This motion is about Commissioner Pádraig Flynn and recent controversies, but more fundamentally it is about accountability in public life and public faith in the political system as a whole. The purpose of the motion is to make clear to the Commissioner that the Irish people, through their elected representatives in Dáil Éireann, want and expect him to make a clear statement on recent controversies surrounding him and Mr. Tom Gilmartin. Mr. Flynn's failure to clarify matters to date leaves a cloud hanging over him and increases public cynicism about the political system as a whole. We, as public representatives, have a duty to make clear that the stonewalling tactics adopted to date by Mr. Flynn are unacceptable.
The issues to be clarified are quite straightforward. First, did Mr. Flynn, while a Government Minister, receive £50,000 from Mr. Gilmartin? Second, did he receive this cheque in his departmental office from a man who came to talk to him about departmental policy? Third, if he did receive £50,000, what were the circumstances surrounding the gift and to what purpose was the money put? Fourth, did Mr. Flynn contact Mr. Gilmartin subsequent to the establishment of the Flood Tribunal seeking to discuss with him what Mr. Gilmartin proposed to say or had said to the tribunal lawyers? Specifically, did he seek to get him to change his sworn statements to the tribunal?
At this stage we do not seek to condemn Mr. Flynn; rather, we seek explanations. It is not good enough now for Mr. Flynn to try to hide behind the tribunal and say that he will answer questions in due course. At present it is not even clear if he will be a witness at the tribunal. In the case of former Minister Ray Burke, he answered questions in the House which showed that he had a case to answer at the tribunal. Mr. Flynn must indicate whether he has a case to answer at the tribunal, and if so, he must then appear at the tribunal to give a full account of his actions.
A whole series of allegations have been made – mainly, that as a Government Minister he met an individual in his ministerial office to discuss a policy matter and that during the course of the meeting he sought and received a donation for Fianna Fáil or himself for £50,000 with the payee left blank on the cheque. The allegation is that the payee was left blank on the instructions of Mr. Flynn himself. Fianna Fáil says it never received this money and has written to Mr. Flynn to seek an explanation, so far without success. Surprisingly, the Taoiseach never raised this directly with Mr. Flynn in their many conversations.
Some Fianna Fáil figures are trying to spread muck by saying that these activities are not unusual and by saying: "Sure doesn't everybody fundraise?" During my time as a Minister of State, all Ministers and Ministers of State received a Government memorandum instructing them not to meet persons to discuss policy matters in this way without civil servants present. Why were civil servants omitted from this and other relevant meetings in relation to the business of the State? This is something to which I will refer later. Was the business done for the State or was the State being used for business by Ministers?
The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste seem to recognise the seriousness of the issue by their request to Mr. Flynn for an immediate response. However, to make it absolutely clear to Mr. Flynn how seriously this matter is viewed, the time has come for the representatives of the Irish people in Dáil Éireann to demand such a response. Mr. Flynn showed no reticence when he went on "The Late Late Show" and regaled the country with his brilliance, honesty and denial of any charges of wrongdoing. Now that he has been challenged on these statements he must respond for his own sake and the sake of the political system as a whole.
Mr. Burke got at least £60,000, Mr. Haughey at least £2 million, and Mr. Flynn allegedly got £50,000, and all of this was given to them while serving as Ministers. Why were these moneys given to them, in many cases by people they apparently hardly knew? Serving politicians have a particular duty to clarify matters, and failure to do so blackens the good name of all politicians, including many decent Fianna Fáil politicians past and present.
I reject the cant put out by some radio commentators and political spin doctors – especially some close to those currently under investigation – that: "sure everyone was at it, all politics is at least a bit corrupt." The reality is that the vast majority of politicians of all parties work hard on behalf of their constituents for a relatively modest salary and work with honesty and integrity. It is true that the vast majority of Members of this House have fundraised to pay for their campaigns, and this would have been especially true for the years from 1981 to 1992 when there were six general elections, not to mention local and European elections. How many politicians received gifts of the magnitude mentioned? How many received these from relative strangers? How many took gifts of this kind while holding office as Ministers, and in circumstances where there was a clear relationship between the gift being offered and policy issues being pursued? Unfortunately, a few bad apples threaten to give us all a bad name. The more we hear, the more extraordinary the truth seems to be. In particular, some ministerial activity between 1987 and 1992 bears ever closer scrutiny. It is not an exaggeration to say that a culture of corruption hangs over those years, which was the period of golden circles. This is not ancient history as some would like us to believe; these events happened less than ten years ago when all members of the current Cabinet were already Members of Dáil Éireann and many were members of the then Cabinet, including the Taoiseach and Deputies O'Rourke, Woods, Michael Smith, and Seamus Brennan.
There are many events from that period now under investigation by the Moriarty and Flood Tribunals. Others must greatly disturb those in charge of the public purse, such as the purchase of Carysfort College, and remain to be properly explained. For example, why did it cost the State nearly £10 million to purchase Carysfort when UCD were going ahead with the purchase of a facility at Roebuck at no cost to the State?
The March 1992 report of the Committee of Public Accounts sets out the precise concerns. As the Deputy who chaired that committee I again draw the attention of the House to the contents of the committee's report, as they are very relevant to much of what is being inquired into today. The Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, cannot pretend that these questions are not relevant to current Government accountability. These irregular practices which were reported on by the Committee of Public Accounts and raised in the Dáil have never been explained adequately.
"There is a cancer in Fianna Fail that must be rooted out." These are not my words, nor indeed the words of any member of the Fine Gael or Labour parties. They are the words of Minister of State, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, speaking a week ago on "Questions and Answers". I stress that it would be unfair and wrong to attribute wrongdoing to all members of Fianna Fáil, but those who are as shocked as the rest of us must speak up, even now.
Let me give another example of how the business of the State, or was it the business of some Ministers, was conducted in those times. The passports for sale scheme has been much commented on in recent years. I note from newspaper reports that the Moriarty Tribunal has sought these files from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but I am not satisfied that all files relating to this scheme repose there. I suspect considerable activity in relation to this ill-fated scheme was carried out in the Department of the Taoiseach and that the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, played an active part in selling Irish citizenship to wealthy foreigners who either needed it to establish residences within the European Union or to avoid paying federal taxes in the United States of America.
Questions to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform over the past 18 months have failed to elicit significant information about the issue of 11 passports to the family of Sheikh Khalin bin Mahfooz but we know from reports that serious irregularities existed about the issue of these passports. We have the word of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, that he told the current Taoiseach he understood there were serious irregularities in the Mahfooz file, and that Deputy Reynolds felt obliged to advise the Taoiseach of his view in this regard and to let him make up his own mind about appointing Mr. Burke to Cabinet. The former Minister for Justice, Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn, left a memo on the Mahfooz file before she left office in November 1994 in which, I understand, she stated she was concerned and alarmed about its contents. She said the details of the case were highly unusual and a note about the promised investment was extraordinarily scanty by any standards. She had serious concerns about the granting of the naturalisation to the 11 persons in this case and if full, thorough and satisfactory answers to those concerns were not available, she was of the view that the certificates of naturalisation should, if possible, be revoked in each of the cases. The Taoiseach confirmed in the Dáil last October that Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn briefed him on the case in November 1994.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been extraordinarily evasive over the past 18 months in failing to let the House have any real information in relation to the passports scheme. He did, however, indicate some of the countries that gave citizenship on the same basis as the Irish Government, including St. Christopher and Nevis, Tonga, Belize, Panama, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. I need say no more about the place of Ireland in this grouping. We now know who did the business and for whom.
These matters involve serving members of the Government. Those who would not turn a blind eye or look the other way, and who certainly would not conspire or assist, were punished by being banished. We now know why Deputy O'Malley was pushed out of Fianna Fáil, and why Deputies like David Andrews and others were left on the back benches for so many years: they would not go along with the way policy was made and decisions were taken to assist those on the inside. Surely it is time we had an explanation why some of these policy decisions were made, especially when we see policy makers in office in receipt of large amounts of money from people who clearly stood to benefit. Tonight we ask for an explanation from Commissioner Flynn, no more, no less. If he were to give such an explanation we could then reach a reasoned opinion on the allegations. I hope this House asks for such an explanation and I hope he responds.
I want to address also the extraordinary view that Mr. Flynn is too valuable to Ireland as our EU Commissioner to be hounded out of office over a minor matter. First, as I have made clear, these allegations are not a minor matter and require a response. Second, the view that Mr. Flynn is irreplaceable as Ireland's EU Commissioner is simply wrong. He has done a competent job on the Commission but there are a number of individuals inside and outside this House well capable of doing a good job. How can he have any credibility left in Europe if he refuses legitimate inquiries, if the Taoiseach says he is not satisfied with his responses and the Tánaiste says his position is untenable?
The time for arrogance and bluster is gone, the time for explanations has come. Fine Gael is clear in its view that Commissioner Flynn must offer an explanation. We ask others to support this simple request by supporting the motion. We ask the Progressive Democrats, who proclaim their commitment to high standards and whose leader, the Tánaiste, has said Commissioner Flynn's position is untenable, to support the motion. Is the party which did so much to expose the scandals in the beef industry in those years, 1987-92, through the efforts of Deputy O'Malley, prepared to accept that Commissioner Flynn can continue to hold high office and offer no response to the current controversy? We ask Fianna Fáil, the party which asked Commissioner Flynn for an explanation and got none, to support the motion. The Fianna Fáil leader, the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, has publicly stated that he is not satisfied with Commissioner Flynn's response to current events. He and other members of Fianna Fáil now have the opportunity to join with all the other elected representatives of the Irish people and seek that full explanation.
The tribunals of inquiry were established to get to the truth of various matters. It was never intended that public officials should use them as an excuse for not offering clear responses to legitimate public concerns. Just as the Taoiseach realised that the Gilmartin allegations necessitated a public response from him, so also do they require a response from Commissioner Flynn. For years Mr. Haughey made arrogant, dismissive responses to inquiries about the source and extent of his wealth, for reasons we now understand all too clearly. The public will no longer accept such a lack of accountability from their political leaders and those paid from the public purse, and we as politicians must make clear that we too reject the dismissive approach adopted by Commissioner Flynn in his Brussels elevator interview with RTE.
This motion does not pre-judge the Commissioner, it merely asks for an explanation. In natural justice we are giving him an opportunity to make that explanation within two weeks. For all we know, there may be an explanation unrelated to the tribunals, but this cannot be determined until we hear from him. His failure to explain is unacceptable from a serving public official, brings shame on the political system and increases public cynicism. The time has come to let people, through their elected representatives, demand an explanation from Commissioner Flynn who, as he stated on "The Late Late Show", continues to receive pensions from the taxes supplied by this House taken from the public we represent.
The Taoiseach has offered circumstantial evidence as proof against the likelihood of meetings he allegedly had with Mr. Gilmartin in the company of the then Taoiseach and other Ministers in 1989. He offered as his explanation that after 1987 the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, would not have held meetings involving several people on official business in Leinster House but in Government Buildings. As was pointed out by an eminent journalist over the weekend, this view of Mr. Haughey is wide of the mark. His business – party, State and official – was done wherever he happened to be, including Kinsealy. This had been his practice throughout his period as party leader and had even provoked criticism at the constitutionality of how he conducted Government business, a point on which he was sensitive. As was pointed out by the same journalist, apart from the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, no one claimed this meeting, on whatever day it took place, was official business. Mr. Gilmartin's description, which gives it a party political slant, presents it as anything but that. The Taoiseach was quick to rely on the diaries of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, and then only secondhand, to support his circumstantial evidence. The attendance of the Minister, Deputy Brennan, is described as improbable. The Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, has not made any statement. An independent forensic examination of all of the relevant diaries should be carried out. We simply cannot rely on Ministers absolving themselves.
Bruce Arnold's news analysis article in the Irish Independent of 6 February last states:
This was a culture, a way of doing business, and it embraced the finances of the Fianna Fáil party over a long number of years. It appears also to have embraced decision-making, intruded into the business of planning at the highest level, and to have been conducted in ministerial offices, rooms in Leinster House, Abbeyville in Kinsealy, and we know not where besides.
As of today, no line has been drawn separating this truly alarming past from what Mr. Ahern wishes to have seen as the more mundane present. And it will not be drawn until the issue of Mr. Flynn and the £50,000 is addressed.
It is not true to suggest that sort of murky business embraced all of Fianna Fáil. There are many, clearly the majority of, Fianna Fáil members and public representatives who are mortified and ashamed of these events. There is also some hope. Two young Fianna Fáil candidates for the local elections have spoken out and are not prepared to remain silent even now. I know a number of people on the benches opposite share these concerns. The motion before the House gives them the opportunity to express those concerns and to set about separating the truly alarming past from their future. Unfortunately, the past is not separated from the Fianna Fáil of today, however unfair that may be to the majority of Fianna Fáil members. They should not blame the Opposition for that. Their misfortunes are homegrown. They will start to recover the day they start to demand accountability from those on their own benches who know the answers. For the sake of our democratic political system, I urge the House to support this motion.