Private Members' Business. - Flood Tribunal Terms of Reference: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann resolves that the terms of reference contained in the resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on the 7th of October, 1997 and by Seanad Éireann on the 8th of October, 1997 under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 and 1979 be amended as follows:
1. By the deletion from paragraph A.5 of the words "committed on or after the 20th June, 1985."
2. By the addition of the following paragraphs after paragraph D:
"E The Tribunal shall, in addition to the matters referred to in paragraphs A(1) to A(5) hereof, inquire urgently into and report to the Clerk of the Dáil and make such findings and recommendations as it sees fit, in relation to the following definite matters of urgent public importance:
1. Whether any substantial payments were made or benefits provided, directly or indirectly, to Mr. Raphael Burke which may, in the opinion of the Sole Member of the Tribunal, amount to corruption or involve attempts to influence or compromise the disinterested performance of public duties or were made or provided in circumstances which may give rise to a reasonable inference that the motive for making or receiving such payments was improperly connected with any public office or position held by Mr. Raphael Burke, whether as Minister, Minister of State or elected representative;
2. Whether, in return for or in connection with such payments or benefits, Mr. Raphael Burke did any act or made any decision while holding any such public office or position which was intended to confer any benefit on any person or entity making a payment or provided a benefit referred to in paragraph 1 above, on any other person or entity, or procured or directed any other person to do such an act or make such a decision.
And that the Tribunal be requested to conduct its Inquiries in the following manner to the extent that it may do so consistent with the provisions of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 to 1998:
(i) To carry out such preliminary investigations in private as it thinks fit (using all the powers conferred on it under the Acts), in order to determine whether sufficient evidence exists in relation to any of the matters referred to in paragraphs E1 and E2 above to warrant proceeding to a full public inquiry in relation to such matters;
(ii) To inquire fully into all matters referred to in paragraphs E1 and E2 in relation to which such evidence may be found to exist;
(iii) In relation to any matters where the Tribunal finds that there is insufficient evidence to warrant proceeding to a full public inquiry, to report that fact to the Clerk of the Dáil and to report in such a manner as the Tribunal thinks appropriate on the steps taken by the Tribunal to determine what evidence, if any, existed and the Clerk of the Dáil shall thereupon communicate the Tribunal's report in full to the Dáil;
(iv) To report on an interim basis to the Clerk of the Dáil on the following matters:
the number of parties then represented before the Tribunal;
the progress which has been made in the hearing and the work of the Tribunal;
the likely duration (so far as that may be capable of being estimated at that time) of the Tribunal proceedings;
any other matters which the Tribunal believes should be drawn to the attention of the Clerk of the Dáil at that stage (including any matter relating to the terms of reference);
and to furnish such further interim reports as the Tribunal may consider necessary.
F And that the Sole Member of the Tribunal should be informed that it is the desire of the House that:
(a) the Inquiry into the matters referred to in paragraph E hereof be completed in as economical a manner as possible and at the earliest date consistent with a fair examination of the said matters, and
(b) all costs incurred by reason of the failure of individuals to co-operate fully and expeditiously with the Inquiry should, so far as is consistent with the interests of justice, be borne by those individuals.
G And that the Clerk of the Dáil shall on receipt of any Report from the Tribunal arrange to have it laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas immediately on its receipt."
—(Minister for the Environment and Local Government).

In the initial part of my contribution I indicated to the House that in discussing these amended terms of reference we are doing something that the Government and two of its senior Ministers, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Finance, said could not be done. It must be with some sense of embarrassment or at least some recognition of a wrong position that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government acknowledges that the position adopted by the Opposition, when the original debate took place, was correct. Some of the sharpness with which the argument was put to downplay the Opposition's point of view must be seen now for what it was.

Before the break I was turning to the details of the motion and had indicated that the Labour Party is broadly in agreement with the proposed amendments to the terms of reference. There is a sense of vindication in the Labour Party that what we achieved in two legislative measures, namely, the Ethics in Public Office Act and the Electoral Act, which we steered through the last Dáil against some trenchant opposition, particularly from the parties in Government, was not only timely but necessary.

The past couple of weeks have seen the two parties in Government desperately scrambling to catch up. The Taoiseach has been to the fore in this unruly scramble. Belatedly we welcome their coming on board. I absolutely reject the comments made by some people in and about the time Mr. Burke resigned that he was being found guilty of breaches of a code of ethics then not in existence. The actual statements put on the record by the Taoiseach and by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government have been re-read into the record this evening by Deputy Dukes. There should be some acknowledgment that the position taken then was indefensible in the light of the facts we now know.

The need for the two legislative measures introduced by the Labour Party has been more than apparent for some years and it was beholden on Government to ensure they were enacted, so that at least members of Government did not seek to take advantage of their absence. At a late stage my party considered suggesting an amendment to the tribunal's terms of reference but ultimately chose not to do so because we felt the point was covered by the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1997. The need for that measure arose from the report of the McCracken tribunal when it emerged that, despite it being the tribunal's stated view that Mr. Charles Haughey had obstructed its work, there was no mechanism to allow it recoup some of the costs from him — the existing legislation only allowed individual parties to the tribunal to recover costs from one another. On foot of that, Labour produced a Bill which was ultimately accepted by the Government, as a result of which it is now possible for a tribunal to recover costs from someone it has found to have obstructed or withheld information from it.

This is a pertinent point in light of the controversy which continues to surround payments to Mr. Ray Burke by Fitzwilton through Rennicks in 1989. It is now established that Mr. Burke received money and the motion before us asks the Flood tribunal to establish whether there was any linkage between the receipt of this acknowledged payment and any other moneys, yet to be discovered, paid to Mr. Burke and any decision taken by him while a public representative, either as Minister, Deputy or county councillor. This is right and proper, it is in the interest of the political system that this investigation take place, and it is my party's belief that the Flood tribunal is the appropriate forum for this inquiry and investigation to unfold.

However, tribunals can only work effectively if they receive full co-operation from every individual and group with information which is of interest to them. Judging by last weekend's newspapers, it appears still to be a source of dispute as to exactly which members of Fianna Fáil knew about the £30,000 payment to Mr. Burke. This must also be a matter of investigation by the tribunal because it relates specifically to its capacity to perform its functions. As a result of the 1997 Act, if any evidence of obstruction is unearthed on this occasion sanctions exist to deal with it. I would welcome a comment from the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, as he may be able to cast further light on the degree of knowledge available to officers of Fianna Fáil and when that knowledge became available to them.

I will deviate slightly to make a further point about the misleading of this House last September by Mr. Burke. The McCracken report referred to the House being misled by Deputy Lowry but despite that we as Members have put no procedures in place to deal with such matters. Unfortunately the Taoiseach does not seem to think it any of his business to correct the record of the House when information becomes available to him, so we as Members must do so ourselves. We must look at the regulation of our affairs, a Cheann Comhairle, to ensure strict adherence to the long-held tradition of the veracity of any statement put on the record; and if anyone becomes aware that misleading or inaccurate information is put on the record, that the long-standing practice of correcting the record is strictly applied.

This is a difficult period for all involved in politics. Never before has our profession been subject to so much public suspicion and distrust, which has been magnified by the impression — an accurate one — that the Opposition has had to bully the Government into investigating this matter. If the Minister wishes to dispute this point, I cite the Ansbacher accounts. They should have been dealt with in the Moriarty tribunal and I put down an amendment to have the story behind them fully ventilated. As of now, the true facts behind those accounts may never see the light of day and it is difficult to see how the Tánaiste's investigation of this issue will not encounter the same problems as her investigation into the NIB scandal. This is entirely unsatisfactory and the veil of suspicion which currently extends over the body politic will not be lifted while the Government seeks to curtail full investigation of issues like the Ansbacher accounts. I restate a challenge to the Minister to respond to this issue and to explain how it is to be fully ventilated.

The Taoiseach recently proposed new ethics legislation and the establishment of an ethics commission. I welcome his party's conversion to the transparent regulation of politics. Labour will support any positive and concrete measure put forward by the Government and will engage constructively with all parties in this House in refining such measures. As a member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests I look forward to the Government's proposals in this regard, which will be looked on much more favourably than were our proposals by the Government parties when they were in Opposition.

I hope that, sooner rather than later, we can put the scandals of recent years behind us. The sitting tribunals and the motion before us are an integral part of that process but we have a long way to go before we restore public confidence in the conduct of our business. That is the objective of this motion and for that reason Labour welcomes and supports it.

There is no great purpose in this House debating the detail of the substantive issues in the motion, which are more appropriate to the tribunal of inquiry being presided over by Mr. Justice Flood. Whether the taking of any substantial payment amounted to corruption is unlikely to be capable of being established in this House, so resort to the powers of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 and 1979, is regrettably necessary. Similarly with the requirement to establish that such payments were an attempt to influence or compromise the disinterested performance of public duties. In addition, paragraph 1 of today's motion is in response to Mr. Justice Flood's request that the date beyond which the investigation may not go — 20 June 1985 — be excised.

However, there are two matters which cannot be left to the tribunal. One concerns the import of the relevant conclusions of Mr. Justice McCracken in his report and the other the political implications of several fundamental questions which surround the Burke affair and its handling by the Taoiseach and his Government. In his report, Mr. Justice McCracken concluded:

Notwithstanding the fact that there appears to have been no political impropriety involved, the Tribunal considers it quite unacceptable that Mr. Charles Haughey, or indeed any member of the Oireachtas, should receive personal gifts of this nature, particularly from prominent businessmen within the State. It is even more unacceptable that Mr. Charles Haughey's whole lifestyle should be dependent upon such gifts, as would appear to be the case. If such gifts were to be permissible, the potential for bribery and corruption would be enormous.

If politicians are to give an effective service to all their constituents, or to all the citizens of the State, they must not be under a financial obligation to some constituents or some citizens only. By allowing himself to be put in a position of dependency, Mr. Charles Haughey failed in his obligations to his constituents and to the citizens of this State, and indeed has devalued some of the undoubtedly valuable work which he did when in office.

Paragraph No. 34 of the summary of conclusions states:

It is quite unacceptable that a member of Dáil Éireann, and in particular a Cabinet Minister and Taoiseach, should be supported in his personal lifestyle by gifts made to him personally. It is particularly unacceptable that such gifts should emanate from prominent businessmen within the State. The possibility that political or financial favours could be sought in return for such gifts, or even be given without being sought, is very high, and if such gifts are permissible, they would inevitably lead in some cases to bribery and corruption.

In other words, acceptance of substantial amounts of money by a Member of Dáil Éireann in these circumstances is wrong in itself and by definition exposes the recipient to being compromised.

Many in this House will want to raise the distinction between substantial donations to a political party and similar donations to an individual politician. However, in the Burke affair we do not know where the line is drawn between personal, political and party. There is a view also represented in the House that it does not matter whether it is personal, political or party and that it is always improper.

It is fair to say that the legislation we have enacted makes that argument redundant. We now have a register requiring declaration of interests, caps on spending at election time and an obligation to declare financial contributions, either personally to the candidate or to the party, above specified limits. These are as open and transparent arrangements as we are likely to be able to put in legislation. That is not to say the law, in the passage of time and in the light of experience, will prove incapable of amendment. For anyone determined to prove otherwise, it is impossible to absolutely protect against that situation in legislation.

However, the problem as regards this motion is that this story has been characterised by contradictions and half-truths from the beginning. We still do not know what moneys were intended for the Fianna Fáil Party, what moneys were intended for Mr. Burke and why. Gradually, more information is extracted from a reluctant Government. First, we were led to believe there was only one £30,000 donation, which involved £10,000 remitted to Fianna Fáil HQ and £7,000 to the local constituency. This was the JMSE money, the existence of which was initially denied by the donor, according to that thorough investigator, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who, with the Taoiseach, forgot to ask the recipient if he had actually got the money. Both Deputies Ahern then sat beside Mr. Burke as he led the Dáil to believe he remitted the above amounts to headquarters and constituency, respectively.

However, we have since learned that whatever moneys were remitted, they were not from JMSE and that Mr. Burke's "skills as a fundraiser", to quote the Taoiseach, were the subject of dispute in Fianna Fáil at that time. Why did prominent Fianna Fáil officers confirm Mr. Burke's version of remitting £10,000 of the JMSE money to Fianna Fáil headquarters? If there was pressure on Mr. Burke to hand over the Fitzwilton money in 1989, how could the Taoiseach not have uncovered the Fitzwilton-Rennicks money until the Fianna Fáil affidavit was being prepared for the tribunal in March this year?

Who in Fianna Fáil authorised the issue of an invoice to Rennicks for £30,000 when only £10,000 was actually received by the party? By now, the political story is so riven with contradictions and obfuscation that the handling of the Burke affair has become more important than Mr. Burke's own machinations. It is now apparent why the Taoiseach got himself into hot water when the latest Burke story first broke. He could not credibly answer obvious questions, because certain questions are not capable of being truthfully answered without the Taoiseach digging a hole for himself.

The latest political actor to briefly show a leg from behind the arras is Deputy Fleming, the man who at all material times was the treasurer of the Fianna Fáil Party. I expect Deputy Fleming will make a statement in the House tonight. I hope he will be more forthcoming with the Dáil and with Mr. Justice Flood than he was with the Sunday Business Post when that newspaper put certain questions to him recently. The issue of 21 June quoted the former Fianna Fáil fundraiser, Mr. Paul Kavanagh, as saying that Deputy Fleming, who issued the receipts for donations, was told of the £30,000 Fitzwilton-Rennicks payment to Mr. Burke. The paper's account of its conversation with Deputy Fleming is as follows:

When contacted, Fleming said the party discovered the details of the Rennicks' payment when served with an order for discovery by the Flood tribunal earlier this year. When reminded that he was told of the payment in 1989 by Kavanagh, the Laois Offaly TD said that he would like a few hours to think about it. He also declined to say whether he had informed any other senior party members in 1989 or later.

He did not comment when asked whether Burke's statement in September last detailing a £30,000 payment from JMSE revived memories of the Rennicks contribution. Fleming could not be reached on his mobile phone yesterday.

Unfortunately, so far, Deputy Fleming has only engaged in loud whispers off stage. I do not know whether we can hope for a walk-on part in tonight's drama. I wonder if the Taoiseach expects Deputy Fleming to act as a kind of deus ex machina to rescue him from a growing welter of contradictions. Perhaps a statement from Deputy Fleming of what he knows will only dig the hole deeper for the Taoiseach and the Government.

The most obvious question is why should the Taoiseach send an emissary to London to explore Mr. Burke's skills as a fundraiser and refuse to ask an adjacent colleague, Deputy Fleming, what he knew? There was no need to go to London as Deputy Fleming could have told the Taoiseach whatever he wanted to know, assuming he wanted to know. Even if the Taoiseach did not ask and did not know about the Rennicks money, why did Deputy Fleming sit on his hands when the Taoiseach was agonising about his Cabinet choices?

Deputy Fleming sat in this House while Mr. Burke led us to believe that the JMSE donation was exceptional. In between, the Taoiseach gave dozens of interviews, comments and speeches about the rigorous investigations he had conducted into Mr. Burke's suitability for Cabinet. Yet we are led to believe there was not one word from Deputy Fleming. We may be doing Deputy Fleming an injustice. He should come into the House and say if he remained silent. Why did Deputy Fleming not contact the Taoiseach after any one of those interviews to remind him of the Rennicks money row? How could an elected Fianna Fáil Deputy sit tight while his Taoiseach was struggling to explain rumours and allegations of financial chicanery in respect of his colleague, Mr. Burke? If we are to believe Deputy Fleming held his silence during all this time, did the Taoiseach make contact with the Fianna Fáil backbencher since then and demand to have the gaps in his knowledge filled in? After all the lengths to which the Taoiseach went in his investigations — being up every tree in North Dublin — would it not have been more convenient, more efficient and certainly more productive for him to have inquired from his colleague, Deputy Fleming? The Taoiseach should certainly have asked the recipient, Mr. Burke, about the matter. Deputy Fleming could greatly reduce the tribunal's burden of work, and satisfy the demand for accountability from the electorate, by making a clear statement that would unravel the many contradictions, inaccuracies and inconsistencies we have heard to date from Fianna Fáil.

Many good lines are written in the opening chapters of books, but one from the former Government press secretary, Mr. Seán Duignan — in One Spin on the Merry-go-round — is as good as one is likely to get. From memory, it started and ended with the word "Harry". It is remarkable that the Government started and ended this political year with tribunals. That must say something about the culture of the times in which we live or, as I and I am sure the Taoiseach would like to believe, the culture of the recent past, a legacy from which we are still cleaning up.

It is remarkable that so much time in this political year has been taken up on these questions. The political system is getting very little credit for the changes it has made in terms of legislative provisions which are extremely onerous compared with the duties in any other profession. While this kind of matter continues to seep out from under the door, we will not get credit for the changes we have made. Deputies Dukes and Howlin correctly stated that when the Opposition tried to pre-empt some of this by calling for more open-ended terms of reference for the tribunal in the early days, the Government resisted it on the grounds that one could not change the terms of reference of a sitting tribunal. As others have trawled that territory, I will not dwell on the matter except to say we have now established that is not the case. I regret we were not a little more liberal in the change we made to the law a few weeks ago where, effectively, it must now be initiated by the Attorney General rather than this House because the tribunal is a creature of the House, established under the relevant legislation.

I do not wish to drag over old sores, but one cannot but be struck by recent advertisements in the newspapers. Every newspaper I read recently carries an extraordinary advertisement from Rennicks making it clear that it was no more than a conduit for the donation that is the subject of this motion and clearly exonerating itself. It makes it as clear as possible to its majority shareholder that it had nothing to do with this and that it was merely a messenger boy in the matter. That is interesting in the context of legitimate questions raised in the House some time ago. I note there is also an advertisement in today's newspaper from the Irish Independent Group. I am prepared to take the content of that advertisement at face value. I have no reason to believe the chief executive, Mr. Liam Healy, is anything other than an honourable man. I accept the position he sets out in that advertisement; if it is proven otherwise, we will deal with the matter then.

However, the point cannot be missed that for a company that claims to want to give money to support the democratic process — it was stated that Fitzwilton wanted to support the democratic process, has done so continuously over the years and contributed to a number of parties — one cannot but be struck by the fact that in 1989 the only contribution was to one party in the House. One must also acknowledge that, at least from 15 May 1997, Waterford Glass — again a company that claims to contribute to a number of parties — contributed to only one party. I mention this in the context of a front page story in last Sunday's The Sunday Business Post to the effect that this was a personal transfer of money from Tony O'Reilly to Fianna Fáil. That should be recorded in the House and rebutted outside it, if that is possible. The story in The Sunday Business Post alleges that Mr. O'Reilly donated the money to Fianna Fáil through, on this occasion, Fitzwilton and, on the previous occasion, through Waterford Glass. I merely put that on the record — I do not draw any conclusions from it. However, I am waiting for evidence of support for the democratic process in the wider sense. We also have evidence of a donation to support the candidature of the former President, Mrs. Mary Robinson, but that is still a rather restricted version of the democratic process.

If the Deputy writes to him, he might send him a donation.

I might consider it, but I am raising a more important question which relates to the democratic process and the dominant position acquired by Dr. O'Reilly's newspaper group. I note that on Question Time yesterday the Tánaiste committed herself to bringing forward legislation as soon as she receives the report from the mergers review group set up to consider this matter. Members on all sides should pay attention to those conclusions. The sun may be shining on the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and his party now, but that may not always be the case. This is a legitimate question to raise in the House.

Some of these questions will inevitably be the subject of inquiry at a tribunal. It is not possible to establish them beyond doubt in this Chamber. It would be desirable if we could conduct some of these inquiries ourselves. I do not know the extent to which we are progressing to being able to do that, but questions about another subsidiary company, Novum, availing of export credit insurance and a number of other matters that have come into the public domain in recent times should be inquired into. They may, however, all be above board.

The lesson that matters is the political one. For whatever reason, the Taoiseach has been uncertain and unconvincing in his response to this crisis. That is the note on which we are ending this political year. The former leader of the Progressive Democrats, and somewhat less directly, the current leader and Tánaiste, have made it clear to Fianna Fáil that it is on its last chance. Those words send a shiver down the spines of all of us because of our rather insecure existence. To say Fianna Fáil is on its last chance implies that the Progressive Democrats will do something if there is a recurrence of this matter.

It is not a desirable departure from precedent that on this occasion the Government did not allow the Opposition any input into the terms of reference. It is true that the Government Whip did show us an advance copy of the Government's version, but we really did not have any say in it. Notwithstanding that, I accept that it seems a fair and honest effort to deal with the particular matter that has been raised.

I concur with Deputy Howlin's remarks about the Ansbacher accounts because that is where we started the year. The fact that we only permitted an inquiry into Ansbacher in so far as it relates to politicians is regrettable and what we have learned since about the banking institutions and tax evasion makes it doubly so.

I would like to share some of my time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

What we have here is another twist in a damage limitation exercise that has gone wrong. It is disheartening to be back in the House on occasion after occasion, using up the time and resources of the Dáil, to explore yet another aspect of the operations of the largest political party in the State. Fianna Fáil is not only the largest party, which is ultimately a matter for the electorate, but it is also in its private business the party which, uniquely for a generation, has operated an aggressive and proactive quasi-independent fundraising operation.

The significance of this quasi-independent money raising machine is best appreciated by the information carried recently in a Sunday newspaper that the fundraising branch of Fianna Fáil is in a position to reward its chief executive to the tune of £70,000 per annum. That £70,000 per annum salary for fundraising services, in what the Taoiseach in the debate in the House on 3 June referred to as "our egalitarian democracy", gives us some inkling of the degree of interaction between Fianna Fáil and the various interests which do business with, or in, this State.

I have spoken before in this House in fairly direct and forthright terms about the political culture that seems to have attached itself over the past generation to the largest political party in the State. On 3 June, the Taoiseach himself referred to "the unhealthy developments and controversies over party funding which have dogged the body politic for 30 years".

The Taoiseach recently celebrated 21 years as a Member of this House and I congratulate him. It must be remarked, however, that the Taoiseach's political career has coincided with the worst of the 30 year period that he himself has identified and with two of the most prominent exponents of the art of "embarrassingly good" fundraising.

The Taoiseach has told us that he only became aware of the problems in late March 1998. I, along with other Members of the House, find this very difficult to believe. The Green Party was the only one to raise the question of the pick-me-up scheme. There are so many contradictions here. When I spoke in the House on this issue I was interrupted by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, who asked if I was not aware that churches, charities and sporting organisations all operated the pick-me-up scheme. It would seem apparent to most, therefore, that the scheme was prevalent and used by everyone, but the Minister was trying to play it down. That indicates that it has been in operation for such a long time that everyone knows about it. Yet, the Taoiseach claims — and he repeated the Minister, Deputy McDaid's, line — that he only became aware of this in March 1998. That is another inconsistency. My colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, has highlighted others in that, apparently, Deputy Fleming was told by Mr. Kavanagh in 1989 of the Rennicks/Fitzwilton donation, yet the Taoiseach claims he was unaware of it. We need to explore many areas in greater detail.

I am not saying, nor have I said, that colleagues of mine in the House are necessarily corrupt because they belong to Fianna Fáil. It would be regrettable if colleagues of mine in Fianna Fáil were to interpret my remarks in that way. For 32 years the father of a colleague of mine in the Green Party was secretary of a local Fianna Fáil cumann. That is the kind of person, a low profile individual committed to a particular value system, who has been most abused by what has been allowed to go on for so long in the upper echelons of the Fianna Fáil Party. The rest of us have been tarnished in the process.

I am not saying that to subscribe to the Fianna Fáil Party is to condone or participate in corruption. What I am saying — and I base my remarks on impressions, experiences and observations during my time in public life, both at local and national level — is that a certain corrosive quality, which looks, smells and feels like corruption, appears to have come into being within the apparatus of the Fianna Fáil Party political machine over the past generation.

Fianna Fáil is the largest party in the land, although it is true to say that its popularity peaked over 20 years ago and it is now back at 1927 levels in terms of first preference votes. When something is amiss in the Fianna Fáil Party, the spillover in the perception of a great number of people affects everyone in public life. Public representatives, including those who belong to that party, and the public itself deserve better than to have this unsettling cloud of the worst of Fianna Fáilism hanging over us.

It is good that the Flood Tribunal was established at all, in spite of the opposition to it. It would have been preferable to let McCracken take a root-and-branch approach, but be that as it may. It is also good that the limits Fianna Fáil sought to place upon the Flood Tribunal will now to be lifted. It seems apparent, if not obvious, that the Flood Tribunal has uncovered a volume of material worth investigating in the period before Mr. Burke's accession to the Chair of Dublin County Council for his unique double term of office. Some of that is already in the public domain thanks to the efforts of one or two persistent journalists.

It only stands to reason that the Garda Síochána would not have expended the resources it did in investigating the affairs of this one public representative had they not had real and substantive concerns. I mean no disrespect to the Garda authorities when I say that — given the changed political climate in which we now live, relative to the early and mid-1970s — the same lines of inquiry in today's more open, questioning and sceptical environment might yield a more telling outcome.

The era that the Flood Tribunal is now empowered to investigate, going back perhaps as far as 1973 or 1974, will never be regarded by historians as a high point in the continuing evolution of our political culture. We have heard one tale of a building company that acquired a parcel of land from a patient in a mental hospital. It built a substantial residence upon it, which came to be occupied by a person who was a local councillor, the son of a TD and who himself became a TD, a leading light in his party and a Minister. The title deeds to the house were finally registered nearly 20 years after it was built. In these circumstances, the remarkable thing — the dog that did not bark, as it were — may well be that at no stage in the process did money appear to change hands, but we do not know. There are at least two versions of the story but the version we heard in this House, for all the drama of the telling, leaves many questions hanging in the air. Perhaps the Flood Tribunal, if it sees fit and finds it relevant, may finally put that story to rest. We shall see.

The extension of the inquiry by dropping the essentially arbitrary date that Fianna Fáil sought to impose, with, of course, the acquiescence of the Progressive Democrats, will allow light to be shone into the darkness of an earlier era of golden circles and inside tracks where, before Greencore and JMB, there was Brennan & McGowan and Oldpark Developments.

As the sole member of the tribunal, Mr. Justice Flood is now to be charged with the responsibility and the resources to establish whether any decisions taken by this Government's first Minister for Foreign Affairs were prompted or distorted by payments he had received over a political career spanning almost a quarter of a century. The tribunal will investigate the "ongoing controversies", of which the Taoiseach himself was aware at the time of his appointment to this Cabinet, which might connect the acceptance of financial donations by him with decisions on rezoning vast tracts of land in north County Dublin by Dublin County Council while Mr. Burke was in the Chair or was otherwise in a position to wield an influence in that assembly.

It is not all about rezoning. Let us recall that the issue on which Mr. Burke finally resigned from office and from this House concerned the sale of Irish passports in a scheme that is now discredited and which has been abolished.

The background to this is the doubtful ethical base of much that occurred during various Fianna Fáil Administrations, of which Mr. Burke and the Taoiseach were part for over two decades. On succeeding Mr. Haughey at the helm of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Albert Reynolds pledged to "cleanse the Augean stables". The Taoiseach has indicated a similar ambition. I fear the job will be beyond the capacities of either of them, but perhaps Fianna Fáil has a Hercules poised and ready.

On 3 June the Taoiseach told the House that "all parties, including Fianna Fáil, operated the same system". He suggested that "none of them is entitled, without revealing the larger sums that they or their members accepted, to climb up on the high moral ground". The Taoiseach was right when he said people should reveal where they got their money. However, the Green Party, which has two Members in this House, two members in the European Parliament and 19 local councillors, is not one of the parties to which he referred. We would be happy to reveal where we get our donations. On behalf of those public representatives and on my own behalf, I publicly disentangle myself from the Taoiseach's attempted embrace in this regard. We are not seeking to adopt the so-called high moral ground. The moral ground may only appear high when the person is on his knees.

We need to look at the way tribunals operate because there is a lot of cynicism among the public. We are getting an overdose of tribunals and we are suffering from scandal fatigue. However, we will not exorcise the demons unless people are seen to be punished. It seems that people have got away scot-free. We know, for example, that the conclusions of the McCracken Tribunal are on the DPP's desk, yet nothing has been done. We know tax evasion has taken place, yet no one has been convicted or imprisoned. The public wants to see action on this matter. I hope every party agrees that tribunals must complete their work and that people must be seen to be punished.

I welcome the extension of the terms of reference of the Flood Tribunal and I wish all involved in the work of the tribunal well. There has been a sea change in Irish politics, although it is not political. The work of the Flood and Moriarty Tribunals will come to be seen as significant benchmarks of that reality. The Green Party supports the motion.

(Dublin West): I thank Deputy Gormley for sharing his time.

When it comes to this Government setting in train a comprehensive investigation into alleged corruption in the dealings between big business and politics in this State, getting it right is a painful process. The Government has been dragged in here today by force of serious public revelations about large amounts of money being passed from business interests to a former senior Fianna Fáil politician. Only when there was no other option did the Government yield and agree to investigate more broadly moneys paid to Mr. Ray Burke. It did not want to do it. The evidence of the past six or seven months shows that every addition to the terms of reference of various tribunals and every investigation into matters which should automatically be investigated had to be dragged out of the Government.

The revelations of dubious dealings between politicians and business came to light for accidental reasons. Collateral political damage was caused as a result of feuds between people who were collaborators but who decided to hang out one or two politicians to advance a particular interest. It is fortuitous that these tribunals are examining these issues and that politician A's business dealings have come into the public domain, while politician B's business dealings have not. Politicians B to Q are probably hoping that those who came to their door or office with cheques or brown envelopes do not fall out among themselves, thus spilling out more names. Further revelations may emerge involving new people and another tribunal.

This matter could have been handled in a different way. During the debates on the original tribunals, I called for a number of measures to be taken. I called for all political parties in this House to be obliged to reveal donations of £500 or more received since 1985 from business interests or individuals. The Opposition parties, with the exception of the Green Party, and the Government refused. They could have made a clean breast of it and stated where they got their money and it would have cleared up this mess. I also called for the publication of the names of all those who benefited from the tax amnesties of 1987 and 1994 and for an investigation into who had donated to political parties. One of the most corrosive and corrupt things that happened legally in politics was granting tax amnesties to super wealthy tax dodgers. If that information had been brought into the open, it would have cleared the air. I also called for the Ansbacher accounts to be included in the original investigation.

Not only have these measures not been supported, there have been new revelations about other devices used by politicians and political parties to milk more money from the corporate sector. This is known as the "pick me up" system, which is an ingenious label that rhymes with buttercup and sounds harmless. It could even be a type of tonic. However, it is a nefarious practice by which big business seeks to influence politics and politicians seek to get funds from big business. It is deplorable and it should also be publicised.

Nobody believes that big business gives money to politicians or political parties for nothing. People believe there is a price to be paid and they are right. Most of the time this can be done legally but there is no doubt that major parties, when they are in Government, are favourably disposed towards banks or other powerful interests which donate money to them. By reducing tax by 1 or 2 per cent in the Finance Act, such institutions make a fortune. Their investment in the political party concerned gets a good return.

As long as we have an economic system, such as we have at present, which is based on powerful conglomerates and wealthy individuals who are greedy, we will have this system of payola. If we had a truly democratic and socialist system of economic management where the people ran all aspects of society, there would be no incentive for people to try to influence or corrupt politicians or political parties. We would have a truly democratic and transparent system in contrast to the mess in which we now find ourselves.

I support the Government proposal to amend the terms of reference of the Flood tribunal. I take this opportunity to deal with matters that were relevant in my capacity as a former financial director of the Fianna Fáil Party at national level. I have not spoken on certain matters to date because I was employed in a professional capacity as an accountant by the Fianna Fáil organisation. I was conscious of the duty of confidentiality binding on an accountant in a professional capacity. For that reason I was unwilling to date to volunteer information about disputed events. My resulting silence, stemming from a sense of professional obligation, has been misinterpreted. My character and professional integrity have been impugned in written material. I have been left with no option but to state certain matters in this House.

In 1989 I assisted in the administration of the activities of the Fianna Fáil fundraising committee. I was not involved in the fundraising and I did not contact people in relation to their subscriptions. That work was done by members of the fundraising committee. On 8 June 1989 Fianna Fáil had a fundraising luncheon in the Westbury Hotel. Mr. Paul Kavanagh, chief fundraiser for Fianna Fáil at that time, and I were in the entrance foyer of the hotel to meet the various people attending the luncheon. I was aware since the previous evening that Fitzwilton was to make a large contribution to the Fianna Fáil Party through Mr. Ray Burke. When he arrived we asked him for the cheque and he gave the envelope to Paul Kavanagh or myself. On opening it we saw it contained a bank draft for £10,000 and a photocopy of a Rennicks compliment slip. I was not satisfied that £10,000 was the full amount of the contribution. Both of us asked Mr. Ray Burke where was the balance. He told us that £10,000 was the amount that was being given to party headquarters and the rest would be used for his constituency purposes.

Immediately after that Mr. Paul Kavanagh and I spoke to the then party leader, Mr. Charles Haughey, who was at the luncheon. We pointed out to him that we believed the party's national fundraising committee had been left short in respect of this donation. Mr. Charles Haughey indicated that we should leave the matter with him. I took the contribution back to head office on 8 June 1989. It was receipted to Rennicks on 9 June 1989, lodged to our bank after the weekend and presented for payment to the Ulster Bank through the banking system in the normal manner. I hope that explains the sequence of events in relation to the receiving, receipting and lodgment of the bank draft.

Rennicks stated it has no recollection of having received the receipt. However, I am quite satisfied a receipt was issued. In early August 1989, the party leader issued "thank you" letters on Fianna Fáil head office note paper to the substantial contributors to the election fund. I know Fitzwilton has acknowledged such a letter.

I was elected a member of Dáil Éireann in June 1997. For the rest of that year there was no fulltime financial controller in Fianna Fáil head office. In July or August 1997 the party general secretary, Mr. Pat Farrell, contacted me and asked me whether Mr. Ray Burke had given £10,000 to Fianna Fáil head office in June 1989. I visited party headquarters and checked the cash receipts book and was satisfied we had received £10,000 through Mr. Ray Burke during the June 1989 election campaign and that this contribution had been from Rennicks. I informed the general secretary verbally of this matter and he was then able to confirm receipt of the £10,000.

Mr. Des Richardson, the party's fundraiser, was in the room during some of this meeting. I was out of the country on my holidays at the end of August and early September. I returned on the Sunday before Mr. Ray Burke made his statement in the Dáil on Wednesday, 10 September. On my return I contacted the party general secretary. As it transpired he was out of the country later that day and I was not able to contact him again. Therefore, I telephoned Mr. Ray Burke directly. He informed me he would read the text of a letter from his bank in the Dáil confirming the details of the £10,000 payment to Fianna Fáil head office in June 1989. I did not discuss the matter with the Taoiseach. In Fianna Fáil there is a longstanding practice and an unwritten rule that party officials and fundraisers do not discuss the details of individual donations with the party leader or other senior party members.

I was employed by Fianna Fáil in a professional capacity as a chartered accountant. In carrying out that role all information of which I was aware was treated by me in a strictly confidential manner. I would have been in breach of professional ethics if I did not maintain that confidentiality.

Earlier this year Fianna Fáil headquarters asked for my assistance as a former financial director to assist with the preparation of information for the affidavit of discovery for the Flood tribunal in respect of matters covering the period when I was an employee of the party. I knew the Rennicks' donation would be disclosed and remembering the controversy surrounding the hand over of the payment I telephoned Paul Kavanagh in mid-March to discuss this matter. He confirmed my recollection of the event and the discussion with Mr. Ray Burke in June 1989. He did not refer to the possibility of an invoice being involved in the transaction.

I have always observed proper standards in the practice of my profession as an accountant. I issued receipts for moneys received, not bogus invoices. It is untrue to suggest I was involved in adding £30,000 to the Fianna Fáil printing bill. The suggestion that I sorted out the party's books in a manner to hide the Burke payment is totally untrue. That is damaging to my good name as a professional accountant and hurtful to me as an individual.

These allegations relate to the performance of my duties when I was employed by Fianna Fáil as a private citizen. These false statements have damaged my reputation for integrity and impugned my honesty. I have taken legal advice on these and other matters and I am taking the appropriate legal action.

I may not necessarily agree with some of things Members said, which I will address in a moment, but I thank them for their contributions which, by and large, were positive and to the point. On behalf of the Chief Whip, I thank the Whips of the Opposition parties for their co-operation in getting this motion into the House before the summer recess. I know that is something Members all sides want to have dealt with before the summer recess.

I do not intend to go into the detail of the various matters into which the tribunal will inquire once this motion is passed. One of the problems that has arisen in the past is that some people want to run tribunals here as well as have them set up outside the House. I do not intend to go down that route because it is unwise and unhelpful. All those who are supposed to be involved in any illegal activities or any activities that are to be investigated by the tribunal should have their actions assessed by it. It will assess and investigate them fully, but will also give them all an opportunity to put their side of the case in accordance with the principle of natural justice. I have no intention of commenting on any of the matters that are to be the subject of the tribunal's inquiries.

A number of Deputies talked about the Government's changes of mind, legislation being brought forward and so forth. The way Deputies presented those arguments painted the Government in the worst possible light. Some of the statements I made here when the original tribunal was being set up have been quoted again. I stand over everything I said when we set up that tribunal because of the information and knowledge I had at that time. It transpires that my knowledge was much less than it is now. Things have come to light since then which makes what I said incorrect. If I had known then what I know now, I would not have said those things. Nevertheless, I stand over what I said at the time.

Foolish and imprudent.

Not a bit foolish and imprudent. What is foolish and imprudent is people making statements on the basis of rumour and innuendo. If the Deputy looks at the speech as a whole, he cannot disagree with its content because what I hit out at is people hounding others and basing speeches on rumours and innuendo.

Equally, in the debate in this House on 28 May a great disservice, however well intentioned, was committed by reading into the record an anonymous letter and by imputing to people in business or otherwise, who, whether we agree or disagree with their point of view have contributed much to the development and establishment of this country and its image abroad, base motives for what they obviously meant to be a political donation. It was wrong that the Fitzwilton or Rennicks donation was linked in the most negative way possible to the allocation of MMDS licences. It is a matter for the tribunal to establish motives. There is no evidence linking that payment and MMDS decisions. In fact, in this contribution Deputy Rabbitte referred to the statement in the Irish Independent today. In it, Independent Newspapers PLC:

.wishes to take this opportunity to make it very clear that it at all times acted with the utmost propriety in the manner in which it applied for, and ultimately was awarded MMDS licences.

Independent Newspapers believes that the Department of Communications followed its internal criteria when considering applications for MMDS licences, in addition to consulting with KPMG, independent expert advisors to the Department..

Deputy Rabbitte was gracious enough to state that he accepted Mr. Healy's word on it and would not query it until events proved otherwise. I make the point that, whether we talk about changes of heart, mind or anything else, at all times this Government and the Fianna Fáil Party have acted in good faith in relation to all these matters. When further information became available, we acted on it and we will continue to act on it. If — I hope it will not happen — we again need to amend terms of reference, we will not be afraid to do so in the interest of ensuring, as all Deputies in this House desire, that all the facts come out in relation to this and other matters into which the tribunal is inquiring.

Deputy Dukes asked why the power of discovery, which exists in the original, is not repeated here. The reason it is not repeated for this section of the amendment is that the Act includes that power of discovery generally and it was felt in this particular circumstances it was not necessary to repeat it, that the tribunals have that power.

I said that.

In the original, because the accusations emanated from outside the jurisdiction or there was talk that some of the accusations emanated from solicitors in Newry, it was felt at the time it might be necessary to include this to allow for inquiries outside the jurisdiction.

I said I was satisfied that the provisions of the 1921 to 1998 Acts gave the tribunal the instruments and powers it required.

I am just explaining to the Deputy why there are powers of discovery in one and not in the other.

I thank the Minister for explaining to me why I arrived at the conclusion which I explained in my contribution.

The Deputy is welcome. There was also much talk by Deputies Dukes and Howlin about the changes to the tribunal's terms of reference. We were — certainly I was — accused of either amnesia, forgetting things or whatever else during the course of Deputy Dukes's contribution. He spoke of changes to the terms of reference of the tribunal, why we were doing it now and that we would not do it originally. Deputy Dukes, who seems to have a total blank — I previously heard him on this line — in relation to the fact that an Act was passed in this House since the original tribunal was set up specifically to allow for a change in the terms of reference.

It was unnecessary.

It was not unnecessary.

That was argued at the time.

Please allow the Minister to contribute without interruption. His time is limited.

I even said that the vehicle the Deputy chose was more complex than was necessary.

It was not. The advice——

It was. We had that argument——

I know we had.

——and the Minister for Justice could not explain it either.

Deputies Dukes and Howlin and the Opposition have made the point continuously. The Government is also entitled to put its point of view. Successive Attorneys General have advised Governments — and the Deputies were members of at least one — that there was a need for legislative change. We got the same advice and we took it as the Deputy's Government did.

We have been through all that with the Minister for Justice.

We are entitled to.

We changed the terms of reference of the tribunal of inquiry. The Minister knows that.

Please, Deputy Howlin, allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

The Deputy changed it after the legislation.

No. The legislation was only passed this year.

The legislation was introduced this year and we have changed it since then. During the Deputy's term in Government, he accepted that it could not be changed.

No. We changed the terms of reference.

The Deputy did.

I even commented on the definite nature of the statement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The Minister is weak on fact.

Weak? It is non-existent.

The Minister was saying he is strong on the point.

The Deputy knows I am quite strong on the point. He knows I am right and that is why he keeps repeating the same message in the hope that if he throws it out often enough, people will believe him.

If pressed, read the above.

That is exactly what the Deputy seems to do; he keeps repeating the same thing.

That was a Fianna Fáil mode.

To turn to the comments of Deputy Gormley——

The Minister's ten minutes has concluded but if the House is agreeable, I will allow him a few minutes to conclude.

I am most anxious to give him a couple of minutes.

I thank the Deputies for their courtesy as they have taken up much of my ten minutes anyway.

This is the golden goal.

Deputy Gormley spoke at great length about an air of corruption, value systems, etc., in Fianna Fáil over the past 30 years. He then asked me and other members of Fianna Fáil in this House to accept that he was not really talking about us and that it was everybody else in Fianna Fáil. Then he referred to his relative who happens to be a cumann secretary who is the real Fianna Fáil. I remind Deputy Gormley that there are 50,000 members of Fianna Fáil.

That was my point.

Two are the subject of tribunal inquiries. I do not know how many members there are in Fine Gael, but one of them is also before a tribunal of inquiry. I, and the vast majority of Fianna Fáil members, take great umbrage at being tarred with the same brush.

That was my point.

I did not miss the point. I heard clearly what the Deputy said, that he was not accusing us of being corrupt, but the import of his words, if he reads them again, relates to people at the highest level in Fianna Fáil. I am not corrupt. I have as high a value system as any Member and I am not putting myself above anybody else.

I accept that.

I am subject to the same foibles as anybody in this House.

I accept that.

Members of Fianna Fáil are no more prone to doing things wrong than the members of any other party in the House. I take grave exception to it. The 50,000 members of my party who are decent and honourable would want me to defend them. It is a duty and an honour to defend their integrity.

The Minister missed the point.

I did not. Deputy Dukes appeared to be surprised that there were extensive consultations between the Attorney General and the chairman of the tribunal.

No. I said there were extensive consultations and that the sky did not fall down. The Minister informed us a few weeks ago that it could not be done without damaging the independence of the tribunal.

The Deputy is suffering from amnesia.

I have a better memory than the Minister. I listen to what he says.

The new Act allows us to do it.

Nobody believes the independence of the tribunal has been traduced.

If we had tried to do it before legislation was enacted, there would have been repercussions.

That is the weakest one I have heard for a long time.

The Deputy should not accuse others of suffering from amnesia when he appears to have great difficulty remembering such minor matters as an Act.

Question put and agreed to.