Private Members' Business. - Inquiry into Alleged Payments by Dunnes Stores Limited: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Molloy on 10 December 1996:
That Dáil Éireann,
Bearing in mind:
i. serious public concern arising from newspaper reports concerning alleged payments by, or on behalf of, Dunnes Stores Ltd. and/ or Mr. Ben Dunne to members of the Oireachtas and public officials in the period prior to December 31 1993, and
ii. widespread public concern that the truth or untruth of the aforementioned newspaper reports should be established
Resolves that it is expedient that a Tribunal be established, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, as adapted by or under subsequent enactments, and the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1979, to inquire urgently into, and report and make such findings and recommendations as it sees fit, in relation to the following definite matters of public importance:
i. whether, and in what circumstances, the former Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Michael Lowry, was in receipt of payments or other benefits made available by, or on behalf of Dunnes Stores Ltd. and
ii. whether newspaper reports published between November 25 1996 and December 6 1996, concerning alleged payments by Dunnes Stores Ltd. to, or for the benefit of members and former members of the Oireachtas or members of their immediate families and other public officials, or members of their immediate families, are true in substance, and what the motives and circumstances of any such payments were.
And that the Tribunal be asked to report on an interim basis, not later than the tenth day of any oral hearings to the Taoiseach on the following matters:
the number of parties then represented before the Tribunal;
the progress which has been made in the hearings and the work of the Tribunal;
the likely duration (so far as that may be capable of being estimated at that point in time) of the Tribunal proceedings;
any other matters which the Tribunal believes should be drawn to the attention of the Taoiseach at that stage (including any matter relating to the terms of reference);
and that the Taoiseach should inform the person selected to conduct the Inquiry that it is the desire of the House that the Inquiry be completed in as economical a manner as possible, and at the earliest date consistent with a fair examination of the matters referred to it, and if possible, within 90 days.
Debate resumed on the following amendments:
1. To delete all words after "That" and insert the following:
"Dáil Éireann
(1) notes that the Government has negotiated and signed an Agreement with Dunnes Holding Company in relation to the handing over of the Price Waterhouse Report on Dunnes Stores to an independent person, Mr. John Gerard Buchanan, a former judge of the Circuit Court, who will:
(a) examine it and extract from the report details of any payments made to, or transactions entered into, in relation to Members or former Members of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann, or any local authority, health board or other similar body, or employees or board members of public bodies or persons remunerated directly or indirectly out of public funds or to their relatives or to political parties, and
(b) report to the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges and to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges full details of all such payments, transactions and/or references to any such persons or bodies, including in such report full details of any explanations in relation thereto as may be furnished to him by Dunnes Holding Company or such person and any observations or recommendations he may consider appropriate;
(2) awaits the outcome of the consideration by the Dáil and Seanad Committees on Procedure and Privileges, or a sub-committee thereof, of the report from Judge Buchanan;
(3) considers that this method of establishing the facts in relation to the Price Waterhouse Report is the fastest and most efficient possible, and notes that it does not preclude any further investigation, by whatever means is considered necessary by Dáil and Seanad Éireann or by other relevant authorities after publication of the facts in the report; and
(4) welcomes the commitment of the Government to the early enactment of legislation to provide openness and accountability in the funding of the political system.
(Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr. J. Higgins).
2. To delete the second paragraph ii and substitute the following:
"ii. whether, and in what circumstances, Members and former Members of the Oireachtas, or members of their immediate families, and other public officials or members of their immediate families, received payments referred to in the Price Waterhouse Report and related documents (and in particular, payments referred to in the report of Judge Buchanan to the Ceann Comhairle) from, or on the part of, Dunnes Stores Ltd."
—(Deputy Callely).

Last night I referred to the frequently used phase "who guards the guards?". The Government proposes that the sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges — the housekeeping rules committee of the House — should oversee Members, former Members, Senators and members of their families. That would send out all the wrong signals to members of the public who want the issue thrashed out properly. Fianna Fáil supports the motion as amended by its amendment because justice must be done, and be seen to be done, on this issue.

The Government's proposal would put the former Judge Buchanan, the Ceann Comhairle and members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in an unenviable position. They are being asked to do the impossible, to adjudicate when that is not possible because of the rules of natural justice. They cannot compel people to appear before the committee. It was interesting to note that none of the Government Ministers who contributed last night referred to the compellability of witnesses legislation, which is important for this House. In two weeks after that legislation was published, with the help of one other person, I spent a great deal of time drafting 11 amendments to the Bill, one of which proposed that journalists appearing before a committee of the Oireachtas should have the ability to plead inability to divulge the source of their information. I proposed that they should have the same privilege as Members of the Dáil. I often wondered since if that amendment caused the go-slow in the passing of that legislation. My amendments did not see the light of day, but the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance said yesterday they hoped to publish the Government amendments to that legislation in the near future.

The Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, referred to an agreement signed between the Dunne family and the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government the day before yesterday. Will the Minister or Minister of State who concludes the debate indicate if the Government would be prepared to publish that agreement?

The committee proposed by the Government cannot make findings. This matter was well thrashed out in the 1994 committee, of which I was a member. It sat for many hours and became known as the "Danny Wallace committee", formed as a result of the fall of the last Government. I am sure most Members would accept that committee was reasonably successful. Even though it was hamstrung in that it could not make findings, it put all the facts into the public domain and members of the public made their judgment. While it was a case of Fianna Fáil against the rest, I am sure all its members would accept it ended in a draw.

That committee was successful because everybody who appeared before it co-operated and it dealt only with political issues. In this case serious allegations have been made inside and outside the House about whether people received payments and if they did whether they came with strings attached. If it were not for the participation of politicians and advisers in the 1994 committee, it would not have been so successful.

An advice note tendered to that committee on the legal consequences of the committee making findings referred to the famous Jock Haughey case in which Chief Justice O Dálaigh stated:

...a person whose conduct is impugned as part of the subject matter of the inquiry must be afforded reasonable means of defending himself.

The advice note outlines four minimum protections identified by the Chief Justice as follows:

(1) That the person accused should be furnished with a copy of the evidence which reflected on his good name.

(2) that he should be allowed to cross-examine by counsel his accuser or his accusers.

(3) that he should be allowed to give rebutting evidence.

(4) that he should be permitted to address again by counsel the tribunal in his own defence.

None of those protections was available to the people who appeared before the 1994 committee and that is the main reason the committee was not in a position to make findings of fact. The advice note given to that committee went on to state:

In deciding what should be included in its report to the Dáil I think the sub-committee must bear in mind that if it decides to carry out a fact finding exercise based on the evidence which has been brought before it, then the courts will require it to carry out its functions in a judicial or quasi-judicial manner.

Such requirement includes an obligation to apply fair procedures and to arrive at its conclusions in an unbiased and impartial manner. In regard to the latter requirement it is important to note that the Courts in a number of judgments have interpreted the law to require that not only must justice be done but that it must be seen to be done.

Hence, the committee the Government is suggesting is one which would not allow anyone coming before it those four basic minimum requirements as laid down by Mr. Justice Ó Dálaigh in the Jock Haughey case. That is why I said on more than one occasion it puts not only the committee but Judge Buchanan in an unenviable situation. If he contacted any of the people referred to on this list and said he would expose them at this committee, any of them would be quite entitled to get their solicitor to go to the nearest court to apply for an injunction. I am advised such a person would, as of right, get that injunction on the basis that the committee before which it was proposed he or she would go, would not mirror the requirements of Mr. Justice Ó Dálaigh in the Jock Haughey case. They would be entitled to refuse to come before that committee.

There is a precedent for all of this. In 1975 the Committee on Procedure and Privileges examined allegations made in this House by two Deputies, Deputy Molloy and former Deputy Crinnion, in relation to the Minister for Local Government at that time. The Taoiseach might recall those instances. The Dáil referred those allegations to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but that committee rejected a Garda inquiry into the allegations by a majority decision and decided to investigate whether any breach of privilege had occurred.

The Deputies and the Minister were invited to the committee and agreed to attend but the two Deputies involved refused to participate on the basis that they felt that a doubt hung over the privilege attached to the proceedings of the committee. The committee and the Taoiseach decided that very day to move a motion in the Dáil appointing a tribunal because these Deputies refused to make a statement before the committee.

This precedent is important and we, on this side of the House say that, rather than get bogged down in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and its subcommittee, the Government should have started by appointing a tribunal because that is the only way we will get to the bottom of all this.

I found Deputy Dermot Ahern's speech quite interesting and I will return to some of the points he made in the course of my remarks.

The common view in the contributions to this debate, by Deputies from Government and opposition parties, has been that the political process as a whole and the reputations of those who work in it have been tarnished by matters allegedly contained in a report prepared by Price Waterhouse for Dunnes Stores. I am determined everything that can possibly be done will be done to remove that tarnish and establish the facts.

There is only one reason the Government opposes the motion in the name of the Progressive Democrats. We are anxious to deal fully and openly with the allegations made, but in a way which is efficient and effective. The proposal to set up a tribunal now on the basis of newspaper reports would not meet the requirements of efficiency and effectiveness. These reports are extensive, sometimes contradictory, often speculative and generally based on anonymous sources. They do not on their own or in association with an unexplained report, form a reliable basis for the establishment of a tribunal under the tribunals of inquiry legislation. However, the allegations made are damaging and there is an urgent need to have them investigated.

As a first step in that process of investigation, the Government has entered into an agreement with Dunnes Stores and, to ensure that everyone knows exactly what is involved, I will place the full text of the agreement in the Library. In accordance with that agreement, the Price Waterhouse report has been conveyed to an eminent, independent person, Judge Buchanan, who is tasked with making all relevant sections available to committees of the Oireachtas. Nothing in the Buchanan exercise now under way, will inhibit or prevent the Government or the Oireachtas from taking any further action they think fit.

Before going further, it is appropriate that I should place on record my thanks, and that of the Government, to Judge Buchanan. As soon as he was approached he agreed to undertake this task and to do so without delay. His integrity and independence is without question, and his ability is recognised on all sides. While there may be criticism of the process we are using, no one, inside or outside this House, has questioned the suitability of Judge Buchanan for the task. It is important to acknowledge that.

The purpose of the process is clear. It is to bring the relevant information from the Price Waterhouse report into the public domain in a way which does not trespass on the prerogatives of other authorities such as the Revenue Commissioners, protects the names and reputations of persons who have no connections with political or public life, and protects the legitimate legal and commercial interests of Dunnes Stores and others. I acknowledge the cooperation of Dunnes Stores in making this process possible and note its offer to further cooperate with Judge Buchanan as he carries out his task.

What exactly will happen when relevant and reliable information derived from the Price Waterhouse report is put in the public domain cannot be accurately predicted at this stage. We must await the information. What can be predicted is that, on foot of the publication of the information, the Government will take whatever additional steps are necessary, first, to establish any further facts that need to be established and, second, to move to deal with any improprieties that might be brought to light, either on the part of elected representatives or of public servants, subject to the normal processes of law which must be complied with.

The Committee on Procedures and Privileges of this House, and its corresponding committee in Seanad Éireann, is the appropriate body to which to refer allegations involving impropriety on the part of Members of the Oireachtas. If these committees are unable to establish the facts, as Deputy Dermot Ahern suggested might be the case, or to deal with the consequences of them, there are procedures through which any deficiencies can be remedied.

I accept that the privilege and compellability legislation is relevant here. One of the reasons that legislation is being introduced is precisely to remedy the deficiencies to which Deputy Dermot Ahern referred which arose from thein re Haughey case. Admittedly, it has taken us collectively 25 years to deal with that deficiency in the powers of committees of the House which was made manifest in the finding of Mr. Justice Ó Dálaigh in the Haughey case, but we are doing it now. It is too late in some senses but we are doing it; it was not done in any previous Dáil.

I was questioned about this matter this morning on the Order of Business. We took the policy decisions about three weeks ago and the amendments to the Bill are now almost entirely drafted. I think there is one amendment which we must examine again but the work is well advanced and it is receiving high priority in the drafting process.

There are well established legislative and procedural measures for dealing with allegations of impropriety on the part of any person paid out of public funds. These are enforceable, as part of the normal criminal law, with all the requirements of due process inherent in the law.

These measures for dealing with impropriety by any person paid out of public funds are contained in the Prevention of Corruption Acts, 1889-1916, as adapted by an Order of the Dáil of 1928. These Acts include a provision whereby any person holding an office remunerated out of the central fund or of moneys provided by the Oireachtas — that includes Deputies, Ministers and public officials — shall be guilty of a misdemeanour punishable by imprisonment or fine or both, if he: (a) corruptly accepts or obtains, or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain, from any person, any gift or consideration as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do, or for having done or forborne to do, any act in relation to the affairs or business of his Department, or for showing or forbearing to show favour or disfavour in relation to such affairs or business; or (b) corruptly gives or agrees to give or offers any gift or consideration as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do, or for having done or forborne to do, any act in relation to the affairs or business of the State, or for showing or forbearing to show favour or disfavour to any person in relation to the affairs or business of the State; or (c) knowingly uses with intent to deceive the head of his Department any receipt, account or other document in respect of which his Department is interested, and which contains any statement which is false or onerous or defective in any material particular, and which to his acknowledgement is intended to mislead.

That legislation further provides that where it is proved that any money, gift, or other consideration has been received by a person holding an office remunerated out of the central fund or moneys provided by the Oireachtas from a person or agent of a person, holding or seeking to obtain a contract from a Government Department, the same shall be deemed to have been received corruptly as such inducement or reward as is mentioned in the Acts, unless the contrary is proved.

It is important to say that I made inquiries of the head of the Attorney General's office as to whether this legislation, which dates in its most recent enactment from 1928, is effective. My advice is that to the best of the knowledge available, it is effective. The legislation is clear. It clearly comprehends any receipt of money.

Has it ever been used?

It has although I cannot give chapter and verse on that. I am advised it is effective and if any moneys were received, as disclosed in the Price Waterhouse report or any other report, for a purpose encompassed by any of the listed factors I mentioned, that would constitute corruption. It would constitute a criminal offence and would be pursued regardless of the status of the individual under the criminal law. It is important also to recognise that the Dáil, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or any other committee of the House is not a court of law. There is separation of powers here and if somebody is to be prosecuted for a criminal offence in an unprejudicial way, that must be done through a court of law, but that is a constraint all who respect the rule of law would welcome, appreciate and understand. We must do everything we can to bring all the facts into the public domain and then the action that needs to be taken can be taken. If it is political action in respect of a matter that is not a criminal offence but which is within the area of political unacceptability, then political steps can be taken. If it is a matter within the area of criminal law, then that must be dealt with through the courts. The Dáil cannot set itself up as a court and the courts cannot set themselves up as a legislature. There is a clear division here and that must be respected.

In addition to the anti-corruption legislation, which covers all persons paid out of public funds, there are specific instructions to civil servants in relation to outside business interests. These are embodied in circulars issued in 1929 and 1936, which are brought to the attention of all civil servants when they join. Essentially, these rules prohibit an officer from engaging in or being connected with any outside business or activity which would in any way conflict with the interests of his or her Department or be inconsistent with his or her official position or tend to impair his or her usefulness as a public servant. Where an officer is in any doubt as to the propriety of undertaking a particular outside business or occupation, he or she is required to consult the head of his or her Department. Where, in the course of his or her duties, a civil servant comes into contact with a matter affecting a business organisation in which he or she has an interest, he or she should immediately disclose the nature of the interest to the head of his or her Department.

A breach of the rules in this area would leave a civil servant open to disciplinary action under the well established procedures of the Civil Service disciplinary code. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, the penalty imposed could include dismissal.

There is also the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, and Statutory Instrument No. 57 of 1996 made under that Act. This requires that Ministers, Members of the Oireachtas and certain established civil servants make annual written statements in respect of personal interests, and those interests of a spouse, child or step-child of which they are aware, which could materially influence them in the performance of their official duties. A gift or gifts totalling £500 or more from anyone other than a relative or friend, if that could materially influence a person in the performance of his or her official duties, is an interest that has to be disclosed.

Those are the legislative provisions, regulations and guidelines covering public servants and politicians. There is no reason to doubt their effectiveness in dealing with any improprieties that might arise when the facts have been established. Again if there are deficiencies, the Government is determined to remedy them.

Any difficulties that might arise are more likely to relate to establishment of the facts rather than to the application of disciplinary procedures which are clear. As I have made clear, the process in which Mr. Justice Buchanan is involved is the first and I believe the most appropriate initial, and I emphasise the word "initial", step to establish the facts. The House can be assured that as soon as the facts as opposed to speculation and innuendo begin to emerge the Government will move swiftly to take whatever further action is appropriate.

I would like to draw public attention to the distinction between legitimate funding for political activity and anything which might involve corrupt practices. By international standards we have in this country a relatively inexpensive political process. It relies mainly on voluntary contributions to political parties and to politicians by individuals and companies. For example, the annual cost of running the political party I lead in a non-election year is about £800,000. In a general election expenditure by individuals and parties varies, but it would be fair to estimate that, averaged out, the cost of putting a candidate forward by the main political parties is in the region of £15,000 to £20,000 per candidate. A general election can cost a minimum of £0.5 million in our case and has cost much more in the past.

I am putting those figures in the public domain for the first time so that there will be a general understanding of the scale of the funding required by parties or individuals. The total contribution today from public funds to all the parties combined is about £650,000 per annum. That is less than the cost I mentioned required to run one party with which I am directly familiar. This is paid by way of allowances to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats. The system is somewhat arbitrary. A party with eight members in the House gets £150,000 a year while one with six members does not get anything.

They print their own money.

(Interruptions.)

At the Forum everybody got the same.

The gap between the total cost of running the political process and the subvention received from the State has to be filled in some way. It cannot be entirely met by the funds raised in the normal course of events from annual membership fees from individuals or through local voluntary activity including raffles, sales of work, golf classics and other such events. For some time the main parties have had to make up the balance of ordinary ongoing finance as distinct from finance for elections through voluntary corporate donations. That has been my experience since 1990 when I became responsible for a political party. The party cannot be run on the basis of the ordinary annual income that comes in. Leaving elections aside, it is not possible to provide the type of service at the levels of salary required to be paid to get competent people just to keep the party ticking over out of the ordinary annual income.

It has been necessary every year to look for corporate donations just to run the ordinary day-to-day activities of the party. I have no doubt that is true of some, if not most, of the parties in this House. It is certainly true of mine, the only one with which I have direct familiarity. There is nothing improper about this. It is the norm in democracies worldwide.

Not surprisingly, public disquiet on occasions such as this is greater than it might otherwise be because there are no statutory controls on the amounts political parties and candidates can spend, no ceilings on contributions from companies or individuals and, most importantly, no requirements either on companies, individuals or the political recipients to make public the amounts received. That was never done until recently.

I can say with certainty that no corporate or individual contribution has ever influenced a Fine Gael Minister or a Government of which Fine Gael is or has been a part. The number of Ministers who might be aware of the sources of contributions is very small. For their sakes and that of the integrity of the system, the information is tightly held. Fine Gael has, in exceptional circumstances, returned donations where it was felt they might have been made with a subliminal intention of currying favour in regard to a particular decision. It was felt it would be better not to take the money. I have no doubt that is true of all the other parties in this House. In saying this I am not laying claim to special virtue.

I fully understand, however, the public disquiet. To deal with this, the Government has been considering for some time both the public funding of the political process and the regulations which might govern the private funding of such activities. Details of the decisions taken by the Government at its meeting today were announced this afternoon by the Minister for the Environment.

In summary, the Government has moved on two fronts to deal with the tarnishing of the good name of politics and politicians. I hope in doing so we can allay public concern.

We have taken what we believe are the most effective possible steps to establish the facts arising out of the media allegations about payments to political parties and politicians by Dunnes Stores. We are determined to do everything possible to get to the bottom of the allegations. If, as a last resort, it becomes necessary to establish a tribunal under the relevant legislation, that will be done. It will be done, however, on the basis of the most reliable possible information available and constructed in such a way as to ensure it can do its work quickly with the least possible public expense.

We have decided also to increase the public funding of political activity and will introduce accountability for the private funding of political activity. The necessary legislation will be brought before the House as early as possible in the new year.

I wish to respond to specific questions raised about Deputy Michael Lowry. As the House is aware, Deputy Lowry has asked for time to enable him to give a full response to allegations made against him. He has resigned his post as Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to facilitate the preparation of such a response.

The allegations appear to relate to Deputy Lowry's commercial relationship with Dunnes Stores and Mr. Ben Dunne. To my knowledge there is no evidence against him relating to any allegation of political impropriety in the conduct of his public duties either as a Deputy or Minister.

To answer the specific questions put by Deputy Bobby Molloy, to the best of my knowledge neither Mr. Ben Dunne nor any company in which he had or has an interest benefited financially from any decision made by Deputy Lowry during his period as Minister. If Deputy Molloy or anyone else has any information to the contrary and gives it to me, it will be fully investigated immediately. The Minister for Finance has confirmed that, in his time as Minister, he is not aware of any Fine Gael or any political representations seeking changes in the tax law made to him or his Department on behalf of Dunnes Stores or the Dunne family.

Deputy Molloy has put other questions which can be appropriately answered by Deputy Lowry only. I understand it is Deputy Lowry's intention to ask for permission to make a personal statement in the House on 19 December and that he will, if required, subsequently make himself available to answer questions before an appropriate committee or sub-committee of the House.

I have covered most of the questions raised by Deputy Dermot Ahern. On the committee's ability to find facts, in so far as they relate to a revenue matter, the appropriate way to find them is through the Revenue Commissioners. In so far as they relate to an offence contrary to the legislation I have cited, they are a matter for the courts. Where they fall into neither category, in other words, where there is no appropriate legal arrangement and it is primarily a political matter, any deficiency in the powers of the committee to deal with it will be remedied either by the privilege and compellability legislation or separately, as necessary.

This is not an indication that we will allow a committee of the House to do the work of the courts, the Revenue Commissioners or any other duly constituted authority for the enforcement of the law. I do not believe Deputy Ahern would expect me to do so.

Will the Taoiseach give way?

Will the Taoiseach accept that any person who appears before a committee will have his or her name impugned by virtue of the fact he or she was asked to appear before it?

No. The purpose of the Buchanan process is to allow the information to be sifted through to eliminate from the list those not involved in public affairs, where the payments made are of no concern to the House or public business, and to afford those who fall into the other category an opportunity to furnish an explanation to the judge, be it entirely innocent or otherwise. This will give them an opportunity to clear their names in their own words before the committee receives the report.

Having studied the report, if the committee still feels there are questions to be asked of a particular individual, it may be that he or she would have no difficulty in answering them solely to assist it in its work in respect of somebody else or some other aspect of the inquiry it wished to take up. There will be no pejorative implication in anybody being asked to assist the committee in its work, no more than there will be in any individual being asked to assist any committee of the House in its work. That is reasonable. If there is any illegality involved, the appropriate way to deal with it is through the courts. Deputies trained in law will appreciate that the Dáil cannot set itself up as a court.

We have had a number of tribunals of inquiry in recent history. While history does not teach us exact lessons, it gives us experience which can prove useful. The beef tribunal had extremely widely drawn terms of reference. The kitchen sink was literally thrown in. It cost a huge amount of money and found comparatively little in terms of firm decisions or recommendations. The reason it cost a huge amount of money was that its terms of reference were literally made up on the floor of the House. They were added to literally by the hour as the debate proceeded. As a result, we ended up with a tribunal which cost a mint, in order to get a Government out of difficulty on a particular day in the Dáil. In contrast, in the case of the hepatitis C tribunal it appears the terms of reference were drawn rather more carefully. The preliminary work was done, which did not reveal all the relevant facts but which at least refined the issues down to a point where we knew precisely where the gaps were in the information. The House was, therefore, able to draw the terms of reference of that tribunal much more narrowly and precisely so that we could find out in an effective way the information we wanted.

I would say to Deputies who are anxious to get to the bottom of the matter and who are sceptical, perhaps justly so, as to whether one can get all the information through a normal process of inquiry in the House, it is best to ensure that is done, if a tribunal is necessary, having refined the terms of reference in the most precise fashion possible. The process we are now going through is the quickest, most cost effective way of getting the facts. Although the Opposition will obviously support the motion — I have no quarrel with that — it will see at the end of the day that the approach we are adopting is the best one.

Ba mhaith liom a chuid ama a roinnt le mo chuid comhlachtaithe an Teachta Dála Cullen agus an Teachta Dála Dempsey. When discussing this issue it is as well to remind ourselves once again, lest we forget, that the reason we are having this debate, the reason for the suggestion by the Progressive Democrats of a tribunal, which is supported by our party, is that it has been alleged that a Member of this House, a former member of the Government, received payments in excess of £200,000 for extensions and renovations to his family home. It is important to keep that in our minds because events of the past ten days might well have been put in place to try to cloud that issue. The allegations have never been denied.

I was interested this evening to read the statement of the Northside Seven who, knowing that the former Minister is to make a personal statement next week, decided to pre-empt it and capture the high moral ground. I have always said in this House that the high moral ground is the most dangerous ground to be on because there is only one way to go from there and that is down.

That is it over there. Four green bottles standing on a wall.

(Interruptions.)

The Deputy should be allowed continue without interruption.

We never claimed to be on it, as did the Deputies over there.

I said in 1994 that it was the one place in the world I never wanted to be, and I have no ambition to be on it now.

Especially when you see who is on it.

In regard to the investigation of the allegations, rumour and innuendo, it is very important that the matter be cleared up as quickly as possible. Like my colleagues I believe that, despite what I am sure will be tremendous work by Judge Buchanan in sifting through and scrutinising the Price Waterhouse report and related documents, which I hope he has received, a committee of this House which is weighted politically cannot be asked to act in a quasi-judicial way in making a determination, and in any event under Standing Orders committees are not capable of making determinations.

It is important to realise that former Members and people who were never Members of the House, in this instance Mr. Ben Dunne, cannot be compelled to appear before a committee of the House. It makes a nonsense of the committee, therefore, if it can interview only a small number of politicians, many of whom perhaps received their contributions in a perfectly legitimate way as election expenses. I strongly believe that the Government should think again about its attitude to the Progressive Democrats motion. It places an inordinate burden of work on the Ceann Comhairle and his office, particularly given that they are already under so much pressure.

Hear, hear.

How will we get public officials to come before a committee of this House when we cannot compel them to do so? There have been ten days of rumour and innuendo about who is and who is not on the list, and there is probably no politician in either of the two Houses of the Oireachtas who has not at one time or other been on the list.

Politics as a profession has taken a battering in recent years, particularly in the past ten days. The public believe that politicians are either on the make or on the take, and that is a huge attack on our profession, a profession of which every Member of both Houses is very proud. We must move very quickly to re-establish the integrity of politicians and ensure that the public can once again have confidence in politics as a profession. If we do not do that, we are attacking ourselves and preventing new entrants from coming into the profession because they believe that once they decide to stand for election they are immediately tainted. That is a real fear people have and it is time we set about increasing the esteem in which the public hold politicians.

I welcome the statement by the former Minister that he will come into the House next week and make a personal statement. I regret that was not done sooner because it has helped to create frustration for everybody in politics.

When we talk about tribunals everybody thinks of the beef tribunal. Deputy O'Donnell and I had much argument with the Government, particularly the Minister for Health, about a tribunal to investigate the hepatitis C scandal. That tribunal is now working very quickly, efficiently and effectively and that is acknowledged publicly. Why could a tribunal such as that suggested by the Opposition not work equally efficiently and effectively? It could compel witnesses to come before it. Much of the preliminary work would be done by Judge Buchanan and all his papers could be presented to the tribunal in the same way as much of the preparatory work was done for the hepatitis C tribunal.

We are not ruling it out.

When the Government Chief Whip says that he is not ruling it out it seems the keeper of the high moral ground must have been in contact today and said: "lads, go easy on this because we might change our minds in a week's time or ten weeks' time", and that would be nothing new. I am delighted I have excited the Northside Seven.

The unauthorised press release.

I strongly support the motion. It is the only way we will get to the bottom of this issue and clear the names and integrity of politicians in both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this debate, to support this motion and the Fianna Fáil amendment. Deputy Lowry resigned from Government, according to him, because of a perfectly legitimate business deal. On the radio the following Monday he repeatedly assured us that it was a perfectly legitimate deal, and many of his colleagues in Fine Gael, and indeed some in Labour and Democratic Left, have told us that again. The question people are asking is if everything was above board and legitimate, why did he resign? If it was perfectly legitimate why does he not know how the extension materialised at his home in Tipperary and why did he have to go to a conclave of advisers in order to let us know two, three or four weeks down the road how that happened? He does not know whether it is for services rendered, extended credit or a loan facility. According to the interview with Marian Finucane, he does not even know whether he owns the house or the extension built on to it.

He will tell the Deputy next Thursday.

Does Deputy Finucane know?

I realise perfectly legitimate business deals can be very complex for a variety of reasons——

The Deputy wrote a variety of Gary Glitter thrillers.

Minister Carey is welcome back to the planet.

Deputy Dempsey, without interruption.

——but if Deputy Lowry is half the businessman he is supposed to be, I cannot understand how he could conclude a business deal and not know the deal he made. Perfectly legitimate business deals between companies usually end up on the books of both companies and they correspond to one another. Payments for an extension to a house in Tipperary do not usually end up as payments for the refurbishment of a centre in Dublin.

Almost three weeks have passed and up to this evening Deputy Lowry has failed to give any kind of credible explanation for why he resigned. He has indicated he will make a personal statement but everybody in this House knows that he cannot be questioned on it.

The Deputy should read the last paragraph of the Taoiseach's statement.

He is using that device to make sure he cannot be questioned in this House.

P.J. Mara wrote that for the Deputy.

Let us not have any further interruptions.

We all know Deputy Carey's limitations. He should not put them on the rest of us. Deputy Lowry said his first duty is to his business, his party and his country; I invite Deputies to note the order in which he said that.

There was a time when Fine Gael boasted about its patriotism and its commitment to the service of this State.

Never to the same extent as the Deputy's party which "greenfields" it here every day.

Deputy Carey is supposed to be a Minister; he should behave like one.

If Minister Carey cannot listen to the truth he should leave the House.

Deputy Dempsey, without interruption from either side of the House.

When did Deputy Bertie Ahern go to see Ben Dunne?

Does Minister Carey know?

Then he should stand up and talk.

What did Ben Dunne tell Deputy Ahern?

The Minister of State is raving as usual.

Deputy Ahern went away with empty hands.

Minister Carey should go back to the west. There is nobody left there.

Order, please. The Deputy in possession has only a few minutes remaining. Interruptions from both sides of the House must cease.

I would appreciate it if there were no more blueshirt tactics.

Deputy Dempsey's ambition is running ahead of him. He said he would be a Minister by now.

There was a time when Fine Gael boasted of its patriotism and its commitment of service to the State. That commitment was typified by people like WT Cosgrave, Liam Cosgrave, John Kelly and many others, but Fine Gael, under its present leadership, has lost all its pride. It prostituted itself to get into Government and it has been turning tricks ever since, ably abetted by Democratic Left which is acting as its pimp.

The Deputy's party pulled the rug from under poor Charlie.

I ask the Minister of State to desist.

When the image of law and order did not suit Labour and Democratic Left, Fine Gael ditched it. It abandoned the Castlerea prison proposal——

Wrong again.

——because the Taoiseach said there were too many people in prison. It announced a proposed bail referendum and abandoned it at the insistence of Democratic Left and Labour. There was a time when those in Fine Gael would have stood up to this kind of nonsense. They would have asserted themselves and stood up for what they believed in, but not any more. They are in Government without power and are afraid to stand up for their beliefs. They are a sad spectacle. If ever the Fine Gael Party needed somebody like Ciáran Fitzgerald in their midst, the former Irish rugby captain, it is now; we know what he said about pride.

What about the Labour Party, the party of such high moral authority, the party which feels it can lecture everybody in this House about honesty and integrity? It tells us this Government will last because there is trust between the parties.

The Deputy does not know what that means.

Of course Deputy Spring trusts Deputy John Bruton; he knows Deputy Bruton will concede to all his whims.

Ask Deputy Ahern about the time he went to see Ben Dunne.

Will the Chair ask Deputy Carey to leave the House if he is not prepared to listen to my contribution?

Deputy Dempsey, Members of the House should be addressed in accordance with the title they hold. I ask Members on both sides to let us have an orderly debate.

The Tánaiste trusts the Taoiseach and Minister De Rossa because he does not have anywhere else to go. The Labour spin doctors told us the last Government fell because of a lack of trust; we have had that spin for the past number of years.

The Deputy backed the wrong horse.

What was the reason for that lack of trust? Let us examine some of the confidence building measures engaged in by the Labour Party and their handlers over the two years they were in Government with Fianna Fáil. Deputy Kemmy's frequent forays on to the plinth were great for building up trust.

The Deputy is a good man for that also.

Appointing family members and party hacks to key positions in Government also helped to build up the cohesion of the Government.

The Deputy was a member of the gang of four.

Deputy Dempsey, without interruption.

Giving off the record briefings to key journalists, threatening the stability of that Government, was also helpful and a great way to build up trust. Making personal attacks on the Taoiseach of the day in those private briefings certainly helped to build up trust.

We were locked out.

Calling somebody who engaged in that type of activity "a snake" is very unfair to snakes.

They had to get a locksmith at one stage.

What of the current débâcle and high standards? The new morality of the Labour Party seems to be, "If we decide we can trust you, you can do what you like". If someone has the Labour Party's imprimatur, they can get away with anything.

Deputy Dempsey will never forgive us.

I heard a Labour Deputy on a radio programme last week — he is present — talking very disparagingly about Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael getting donations from big business before it was revealed that Labour got £15,000 from Dunnes Stores. That is another example of Labour morality. It is so righteous that it is a different matter when it receives donations. It says it is for a just cause and that there is no possibility it will be influenced.

Tell us about brown paper bags.

Snakes in the grass.

That hypocrisy is typified by what its members did today when they knew Deputy Lowry intended to make a speech.

Rubbish.

I want to turn briefly to the media treatment of this particular affair. Sam Smyth did an excellent investigative job when he produced evidence to back up serious questions raised by the Lowry affair. What he did was perfectly legitimate and in the public interest. It was good journalism.

What about the £1.1 million? Where did that go?

Deputy Finucane must desist.

I will talk to Deputy Finucane in a moment about Fine Gael black propaganda. Because of that particular piece of good journalism, many others in journalism should examine their consciences as to what they did and said.

Fine Gael is set for the next election.

Was it not very convenient that just when Fine Gael and the other Government parties were in serious trouble a mystery Fianna Fáil man appeared who was alleged to have received £1 million? If other journalists had exercised the same care and got the same proof as Sam Smyth for any allegations they made, many of the shameful pieces which appeared last week would never have been published.

Ring the editor ofThe Irish Times and ask him if he had information.

Let us have some order.

We need a free press, but we also need a responsible one. The series of apparently unfounded stories which appeared over the past week were the product of the infamous black propaganda wing of the Fine Gael Party which is alive and well, as it has been for generations. Everybody knows about it. Its propaganda is ususally very personalised vilification, a whispering campaign around the doors at election time and between elections. They are past masters at it, but they have been found out this time.

Journalists should expose corruption and anything else that is wrong, but they should be wary of stories from Fine Gael sources, whether they come from a Member or from influential communications experts outside. This motion deserves the support of the House. It deserves the support of the Labour Party based on their words in the past. Their actions tonight will speak more eloquently than any of their words over the past three or four years. I hope I will see them going through the correct lobby.

I will start where my colleague left off and comment on the usual duplicity of the Labour Party.

What party is the Deputy in this week?

I am in Fianna Fáil. I have no doubt about where I am. I will deal in a moment with the promises of the Labour Party to save the country from corruption by introducing an electoral Bill, and their assertion that the only way to make politicians behave is to publicly fund them.

Take care I do not give the details of my negotiations with Fianna Fáil on that Bill.

I will deal with the issues.

Take care on the limits that were set.

As Deputy Howlin has interjected, let me say that the members of the Labour Party speak out of both sides of their mouths at the same time; they say that politics can be kept clean only as long as Labour is in Government and the Government and the taxpayer pay for everything. I reject that notion.

Is the Deputy against public funding, because that is a new story?

I am not convinced.

That is the Progressive Democrats story.

Who will the Deputy join next?

Let us hear the Deputy in possession without this level of interruption.

I am not convinced, and I do not accept the premise that because people receive contributions to help them fight elections they are corrupted. I dislike the implication.

The Deputy would know better than anyone.

The magnificent seven, the "men from Del Monte" are up at the back ready to squeeze another bit out of the can. This evening we heard the concerns of the north-siders and the statement calling on the former Minister, Deputy Lowry, to make a statement to the House. It is interesting they say that their constituents are deeply concerned. There is no mention that they themselves are concerned. It is the usual double talk, confusing the issue so that they can deny what they said when they face Fine Gael.

That is untrue.

The response this evening was that the former Minister, Deputy Lowry, will make a statement this week.

I am extremely disappointed that he should choose the last day on which the Dáil will sit this year to come to the House to explain himself. He is doing so in the full knowledge that questions are bound to arise from his statement and that there will be no colleagues around to question him. I presume he hopes the spirit of Christmas will take over and that the issues will fade away. Shame on him for treating the House in this way.

That is unworthy, and typical of the Deputy.

It is not. The Deputy has had enough time to come into this House. It is a cynical exercise to choose the last day of the Dáil session to make a statement on a serious matter. I make no apologies for saying that. He could not find the information up to now. Why does he come in tonight and use the opportunity of participating in this debate to make a statement.

The Deputy has no right to prejudge what he might say.

Let us hear the Deputy in possession without further interruption.

I am sure I speak for most Members——

Never speak for this side.

I would not dare speak for the Minister of State. He has done enough gibbering over the past half hour which will stand on the record on its own.

The only gibberish I heard was the Deputy's reason for joining Fianna Fáil. That was real gibberish.

The only exercise Deputy Carey gets is coming into this House to jump to conclusions. He should hold on and listen to the facts. This evening the Taoiseach fell into the same trap when he implied that there were allegations of impropriety on the part of Members of the Oireachtas. There are no specific allegations against specific Members of this House. The only fact available to the House is that the former Minister had to resign his office on the basis of evidence presented in the newspapers. I reject being tarnished by his actions. I am beginning to feel that one of these days I will have to approach Dáil Éireann wearing a long trench coat to hide myself coming through the gate to an honourable profession. I would point out to the media and other professions that the standards we have to live up to in public life are much higher than those of other professions. People would do well to bear that in mind when they speak about a profession of which I and many others are proud.

By not setting up a tribunal that would have some chance of getting at the truth behind the newspaper allegations, the Taoiseach and Fine Gael have once again failed to show publicly that they have the capacity and desire to get at the truth. A sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will not get to the bottom of this. I predict that questions will be raised about some politicians which will lead to questions on other issues probably contained in the Price Waterhouse report. With due respect to Judge Buchanan whom I respect for taking it on, it will be a thankless task which will not deliver to this House or into the public domain what might be contained in the Price Waterhouse report. There is no point in pretending it will.

The Taoiseach and the Government were wrong to choose this road. At a minimum they should have taken the line that was chosen by the Wallace committee which at least presented the opportunity for people to be questioned directly and which led to the answers coming into the public domain. That clearly will not happen in this case, and it is a sad reflection on the Government that it had not the courage to do something that would have provided some of the answers.

The Labour Party's bottom line, as evidenced by their statement this evening, is to stay in Government on its own terms and to hell with the public, so long as they get their way.

The Deputy knows nothing about it.

Everything the Labour Party has done since it got into power is contrived to suit the Labour Party on the high moral ground.

Who are the "mé féiners" now, looking after their own skin?

I would not want to be on the high moral ground today when I see who is standing on it. It is a lonely place to be, and the people who covet it are those who will answer at the next election, to which I look forward.

(Interruptions.)

I will answer to the people of Waterford as I always have, and I do not have to speak out of both sides of my mouth to do it.

For what party this time?

If I were Deputy Howlin I would look to my seat in Wexford. I will look after my seat and the Deputy can look after Wexford. Deputy Ferris, who has been shouting at me, should be more worried about his seat than I am about mine, given that he will be fighting in a two-seat constituency.

I support my party's amendment. I agree with the Progressive Democrats that a tribunal should be set up and that the Government's approach is wrong.

I had intended to say many things but as this is the season of good will I decided that much of it would be better left unsaid. Deputy Dempsey referred to the Taoiseach having nowhere to go and I presume he also meant Fine Gael——

I referred to the Tánaiste.

I remind him that options are fast running out for him and his party. Most of the options have already been tried and have failed so I suggest he consider his comments in relation to himself.

Everybody is anxious and is entitled to have as much information as possible about this alleged wrongdoing. Some people, in the goodness of their hearts, recognise that these are allegations. However, not everybody was or is willing to await the outcome of investigations. The occupants of high moral ground should be careful.

The Minister of State should look to his left.

Look out for the daggers. I can see the hands going up.

What needs to be learned from what happened is how and why it happened. How was information leaked? How did allegations become convictions before we had information?

I can well imagine what went on among the Opposition Deputies in the 24 hours after these allegations were made. I am sure hurried attempts were made to ascertain whose names were on the list and whether they featured prominently?

——and how many lies Fine Gael would tell to get out of it.

Was it a coincidence that there was no name from the major Opposition party. One would presume on that basis that the major Opposition party existed without funds in the past few years.

Not true.

The Minister of State has not been to any of our golf classics. We will invite him next year.

The main Opposition party stretches credibility from time to time but if it attempts to suggest it did not receive subscriptions or donations from any quarter I would be worried about it because such a practice was acceptable. However, for an unknown reason the occupants of the high moral ground have suddenly decided that it was not in order.

The usual occupant of the high moral ground, the Progressive Democrats, all of whose Deputies are decent people, has the propensity to adopt a high moral attitude whenever an occasion arises.

The Minister of State should look to his left.

There is no indication of a single penny from any business sector being given to the Progressive Democrats Party. I am prepared to believe most things——

The Minister of State looks so sincere.

——and I am prepared to accept its denials until such time as proof is presented otherwise — unlike its Deputies. I find it hard to accept that at no time in the last ten years did that party receive a donation from any business good, bad or indifferent. I hope when the time comes to answer questions they will not be directed at the Government parties in particular but also at those in Opposition.

There will be a few extensions to be explained.

They might have some questions to answer and, if so, I hope they answer with the same alacrity they seek from others.

Not about houses or extensions.

How many houses were built?

They should not adopt the position of a school boy in a glasshouse about to go wild with his catapult. We must recognise that political donations have been accepted and there was no rule or law against that practice.

Deputy Michael McDowell seems to view this matter with some mirth. At what stage did he become aware of the contents of the Price Waterhouse report? Was it at the same time the rest of us read it in the newspapers or previously?

Or at the time the Attorney General found out.

Did he consult his colleagues as to what might happen in the event of the disclosure of the Price Waterhouse report?

I am sorry that an acrimonious debate such as this should arise coming into the holy season of Christmas. Those concluding the debate should answer the questions I posed.

The Minister of State is aptly named.

St. Bernard; his better value beats them all.

I thank the Fianna Fáil Party for supporting the motion. The worst possible disease from which anyone can suffer is paranoia. The Government should deal with its paranoia about the Progressive Democrats Party. The Minister of State, Deputy Durkan, asked me this evening what funding the Progressive Democrats Party received from the corporate sector for the past 12 months.

The past ten years.

I spoke to the trustees of the party this evening and to date in 1996 we have received £35,000 in corporate donations. It would not even be enough to build a conservatory on Deputy Lowry's house.

It might build a toilet.

What about the last ten years?

I can send the Minister of State a copy of our audited accounts.

Does it give the sources?

No. Like all the other parties in the House we do not reveal the sources.

In his speech, the Minister for Social Welfare, Proinsias De Rossa, referred 17 times Progressive Democrats Party and five times to Deputy Molloy and me. However, he did not mention the former Minister, Deputy Lowry. It is quite extraordinary.

Shoot the messenger.

It is a whitewash.

In this House on 24 May 1991, at col. 2460 of the Official Report, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, said: "Every citizen who pays taxes ... has an immediate interest in this unfolding debacle." He also said: "... we are about to demonstrate to our international trading partners that [we do not] tolerate financial chicanery...." He went on to criticise Fianna Fáil for what he said was a campaign of vilification against his party. He proudly claimed the Workers' Party, of which he was then a member, was the first to call for a tribunal of inquiry into allegations of irregularities in the beef industry. His party was at the receiving end of the vilification on that occasion, yet he and his colleagues were giving it out in doses last night. However, they will not deflect me from the issues in hand.

The issue at hand is the honesty and integrity of our political system. I take grave exception to those who believe that ordinary standards of openness or truth are the high moral ground because they are not. Parties may not have one view in Opposition, be the great champions of openness, transparency and accountability and talk about Government as though behind a pane of glass, yet when hit by controversy in their own ranks adopt a different and inconsistent attitude.

Since this issue arose the Government has mishandled and misjudged it. At the beginning the Taoiseach attempted to play down the allegations reported in theIrish Independent of 29 November. He said he had a brief chat with his Minister, a brief glance at the newspaper and that it had all happened before Deputy Lowry became a Minister. He said that if an explanation was necessary he was sure Deputy Lowry would provide it. From that point every effort has been made to blame everybody from my party to the media.

Because Fine Gael is getting a bad press does not mean we have a bad press. We must remember it was Susan O'Keeffe and the "World In Action" programme that brought to light the irregularities in the beef industry. On foot of that the Taoiseach was delighted to vote for the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry into that industry. He said tonight that newspaper reports are not sufficient grounds on which to have a tribunal but they were in 1991. Thanks to journalist Chris Moore our attention was drawn to the scandal of the Fr. Smyth affair. Thanks to Liz Allen we learned of the Brink's-Allied story, not because of anything that happened in this House. We cannot pick and choose when we decided to support the media. Thanks to Sam Smyth we have had the resignation of Deputy Michael Lowry. I do not take any personal glee in saying that.

That is hypocrisy.

If the Minister did nothing wrong why did he resign? It is not good enough that almost two weeks after that resignation we are none the wiser as to why he resigned and we have to wait another eight days. Every ordinary person knows who pays for their extensions, every ordinary person knows whether they have informed the Revenue Commissioners if a company or some other person paid for renovations——

He was not an ordinary person.

——and everybody knows whether they own their house. I do not accept that it takes almost three weeks before we will be given answers to those obvious questions.

Can the Deputy tell us how much——

I posed a number of questions here last week and I want to repeat them given that they have not been answered. Did Dunnes Stores pay £208,000 towards renovating Deputy Michael Lowry's house and, if so, were the Revenue Commissioners made aware of that transaction? Can the Taoiseach assure the House that Ben Dunne did not make representations on any occasion to influence decisions made when Deputy Lowry was Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications?

The Taoiseach answered that question yesterday.

Can the Taoiseach assure the House that Ben Dunne was not at any time a shareholder in an offshore company that benefited from any decision made by Deputy Lowry, former Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications.

That was answered.

It was not.

(Interruptions.)

The Deputy must be allowed to make her speech without interruption, she is about to conclude.

Will the Taoiseach say, given that Deputy Lowry made a full disclosure to him before he became a Minister — the Taoiseach said in this House on 17 October 1995 that he had got an unprecedented scale of disclosures from all office holders, including Ministers, Ministers of State and the Attorney General — whether Deputy Lowry made him aware he had a loan from Dunnes Stores? I have asked the Taoiseach to publish details of the disclosure and he has refused.

How does the Deputy know it was a loan?

Will Minister of State, Deputy Carey, please desist from interrupting?

We do not know what it is, we are simply asking questions.

Why does the Deputy assume it is a loan?

Minister of State, Deputy Carey may not ignore the Chair.

He is a disgrace.

The route suggested by the Government as a means of finding out what happened is convoluted and destined to go nowhere. The committee that will be put in charge of carrying out the investigation has a Government majority; it meets in private; it has no power tosubpoena witnesses or documents; and if anybody misleads that committee it will not be an offence. For all those reasons that committee is not a satisfactory way of trying to find out the truth. More importantly, to ask a committee of Dáil Deputies to inquire into allegations in relation to politicians is like asking the Blood Transfusion Service Board to inquire into the allegations of the contamination of the blood supply or asking the beef industry to inquire into irregularities or allegations about irregularities in that industry. It is not credible that an in-house toothless committee should carry out an inquiry into something about the reputation of politicians. For that, if for no other reason, the public will not have faith in any report or inquiry that committee will carry out.

It is important to have a political system that is honest and a system of public administration that is fair and above reproach. Those are essential in any democracy. We have been fortunate here in that we have had, and do have, an honest political system and a system of public administration of which we can all be proud. If there are improprieties and if there are individuals who took money improperly they need to be rooted out because all of us will fall as long as we are associated with such people.

Renovations carried out to the house of a Minister or Deputy or payments through an offshore bank account to a former Member do not amount to political donations. We should not confuse two issues. We are talking about serious allegations. The only thing that has been substantiated is what we read on 29 November in theIrish Independent where we saw photostats of cheques. The story has not been denied or contradicted, we are simply waiting for an explanation.

Sam Smyth said Deputy Lowry did not know anything about it.

The Deputy has only a few minutes remaining. Allow her to utilise that time without any further interruption.

Last week I suggested the Government use the powers in the Companies Act. Our legal advice is that under section 19 of that Act the Minister can appoint an authorised officer to go into any company and get any documents he wishes. He can do that if he believes there was any misconduct or fraud. If company accounts were falsely recorded that is fraud and sufficient grounds for the Minister to use the powers in section 19 of the Act. That is a preliminary measure before a decision would be made to go to the High Court to appoint an inspector. We have no power in this House to require the Minister to do that, it is a matter for the Minister or the Government. Therefore we could not put down a motion to that effect, though I did make inquiries in that regard. The Government said that procedure would not work and would not be legal and I accept that. For that reason we availed of the only other course open to the House, the power to appoint a tribunal. Nobody has disputed that a tribunal would be legal and thorough. Everybody likes to talk about the beef tribunal but as Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn said, a tribunal is sitting a short distance from here about which Fintan O'Toole, a journalist withThe Irish Times, said that after one hour of evidence we learned more than in two years either through this House or the Miriam Hederman-O'Brien report. Facts we did not know for 20 years are now emerging. It is doing its work in an efficient, speedy and thorough fashion and is a model for how a tribunal in this matter could work.

In relation to the cost, I believe no price is too high to pay for the truth. We will pay a heavy price if we leave any stone unturned in ensuring that the allegations that have been made are fully investigated. A committee of this House has neither the resources, the power nor the wherewithal to investigate simple transactions, never mind complex ones.

In relation to political funding, I will not repeat private conversations. Anyone who engages in repeating private conversation is dishonourable but for some reason the Minister for Social Welfare saw fit last night to refer to a private conversation. I never approached the Minister for Social Welfare and I hope he corrects the record. I had a conversation with him but I did not approach him.

Will the Deputy answer questions about that?

Do not push her.

I ask Deputy Durkan to use his brain and to think about it. Public money should be used to fund this House and our parliamentary institutions to ensure Deputies have adequate back-up research facilities, to ensure the work of this House can be conducted on a fair and impartial basis. Regardless of size all parties have basic requirements. In the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, every single party, even the late Senator Gordon Wilson, got the same amount because it was recognised that parties have basic needs, regardless of size. A system of funding that gives the larger parties seven or eight times more than the smaller parties is not fair. That is the proposal.

A Deputy

How much is the Deputy's party getting?

We are getting £150,000.

The Deputy should be allowed to conclude her remarks.

We have the same number of spokespersons as Fianna Fáil. We may only have eight Deputies but they act as spokespersons on two or three subjects. We must be fair about that. Secondly, I do not believe that taxpayers' money should be used to fund election campaigns.

And the Deputy will get it back.

Members of parties and their supporters should do that. The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, says we cannot have it both ways. Under his proposal we will have it both ways because there will still be private donations up to £4,000 without disclosure in the case of companies, and up to £500 to individuals without disclosure. There will still be substantial funding to the tune of £6.5 million over the life of one Dáil and that is having it both ways. The taxpayers will be the only losers arising from everything that has happened here so far.

Will the Deputy support the outlawing of all contributions?

Yes, I support either system but I will not support an each way bet. If we vote down this tribunal we will be sending a powerful message to the electorate. We will be telling them that we are not really interested in using the best legal mechanism to ensure that the truth comes out. All politicians will pay a heavy price for that. I regret that is, apparently, what the House will do.

Amendment No. 2 put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 74.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Theresa.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhamjee, Moosajde.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Broughan, Thomas.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Liam.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connor, John.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowley, Frank.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gallagher, Pat (Laoighis-Offaly)
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Michael.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Walsh, Éamon.
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies D. Ahern and O'Donnell; Níl, Deputies J. Higgins and B. Fitzgerald.
Question declared lost.
Amendment No. 1 put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 74; Níl, 64.

  • Ahearn, Theresa.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhamjee, Moosajee.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Broughan, Thomas.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Michael.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Liam.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connor, John.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowley, Frank.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Walsh, Éamon.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies J. Higgins and B. Fitzgerald; Níl, Deputies D. Ahern and O'Donnell.
Amendment declared carried.
Question, "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to" put and declared carried.