from his office upstairs to the door of this Chamber and handed the article, with his note informing me that it contradicted the information I was about to impart, to a staff member of the House who gave it to me. Because of his quick thinking and efficiency I was prevented from inadvertently misleading the House on a serious matter. Is that the action of somebody who is incompetent?

How could things have changed so fundamentally in two years, and why? Every Minister lays down the ground rules clearly. Different Ministers operate differently but civil servants obey their political masters' instructions to the letter. Civil servants are not mind readers, however; they need clear, precise instructions.

I have not made any comment on the performance of the Minister for Justice in the past two years. In fact, anything I said about her in relation to prisons, etc. was in an effort to be helpful. The warning bells rang after the prisons fiasco. I thought the Minister for Finance had pulled a fast one at Government when the Minister, Deputy Owen, was away. I was shocked subsequently to learn in this House that the Government agenda, sent to the Minister and opened by her, stated clearly the prison scrappage as one of its items. That agenda was consigned to the briefcase and the Minister went off merrily to eastern Europe without telling anyone in the Department.

The first the Department knew of the decision was when the Government pink slip decision arrived. What did the Minister think would happen? Did she think in innocence the proposal would be postponed in her absence or that one of her colleagues at the Cabinet table would stand up for her Department when his or her own Department was being slashed also?

What should the Minister have done? She should have cancelled the trip abroad and immediately alerted the secretary and the assistant secretary in the prisons section. They should have prepared her battle lines for the next morning's Government meeting. At that stage her actions could have been put down to inexperience but it should have been a lesson that was learned.

I want to know about the Minister's relationship with the Attorney General. Do these two members of the Government talk to each other? Do they discuss issues of common interest? Do they ever communicate by telephone? Why would an Attorney General of the calibre of Dermot Gleeson, on being told by Judge Harvey Kenny that a Government decision had not been complied with resulting in persons being held in unlawful custody in our prisons, write to the Minister for Justice? Why did he not pick up the telephone and ring her? If he did not want to talk to the Minister on the telephone, why did he not ring her and say he wanted to talk to her about an urgent matter? Why would he not have asked to see her?

The Attorney General would have clearly understood the absolute urgency of getting the message to the Minister. One wonders if he made any effort to contact her. Did he mark his letter to the Minister "For the Immediate and Personal Attention of the Minister"? Was the letter marked "Private and Confidential"? If not, why not? This was not an ordinary matter. The security of the State and the constitutional rights to personal liberty of persons were at stake.

One month went by. How many times did the Minister and the Attorney General meet during that month? At all Government meetings? At a number of the Northern Ireland talks? Did they meet socially? I find it unbelievable that during that time this experienced, eminent lawyer, the Attorney General, did not at any stage mention the Judge Lynch matter to the Minister.

The Attorney General is very close to the Taoiseach. Why did he not mention this serious matter to him? The Attorney General knew for a full month that certain citizens were being deprived of their liberty contrary to article 40.4 of the Constitution, and we are being asked to believe that all he did was write two letters. It beggars belief. That is why the Attorney General must answer for himself and that can only be done before a committee of this House.

This brings me to the events of the past two days. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the Cabinet room last Tuesday evening. One can picture the scenario inside. The report is distributed. It is read but the result is unsatisfactory because no person has been found guilty. One can picture the scenario outside the Cabinet room. A Dáil and a country convulsed, and Government backbenchers muttering in the corridors.

I must be forgiven for thinking aloud at this time but I wonder if a head-hunting expedition was organised. Was a head sought and, if so, whose head? Knowing the head-hunters involved, I would have thought a relatively junior head would not have been enough. I have my suspicions in that regard but unfortunately I was not a fly on the wall and I do not know.

If the Minister was a manager in private enterprise she would not get away with the disgraceful badmouthing of her own team. Her board of directors would quickly cut through the blame laying and buck passing and tell her it is bad management when a chief executive officer does not know what is going on in the plant. They would say that performance is what matters and a consistently incompetent performance is not and cannot be justified by reference to the alleged failure of subordinates.

This Government does not carry out any performance appraisal. It simply circles the wagons around its failures, throws out a few human sacrifices — civil servants are in great supply — and sets out to bore the nation into moving away from the current disaster.

Deputy Nora Owen is Minister for Justice. Deputies will remember a Department that existed once upon a time and did a good job under the enormous pressures of active subversion until a Minister came along whose approach was pleasingly simple. She did not achieve control of the complexities of the Department. She presided over a series of mismanaged messes. She could find time for every photo opportunity but no time to get to grips with what happens in the Department. When her own title came under threat, she was quite happy to collude in the destruction of a whole Department.

The Minister is still Minister and that is all that matters to her. For what is she Minister? For Justice? Tell that to the civil servants and listen for the bitter laugh. She is Minister in the Department of Justice. What Department? Deputy Owen is now Minister of what is left of a once great Department. She presides over the bits that her Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left colleagues have allowed her to hang on to. She will go down in the history of the public service as the Minister who sacrificed her Department in the interests of her title.

Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn in her contribution drew attention to the fact that she was conspicuous by her absence last week.

I said why I was absent.

I hope she will regard that as a compliment.

The Deputy missed me?

There are many people in Irish politics who struggle courageously and with a great deal of effort to be conspicuous by their presence, something to which I am sure many of our colleagues here aspire.

I compliment the authors of this relatively brief report. It is easy to read and was produced within a week. That is quite an achievement. The Minister acted decisively and effectively to address the problems which occurred in her Department.

The controversy over this matter has gone on for the past fortnight and the Opposition has done its best to get as much mileage out of it as possible. That is the nature of Irish politics and it is unfortunate that we indulge in that type of politics as we approach the year 2000. These are the days of the Internet, the global economy and global markets but we are back in the 1920s or 1930s fighting about who said what and when.

I do not pretend the Opposition has the monopoly in this regard. It has not. We all have engaged in this type of politics in the past but perhaps we can now being to think in terms of moving on from the politics of blame, accusation, counter accusation, allegation, etc. That is not useful when one thinks in terms of what needs to be done here and how we should set about organising ourselves in that regard. We have a comprehensive, if succinct, analysis of what went wrong. There has been a series of management failures in the Department of Justice. Before I deal with those, let me say that I agree with some of Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn's sentiments regarding people she knew in the Department of Justice. My knowledge of people in the Department of Justice is limited. However, its Secretary appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts, and he is quite at variance with the image portrayed of the Department. He seems a forward-looking, civilised, ordinary person and was open, in so far as he can be open, given the restrictions of his position. He is quite different from the caricature of the Department of Justice which has been painted over the years. He seemed exceptionally open-minded in the context of criticisms and responded frankly to questions.

Many of the problems in the Department of Justice arose from the huge workload civil servants have to bear. Not only do they have an enormous workload, but some of them have a diverse range of responsibilities. It is noteworthy that one of the senior civil servants involved in this business was snowed under preparing answers to 14 Dáil questions. Perhaps there is a case to be made for reviewing the procedure for dealing with Dáil questions. I wonder whether there should be open-ended access to answers to Dáil questions many of which, I suspect, are not written by Deputies themselves but by "question factories" which generate and invent questions. One wonders whether it is desirable that so many questions are put down and whether the whole process is cost effective. That is not to say that questions should not be allowed, but it would be well worth discussing whether the present system would benefit from modification.

Some of the difficulties arose from the lack of a managerial ethos in the Department of Justice. Much of the Civil Service is defensive in terms of how it is managed. I understand that, because it is important that mistakes are not made. That, in turn, arises from the nature of the political culture that exists of blame and accusation. We should try to move on and understand that progress inevitably means taking risks and that, looking at the broad picture, a certain level of failure is unavoidable. The management ethos described in the report seems irreconcilable with the modern world where the Internet is the new system of communication, where mobile phones are two a penny and where the laptop computer is a basic tool of business. I wonder how many mobile phones are available to civil servants and the extent to which they are allowed to use them. I asked this question of the Secretary of the Department of Finance. To be frank, I cannot remember exactly what answer he gave, but my recollection is that the total number of mobile phones in the Department was of the order of ten or 20. That is ridiculous in the modern world given that these people are, to a large extent, responsible for managing a total budget of about £15 billion. That is one aspect that badly needs to be addressed. To the extent that this report has encouraged and facilitated that, it is to be welcomed.

There is also a need to review management practices in the Departments on an ongoing basis. There is not nearly enough of that type of proactive management. There is a need for a system of quality control and management development, and much more effort and energy should be expended in that area. However, it will be difficult to do that while the political culture remains as it is. The present political culture is hostile to that type of thinking, and it facilitates thestatus quo, the attitude that, above all else, one should never make a mistake. That, in turn, slows things down. It is important to change that attitude, which, to a fair extent, is conditioned by positions adopted by people in this House and in the broader political world. It is time we moved away from the fountain pen and the copy book and towards the Internet and the laptop and modern communication and management processes. Not nearly enough action is being taken on that in the Civil Service. That may be one of the more important lessons of this report. Associated with that is an acceptance that mistakes are bound to be made if we are to make progress. The question of what types of mistakes are acceptable is a wider question. As long as we continue to blame and accuse, which seems to be the bread and butter of Irish politics, we will have difficulty in making progress. As we approach the dying days of this century——

I thought the Deputy was going to refer to the dying days of the Government.

The life expectancy of this Government is a year at the most. That is hardly a major discovery. As to this débâcle, I really think the public are bored out of their minds by it. At one level it is just as well that the Deputies across the Chamber keep droning on about it. The more they do that the more they draw attention to their own inadequacies and to their position on the political spectrum, and the more they do this the more they describe themselves as old and tired and really belonging to another age. It is time they got with it. However, that is not the primary concern of people like myself. Our primary concern is that we learn from this report, that we develop a culture of modern management in the Civil Service and that we move on. As to what happened, most of the blame is centred around the 1924 Act which is hopelessly out of date, the idea that any Minister could be responsible for every detail in a Department is ridiculous and quite out of character with the modern world and with modern management procedures. It is time we moved on and became more modern.

I would like to share my time with Deputy Martin Cullen.

I listened carefully to Deputy Upton. He made quite some mileage himself in accusing the Opposition of trying to score political points and seems to have forgotten that the role and obligation of an Opposition is to point out where Governments are going wrong. Without such legitimate criticism we would have not a democracy but Government rule with no criticism or right to criticise. That is not how our Constitution works. Nor is it the way people outside this House would like us to behave as Members of the Oireachtas.

I quite understand that Deputy Upton, members of his party and members of this Government find what is happening at the moment embarrassing. He has said he would like to be able to move on from this situation because of that embarrassment. To learn from the situation and to talk about the important issues of responsibility and accountability we must face up to the problem, look at what has gone wrong and see how we can put things right to improve the position for the coming months and years. We have heard from the Government side of the need for change and further management structures to be put in place in the Department of Justice and in the Civil Service generally. I do not think any of us on this side doubt that certain changes need to be made from time to time to bring any system up to date. That is a legitimate argument. The nub of this argument is not the changes that are needed now but to deal with what has actually happened under the present system. Whatever changes we would like to see in future is a matter for the future. What we must do now is deal with the present and what has gone wrong and who should be responsible and accountable.

The report does not answer the many fundamental questions regarding the problems that confront us immediately. That is why there is a great deal of frustration not only in the House but among the public. To quell that frustration something needs to be done about finding the answers to these problems. As my party has already suggested the one possible way of dealing with this matter is to bring the whole issue to a committee so that people can be called on to attend that committee. Perhaps then we would have an opportunity to find the answers this report was unable to find.

When the Government was in Opposition it bayed loudly about the need for accountability, responsibility and the whole area of culpability. These three issues were discussed at length two years ago on a similar issue. The Labour Party was suddenly ready to do a U-turn on what it thought was a principle two years ago and with breathtaking hypocrisy is taking the exact opposite stance on this issue. On that occasion it was prepared to bring down a Government. As far as I can see the parties in Government are prepared to stick like glue, an apt phrase used by the Deputy Leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy O'Rourke. At this stage it must be using super glue because it must be difficult and embarrassing when it looks back over two years and finds that what it advocated then is not relevant now because it is in Government, not in Opposition. It would be amusing if it was not so serious that the Labour Party was prepared to bring down a Government two years ago on a similar issue. If it was to pull out of Government it would have nowhere to jump. Instead it is prepared to hang in there and forget any matter of principle just to stay in power. That cynicism has registered strongly with the public.

We have heard from the Tánaiste that the Government is likely to last until next October. That remains to be seen. At the end of the Government's term of office the people will be able to judge; in a democracy it is the people alone who make these decisions. It is arrogant for anyone in Government to believe that when in Government they are in a position of power and that that power can be used to promote their personal political ambitions.

On the issues of responsibility and accountability we keep coming back to the fact that because the Minister for Justice attended some of the debate that her actions — her inactions — over the past few months and years in Government are excused. Such excuses are not enough. Anyone who takes up a job must look at its responsibilities and do it to the best of his or her ability. The Minister will be aware that the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 sets out the Minister's responsibility and her position in this regard. It is not just a question of it being a tradition or leaving it to the individual Minister as to whether he or she has the courage or the integrity to resign on such an issue, when the law is transgressed the Minister should comply with the law and have the courage to resign.

The Civil Service is being used as the scapegoat on this occasion. That is not acceptable. We accept errors were made but it is also clear that errors were made by the Minister and by the Attorney General on this issue. It is for them, as the constitutional officeholders, to take the rap as it were, to take their duties seriously enough to know that when a mistake is made the buck stops with the Minister. Therefore, the Minister is not just in a position to take the praise but must also stand over any mistakes at the end of the day if they come within her remit as part of her Department. Perhaps at a later date it would be more opportune to discuss how we can update the rules and regulations pertaining to running the different Departments. I agree with Deputy Upton who said we should now concentrate on the Internet and the laptop rather than the fountain pen and the copybook but that is clouding the issue. Those issues can be examined at another time but now we have to examine the immediate issue which is that the Minister for Justice is not able to run her Department and so must take the honourable course and resign. The Attorney General who is the protector of the public interest should also consider his position.

It should come as no surprise to any of us in the House or anyone observing this debate the level of frustration being experienced by the Opposition side in trying to get information from the Government at any level. Some 12 months ago an eminent journalist writing inThe Irish Times described the Government as one of the most closed she had ever come across. It was an interesting article given that the whole raison d'être of the Government and its reason for being in Government was how open, transparent and accountable it would be, not only to the House but to the people. Time moved on quickly and memories shortened and anything that could be deemed accountable, open or honest were not words the Government stood over. In the past number of weeks we have witnessed a catalogue of errors in the Department of Justice which primarily emanate from the Minister. All this has not occurred because some official did not do X, Y and Z. It is beyond belief that for more than 12 months the Minister was aware of an issue concerning Judge Lynch, going back to 1995. Having been in a position to take a decision to release him from the Special Criminal Court, she brought the matter to Cabinet, where it was approved, and simply forgot about it, which is quite extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination.

The reality is that is no political responsibility is being taken for anything that occurs within this Government's remit. The Minister for Justice should not have put the House through what she did in recent weeks, in particular the last two. Realising the gravity of her position, the lack of personal responsibility she displayed on this issue, she should have done the honourable thing and resigned.

What is even more interesting is the position of the Labour Party which I have observed in this House and at local level over a long period. There is no doubt that the Labour Party is absolutely consistent in that what it says and does are two utterly different things. The gulf between speaking out of one corner of their mouths and their actions is enormous. Throughout my political career, the Labour Party has displayed absolute consistency in being inconsistent.

Many of my colleagues have quoted comments of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs on how they would ride into town and clean up Government, rendering it accountable, accessible and transparent to all and sundry. That has not happened because the overriding principle of the Labour Party is selfpreservation. Anything that might occur involving accountability, openness or responsibility to this House or the electorate is secondary to the preservation of its function in Government.

Another consistency is that over the years whenever the Labour Party and Fine Gael have been in Government together — this time with the adjunct of Democratic Left — the country has been unable to afford their tenure in office. Each time on leaving office their legacy has been consistent, the ruination of the State.

We would not be engaging in this debate today but for the strong economy this Government inherited, the very strong platform on which they have been able to stand which has masked a whole range of issues that have arisen within its term of office. They have had that substantial crutch on which to lean that has overridden all other issues. The number of scandals and crises that have affected practically all Government Departments has been sad and regrettable, masked by its will to hold on to power at all costs.

I hope the general election will be held sooner rather than later. We can already begin to see that the economic peak is beginning to decline. I have no confidence in the ability of this Government to sustain the legacy they inherited after seven or eight years hard work by my party in Government.

The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs hailed the committee system as forming the bedrock of this Government's approach to business. They said that system would be strengthened, afforded all the necessary facilities and would have the requisite powers to call people before it. If there was any doubt about openness, transparency and accountability, or a perceived lack thereof because of procedural difficulties within this House, they promised that the committee system would be able to ensure that any minute detail pertaining to any issue could be teased out between the individuals involved.

This was an outstanding case to have a committee investigate the circumstances surrounding the issue being debated today, particularly because of the Taoiseach's failure to take responsibility for the offices of the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions. We have failed to get the Taoiseach to answer very specific questions on what occurred between the Attorney General, the Minister for Justice, or the role of the former, since he would have been party to the decision originally taken at Cabinet concerning the removal of Mr. Justice Lynch from the Special Criminal Court. It is beyond belief that the senior law officer of the land could have ignored such an important decision taken within Cabinet until it was brought to his attention some months later.

The committee system should have been availed of to question the Attorney General directly on his role in this whole affair. Not alone did that not happen but we cannot get the Taoiseach to come into the House, the same man who some two years ago stood on these benches insisting on the fullest accountability to this House and the electorate on matters that had occurred in the preceding months. Yet the man who led this Government into office on a platform of accountability, promising he would run a Government so transparent it could be seen through a pane of glass, has not fulfilled that promise. How hollow those promises now sound which were supposed to be the bedrock on which this Government was formed.

This should not surprise us since one of the mainstays of Government, the Labour Party, would be consistent in that respect. It likes to select the grandiose phrase, the large sound bite, to create the right impression, but when pressure is exerted the heads disappear behind the benches hoping that the tide will wash over them and their position will be preserved.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, in respect of other happenings preceding those leading to the downfall of the former Government two years ago, made some fine statements in this House on his accounting in another forum for statements he had made, when again he found a way of evading the issue. We have now an absolute replica of all of those occurrences in the actions of the Labour Party, the most unaccountable political party that has no interest in looking after the electorate, in driving serious policy matters. Its only interest is its maintenance in office.

Although it is rumoured that a general election will not be called for at least 12 months, I contend we are a lot closer. Every time one speaks to a member of the public, one finds them rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of an opportunity to pay back the Labour Party for all of its false promises and unaccountable actions since assuming office some four years ago. Of course, members of the Democratic Left Party hide altogether in the life rafts whenever challenged with being accountable to this House. Their actions have been disgraceful. They have demeaned the very office of Government and failed to be accountable or act responsibly.

This is a Government in shambles that does not want to listen, observe or respect parliamentary democracy. It is a Government that will do anything to avoid answering hard questions, for the one reason only, to maintain itself in office. That overrides all other considerations. All three parties have been consistent in that respect and to hell with parliamentary democracy.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Bhíomar ag caint faoin rud seo an tseachtain seo caite nuair a bhí fiosrú ar siúl ach ní raibh an Tuarascáil againn. Tá an Tuarascáil againn anois áfach agus tá fhios againn cad a tharla sa Roinn Dlí agus Cirt. Tá sé soiléir nár cuireadh milléan ar bith ar an Aire sa Tuarascáil agus sin an fáth nach bhfuil an Freasúra toilteanach díospóireacht cheart a bheith againn ar an ábhar seo. Dhiultaigh páirtí amhain a bheith páirteach sa díospóireacht seo agus is ait an rud é sin. Tá na freagrai againn anois agus tá sé soiléir gur sa Roinn féin a deineadh na botúin ar fad.

We live in a democracy and should be proud to do so. Many people in other countries do not enjoy the same privilege and it is very important for Ministers to uphold democracy. The Minister for Justice has done this. Once she became aware of the difficulties she made a statement to the Dáil and set up an inquiry. She has now brought the report before the Dáil to be debated. This is democracy at work.

In recent times Members have become selective about democracy. However, one cannot pick and choose and the democratic process must prevail. I was flabbergasted yesterday when the Leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Bertie Ahern, described a democratic vote as a charade and left the Chamber. Does democracy only work for Fianna Fáil when it is in power? Deputy Ahern should be careful about abusing the democratic process in this House. The film "Michael Collins" deals with an earlier walk-out which had grave consequences and we should not resort to the same tactics. Deputy Ahern seems to support a type ofa la carte democracy -when it suits him he supports it and when it does not suit him he ignores it.

The other Opposition party has a selfexplanatory name. The title "Progressive Democrats" suggests that its members are both progressive and democrats. The very eloquent Leader of that party regularly refers to the importance for parties in the North to get together and talk. She should have led by example yesterday and ensured her party stayed in the Chamber to contribute to the debate. Their decision to leave the Chamber is hardly a sign they are prepared to accept democracy. I am amazed that one of the members of that party which can claim a direct connection to the foundation of democracy in this State stood by and let this happen. Given their decision not to accept a majority decision of the House and to leave the Chamber in protest — it is a good way of getting publicity — they deserve the new title "Regressive Non-Democrats"— they have gone backwards and have failed to accept democracy.

Deputy O'Donoghue attacked the one person who cannot defend himself, the very able Attorney General who did his job. As I said previously, there is no point keeping a dog if one intends to do the barking oneself. He gave legal advice to the Government and expected those in charge of the Department of Justice to deal with the problem. It is, therefore, absurd to hear him being attacked. Deputy O'Donoghue is like a forlorn Kerry footballer who did not make the team. He loves scoring goals into an empty net but if the Attorney General had an opportunity to reply he might silence him fairly quickly. The Deputy is behaving like a school yard bully in attacking a person who cannot defend himself.

The Opposition's reaction to this issue can be summed up by a statement made yesterday by Deputy Michael Smith —"We will do everything in our power to make sure they do not stay in power". The month of November upsets Fianna Fáil as it is the anniversary of the downfall of the previous Government. Members of that party have still not got used to the idea that they are no longer in Government. For example, yesterday Deputy Dermot Ahern referred to the Opposition when referring to the Government. I accept this was a slip of the tongue but it still shows the thinking among Fianna Fáil Deputies. It is time they realised they were not in power and there is nothing to be gained from raising this kind of nonsense on a daily basis.

Fianna Fáil wanted information and asked for the judge's letters to be published. However, when they were published they made no comment as there was nothing in them which they could use to blame the Minister. They then asked for the letters from the Attorney General to be published. One of them was published but the other cannot be published because of impending court cases. Regardless of what the Government does the Opposition wants more. Even though the report sets out clearly what happened the Opposition wants the Select Committee on Legislation and Security to investigate the matter.

Opposition Deputies have described the report as a "whitewash". This is insulting to the two men who did an excellent job within such a short period in finding out what happened in the Department. The use of the word "whitewash" belittles the great work done by these men. The Minister made every effort to find out what happened and, despite their experience, these two excellent men did not get to the root of the problem. However, they dealt with the real problem, and state in the report:

The next matter to which we turned was an examination of what happened to the Government decision when it arrived in the Department of Justice. It was received in the Office of the Private Secretary to the Minister, Official G, from the Cabinet Secretariat on 2 August. Official G was on annual leave but the decision was photocopied and, in accordance with normal procedures, was circulated as follows:

Secretary (Official A): marked "for information"

Programme Manager (Official M): marked "for information"

Assistant Secretary (Official B)

Principal (Official C)

Assistant Principal (Official F).

Five people saw a copy of the Government decision. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn said that when she worked in the Department it was like a garden of roses where everything was perfect. According to the report, this was the normal procedure, yet the message was not delivered.

Members now inquire why the Attorney General did not do something about it. He must be a mighty man if he can deal with various legal problems while chasing down officials in the Department to inform them that they should have dealt with this matter. It is an absurd situation and it is grossly unfair to the Attorney General that this type of thing is permitted to happen.

I do not defend gross inefficiency or a situation where three out of five people, two of whom claimed that the documentation was marked "for information only", could fail miserably to deliver a message. I hope the Minister will not defend such behaviour. I am becoming tired hearing the Opposition stating that the Minister will scapegoat civil servants and hang them out to dry. Is it not time people suffered some consequences if they fail to do their jobs? I am not seeking their heads on a plate, but if there is no reaction it will be totally unfair to the thousands of civil servants who do an excellent job. If it seems that slipshod methods and gross inefficiency are acceptable, why should they continue to give the kind of service they provide? I have no hang-ups about scapegoating civil servants because I do not accept that phrase. People who are unable to do a job that is a fundamental part of any Administration should be asked to do one of which they are capable. We would set a bad example if we were to state that no harm was done in this case.

The issue of seeking the Minister's resignation has been an ongoing theme in this House in recent days. It is backed up by one well paid journalist writing for theSunday Independent whose article in last Sunday's newspaper carried a headline that four of the ten Labour representatives in Government want the Minister for Justice to resign. Six want her to stay but the headline was that four want her to resign. I would be extremely satisfied if, in the run up to an election, I had 60 per cent backing for my performance. The Minister for Justice is also extremely satisfied that 60 per cent of the Labour representatives want her to stay. If a poll carried out on the sale of Sunday newspapers revealed that the Sunday Independent had a 60 per cent readership, the headline would not be that four out of ten readers do not read that publication; it would be that six out of ten people read it and that is as it should be. It shows a certain bias in the attitude of the Sunday Independent to print a headline to the effect that four of the ten Labour representatives in Government want the Minister for Justice to resign. However, I suppose fair play is not always prevalent when certain issues are discussed.

Calls for the Minister's resignation ring hollow in view of the fact outlined by the Taoiseach and others, that there were three major slip ups in the Department of Justice in the appointment of judges in the past. However, there were no resignations in those instances. Now, when five people down the line in the Department failed to deliver the goods, there are daily cries for the resignation of the Minister, which is absurd. If this type of logic were applied in all cases, Ministers would have to take the rap, when things went wrong, for any civil servants who failed to do their jobs. This would be bad for democracy.

The 1924 Act is out of touch with reality because there are huge numbers of staff under the care of Ministers. Mistakes could be made through carelessness or made deliberately, which would be worse, and Ministers could be asked to resign each day because officials down the line made mistakes. The Act was suited to the period in which it was framed, when staff numbers were smaller, business was less involved and it was easier to keep in touch with events. However, at present, it is not possible for any Minister to exercise complete control.

I hope common sense will be used to update the 1924 Act and if a Minister makes a mistake, politically or otherwise, and it is quite clear he or she did so, then he or she should resign. This should hold for any Minister, from any party, in any Government. The buck stops with the Minister once he or she is directly responsible for what happened. However, I do not accept that a mistake made by a civil servant down the line should cause a Minister's resignation.

I propose to share time with Deputy Andrews.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

A misrepresentation has come consistently from the Government benches to the effect that there was no involvement of the Minister for Justice in respect of the correspondence relating to the delisting of Judge Lynch, which has caused the composition of the Special Criminal Court to be brought into question and why some of the most serious crimes with which people have been charged are the subject of conditional orders of habeas corpus. Deputies on the Government side of the House are misrepresenting a report they are praising. They should not praise the authors of this report and misrepresent its contents.

In the time available I will deal with the four matters of correspondence which prove beyond doubt that the Minister was involved and that her inability to take action based on correspondence addressed to her, for which she is responsible, means she must resign, as was stated in today's newspaper editorials. What was stated about 30 year old baking factories inThe Irish Times editorial does a great injustice to such factories because they operate far better than anything I have witnessed under the stewardship of the Minister for Justice.

Deputy Browne seems to suggest these events happened "down the line". According to the report, Judge Lynch submitted a letter to the Minister on 2 July which she did not see because, since she entered office, she has not laid down ground rules about correspondence she receives from other Ministers or members of the judiciary who come under her Department's remit. The letter was sent to the courts division on 4 July where the principal officer was on leave. The assistant principal asked the acting higher executive officer to establish the procedure for implementing this request from Judge Lynch, which the acting HEO did. The AP then asked the HEO to draw up a letter of acknowledgement and prepare a memorandum for Government to arrange for the delisting of Judge Lynch and the retirement of Judge Buchanan. That was to be done by 7 October, the day on which proceedings of the Special Criminal Court resumed following the holidays.

The acting HEO prepared that documentation and delivered it to the assistant principal on 12 July who then went on annual leave from 17 July to 13 August. The report states the Minister saw the letter of acknowledgement regarding Judge Lynch's request to be delisted on 14 July. Rather than signing the acknowledgement — the letter from Judge Lynch was addressed to her — she asked for previous papers and sent it back down the line. Deputy Browne's suggestion that the Minister had no involvement with the first letter is incorrect because the report states otherwise. She did not send out the letter of acknowledgement and Judge Lynch was given no indication that his request had been received, despite the fact that the Minister had been asked to sign it. Nothing happened because the Minister sent the matter back down the line.

Two weeks later she said she wanted to put the delisting of Judge Lynch on the Government agenda. The principal officer had returned from annual leave and the assistant principal went on annual leave on 17 July. A memo was prepared by the assistant principal in the District Court's office and on 1 August we got a decision. That was not got by an assistant principal or principal officer because they do not have the power to get such decisions. It was got by the Minister for Justice and, therefore, it was her responsibility to ensure the decision was carried through. She owed that to her colleagues at the Cabinet table. If the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications gets agreement at Cabinet to rearrange the semi-State sector or the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry gets agreement to change the headage scheme — which may happen in a few months' time — it is his responsibility to carry through that decision and everyone at the Cabinet table expects him to do that. That is the way the system works. The Minister knew about this matter since 14 July when Judge Lynch's request was acknowledged. She knew of the request to delist, asked for the memo to be prepared, brought it before Government and got a decision. Those are the conclusions of the report. She is politically responsible for not ensuring the decision was carried through.

Two months after the Minister got that decision on 1 August the Attorney General wrote to her. His letter of 2 October was sent to the private secretary, an experienced official in whom everybody has confidence. He said he did not show her the letter because she might ask him about the position on the matter. Basically, what he said was that the Minister wanted to have the problem dealt with before she even knew one existed and, based on the newmodus operandi in the Department since she took office, the letter from the Attorney General, her Cabinet colleague, was sent down the line. The Minister is trying to defend herself on the basis that she is not accountable if she does not see correspondence while at the same time she has introduced a system which does not allow her see correspondence. She has introduced a system to ensure she is not accountable; she does not want to know about such matters. There is no indication in the report that since she took office she has given a direction that she should receive correspondence from her colleagues.

On 14 July the Minister saw the acknowledgement to the letter of 1 July which, obviously, told her of the existence of such a letter. She did not see the letter from the Attorney General dated 2 October. The private secretary did not show it to her because he knew what her reaction would be. The letter of 10 October marked "personal" from Judge Lynch is very interesting. It was discovered on the files in the courts division, but nobody knows how it got there. It was sent to the Minister's constituency office and opened by her personal assistant. She said she did not show it to the Minister because it was not on court headed paper. That letter was also dealt with down the line. Nobody in the Department of Justice, in the Minister's private office or in the courts division acknowledged receiving that letter. The only established fact is that the letter was sent to the Minister's constituency office. Nobody knows how it got onto the file. It is strange how a letter could go from her office to a file and she knows nothing about it. Her personal assistant sent it to the private secretary's office but nobody there, or in the courts division, knows anything about it. That does not add up. The Minister is trying to continue the myth that she did not see correspondence on the Judge Lynch case, but that has been proved untrue in the report.

The Minister admits that she saw the reminder letter from the Attorney General dated 1 November, but is not prepared to publish it. Why is she not prepared to publish it? We want to know the severity of the tone in which the Attorney General told the Minister that he wrote to her on 2 October but did not hear from her in return. The suggestion from the Government benches that this matter was dealt with down the line and not seen by the Minister is untrue and the report proves it.

There is always need for reform in an organisation. In the case of the Civil Service, reform has often taken the form of cutting expenditure by reducing staff numbers. This is politically popular and there are no short-term adverse effects on the system. It is only in the long-term, as we are now witnessing, that the shortcomings of such a policy are felt. The obsession with keeping numbers in the Civil Service down and being seen to control expenditure is being exposed for its inherent weakness and short-sightedness.

I accept the findings of the Minister's inquiry that there is an immediate need for changes in organisation and work practices in the Department of Justice. That is common case, but we did not need an inquiry to tell us that. In my short time as Minister of State in that Department some years ago, I saw things that raised my eyebrows. It did not come as a great shock to me that the Department of Justice was examined by two eminent people. The report contains much food for thought. It was relatively well put together but the time allocated for its publication was not sufficient. I also accept that additional resources are needed to strengthen the organisation of the Department of Justice and recognise that the present management structure is seriously overloaded. That is another message in the report.

I am sure a broad ranging review of the organisation and management in all Government Departments is already under way. It would be the inescapable conclusion of any such review that a task is impossible to achieve in the absence of proper resources. That is the gist of the findings and recommendations of the inquiry the Minister for Justice was forced to set up in an effort to save her skin. She is determined to brazen out the public filleting and dissection of her Department and is not prepared to take political responsibility for mismanaging her brief. That was the kernel of Deputy Browne's input to the debate. He blamed everybody but the Minister. I understand that under the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, final responsibility lies with the Minister and that any problems that arise in a Department should be dealt with by the relevant Minister. The administration is wheeled out into the public domain to take the blame for the Minister's responsibilities. We might even be prepared privately to understand that the Minister was ignorant of the pressures on her staff, if we did not know better. The Minister was apprised of this by her officials, their staff associations, the Garda and the prison service. Numerous studies of the Garda Siochána, courts and prison services were brought to her attention and she did nothing about them.

The nation has been treated to a bumper dose of political hypocrisy since this scandal broke. In the first instance, the Minister of Justice was exposed as being an absentee manager of her Department. When she finally came to appreciate the gravity of the situation, what did she do? She set up an inquiry to exonerate herself and point the finger at the system, at the personnel, at someone else — at anyone else.

Did she point the finger at some of her Cabinet colleagues? They denied her and her Department the resources necessary to do their job properly. I listened in amazement to the Minister for Finance as he laid the blame for this incident at the feet of civil servants in the Department of Justice and called for heads to roll. Where have we heard this before? It is the height of political hypocrisy for the Minister for Finance to blame the officials of the Department of Justice for errors caused in the main by lack of resources, when it is his Department which is directly and principally responsible for withholding these resources in the first instance. What about the Minister's Cabinet colleagues in the Departments of Health, Social Welfare and Education? How much of the money needed by the Department of Justice did they snatch away, only to have to give it back indirectly as the sorry year wore on?

When the Cabinet discussed the departmental Estimates for the current year the Minister for Justice was unable to make a convincing case in support of her Department's budgetary requirements. Other more vociferous and persuasive Cabinet members managed to siphon off for their Departments funds which were needed by the Department of Justice. Either that or it was decided by Cabinet that the Department of Justice could do without the money. Perhaps the Minister for Justice would like to share her recollections of the Cabinet's deliberations on her Department's Estimate. I suppose that she would prefer not to. It must have been an unhappy Minister for Justice who bore the bad budgetary news to her officials in the Department. Little was she to know that fate was soon to conspire to expose the folly of her Cabinet colleagues' political cynicism. The plot soon thickened.

The initial embarrassment arose when the prison construction programme was stopped. Lack of money was the reason. That soon changed and we witnessed the first of many climbdowns by the Minister. The public outcry which followed the exposure of this insane decision drove the Minister back to Cabinet and the heat of the political fire melted the hearts of her Cabinet colleagues on her plight. She got more money and the prison programme was reinstated. The money which did not exist was miraculously located and the Minister claimed a victory.

The next serious blow to the Cabinet's plans for a 1997 budget giveaway arose in the aftermath of the murder of Veronica Guerin. This murder, which took place in broad daylight and in the middle of one of the busiest roads in the country, was shocking and obscene. It followed a series of so-called gangland contract killings involving known members of the criminal community and highlighted increasing and apparent willingness on the part of the criminal community to kill with impunity in the belief that they were immune from detection as a consequence of the restrictions on the Garda and the courts systems by lack of resources. The spotlight once more landed on the Minister for Justice and she trudged wearily back to Cabinet and got more money. The Minister again claimed credit for her positive steps towards tackling crime.

We saw more judges, more resources for the Garda and unlimited overtime for the investigation of serious crime. By now, the public at large were alert to a major crime wave involving drugs, armed robbery and murder. The crime barons were laughing openly at the forces of law and order and the foundations of the justice system were being challenged by the criminals. The prisons were bursting at the seams, the courts were unable to deal either speedily or effectively with the criminal cases which were multiplying daily and the Minister was happy to deal with the problems only as the public exposure of their gravity and their extent demanded.

I have little doubt that the Minister's Cabinet colleagues were heartily sick and tired of the regular money transfusions that the justice system required in order to keep the Minister afloat. All their best laid plans for a bonanza budget in 1997 were being scuppered by the Minister for Justice and her pesky Department and there appeared to be no end to the problems. Perhaps they ought to have thought of that when they contrived to starve the Department of Justice of resources in the first instance. Had the Cabinet allocated proper funding for the Department some of the problems we are now witnessing might not have arisen.

The Minister failed to apprehend the crisis in her Department. She cannot deny that she was aware of the crisis which existed in at least two areas, the courts and the prisons. The report of inquiry said as much in citing the information already available to the Minister in the Denham Commission report on the reorganisation of the courts and the prisons strategy document. The Minister was prepared to plough along and contemplate no action which involved the allocation of additional resources to her Department unless she had no other option. It can be appreciated that this Government of openness, accountability and transparency is unlikely to verify the version of events which I have outlined. We know the extent of this Government's reluctance to be accountable for the individual and collective actions of its members. The pane of glass through which the Taoiseach invited us all to regard the behaviour of his Government is caked with dirt and grime of its own making.

An Leas-Cheann-Comhairle

That is quite in order.

It has become the standard practice for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to try and make the arrangements for Dáil debate the central matter of controversy when they find that there is no real political mileage to be gained from pursuing the substance of the issue on which they have demanded the debate in the first place. This is why we have been treated over the past two days to the burlesque performance of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats as Deputy Harney stepped out and Deputy Bertie Ahern stepped in again in a parliamentary Lanigan's Ball. Judged on their in/out performance here, will we see Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats posters at the next election bearing only a slight variation of the old Sinn Féin poster seen in the "Michael Collins" film —"put us in to get us out"?

The Government has been more than generous in allocating Dáil time for debate and questions on the circumstances arising from the delisting of Judge Lynch from the Special Criminal Court panel. When the matter first came to Government's attention, the Minister for Justice immediately came into the House, gave the facts available to her and answered all the questions she could. When the Opposition parties sought to pursue the matter further through a motion of no confidence, the Government confronted it by providing a two day debate on the issues involved.

The Minister made it clear from the beginning that once the inquiry had completed its work, time would be provided for a debate and that she would come into the Dáil to answer Opposition questions. The report on the inquiry was received by the Minister on Monday night, brought to Government on Tuesday evening and published later that night. The Government made arrangements for a debate ranging over two days culminating in an hour's questions to the Minister. When this did not prove satisfactory the Opposition was offered another hour for questions and a further days sitting on Friday, but these offers were declined. The complaints about the organisation of this debate are totally unreal and utterly without foundation.

The Cromien and Molloy report is a seminal commentary on the need for public service reform. The single most regrettable feature of this debate is that, without exception, Opposition contributions have failed to acknowledge the significance of this document in the context of public service reform.

In the first page of the report the summary states:

The Inquiry addressed the sequence of events which led to the failure to communicate the Government's decision to Judge Lynch.

The inquiry team continues:

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 correspondences.

The attempt by the members of the inquiry to follow the sequence of events from the very beginning does not reflect well on a key Department of the State. Three copies of the Government decision were forwarded to three named officers. One was on holiday, another was new to the job and was "unaware of what procedure, if any, the Courts Division needed to follow in relation to the decision" and the third officer to whom the decision was communicated was a temporary draftee into the division to carry out a specific function and also had additional duties to attend to elsewhere in the Department.

The inquiry team could not discover who the junior officer was who had been given the job of processing the decision. They conclude that any instructions given were not followed up and observe "in this unsatisfactory way the trail, in relation to the Government Decision ran into the sand. No action was taken on it".

The inquiry team further takes the view "that the human error in this case cannot be explained away entirely as being due to the organisational, management and systems weaknesses." It concludes that "the same urgency demonstrated recently with new initiatives in the Justice domain needs to be applied to reforming the Department of Justice itself."

Allowing for the imperfections of human memory, holiday disruption and so on, the reality is that Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy, in carrying out their duties and investigation, were met with blank stares, blank memories and silence. However, they proceeded with their investigations and their conclusions' in less than 22 pages, are a seminal commentary on the need for public service reform.

Their story is one of a Department which had virtually no management ethos, in which management processes were "very weak", in which inexperienced staff were simply thrown into the deep end and left to sink or swim, in which organisational structures were inappropriate, its computer system is creaking with overload, it does not even have a librarian, its workload has grown enormously and its EU Presidency duties stretched the system almost to breaking point. That is the conclusion reached by two people, described by Deputy Andrews as eminent, after less than two weeks examining the Department of Justice.

Yesterday, Deputy Bertie Ahern thought the report was rushed, inadequate and unfinished and today he thought it was a very good one, but regretted that the inquiry could not be carried out by the Minister. It is not difficult to imagine what Deputy Ahern would have said if the Minister compiled the report. In any event, he misses the point. The nub of the report is on page 15, if Deputies opposite wish to look it up. Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy conclude there that, "any fair apportioning of blame would have to advert to not just present incumbents in all key positions but also to missed opportunities and failure to initiate change in the past." Nothing could be clearer than that finding. I have heard Members, particularly Deputy Cowen, explicitly explain that the systems and procedures in the Department of Justice under the Minister are somehow different from those that were in place under previous Ministers. That is not true and Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy found in this report that these systems have applied in the past. Those responsible for missed opportunities, for the failure to initiate change in the past now rightly sit on the Opposition benches and long may they remain there.

From what we know of the workings of the Department of Justice as a result of the Cromien-Molloy inquiry into the failure to delist Judge Dominic Lynch, this was a disaster waiting to happen. The procedures — or more accurately the lack of them — for delisting a judge of the Special Criminal Court were exactly the same as those under every Minister for Justice dating back to when Deputy O'Malley held that position in the early 1970s. Opposition Deputies have asked why the Minister for Justice did not ensure that proper procedures were in place for delisting a judge of the Special Criminal Court. One might as well ask why Deputy O'Malley did not ensure proper procedures were put in place when he established the Special Criminal Court in the first place.

Generally, the Civil Service has served the State conscientiously and well. However, there is no escaping the picture painted in the report. Even allowing for the undisputed huge increase in the workload of the Department of Justice arising from Northern Ireland matters the picture the Cromien-Molloy report paints in regard to this matter is one of mismanagement, failure of authority, evasion of responsibility, paper shuffling and buck passing. The major systems failures identified by the report are almost certainly not confined to the Department of Justice, but because of the particularly important and sensitive work undertaken by that Department in regard to security and crime matters, the consequences of a systems failure could be particularly serious. The package of measures agreed by the Government and announced by the Minister for Justice in the House yesterday, providing for immediate, medium and long-term action will, in so far as is humanly possible, ensure that such a systems failure is unlikely to happen again.

I will comment on the performance — and I use that word advisedly — of Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn posing as shop steward for staff in the Department of Justice. I hope the staff in that Department are as impressed as I am. I know the Deputy is supposed to have a certain flair for fiction, although I cannot personally testify to that because the Cumann members bought up all the copies of her book, but her romanticising of the Civil Service is disingenuous and opportunistic.

Maybe the Minister of State will ask the Minister to publish the letter then.

Unlike Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, as a member of the Public Services Committee of Congress I represented those comprising the Civil Service, the members of which are like a cross-section of Irish people in any other walk of life, they are good, middling and indifferent. The issue is not the calibre of the people in the Civil Service, it is the matter of public service reform, an issue to which every Government has paid lip service and on which none has acted since the Devlin report was published in 1969. The report by Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy will have made a major contribution to the quality of public administration here, if it succeeds in bringing that issue of public service reform back to the forefront of the political agenda.

I am not in the slightest impressed by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn posing as shop steward and her ditties about eeny meeny miney moe.

What about the letter? Maybe the Minister of State would ask the Minister to publish that letter. The Minister of State is good at letters and this letter is on the file for a change.

Let us not have any interruptions.

The Leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Harney, came into the House and threatened to walk off the pitch and to take the ball with her if she did not like the rules. Hardly had she gone than Deputy Bertie Ahern followed her. A different ditty occurs in that regard and it goes something like——

Mary had a little lamb.

His face was white as snow and everywhere that Mary went Bertie was sure to go. Is that any way to conduct reasonable discussion in this House? Deputy Cowen argued that the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, has changed the systems in the Department of Justice. That did not happen and he knows that. He also said the mystery letter was seen by the Minister. That is an untruth. It was not. Deputy Andrews said his view of public service reform is that he wants more numbers in the Civil Service. I wonder what Deputy McCreevy will say when he hears that. Deputy Martin is so anxious to impress that he has only one speed. His head must have a button like one on a video recorder that is permanently in fast forward. No credence is given to the report or to the fact that Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn conveniently ignores that one of the authors of it, Mr. Cromien, was the father of the Civil Service. Mr. Cromien would not dump on the Civil Service and nobody on these benches would dump on the Civil Service. The issue is public service reform.

Will the Minister of State give way?

He may allow the Deputy to ask a question.

Would he expect Mr. Cromien and his colleague to dump on the Minister?

The implication in the Deputy's question is that Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy, described as two eminent people by Deputy Andrews, would tailor the truth to suit the Minister. That is an appalling implication. No such charge should be made against them.

Did the Government expect them to do so? That was my question.

They compiled a report which speaks for itself. It presents an unimpressive picture of how business is done in the Department. In that sense it will be a seminal influence on how public service reform proceeds.

Fianna Fáil's approach to this problem is an opportunistic attack on a Minister who, although she has been a little unlucky, has brought great commitment to her job. Fianna Fáil's billboard advertisement says it will give crime a hard time. It is a catchy slogan. However, it might be suggested to Fianna Fáil that it gave crime an easy time in the eight years it was in Government. During that period the crime problem worsened while Fianna Fáil governed in blissful ignorance of the extent of the problem.

At least the Department was run well.

I will not claim the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, is the best Minister of all time. However, she is as good a Minister as there can be until draconian measures are introduced to ensure law and order, the political element is taken out of the equation and the Garda Síochána is allowed more control.

This affair has brought to light the inefficiency of the Department of Justice. Similar inefficiencies may exist in other Departments. The Minister of State said the Civil Service, like every other organisation, has good, bad and indifferent elements. Civil servants have made a large contribution to the State. Nevertheless, they have privileges enjoyed by no other section of the community, in particular sheltered employment. Civil servants cannot lose their jobs. Each of us puts his job on the line every few years and we can lose them. However, civil servants have unbelievable privileges — sheltered employment and no accountability.

The Government believes everything in the political domain should be open and transparent. A light should be shone on the individuals responsible for the appalling gaffe in this affair. The public service is in need of an overhaul. People may enter the service straight from school with no experience of the business world. It would be to everybody's benefit if for a period of, say, two years they had to deal with business problems.

The biggest farce is the career break whereby people with jobs for life may take a three year break from their job. It should not be allowed. Those who want to take a career break do not have their minds on their jobs. It must be difficult for them to take up their jobs when they return. I would question their commitment to their jobs in the first place. The career break system is a weakness in the Civil Service. It does not and could not work in the private sector because key personnel could not be allowed to leave their jobs for such a period. Career breaks are not conducive to good business and the system should be examined as part of the badly needed reform of the public sector.

Some good may come of this affair because it highlights the ineptitude of the public service. The report compiled by Mr. Cromien and Dr. Molloy is hard for anybody in public life to accept. It must concern the Opposition as much as it concerns the Government.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ned O'Keeffe.

That is satisfactory.

With regard to Deputy McGahon's reference to the career breaks system, I have found that those who take career breaks return to their jobs refreshed and often with added training or experience. That has been my experience, particularly dealing with teachers.

I thank Mr. Seán Cromien and Dr. Edmond Molloy for the comprehensive report they have compiled. The report's summary states: "The results of our efforts to follow the 'paper trail' came to an unsatisfactory dead-end at crucial points...." This is an important element and those points are expanded upon later in the report. In the debate last week the Taoiseach and members of the Government made much play of Fianna Fáil being fixated on the events of 1994 and it was our only line of attack. I reject that. We drew comparisons and pointed out the double standards between the events of that year and the current events. I do not intend to dwell on that period. I was not a Cabinet member at that time, although I was a Minister of State. We felt betrayed and hurt by what happened. I was not in the inner circle, so to speak, and many of the events did not involve me.

As I said on many occasions, I deeply regret that the efforts of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds were truncated in such a cavalier fashion. People on all sides trusted him, he had the good of Ireland at heart, he provided leadership, he brought about through sheer political will and self-motivation a dramatic change in the peace process, carried it through to meaningful talks and mapped out the path to peace. However, he was sacrificed and no one knows what might have happened if he had been allowed to continue in office. Apart from the fact that double standards are being applied, that is what I regret most about the events of 1994, not losing office.

The report throws up many questions which must be answered. We need to see a copy of the second letter furnished to the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, by the Attorney General, Mr. Dermot Gleeson. We need the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice to answer the relevant questions to which Mr. Cromien and his colleague could not get answers despite their efforts. We want a special judicial committee established to which the Attorney General and others can give answers. It is clearly understood that the Attorney General, for whom the Taoiseach is politically responsible, cannot come to the House but there is a clear statement in the Programme for Government that people in high places should submit themselves to a committee of the House for questioning. If there is nothing to hide, why will the Attorney General not appear before a committee of the House and why will the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice not clarify all the unexplained matters?

I have never had the honour to be Minister for Justice but before going into the manufacturing business my father was a civil servant in Revenue, based in Dublin Castle among other places. He was moved on secondment by Sean Lemass to Athlone where he started General Textiles. He always told us when growing up that the integrity of civil servants and the commitment and dedication of political people was a potent and powerful mix within Departments. I have found this to be the case in every Department in which I have served — the Department of Education, the old Department of Industry and Commerce, the Department of Enterprise and Employment and the Department of Health for a limited period of ten weeks. I have found that civil servants who have a strong sense of public duty respond quickly to political leadership and commitment. The two must merge and fuse and each must know the parameters of each other's bailiwick.

The Minister for Justice is subject to the Ministers and Secretaries Act. While no Minister can see every letter that crosses his or her desk — that would be a draft proposition — it should be clearly defined which letters should be brought to his or her attention. The Minister for Justice is culpable for not putting such a regime in place within the Department of Justice. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn informed us this afternoon that she put a system in place to avoid errors.

I cannot understand the role played by the Attorney General. When I spoke about this matter last week I suggested that a committee should be established before which the Attorney General could appear. The Taoiseach indicated that, in contacting the Minister for Justice, the Attorney General was acting outside his role. I do not agree. Although he was aware of the seriousness of the matter, he failed to follow up this exchange of letters by making contact either by telephone or sending a fax. He had many opportunities to speak to the Minister for Justice at Cabinet meetings or at the Northern talks. Yet, he failed to act. We are also led to believe that the Minister for Justice did not know and did not act.

As I said last week, I will strongly resist attempts to "dump on" civil servants within the Department of Justice who are operating to standards which have not been set by the Minister for Justice. I regret that the knives are being sharpened for hapless people.

On the question of double standards, I wish to refer briefly to a matter which has exercised me for the past two days, the interview procedures adopted by an RTE subcommittee to select a new director general to replace Mr. Joe Barry who is to retire next April. This is, arguably, the most important and influential post outside the political arena. Yet, the interview board includes an ex-Taoiseach, Dr. Garret Fitzgerald. This is highly unethical and amounts to a breach of public standards.

The chairman of the board and others may say they have faith in the interview procedures and that a person is entitled to their politics but I do not agree that Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, who held the highest political office in the land and is steeped in politics, should be a member of the interview board. This is the man who laid a trap for a presidential candidate in 1990 and masterminded the attack by the then Opposition spokesperson on Defence, Deputy McDaid. It is disquieting and alarming that RTE has seen fit to include him on the selection board.

Imagine the rí-rá and rúille-búille there would have been if Mr. Haughey, Deputy Reynolds or Mr. Lynch had been put on such a sub-committee — invective and rhetoric would have been heaped on Fianna Fáil. Each person is entitled to his or her politics and to express openly his or her position, but not to the point of being a member of a sub-committee which will choose the next director general of RTE. There is another political person on this board, a former MEP for Democratic Left, but I am assured that he is the SIPTU representative on the RTE board and on the sub-committee, therefore he is operating under another brief.

He might get the job.

We have received a report. Our questions have been answered either badly or faultily and they have been surrounded by brouhaha. We cannot get accountability or culpability in the House or in a special committee. These matters will linger long in the political consciousness of the people. We are a political race and this is reflected in our voters. When the time comes, they will remember that certain parties decided in this House to withhold answers rightfully demanded by the Opposition.

It is only a short time since a new Government swept into office with the intention of changing the whole structure of society. The outgoing Government was castigated for its loss of credibility. However, the new Government was not long in office before it fell at every hurdle it tried to clear. The first fall concerned the Minister, Deputy Lowry. Since then, event followed event until we were hit with this crisis, yet the Government continues to brazen it out. This is not about accountability, transparency or a pane of glass, it concerns downright bad and shameful management. If the Minister for Justice had acted in business the way she acted in her office she would have been instantly dismissed, no employer would have kept her on the staff.

Let us consider the way the most important court in the land has been treated. The Minister did not even have the courtesy to phone Mr. Justice Lynch to thank him for his efforts and for patiently enduring such a difficult job. That court deals with subversives who are a threat to our Constitution and our State. When we were in Government, we heard much from the opposite side of the House about the threat to our country from those people. Now, because of thehabeas corpus rule in our courts, prisoners may be released because of the appalling mess which has arisen.

We are told that the Department of Justice is overworked and overloaded but that is nonsense. A new Government Department was set up under the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor. He has done a reasonably good job because establishing a new Department is a difficult task. His Department has taken over many areas for which the Department of Justice was responsible, so its workload has been reduced. The main areas which the Department of Justice now covers are the Garda Síochána and the courts and neither of those areas has been handled well.

The area of petitions has become a disgrace. Deputies, legal people and others in public life write to the Department of Justice on behalf of clients and constituents who cannot pay fines for reasons of hardship. No decision has been taken by the Minister. The Opposition spokesman on Justice raised this matter in the House on numerous occasions and the last reply we received was from the Taoiseach, who said it could be handled without legislation. Why is there a delay in dealing with petitioning? It is causing frustration across the land. The gardaí are up in arms, because they receive letters from people who petition cases and a decision is delayed. We also receive such letters from the Minister, as do other people.

The Department of Justice, because of the way it is now handled, is becoming a lame duck. The Minister for Justice is the weakest Minister in the Cabinet. She is a member of the Collins family, who have been so influential in Irish life. Her late granduncle, General Michael Collins, was a man of credibility, honesty and integrity who served this nation well. He was on the opposite side of the House from members of my family but we all greatly admired him. We also enjoyed the recent film. If the Minister wants to protect the credibility of her family and its influence on Irish life, the honourable thing to do would be to leave her office voluntarily, because she has failed to run her Department.

The Minister of State, Deputy Currie and Deputy Ring should be aware that members of Fine Gael are infuriated with its Deputies — they wonder where the party is going in this Government under the current leadership. The terrible twins, Democratic Left and Labour, are like snakes in the grass. When the Taoiseach is cutting the lawn, I hope he watches the snakes coming from under the hedge.

I call Deputy Ring. As the Minister will commence answering questions at 2.20 p.m., the Deputy has three minutes.

I am sorry that Deputy O'Keeffe is leaving the House. His remarks about the Minister for Justice were disgraceful. The national Fine Gael organisation is proud — just as I, as a backbench Deputy, am proud — of the Minister's successes in the Department of Justice. The problem for Deputy O'Keeffe and other members of Fianna Fáil is that this debate has run out of steam. There is nothing to discuss. A serious mistake was made by officials in the Department but that is not the responsibility of the Minister. She cannot be expected to open every letter and to act as postman. The Department of Justice has the interests of the State at heart and over the years has had many successes.

Deputy O'Rourke mentioned that Dr. Garret FitzGerald sits on the board of RTE. Many Fine Gael supporters raised with me the position of Mr. Seán Duignan, who interviews the Minister, Deputy Owen and other Ministers on television. He is also a political person — he was with Deputy Reynolds when he was Taoiseach. No one from Fine Gael criticised Mr. Duignan when he returned to political programmes on RTE, because he has a job to do. It is wrong that the former Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald should be criticised for being on the RTE board.

He is there to do a job and it is wrong for Fianna Fáil to pick on Dr. FitzGerald and to say nothing about Mr. Duignan. Fianna Fáil wants to have it every way in this debate.

It is a disgrace. If it happened during Fianna Fáil's time Fine Gael would bring the House down. Shame on them.

Did previous Ministers for Justice ever receive notification that there were problems within the Department? Some of them spoke in the debate this morning. It is wrong that Fianna Fáil is trying to have it both ways in RTÉ and in the Dáil. The Minister, Deputy Owen, has done a good job and we are proud of her.

Today we should be fighting on behalf of our constituents or dealing with legislation. At my clinic in Newport last week, I met people living on social welfare who had been fined up to £1,000 for small fishing offences. We should be dealing with such issues today rather than talking about an issue which is past. The people are fed up with it. Fine Gael is proud of the job the Minister is doing. She has the full support of Fine Gael backbenchers and the party organisation as a whole.

What about Labour, the snake in the grass?

She has the full support of Labour and Democratic Left. There is trust in this Government; the last Government fell, not because of the issues, but because there was no trust and Fianna Fáil was always trying to put one over on their comrades in Government. At least this Government has a common denominator.

In order to comply with the order of the House of yesterday which provided that one hour shall be set aside to allow the Minister for Justice to take questions on the report of the independent inquiry in the Department of Justice, I must bring statements on this matter to an end. Questions on the report of the independent inquiry in the Department of Justice will commence now and will be resumed at approximately 3.55 p.m., after Question Time and the announcement of matters appertaining to the Adjournment Debate.

Given that the Minister brought the memorandum to Government on 1 August 1996 and the Attorney General was present on that date, will the Minister advise the House why she did not ensure the Government decision was implemented? In this context will she say why there was no conversation whatsoever between her and the Attorney General between 1 August 1996, when that fateful decision was made, and 1 November 1996 when the Attorney General sent the letter to her?

On why I did not ensure that the decision of 1 August was implemented, I have already explained to the House that the procedure, which is clarified in the report, is that when a Government decision comes to my office it is copied and circulated to the Secretary of the Department and my programme manager for information. It is then sent to the relevant section — in this case, the courts section — for implementation. As I understand it, that procedure was in place before I came to the office, and it is a procedure that has worked for the other 80 or so Government decisions relevant to my Department this year.

On whether I speak to the Attorney General, yes I do, but I did not speak to him about this matter. Deputies will be aware from the report and from statements I made in the House that I did not see the Attorney General's letter of 2 October, received in my Department on 3 October, but I did see his letter dated 1 November and received by me on 5 November, after which I took action.

Given that we are talking about the composition of the Special Criminal Court, will the Minister accept that it is extraordinary to tell the House that there was no conversation whatsoever with the Attorney General regarding this matter between 1 August 1996 and 1 November 1996? I would like the Minister to clear up a grave difficulty I have with this issue. Will she say how the letter sent by Judge Dominic Lynch on 10 October 1996 arrived in her constituency office and miraculously appeared on the file in the courts division of the Department of Justice without anybody knowing how it got there? Will the Minister advise on the course of events which led to that letter ending up in the courts division of her Department?

The Deputy may consider it extraordinary that I did not have a conversation with the Attorney General on this matter, but that is so. The Attorney General confirms that he did not have such a conversation with me and I ask the Deputy to accept mybona fides and the truth of what I am saying. I hope the Deputy is not saying that he believes I am lying because that is not the case.

On how the undated letter, which we now know was sent on the afternoon of 10 October, arrived in my constituency office in the Department of Justice and was not brought to my attention, the letter which was marked "Personal" went to my personal assistant who is responsible for opening such letters. Those letters involve many issues relating to constituency or departmental matters which are not personal and they are sent to the relevant office for attention. In this instance the personal assistant recollects that she got the letter but she has no recollection of exactly when she got it. It was a personal letter with the judge's home address on the top and I read that letter into the record of the House. The personal assistant does not recall whom she gave the letter to. I am sorry I do not know, nor was the inquiry able to find out, how it got from the private office to the file in the courts division. I cannot get the answer to that question because nobody recalls putting the letter on the file.

Will the Minister tell the House who alerted the registrar of the Special Criminal Court to the problem concerning Judge Lynch? Did anybody in the Director of Public Prosecution's office attempt to alert the Department or the Attorney General's office to the problem prior to 6 November? Was the Attorney General's office made aware of the problem during October? I have given the Minister notice of these questions.

Deputy O'Donnell handed me those questions this morning and I will deal with them now. On whether the Department was contacted by the registrar of the Special Criminal Court at any time prior to 6 November 1996 inquiring whether Judge Dominic Lynch was a member of the court, the answer is yes. On 12 November I informed the House that on Tuesday evening, 5 November the registrar of the Special Criminal Court contacted a person in my Department, known as official J in the report. I understand that the registrar asked whether Judge Lynch had retired from the Bench. On who told the registrar of the Special Criminal Court about this, I understand that the registrar was alerted as a result of a conversation he had on the evening of 5 November — the evening he rang the Department — with a solicitor in the Chief State Solicitor's office.

On whether anybody in the DPP's office alerted the Attorney General of the matter, I believe not. Since speaking last Thursday I have been able to confirm that a phone call was received some time after 4.30 p.m. On Wednesday, 6 November by an official in my Department from an official in the DPP's officethat is referred to in the report. Deputy O'Donnell gave me the name of a person in her letter this morning and I can confirm that it was that named person who rang official C in the courts section of my Department some time around 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 6 November.

Is that the first time the person named attempted to contact the Department?

Yes, I understand that was the first time the DPP's office alerted the Department.