Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 1, Minerals Development Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 72, motion re: disability.

There are no proposals to put to the House.

How long will the House be left in the dark as to why the Taoiseach signed the £25,000 cheque?

It is not appropriate to raise the matter on the Order of Business. It has been dealt with under Standing Order 31.

Surely it is in the interest of the House to seek clarification on this matter. It was taxpayers' money.

The Deputy should find another way in which to raise the matter.

I do not challenge the ruling of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in respect of a request made under Standing Order 31. He declared that the matter was not one of sufficient urgency at the present time and rejected our use of that particular parliamentary device. Is it the Taoiseach's intention to use another parliamentary device, namely, the making of a personal statement, to correct the record of 10 September 1997 which is now clearly erroneous?

If it would be helpful, I have a short note on this matter.

I put it to the Taoiseach that the record of 10 September 1997 is clearly erroneous. There is a time honoured convention in this House that when that occurs, it is open to any Member of the House, particularly an office-holder, to come to the House and correct the record. If the House is agreeable, I suggest the Taoiseach should avail of that opportunity now.

The question tabled by Deputy Spring on 10 September 1997 related to the 1982-7 period when the Fianna Fáil party was in Opposition. I explained to him on that occasion that I had spoken to the administrator and did not believe anything was wrong. I have not subsequently received or heard any information to indicate that there was anything wrong with any matter during the 1982-7 period. The record of that date stands to this day and is not erroneous.

I did not say on that occasion that I was one of the signatories of the cheque, rather I said that the procedure was for a senior person to sign cheques. I was not the only senior person who signed the cheque; a number of other senior people signed it. The fact that I was one of the signatories was the only information I could have added to my reply on that occasion. I am not aware that anything on record about the 1982-7 period is any different today than on 10 September 1997.

Is the Taoiseach saying that as treasurer of Fianna Fáil and signatory of those accounts, he did not have any means of discovering what happened to the money he signed away?

I watched a recording of a television programme broadcast last night in which people kept saying I was the party treasurer. I was the party treasurer for a period but there seems to be a view that I have been treasurer since its foundation. I was treasurer of the party from some time in 1992 to some time in 1994 but I was not treasurer during the period referred to. The procedure was that the whips signed cheques and authorisations were never changed. A number of people, of whom I was one, continued to be signatories. I signed cheques when I was asked to but was not responsible for the accounts.

Can I ask the Taoiseach—

We cannot have a debate on this matter, about which the Chair has been more than lenient. Members should resume their seats. Do Members wish to raise any other matters on the Order of Business before we proceed to item No. 1?

The questions will not go away simply because the Leas-Cheann Comhairle does not want to hear them.

Deputy Quinn has spoken twice already.

The Chair's responsibility is purely to implement Standing Orders. It is not appropriate to debate this matter on the Order of Business. If there are no other matters on the Order of Business, we will move on to item No. 1.

The Irish people have a right to know why the Taoiseach signed this cheque and whether he knew where the money was going.

This matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business. I call on the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to move the Second Stage reading of the Minerals Development Bill.

We cannot accept that.

Deputies Bruton and Quinn are totally out of order.

The Taoiseach should answer our questions and stop hiding behind his lawyers.

The Deputy must find another way to raise this matter.

Does the Taoiseach not have access to ledgers or accounts journals?

I will not let Deputy Bruton's comment go. I do not hide behind anyone. Deputy Bruton said that I am not answering questions because I am hiding behind my lawyers. I, therefore, insist on putting the following short note on the record.

More drama.

I wish to state at the outset that I brought this matter to the attention of the Moriarty tribunal so that its significance and relevance, if any, could be determined by the tribunal having regard to all of the information it alone is in a position to assemble. I acted correctly in so doing and have co-operated fully in meeting any subsequent inquiries and requests. I am anxious to continue acting correctly in a situation where certain information, originally supplied by me, has become public without its exact significance having been established.

The Moriarty tribunal has, under the terms of reference given to it by Dáil Éireann, conducted a great deal of its most important work confidentially. The tribunal regards it as imperative to maintain confidentiality during the private phase investigation of each aspect until it is ready to conduct public hearings. In this way, any matter which cannot be substantiated is sifted out and unfounded and damaging allegations are not brought into the public arena where unwarranted damage could be done to innocent reputations. Partial, unnecessary selective discussion in the Dáil is prejudicial to the work of the tribunal.

Where third parties, whose willing co-operation is essential to the expeditious work of the tribunal, are involved, their constitutional rights must be protected. I have been advised by the Attorney General that the disclosure of such correspondence which relates exclusively to my obligation of confidentiality to the tribunal and which does not disclose the identity of third parties or in any way impinge on their constitutional rights would be permissible. In the circumstances, I propose to put parts of the relevant correspondence on the record of the House.

I should add that I sought the advice of the Attorney General on the matter as I was being asked to account to the Dáil in my capacity as Taoiseach. In normal circumstances, I would have been happy to amplify and add to the statement I made in this House on 10 September 1997, which related to a different period, on the basis of information which came into my possession a year subsequently. Indeed, I have already done so today in two respects. I would not have had any difficulty in making a statement if permitted to do so by the tribunal.

Of course, many questions arise which none of us is in a position to answer definitively. That is why we have established a tribunal to provide answers. If we sincerely hope to get to the truth of the matter, we should all co-operate fully with the tribunal, as I will. In the most recent contacts with representatives of the tribunals, they again reiterated forcibly the necessity for confidentiality during this phase of their work. This confidential phase was agreed to by the Opposition parties during negotiations establishing the terms of reference. Indeed, the tribunal has made it clear that any person holding a position of responsibility could not fail to have regard to the obligations of the tribunal in carrying out its private investigative work. After all, the power to conduct these proceedings in private, where appropriate, to determine whether sufficient evidence exists was a key part of the terms of reference given to the tribunal.

I want to quote the extracts I can give from a letter from the tribunal. The tribunal makes a number of points but I want to put some points on the record of the House. The letter states:

The responsibility with which the Tribunal is charged is to ensure that matters within its Terms of Reference are ventilated so far as is practicable in a way which protects the constitutional rights of persons dealing with it. This the Tribunal does in the first instance by carrying out its initial investigatory work in private. Persons dealing with the Tribunal do so and expect to do so on the basis that the Tribunal will take steps to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable that confidentiality is maintained as regards information furnished by any such person to the Tribunal and also as regards any information made available by the Tribunal to any such person. The statement furnished by An Taoiseach clearly affects the interests of other persons. It would be irresponsible of the Tribunal to encourage any person dealing with it to think that circumstances you describe would justify the disclosure of such information in public otherwise than in the course of the Tribunal's sittings.

The same applies to correspondence between any of your clients and the Tribunal, if there were a risk, as it seems to me that at least in general terms, there must be, that the disclosure of such correspondence could lead to the identification of persons dealing with the Tribunal in the course of the private phase of its work or could lead to the identification of or the disclosure of information furnished to the Tribunal by or in connection with any such person.

Quite apart from the foregoing there is an overriding consideration that persons dealing with the Tribunal should be able to do so in the confidence that the Tribunal will take every practical step to protect the confidentiality of any such person's dealings with the Tribunal during the private phase of its work.

The Tribunal would expect in particular that persons in a position of responsibility would not deviate from these principles. This is not to say that any person dealing with the Tribunal should be inhibited from so asserting, or from asserting that he had provided the Tribunal with a statement, [I have done so] or other information, to assist the Tribunal in its inquiries and that those inquiries are at a confidential stage.

When I received that letter, it put me in a position where I could not give the correspondence or the details, other than what the Attorney General has stated. I wrote back to the tribunal, through solicitors for the Fianna Fáil Party who were dealing with this because it was a Fianna Fáil matter, and they asked if these matters should be made known to the House. I received a reply to that letter yesterday which states:

In your letter you have indicated that the opposition parties in the Dail will be demanding a statement from An Taoiseach in relation to the Leaders Allowance. You have asked me to write to the Ceann Comhairle for the purpose of appraising him of the instructions and directions issued by the Tribunal to your client [that is to me]. I take it that your request is directed to me as Solicitor to the Tribunal and that what you require is that the Sole Member should write to An Ceann Comhairle in the terms indicated in your letter.

The Tribunal's view is that while the situation, as described by you may cause difficulties for your clients, you must agree that your request effectively amounts to an invitation to the Tribunal to become embroiled in a political controversy. This could result in the Tribunal becoming identified with one side or other of a political controversy and is something which might lead to the compromising of the independence of the Tribunal.

In particular it would not be appropriate for the Tribunal to write to the Ceann Comhairle in circumstances which could be seen to amount to an attempt to influence the Ceann Comhairle in the way in which he exercises his powers or exercises any discretion in the discharge of the duties of his office.

Lastly might I point out that the Tribunal has not given any directions to your client. Nor would the Tribunal presume to direct An Taoiseach or indeed any responsible office holder as to how they should act in relation to this matter. The Tribunal has already expressed the view that it would be confident that such directions would be unnecessary in the case of any responsible holder of public office. Indeed the Tribunal acknowledges the care with which your clients [me] appear to have observed the principles governing the operation of the Tribunal's workings, as outlined in my recent letters. In the same way the Tribunal has no reason to believe that any Ceann Comhairle or any other person holding a position of responsibility would fail to have regard to the obligations of the Tribunal in carrying out its private investigatory work and the principles to be observed by persons dealing with the Tribunal in the course of this phase of the Tribunal's work.

That is my position. That explains the matter and I have no more to say.

Hear, hear.

I thank the Taoiseach for putting all that information on the record of the House. It will be necessary for all Members to study carefully what has been said here before drawing further conclusions, but most Members would understand that there is a distinction between a public office holder, such as the Taoiseach, who must be accountable here and now, and a third party, whose interests could be adversely affected, who is outside this House and not a public office holder. Clearly, the Taoiseach has an obligation to this House that even supersedes his obligations to the Moriarty tribunal because he is appointed to his current office by this House. It is not satisfactory—

The terms of reference.

—that he is unable or unwilling to answer to this House on matters that affect actions he took and documents he signed.

On a point of order, I have to again correct Deputy Bruton. I am unable, not unwilling to do so.

I, too, thank the Taoiseach for putting on the record of the House the substantial text of the correspondence he received from his legal advisers and the tribunal. I also want to put something on the record of the House, because this is a matter to which we would like to return. On 4 September 1997, Deputy Spring wrote to the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, seeking details of the allocation of the leader's allowance from 1983 to 1987 and from 1987 to 1991. In reply on 10 September, the Taoiseach pointedly referred to the period when Fianna Fáil was in Opposition, omitting to answer the second part of Deputy Spring's question. This is a day for putting matters on the record of the House and, for the benefit of members of the Fianna Fáil Party, I will quote their Taoiseach when, in respect of the allowance, he further stated:

There was no surplus and no misappropriation. The person involved had sole control of the account. The money came in, the person lodged the cheque, dealt with the bills and invoices and paid those not covered by the ordinary allowance.

We want to know what happened between 1987, when Fianna Fáil was in Opposition, and 1991 when apparently the Taoiseach became a signa tory to the account and where misappropriation appears to have occurred.

Deputy Quinn, we cannot have a debate on this matter now.

I do not like to nit-pick but—

I tabled Question No. 31 which was recognised.

I called the leaders of the two parties that are recognised as groups.

I tabled No. 31, which was recognised.

No. 31 is gone. Allow the Taoiseach to reply.

I do not like to nit-pick but Deputy Quinn is normally a fair person and I have to correct him when he is not. He quoted a section from the Official Report of that day but, unusually for him, omitted the first line which states:

Deputy Spring has raised the issue of the party leader's allowance during Fianna Fáil's period in Opposition.

What I said was related to that, and Deputy Quinn knows it.