Private Members' Business. - Electoral (Amendment) (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Quinn on Tuesday, 16 May 2000:
"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann,
–conscious of the need as a matter of urgency to restore public confidence in the political system by the enactment of legislation to modernise and strengthen the criminal law relating to corruption, and noting the publication of the Government's Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2000, and further proposals for legislation to restate and amend the law in relation to corruption in public office published by Fine Gael and the Labour Party,
–noting the commitment of the Government to publish a Standards in Public Office Bill which will contain comprehensive proposals to reform and amend the law relating to standards in public office in accordance with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and the Houses' Committees on Members Interests, and noting that the Bill will provide for the necessity for tax clearance certificates for persons elected to the Oireachtas,
–noting the proposals published for the regulation of lobbyists,
–conscious of the duty of the Oireachtas, when making laws relating to the funding of political parties to respect and vindicate:
–the constitutional rights of citizens to freely seek election, establish political parties, organise for political and democratic purposes within or without parties on terms of equality before the law, and free from arbitrary or invidious discrimination in relation to the provision of publicly funded support,
–the constitutional rights of independent candidates and candidates for new parties to organise politically between elections without being subject to invidious discrimination in favour of established political parties,
–the constitutional rights of citizens to freely form associations and to communicate to other citizens their political opinions and beliefs, and
–the constitutional rights of non-party organisations to freely campaign and participate in the democratic process by making their views on political issues generally known,
–conscious that the regulation of political parties and of the funding of political activities must respect democratic constitutional values as found in the Constitution and enunciated by the courts,
–noting the Government's commitment to reaching, so far as possible, a general consensus among the parties and individual Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and
–noting the commitment of the Government to the immediate establishment of an all-party committee to consider:
–in the first instance, the eight legislative proposals already announced relating to the funding of political activity, both between and during elections [a Standards in Public Office Bill; the Registration of Lobbyist (No. 2) Bill, 1999; the Electoral (Amendment) (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill, 2000; the Public Representatives (Provision of Tax Clearance Certificates) Bill, 2000; three Prevention of Corruption Bills and the Local Government Bill, 2000],
–further measures to prevent corruption in public office,
–the need for statutory regulation of lobbying activities,
–the protection of "whistleblowers" and related matters,
–noting the proposal to appoint an expert group in consultation with the party leaders to assist and advise that committee. The terms of reference will require it to report back to the party leaders not later than 30 September 2000, so that all necessary legislative changes can be introduced and considered by the Houses of the Oireachtas not later than 31 December 2000,
and
–with a view to facilitating a fully considered constitutionally valid and comprehensive legislative response to public concerns about corruption in the political process and public administration,
–postpones the Second Reading of the Electoral (Amendment) (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill, 2000, until 1 December 2000".
–(Minister for the Environment and Local Government).

I wish to share my time with Deputies Currie and Ring.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I have given this issue as much thought as anyone else and I have come to the conclusion that, if trust in politicians is ever to be regained and politics is ever again to be regarded by the public as a public service, politicians should move as quickly as possible to remove themselves from the handling of money as far as it is statutorily possible to do so. This would mean banning donations to individuals from whatever source. There are those who view this as an overreaction to current scandals, who regard it as a Dublin issue and maintain that these circumstances could not pertain outside Dublin. They could pertain outside Dublin, and every Deputy and councillor is vulnerable to the accusation that they favoured or will favour someone who at one time gave them an election donation. Ireland is too small for it to be possible to go through a career in politics and not be party at some stage to a decision which favoured a person who gave an election donation.

I have no doubt that the majority of such subscriptions are given by friends and well-wishers with no benefit being sought, expected or given, and that they are received in the same spirit. In other words, they are regarded by both receiver and giver as legitimate election donations. However, from now on in the minds of the public, there is no such thing as a legitimate election donation to a candidate. Whatever the spirit in which the money was given or received, in the minds of the public, it is tainted. From now on, the motivation for giving or receiving donations will be assumed to be corrupt. That is the assumption, however unfair, and the best we can hope for is that it will be believed that we are compromised at a subliminal level in some way.

The only way now to protect the body politic is to remove the conditions whereby such a situation can arise. We should go further and take ourselves completely out of the money equation, be it the receiving of money, either for personal or party donations, or the distribution of donations which I will discuss later. At present, every Deputy receives some type of political contribution at election time, but they are also expected by their parties to fundraise for their local organisation, their constituency, their party headquarters, local and general elections, referenda, presidential elections and by-elections. With lunches, seminars, golf classics and quizzes, we are literally on an endless treadmill of ticket sales. We are nothing better than ticket touts. It is not just a distraction from what we should be about, which it certainly is, it is also embarrassing, distasteful and potentially compromising. It is time we got ourselves off that hook.

I am pleased, and I know all politicians will be pleased, that from the next general election there will be a cap on spending. It will certainly reduce the pressure on all candidates and reduce dependence on donations. In multi-seat constituencies, Deputies compete not only at elections but between them in the donations they give to clubs and organisations and countless other groups which are all worthy and to which we should contribute privately. However, we contribute publicly in the size of the donations we give, the glossiness of the advertisements we take out and the extent of our sponsorship. In other words, we are trying to buy the goodwill of the public and are trying to be judged by the extent of our largesse. That is not how it should be and it is an unhealthy pressure on politicians. There is not the same demand publicly for an end to this, but it is the flip side of the donation coin and it is something we should take on board on this occasion.

Some will remember in my first election in this jurisdiction in 1989 the widely reported comments I made on the widespread cynicism among the electorate of Dublin West. I said I was appalled at the cynicism about politicians and the political process and that this cynicism was a greater threat to our political institutions than was the gun and the bomb to the political institutions north of the Border. It now transpires that not even the most cynical could have suspected one tenth of what was going on. What has been disclosed so far indicates a level of corruption in planning matters comparable to what we are told occurs in a so-called banana republic. I did not exaggerate when I underlined the threat to our political institutions represented by such widespread cynicism. The fact that the cynics have now been proved to be correct makes the position even worse. What it means for the future is that the honesty and integrity of our public representatives cannot be taken for granted. Due to the corruption of a small number of people, the rest of us will have to prove our honesty and go beyond what would normally be expected in terms of transparency to regain the trust which ought to be the norm in a democratic society. It will take some time to regain that trust.

A good beginning should be the rooting out and removal of those in whatever party, if any, who have abused the trust of the people and their political colleagues. There should be the strictest possible limits on election expenditure. I know this will be difficult to enforce and ways around it will be found, but the worst and most blatant excesses will not happen for fear of losing the seat. What happened in my constituency in the past, where there were queues of taxis outside polling stations and bags of coal delivered to the elderly, should not happen in future. We must look to the future. The current scandal over planning must ultimately have a good effect. The barefaced development-driven decisions of the past should be made impossible, especially in my constituency where the threat to Laraghcon and St. Edmondsbury should be lessened. We are told that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance; so is the price of democracy.

There is one minute remaining in the slot.

I will not use it but will try to share time later.

I wish to share my time with the Minister for Finance and Deputies Power and Fleming.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Labour Party's attitude to the funding of political parties is not only cynical but also opportunistic, given that its track record of receiving union and corporate donations poses a litany of questions which continue to go unanswered by its leader, Deputy Quinn. He has a selective memory where the methods used by the Labour Party to line its coffers and balance its books are concerned. He has submerged himself and his party in a sea of confusion in his clamour to take the high moral ground on an issue which now brings into question the Labour Party's commitment to transparency under Deputy Quinn. He makes no apology for his party continually returning to what it themes the corrosive and destructive effect on the political process of its reliance on private sources to fund its activities. His shallow reflection on the past reduces his claims of aversion to corporate donations to a gross act of cynicism.

The Labour Party's view of political donations being corrosive and destructive flies in the face of the fact that the largest recipient of political donations in 1997 was none other than Deputy Quinn who amassed a staggering £27,000. What credence does this give to the Labour Party's call for a £1,000 ceiling on donations to individual politicians? In a more recent statement, Deputy Quinn traced the Labour Party's opposition to political donations as far back as 1991. This assertion is in stark contrast to the reality of the party's ongoing fundraising operations. The Labour Party calls for a £2,000 limit to the amount which can be donated to any political party. Contrary to its view of the potential for corrosive and destructive effects, the same Deputy Quinn had no qualms during the 1997 general election in accepting five times this amount on behalf of his party.

A myriad of questions surround the Labour Party's link to trade unions and the funding it receives from this source. It has accepted a sizeable level of support from corporate Ireland. In 1997 and 1998 the Labour Party received a total of £78,841. This included £27,741 from SIPTU, which excludes support given to individual members, and £23,100 from former MEP, Bernie Malone, in the form of levies. Of significant interest is the fact that over this period SIPTU, the country's largest trade union, is ranked fourth in the league table of donations, with £52,961 given to the Labour Party and its Oireachtas Members. The Public Offices Commission donations for 1999 revealed that a further £38,721 was given to Labour from SIPTU, so the time has come for Labour to clarify its position in this respect. It should state clearly and unequivocally whether it is prepared to forego the amount it received from this source.

Everything above board.

It should state clearly and unequivocally whether it is prepared to forego the amount it received from this source. The £20,000 in trade union donations recently referred to by Deputy Quinn falls well short of that detail on the public record. Payments in excess of £30,000 have been recorded for each of the past four years. Perhaps Deputy Quinn will explain the anomaly between the two amounts. I for one would like to hear, in the interests of transparency, what is the precise position.

When you release yours.

When you release your accounts.

A clear and detailed account of the additional thousands of pounds in donations received by Labour Party Members would be welcome at this point in the debate on political funding. A similar account of benefits in kind such as office accommodation made available by the party should be on the public record.

The reality is that Labour's record on transparency is not as squeaky clean as it would wish us to believe. As recently as last year Labour was forced to admit it had received a donation of £30,000 from its then MEP, Bernie Malone, and failed to honour its legal obligations to inform the Public Offices Commission of this donation. Remarkably, the donation from its own MEP was almost eight times greater than the size of donations that must be legally disclosed to the Public Offices Commission, yet Labour stands proud as the guardians of openness, transparency and accountability. Labour's attitude to transparency is also open to debate when one considers its attitude to tax clearance certificates, an issue my party has comprehensively addressed with the introduction of our code of conduct.

At the Labour Party conference of 1997 a motion was put proposing an amendment to the electoral Bill providing that all candidates for elected public office submit, with their nomination papers, a tax clearance certificate issued by the Revenue Commissioners. If this motion was passed why, three years later, has Labour failed to implement it? If the motion was rejected, what does that say about Labour's commitment to openness, transparency and accountability?

Further evidence of the erosion of Labour's commitment to the same ideals lies with Deputy Quinn's failure to adequately explain his professed lack of knowledge of the Woodchester loan and subsequent write-off of £28,000 at the time of the 1994 European elections, despite the fact that he was Labour's director of elections in Dublin and deputy party leader at the time. Deputy Quinn recently said in the House that the Labour Party believes that we in the House have a duty to ensure that the whole truth, however unpalatable, is laid bare and that we have a responsibility to deal with the difficult questions the truth sometimes turns up. I am afraid this statement contrasts starkly with his refusal to make a definitive statement on the Woodchester Bank issue in the face of repeated calls to do so. He has rejected the need for an inquiry into how the debt and donation were treated in the Labour Party's accounts, while Senator Costello's call for a party inquiry was also shot down.

It appears that some Members have selective memories when it comes to methods used by their parties to bolster finances. I am not for one moment suggesting any dishonesty on behalf of any individual—

—but if one wishes to jump on the high moral ground—

We are not.

—when it comes to donations to parties in respect of their political business, one must be prepared to take the heat as well. One must be prepared, in fairness to the public and to other Members, to state unequivocally the position relating to one's own party. That is surely a reasonable stance for any member of the public or member of a party.

While Deputy Quinn and the Labour Party speak about this matter, they should engage in deep political soul-searching at the same time before proposing cure-all solutions to an issue this Government has moved decisively to address. The work involved in such an undertaking would allow a timeframe to put an all-encompassing strategy to tackle corruption and wrongdoing in public life and restore credibility and confidence in the body politic.

It seems that while Deputy Quinn may wish to paint his party as a forest of palms, there is little question but that it sprouts olives. Down through the history of the State donations have not just been made to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and other parties but also to the Labour Party.

On the record.

Published.

A full admission of all this, together with an acknowledgement that it is not the sole repository of all honour and integrity in this country, would be very good for the soul.

We are not saying that.

The fundamental basis to all government, whether it be at national or local level, is trust. Those of us who serve in the three branches of government – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary – hold our positions in trust from the people. For a Member of this House, or of any other elected forum, or for a Minister or official to decide on a matter on the basis that it will benefit him or her is to betray the people's trust. The bottom line is that we have an absolute obligation to make our decisions solely on the basis of what is in the best interests of the people.

In the wake of revelations at current tribunals and at the McCracken Tribunal, it is not going too far to say that public trust in politicians and the political system has been seriously damaged. We face an historic challenge to restore that trust which is essential to the successful working of democracy and politics in our country and, indeed, to the continued well-being of our nation.

The Government's amendment seeks to have an integrated approach across these fronts through the mechanism of an all-party committee tasked to report no later than the end of September. Recent events have given added momentum to the reform process. However, it is important that we progress the reform agenda with due care because the fundamental nature of the issues means that the decisions arrived at will determine the future well-being of our democracy. We cannot afford the luxury of rushed provisions and it is the Government's view that an all-party approach offers the best chance of achieving good, properly considered legislation.

The Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, already provides mechanisms for dealing with conflicts of interest in relation to Members of the Houses, Ministers and officials in the Civil Service and the wider public service. The ethics legislation had been in place for less than two years when Justice McCracken wrote his report and while he looked forward to that legislation being highly effective, he nonetheless made recommendations for improvements. These recommendations included provisions for an independent third party to monitor and investigate possible contraventions of the Ethics in Public Office Act, for the requirement that any candidate going forward for election to either House of the Oireachtas must produce a tax clearance certificate, for a statutory declaration from the person that his or her tax affairs are in order and for the making of a false declaration of interest under the Act to be a criminal offence.

The Government published proposals in 1998 to implement the recommendations of the McCracken Tribunal and following resolutions in both Houses, these were carefully considered by the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and the Select Committees on Members' Interests in each House.

While the Government has yet to finalise its consideration of the Standards in Public Office Bill, I wish to outline some of the key provisions currently being drafted for inclusion in the Bill. It will provide for the establishment of a new Standards in Public Office Commission to investigate complaints involving office holders, Members of the Oireachtas and various public servants. This commission would also take on the role of the existing Public Offices Commission in relation to the ethics and electoral Acts.

As I indicated at the time of the publication of the McCracken report, the Government feels it is necessary that the new commission be headed by a judge or former judge of the High Court or Supreme Court. This approach was endorsed by the Constitution review committee and an all-party committee which recommended a single ethics and electoral commission comprising a serving or former Supreme Court or High Court judge as chair. It is the Government's intention that the Standards in Public Office Commission will have powers similar to those of a tribunal. We have seen in recent weeks how effective these powers can be in getting to the truth of important issues of public confidence in politics.

Moreover, the commission will not be confined to investigating breaches of the ethics Act but will have a wider power to consider significant allegations of financial irregularities on the part of Members, office holders and various public servants. Clearly, the investigative powers of the commission will be a substantial and credible deterrent to potential wrongdoers and will underpin public confidence in the probity of our political and administrative system.

The Standards in Public Office Bill will also create tax clearance requirements for politicians, senior public servants and judges. Basically, this would mean that each Member would have to make a statutory declaration stating that his or her tax affairs were in order and produce a tax clearance certificate. The Government is also providing that senior public servants and judges will be required to provide a tax clearance certifi cate. The Dáil Select Committee and the Joint Committee advocated a code of conduct for all persons in public life. The Standards in Public Office Bill will accordingly provide for drawing up a code of conduct by the new Standards in Public Office Commission to apply to Ministers and other office holders. The select committees will perform a similar role in respect of Members of the Houses. The Bill will also provide that codes of conduct applicable to public servants will be incorporated in the terms and conditions of employment or office of a staff member or special adviser or director as the case may be. These codes will aim to promote the highest standards and confidence in public life by providing guidance on appropriate behaviour in such areas as use of influence and conflicts of interest.

In line with the views of the Oireachtas committees, the Government does not propose to create a statutory prohibition on persons found guilty of an offence under the ethics Act from becoming a Member of either House. The Government is advised that such a provision would be highly vulnerable to a successful constitutional challenge. A similar prohibition does not apply to persons convicted of far more serious offences such as murder, rape or substantial fraud. This does not mean there would not be a penalty for such breaches, rather that the power to discipline Members, including suspending them, would rest with the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I mentioned the Constitution. Deputy Quinn in his contribution last night said "Constitutionality has arisen at each and every stage of the campaign to clean up politics and has been raised as an obstacle at every stage of the reform process." The Government is not using the Constitution to put obstacles in the way of making progress on these issues. The Constitution exists to provide a proper balance of rights and obligations for citizens and their elected representatives. No dutiful Government can ignore important issues of constitutional law in designing legislation, just as no court would ignore these issues in deciding whether legislation is constitutionally valid.

The committees which examined the Government's proposals on standards in public office identified a range of adjustments to the Ethics in Public Office Act which would be necessary to address technical and implementation issues. I am particularly anxious to ensure the administrative burden on Members arising from the ethics and electoral Acts is streamlined to the greatest extent possible and this will be achieved through measures such as aligning the periods covered by donations and interests disclosure statements required under these Acts.

We have heard in the past that not enough use is made of Oireachtas committees. Very often when the Government mentions it is considering an issue we are told the matter should be referred to a committee so that complex issues can benefit from the undoubted expertise and breadth of experience of Oireachtas Members. That is pre cisely what the Government is now proposing, but it is also proposing that the committee concerned would operate to a tight deadline, and that the Government would pledge itself to a swift and comprehensive response to the committee's deliberations. This seems to me to be the best course of action.

The revelations at the Flood tribunal have occupied the front pages of our newspapers in recent weeks. I realise the seriousness of these recent revelations. However, the media has painted these revelations as a matter of great surprise. It is with certain regret that I say the public is not as shocked as we are led to believe. The revelations reinforce the perception that many of the electorate have of politicians in general. The revelations are serious and pose a very serious threat to democracy. There is no place for corruption or wrongdoing in politics. However, it is important that we deal with the matter in a mature manner, something which has not been evident in this Private Members' debate.

That is very unfair to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Deputy should not attack a senior member of his party in that manner. One must defend the Minister for zero tolerance.

The reality is that all parties are affected by what has been brought into the public domain and it is only in an all-party context that the issue can be successfully addressed. The perception given by some speakers in the House is that Fianna Fáil is reluctant to make the changes necessary to successfully address this issue. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Deputy has been dragged in to the House.

As a Member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party I am very anxious that the proper action is taken, something I will ensure is done. Nobody has been dragged into the House – I volunteered to come to contribute and will speak my own mind on the matter.

It is important that we do not take action solely for the purpose of appeasing the public. A quick fix, rushed job is in no one's interest and could possibly do more damage in the long-term as such an approach could be expected to be inadequate and short of the measures which should be considered and implemented. There is enough wisdom on all sides in the House to put in place a strategic approach to repairing the damage to the body politic and to restoring confidence in politics in the interest of those we represent.

I accept that the Labour Party has invested considerable energy and time in producing the Private Members' Bill. That said, surely a more constructive approach to tackling this issue would be to dispense with the quick fix and rushed approach and to adopt an all-party approach to definitely and comprehensively put in place the structures and legislation required to root out corruption and restore faith in politics.

I wish to share time with Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

I acknowledge that this is a very important debate, one of the reasons for which is that public confidence in politicians and the political process has been declining. We cannot blame the electorate for the increasing cynicism. A minority of people in elected office have given the majority of honest politicians a bad name, but we must accept the reality that a few bad apples can damage the entire barrel, and that is where we now find ourselves.

Elected politicians have a primary role in restoring public confidence in the political system. We acknowledge the tribunals have important work to do, but nevertheless we as politicians have a clear role to fulfil in our own right. The essence of democracy is that elected representatives represent the people. The role of the citizen and the voter must have pre-eminence. When people vote in elections their decision must be respected and there should not be a hidden influence in the political system.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in Exchequer funding for political parties. Last year alone more than £3 million was made available by the Exchequer to the various political parties and Independents in the House. More than £2 million was made available through the party leaders' allowance scheme, and under the Electoral Act more than £1 million was paid directly to political parties, figures which may not be widely known. Given that the Exchequer has gone a long way down the road towards subventing the political system the time has come to complete the process. It would take an estimated £4 million, giving a total expenditure of approximately £7 million, to fully finance the political operation of all parties and Independents. If we have public funding the legislation must provide for new candidates, candidates who fail to get elected and new political parties. If no such mechanism exists the legislation will be biased in favour of existing political parties.

It is well known that in the past I have proposed a ban on corporate and business donations to political parties, restrictions on donations from individuals to politicians and parties and full public accountability and an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General each year, with the accounts laid before the House. There should also be sensible expenditure limits.

The Deputy's party has not yet agreed to that.

I remind Members that I made those proposals at the Sub-Committee on Government Proposals for the Standards in Public Office Bill on Wednesday, 14 April 1999. It was an all-party committee and I had to make a private addendum to the report because I was unable to get all-party agreement for those basic proposals. I hope before the year is out we will have consensus in the House.

I welcome the Labour Party proposals which are an important contribution to the debate, just as I made an important contribution in my own way. My point of view or that of the Labour Party may not be exclusively correct and nobody is saying they have all the right answers.

The Deputy is an honest man – he is agreeing with the Labour Party proposals.

Because of that, we should take some time out to study in detail all the issues involved. I have much experience in this area. I know we could usefully spend several days thrashing out the details in terms of legislation. We are approaching a new era in the funding of political parties. I appeal to the Opposition to agree that it is better to get it right than get it quick. This issue will not be put on the long finger and I am satisfied that this legislation will be on the Statute Book in the months ahead, well in advance of the next general election, so that we can meet the electorate with our hands on our hearts and say that we have done our bit to restore the good image of politics. I look forward to a robust debate on this matter. There is not unanimous agreement within the parties or between them and it will take a great deal of work to reach a conclusion. If all of us work together we can do a good job in the interests of politicians and democracy in the months ahead.

The Deputy is in the wrong party.

The stated intent of the Bill is to ban corporate donations to political parties. I support that intent. However, I cannot support the means proposed to achieve it. The core of the Bill is the provision to restrict donations to those from registered voters. In moving the Bill, Deputies Quinn and Gilmore made clear that one of its purposes was to ban donations from people outside Ireland. Deputy Quinn referred to "the continued distortion in the political process caused by overseas fundraising." Deputy Gilmore spoke in similar terms. Blinded by their obvious concern at the advances achieved and projected for Sinn Féin, the proposers of this legislation have apparently lost sight of their stated objective. It is supposed to target corporate donations and that is how it has been presented in the media.

And corruption.

It also proposes to ban donations from overseas. This is a separate and distinct issue but it is included here apparently in the belief that the banning of such donations would damage Sinn Féin.

From Noraid.

I totally reject the assertion that donations to Sinn Féin or any other party, including the Labour Party, which has not been so successful in this regard, by people in the US or elsewhere distort the political process. It is well known that Sinn Féin raises considerable funds in the US, Australia and elsewhere. We do so in the US under the most rigorous regulations. The Friends of Sinn Féin organisation must file a record of all moneys collected, the names and addresses of each donation of $50 or more and an account of all expenditures, including amounts remitted to Ireland with the US Justice Department every six months.

This Bill would deny Irish emigrants, already denied the opportunity to vote, and members of the Irish diaspora in the US the right to contribute to the political party of their choice. These are not corporate donations. By definition, the donors cannot have any vested interest or hope of personal advantage in contributing to Sinn Féin. The vast majority of such donations are small sums from supporters of the party's peace strategy. Many are from people who had to emigrate from this country in the 1980s, young people at that time denied a future because of the gross mismanagement of the economy and endemic unemployment. It was the absence of that and previous generations of young people which, to adapt the words of Deputy Quinn, distorted the political process.

Corporate funding of political parties needs to be stopped. It is scandalous that parties have been bankrolled by banks and other financial institutions and big business. Such a relationship has not just bought individual votes in council chambers, it has ensured Government policies which favour big business above all else, with banks free to fleece their customers and with the lowest corporation tax in Europe.

The Bill, however, as presented, is deeply flawed. I cannot support its central provision which confines donations to registered voters only. The absurdity of it is that my party leader could not make a contribution to my campaign at the next general election. It is absolutely ludicrous. The legislation needs to be reshaped. The commitment in the Government amendment to comprehensively address the issue and to introduce considered legislation before the year is out is both welcome and worthy of support. Having clearly stated my support for legislation which will end the corporate funding of political parties, I look forward to the consultative process to be undertaken by the as yet to be appointed all-party committee, the report of which will be available by 30 September. We will then have the opportunity to examine fully comprehensive legislation, hopefully, through the efforts of all parties in this House, including Sinn Féin. Tonight in accord ance with that I will support the Government amendment.

I call Deputy Howlin. I understand you are sharing time with Deputies Shortall, McDowell, Ryan, McGahon, Burke, Gormley and Joe Higgins.

Yes. I wish to take approximately five minutes because I want to give as much time as I can to other colleagues to participate in one of the most important debates we have had in recent times. I have listened with care to Members on the Government benches but no coherent or cogent reason was given for not accepting the Bill. I regret that Deputy Fleming, who made a worthy contribution, is leaving.

Hear, hear.

The notion that the legislation is somehow rushed and six months grace is needed to refine or perfect it has no basis in fact. We have been involved in this debate for the best part of a decade. The trilogy of Bills introduced by the Labour Party – the Electoral Bill, 1997, the Freedom of Information Bill, 1996, and the Ethics in Public Office Bill, 1995 – were negotiated in 1992 with all the parties represented in the House. They have become the core of ethics legislation to which the Government refers in order to defend the current conduct of business. It says these Acts are the protectors of standards in public life.

Some members of the Government parties fought tooth and nail against those Bills, line by line. I had the honour and privilege of steering the Electoral Bill, 1997, through the House. It was held up in committee for months on end. The Opposition was led by the current Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and the current Attorney General, former Deputy McDowell who said that the Bill was unamendable and unworkable, so bad that he could not table amendments to it, and that he would fight it line by line instead. That is the Government's record of commitment to the electoral reform that is now required.

In direct negotiations during the formation of a Government in 1993 Fianna Fáil put a proposition to the Labour Party whereby we should not enact legislation to provide for disclosure of political contributions for at least 18 months so that it could clear the backlog of indebtedness which it faced at that time The Minister for Finance is aware of that. Unfortunately the current situation, as indicated by the ongoing work of the tribunals, requires us to make some decisions in principle immediately.

The principal decision must be to end once and for all the link between business and politics. We have a responsibility to do that, to defend the honourable profession of politics and to protect public confidence in the administration of the country. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's response to this legislation was typically partisan, bombastic and, as usual, empty. No concrete proposals were made. The Government amendment seeks to defer any decision for six months. The next issue before us is a simple and straightforward principle, to end the link between business and politics or to continue it, on which we will vote at 8.30 p.m.

The refinement of the proposal and criticisms of it can take place on Committee Stage, once Second Stage has been agreed. It is on that principle the people await our decisions tonight. The Labour Party does not have a high moral ground. We do not have a monopoly on integrity or ethics which are values shared largely by every Member and every party in the House. That is why we have a collective responsibility. We have all received contributions from business, individuals and, from the Labour Party's perspective, from the trade union movement. We have not ever hidden that and in fact we have published it. However, all of us who have a duty to politics have a collective responsibility to accept the motion for a Second Reading of this Bill.

This evening, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats will yet again demonstrate their complete failure to recognise the damage which has been inflicted on politics, especially over recent years. The Labour Party has presented Fianna Fáil with an opportunity to draw a line under its past. It presented that party with an opportunity to affirm the principle that the link between business and politics must be broken. Fianna Fáil has run away from this challenge. For many on this side of the House that comes as no great surprise. The report of the McCracken tribunal in the summer of 1997 exposed the hypocrisy and deception which were at the heart of former Deputy Charles Haughey's tutelage of Fianna Fáil for over a decade.

Fianna Fáil's reaction was predictable and facile. Strong words were spoken in this House when we debated the tribunal's report and the establishment of the Moriarty tribunal, but these words have not been matched by any action of consequence. Lethargy, delay and downright cowardice is the real reaction of Fianna Fáil to the unfolding evidence of malpractice and serious corruption that existed and seemingly was tolerated by many senior figures in the party for decades.

Fianna Fáil has refused to confront this damning evidence. Instead, it has embarked on an orchestrated campaign designed to smear the entire operation of politics. Fianna Fáil, given the level of evidence related to the activities of its own members, has a vested interest in propagating the lie that "Sure, they're all the same". The revelations of the past three years in particular, demand effective and strong leadership from all politicians, and from the Taoiseach especially. However, the Taoiseach has failed utterly to rise to this challenge. This week he revealed that his opinion on the principle of ending the corrosive effect corporate donations have on politics is dictated by focus groups and opinion polls. In the most pathetic example of leading from the rear, the Taoiseach told us he did not believe there was a groundswell of popular support for State funding, and therefore it will not happen. This is the kindest possible interpretation of the Taoiseach's position and many of us would contend that there are far more sinister reasons behind his refusal to ban corporate donations. At a time when principle and leadership are needed, the Taoiseach offers us populism of the worst kind.

That is why the Labour Party is deeply suspicious of the Government's proposed amendment to this Bill. On 28 May 1998, nearly two years ago, the Taoiseach made the following statement in the House during a debate on political donations:

The concerns I have expressed over an appropriate ethics commission, which would be in a position to investigate allegations of this nature, make it all the more urgent to have this legislation processed as quickly as possible. The Minister for Finance intends urgently proceeding with this.

Two years later we still have not had sight of the Bill. The Taoiseach who claimed personal ownership of this issue has been content to sit on his hands for over two years, abdicating responsibility for a supposedly urgent matter. I fear the same will happen with the Government amendment now before the House. We must remember that the allegations to date are probably only the tip of the iceberg as regards rezoning and land deals in general. What about allegations of bribery in relation to the whole taxi business? We must remember that Mr. Frank Dunlop was central to that also. What about Vincent Browne's allegations this morning of serious corruption in the past concerning a current senior member of Fianna Fáil? What about the much more serious allegations that have been made about the whole process of privatisation over the years and which is still ongoing? The likelihood is that these allegations, and the damage they cause, will continue until the Government has the courage to take action and break the link between business and politics once and for all.

The enactment of this excellent legislation, with possible amendments, will send a clear message to an already disillusioned public that the party political system in Dáil Éireann is prepared to respond to the allegations of corruption in public life, which has been manifestly exposed at the Moriarty and Flood tribunals. A democracy should assure that all its people have an equal opportunity to make use of their abilities and aspire to public office. A political system that closes its eyes to corporate funding, which mitigates against ordinary persons in favour of wealth and influence, is anti-democratic.

Arising from the tribunals, it has been established that a former constituency colleague of mine was in receipt of contributions totalling £117,000 in the run up to the 1989 general election. It has been further established that he held a political slush fund to use on an ongoing basis to copperfasten two Fianna Fáil seats in the Dublin North constituency. In comparison, the cost of my successful campaign in 1989 came to £5,800. On the basis of the information now available it is a miracle that I was successful at all.

I am pleased the sensational allegations of corruption in the planning process in County Dublin have been publicly acknowledged. Since I first became a member of the council in 1983, I have been suspicious of the way controversial section 4 motions and development plan rezonings were proposed, debated and ultimately voted upon at council meetings. During this period the atmosphere in the council was both strained and electric. The foyer and the small public gallery of the council was full to capacity with builders, developers and their agents, while representatives of community associations looked on. On a number of occasions I witnessed amendments to motions being drawn up by agents of developers in the public gallery and passed on to obliging councillors for submission to the council meeting.

It was also a most frustrating period especially for Labour Party and other concerned councillors who sat through long meetings discussing the planning and development issues relating to the various motions. At the same time, councillors, some of whom I would describe as the core rezoning lobby, would be in Conway's awaiting a phone call to troop back into the chamber to vote through one rezoning motion after another. The obvious connection that existed between the majority of Fianna Fáil and some Fine Gael councillors was unhealthy and not in the interest of proper planning.

I shared the suspicion of the general public that some TDs and councillors were in receipt of "election contributions", holidays, fitted kitchens and meals in return for making millions overnight for the successful developers who were in a position of influence. Not all builders or developers were successful, however, and I wonder why.

Throughout the years there have been rumours of corruption in the planning process. The current attitude of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats sends out a message to the public that corruption is acceptable. My message to the Government, the Independent Deputies and to Sinn Féin is to accept the Bill and clean up the system. If elected members are proven to be involved in corruption they should be banished from public life.

I congratulate Deputy Seán Ryan for his honesty which has been apparent for some time in this House. I also congratulate the Labour Party for cutting the cord with the trade unions, which in itself was wrong, and it has now acknowledged that.

It was never wrong.

It is a great pity that the House – I am referring to the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats – does not realise the contempt in which politicians are held today. We are lower than clampers, and one cannot get much lower than that. Any politician who refuses to accept that the political system is about to sink beneath the waves and who has not got the courage, for the sake of his country, to take the step to ban the association of big business with politics, particularly the association the Fianna Fáil Party has had with the building trade, is wrong. For years the building trade profited when Fianna Fáil was in power. What we have heard revealed today is horrifying. I was very naive, despite being 18 years in this House, and I am repulsed by what I see. I shed no tears for anybody who is caught in it. The political system, if it is to save itself, has to act in unison and ban the association of all business with the world of politics.

In relation to lobbyists, words fail me. I can only describe them as political prostitutes. They should not be allowed inside this building unless they are working for charitable organisations. Ireland is a small country and nobody is denied access to the political world. We are all available to people. We have seen what lobbyists did in Italy and America and how they were involved in questions for sale in England. We have all seen the disgusting spectacle of what happened with Mr. Dunlop. Lobbyists are piranha fish circling here and they will always find weak people, men or women, who will succumb to the temptation. Jesus Christ had one out of 12, Judas Iscariot, and money and people can always be bought. We should act in unison, for once in our lives, and prevent that happening.

I address my remarks, as there is no one else on that side of the House, to the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, who is an honest man and who had the courage to recognise the cancer that was in Fianna Fáil and took steps to absent himself from it. The association of Fianna Fáil with Taca spawned this scandal. It was the most infamous, notorious and shameful organisation ever initiated in this country.

I congratulate the Labour Party on bringing the Bill before the House. I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on it and thank Deputy Howlin for sharing his time with me.

Public trust in politics and politicians is lost. It has been lost through the actions of a greedy few. To use an old phrase from the past, they are the public representatives who have taken the sup. Those who have demeaned politics to this degree and are now caught should be dealt with firmly. It is unfortunate that when an opportunity such as this Bill is presented, the Government will not take it. How can the Government reconcile its seriousness about tackling this issue with its intention to vote down the Bill? There is something wrong with that. Why did the Taoiseach ask that the Bill be postponed until next October? Is there some ulterior motive or hidden agenda? I hope he will be brought to boot some time in the future and made take responsibility for his actions in this instance.

The media have a large part to play in the position in which we now find ourselves. We can all remember the glowing tributes that were paid in the past to former Taoisigh. They were the only people who were the saviours of the arts and culture, yet they were the people who were demeaning politics and politicians. Since I became a Member of this House in 1997 there has been nothing but inquiry and tribunal week after week. My first encounter with that was when I saw the former Deputy Raphael Burke crying crocodile tears on the opposite side of the House over the contribution he and his father had made when he was the sole initiator of this crisis during the lifetime of this Government. Fianna Fáil has lost an opportunity tonight. It is not interested in rectifying the situation and bringing politics and politicians back to their rightful place.

It is not a function of the Chair to tell Deputies how a half hour is being divided. If the practice is to continue, I would ask Deputies to stay within the time allocated to them by their own party. I call Deputy Gormley.

How many minutes do I have? I have ten minutes, as far as I know—

The Deputy should get going now anyway.

—and if I have any time remaining I will give it to my colleague, Deputy Sargent.

(Dublin West): There seems to be a misunderstanding here. If Deputy Gormley has ten minutes, that is the end of the slot.

The Chair has no responsibility in the matter.

(Dublin West): In fairness, the agreement was that every Deputy would have three minutes, apart from Deputy Howlin who had five minutes.

Apparently Deputy Higgins has three minutes, according to the Labour Party.

Are the parties agreeable to four minutes for each of the Deputies?

I will try to be as quick as possible. Following the all-party meeting on political donations, from which the Green Party was excluded, I did an interview in which I stated that the establishment parties were simply trying to placate an angry public. On reflection I would revise that statement. I still think that there is much posturing taking place, but are all people really angry? It is probably worse than that. Some are angry but many are resigned, cynical, apathetic and totally alienated from our political process. They believe politics is not relevant to them and their daily lives. They know instinctively that the corporately controlled world of politics has led to terrible corruption. They understand the reality of power. They have a vote, but is anyone in this House seriously suggesting that Mary Murphy in Fatima Mansions has the same power and influence as Dermot Desmond, Ben Dunne or Tony O'Reilly? If Mary rings the Taoiseach's office and says that she wants to speak to the Taoiseach, will she be put through? What if Ben Dunne or Michael Smurfit rings? That is a much different story. Of course, favours are never sought or given and let us be clear. Under our corporately controlled system, favours seldom have to be sought and they are never explicitly given.

Corporate money oils the wheels of the political system while the wheels of democracy grind to a halt. Politicians have become the lackeys of big business. This Bill seeks to reclaim the ground for democracy. It seeks to re-empower Mary Murphy and to disempower the corporate world. It seeks a measure of what Karl Marx called democratic control, an unfashionable notion perhaps and one which my Labour colleagues have not referred to, but it is a notion which we must explore. Previous legislation capping election funding and spending has been a positive move, but we need to move much further if we are to restore public confidence in the political process.

My party believes that as far as practicable all private funding should be removed from the political process. We believe that spending by parties and individuals should be capped, not just at election time but also between elections. The Labour Party Bill does not go far enough but it is a start. There can be no doubt that such legislation will introduce a level of complexity and bureaucracy into Irish politics not seen before. Look at what has happened in the Public Offices Commission, which is breaking new ground all the time. It is cumbersome and time consuming but it is also far better than the system that allowed the rich parties, funded by vested interests, to dominate political life and undermine democracy.

The Green Party cannot accept the Government amendment which seeks to long-finger this urgent issue. To the Government parties and the Independents who will support them, I say that their prevarication is shameful. Their reticence is perhaps understandable as these parties have benefited most from this discredited system, but they must surely recognise that there is a crisis in Irish politics. The complacency of the Government parties in the face of this crisis is doing even further irreparable damage to the body politic.

This House must act and those members of the public who still believe in politics demand action. The Green Party believes in action, not just in fine words. When we were offered a substantial donation by AIB many years ago, we refused to take it. Given what we now know about AIB, I am thankful we did. If politics could free itself from the shackles of corporate control, action could be taken against companies such as AIB and CRH but because the corporations have wielded such power, politicians have been afraid to act.

The Green Party has not ever been afraid to speak out on these matters. We have often been accused of being alarmist and over the top but, regrettably, all our worst fears have been substantiated. When my colleague, Deputy Sargent, stood up in the Dublin County Council chamber holding a cheque aloft and asked if anyone else had received one, he was physically attacked and held in a headlock by Senator Lydon. He was verbally abused and told he was a disgrace. Deputy Sargent asked the right question on that occasion and we in the Green Party will continue to ask difficult questions. We are only beginning the process of uncovering the corruption that affects many sectors of society. We are all aware of the stories surrounding individuals who have yet to be investigated. I have no doubt the scandals will be revealed.

It is difficult to understand the reaction of the Tánaiste who insisted she was shocked by Frank Dunlop's revelations. Surely she heard the stories and had spoken to others. This morning, one of her party members, Tom Morrissey, said he was offered a substantial bribe. Perhaps the Tánaiste does not want to know because the more that emerges, the more she will have to alter her position on political donations. Surely she realises one cannot rid the system of corruption unless one rids it of corporate donations and that as long as private funding continues, individuals will claim they received a legitimate election donation and not a bribe. The idea of private funding is attractive to a Thatcherite party like the Progressive Democrats. We will support the Labour Party's Bill.

Deputy Gormley has made, in essence, the points which need to be made on behalf of the Green Party. He related the incident in 1993, which Deputies Joe Higgins and Seán Ryan, who were there at the time, will recall – I hope as vividly – and which is also related in detail in Frank McDonald's recent book. There is a need to go beyond what the Labour Party Bill proposes. We hope to be able to make some amendments on Committee Stage, if the Bill gets that far. We must guarantee integrity but also ensure a level of accountability, which is, as yet, unknown in Irish politics. It may be a painful and awkward exercise but it must be done so there is a restoration of confidence in politics, which is at an all time low. Many consumers are unaware that certain companies give money to political parties. They are entitled to know where their money goes.

(Dublin West): I have always opposed big business donations to political parties. I will vote for this Bill despite some reservations. I note the conversion of Fine Gael and the Labour Party on the issue of funding by corporations. Three years ago when I said there was no difference between funding given to individual politicians and that given to parties, certain leaders jumped up and down in protest. All the establishment parties have accepted funds from big business. Despite the shock at the revelations of obvious corruption in the planning process in Dublin, some political parties are already attempting to downplay the seriousness of what transpired. The Progressive Democrats have not explained why their councillors pushed the rezoning of 102 acres of land at Harristown on the southern edge of Dublin Airport, when they knew the effect would be that a State body, Aer Rianta, would have to pay 20 or 30 times the cost if they had to buy it for airport expansion. Will the Progressive Democrats come clean on the relationship between them and the landowner? Will the former Progressive Democrats Deputy who, according to the Sunday Independent, gave money to Mr. Dunlop from that landowner also come clean? Will they make a statement to the Tánaiste or the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell?

The Fine Gael inquiry into payments made to Fine Gael councillors was a joke and a whitewash. The speed with which Fina Gael cleared it councillors could not have been equalled by a priest in the confessional on a busy Saturday night giving absolution to errant parishioners. It seems to have been a case of "Bless me, Father, I have not been influenced" and "Right, my child, away you go". It was a joke and encouraged Fianna Fáil to conduct their inquiry along the same lines. I sat on Dublin County Council from 1991 to 1993. I saw what went on. The Fine Gael report utterly fails to get to grips with the reality of what went on at that time. It ignores the sleazy, seamy relationships between landowners and developers and councillors from the rezoning alliance of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and occasionally, the Progressive Democrats, as they mingled at their dinners, golf classics and political fundraisers.

Councillors, including Labour Party councillors, fought for proper planning for weeks, months and years. We now know others walked into the council with wads of cash in brown envelopes in their pockets, given to them in Conway's, with their votes bought outside the chamber. That is the reality of what went on. No party should attempt to whitewash that – I saw it and the truth must come out. Any councillor who took thousands of pounds from Mr. Frank Dunlop around the time of the Quarryvale controversy is hopelessly compromised and should resign. Any Deputy in this House who took thousands of pounds from Mr. Frank Dunlop around the time of the Quarryvale controversy is hopelessly compromised and should resign. Deputy Lawlor said he took thousands of pounds from Mr. Dunlop around the time of the Quarryvale controversy which damaged proper planning enormously. Deputy Lawlor should resign from this House and let us have a by-election in Dublin West. We can debate proper planning and allow the people have their say, for a change, on this sad, sorry saga. Any other Deputies who accepted thousands of pounds should also resign and let us also have by-elections in their constituencies.

I would like further discussion on the public funding of political parties. The Socialist Party receives a party leader's allowance, every penny of which goes through the proper channels and is audited by the Minister for Finance. I have serious reservations about the taxpayer carrying the cost of the wholesale funding of elections. This funding should come from the hard work of our members and the pennies and pounds from collections, raffles etc. We should fund our work like this rather than making the taxpayer pay.

Recent revelations pose a major challenge to the political system. We now know there was large scale corruption in local government in Dublin in the 1980s and the early 1990s. The picture emerging suggests this involved landowners, developers, local government officials and local politicians. Time will tell whether political culpability went any higher than local level. If that was not enough, we have heard, in the past three or four years, a string of disturbing revelations about Charles J. Haughey and the way in which he ran his party and his country. We have also heard a string of allegations against other senior politicians, many of whom were close colleagues of Mr. Haughey.

An objective observer would agree that we in this democracy have responded in a reasonable and responsible way to this unfolding story. We have established tribunals, as appropriate, to inquire into the most serious allegations. The McCracken tribunal did a good job and published an excellent report. The Moriarty and Flood tribunals are doing a good job and I am confident they will also publish excellent reports when they have concluded their deliberations. Since the beef tribunal, tribunals of inquiry have had something of a bad name. The present tribunals have suffered their fair share of sniping but they have more than justified their existence. We have also established inquiries under the Companies Act and they are also not immune from the snipers in the long grass. However, the initiatives taken in this area by my colleague, the Tánaiste, will also prove to be well justified.

With all these inquiries and investigations, it seems at times as if the floodgates have opened. How do we respond to this torrent of revelations? We should respond strongly and vigorously but in a reasoned and responsible way. I do not believe in legislating in haste and repenting at lei sure. Our immediate concern is how the Irish political system is funded. The contributions of Fine Gael and the Labour Party to this debate have been remarkable. Listening to those contributions, one would be led to believe that the present law governing political donations and their disclosure is highly deficient. We were led to believe that the law was not working and was open to wholesale abuse. It is worth reminding ourselves that the law governing political donations was conceived, drafted and enacted just three years ago by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Far from highlighting its deficiencies, the Labour Party has always boasted of this legislation as one of its major achievements in Government. The reality is that the legislation has not been tested in any general election campaign, although the experience of several byelections suggests that it works quite well.

I am not saying there is no scope for further reform but I am surprised that the parties opposite are in such a hurry to tear up their own legislation before it has been given a proper chance to work.

Where does the Deputy get that idea? We are not tearing it up.

If further tightening up of the regulations is required, the Progressive Democrats will support it. We will support any new regime which affords fair treatment to smaller parties and Independents and which facilitates the emergence of new parties. We would not, however, support a regime which would fossilise the political system and copperfasten the dominant position of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for another 20 or 30 years. We would not support a regime which would put political parties at a disadvantage vis-à-vis lobby groups which could engage in political campaigns without being governed by political restrictions. We would not support a regime which gave the republican movement an unfair advantage over all the other parties in this House. The republican movement is a broad church with both political and military wings working to a common purpose. I doubt the Public Offices Commission will be able to force the Provisional IRA to open its books for inspection.

Neither would we support some spurious distinction being made between corporate donations and personal donations. Is Deputy Quinn saying that a contribution from Dunnes Stores is somehow tainted but a personal cheque from Ben Dunne himself is fine? I do not understand the logic behind that. When Deputy Quinn accepted donations from Mr. Dunne, where did he think he got the money?

It is time for cool heads. We should examine this issue in a calm atmosphere and ensure that all aspects of the problem are ventilated and deliberated upon as fully as possible. It is perfectly reasonable to carry out this task on an all-party basis over the next six months. If there are deficiencies in our legislation, they may be in the area of corruption rather than political contributions. Our law on corruption is antiquated – most of it pre-dates the foundation of the State. Prosecutions have been few. Our law on corruption needs to be modernised and the Progressive Democrats regard this as a priority.

This issue goes beyond politics. Whatever legislative changes are made will have to take cognisance of the fact that officials as well as politicians can be corrupted. Good laws have been passed by this House, but bad laws have also slipped through. I remind Deputy Quinn of his party's role in the tax amnesty in 1993. That was hardly his party's finest contribution to the political affairs of the State.

The Deputy is really digging now.

The tax amnesty drawn up by Deputy Quinn and his colleagues was designed to be a closed book.

So the Government parties are going to stick with big business.

The beneficiaries could never be identified. I wonder how many of the wealthy individuals figuring so prominently in evidence before the two tribunals figured also in the list of beneficiaries of the tax amnesty.

In the early 1990s the Italian political system went through a major crisis. Evidence emerged of widespread corruption and bribery at the very highest levels of politics in that country. It became clear that the people at the top of Italy's political system were guilty of serious wrongdoing or, at the very least, had cases to answer. The public response was dramatic, the system was literally shaken to its foundations. Top politicians were jailed, others fled the country and the biggest political party, which had dominated the country for 50 years, was swept away completely. The whole political order was turned upside down.

The Deputy is ensuring such people remain in power in this State.

I do not expect the response in Ireland to be as dramatic as that. I expect, however, that recent revelations will change the world of Irish politics for the better and forever.

I did not think until I heard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, tonight and now the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, that after all that has happened, this House is still so divided on this issue. Instead of wringing our hands about imminent political Armageddon, this House should do two things. It should accept the principle of the Labour Party Bill tonight and speedily make any necessary amendments on Committee Stage. It should then allocate £1,000 million of the budget surplus to the compulsory purchase of lands, especially, but not only, in Dublin, for the construction of affordable homes.

The thinking public would appreciate the significance of banning business contributions. If we had the courage to tackle the manipulation of land, the developers' and builders' lobby would understand that, for the first time, we are really serious about cleaning up Irish politics. All those whinging like Hanrahan that we will all be ruined before the year is out and we must do something, seriously underestimate the intelligence of the public. Anyone who is surprised by the revelations from Dublin Castle must have had very little confidence in the tribunals' capacity to unearth the facts. Instead of nurturing superficial gossip about the political system, we should welcome the fact that at last the boil has been lanced and we can get on with the measures necessary to restore public confidence.

This is a period of catharsis that the legacies of the late 1980s and early 1990s made inevitable. Our democracy will emerge from it still imperfect but greatly strengthened and enhanced. Politics is not an optional extra. We need make no apology to any of the cynics for its being funded out of the public purse. Of course, it is up to the Government to display the political leadership and vision necessary to take advantage of the work of the tribunals to date to give the necessary inspiration to thinking citizens.

Sadly, it now appears the Government is capable of neither the leadership nor the vision needed at this time if it persists in voting down the principle of the Labour Party Bill before the House. What chance then that the Government will hit back at the developers where it hurts and, in the process, make homes affordable for our people again? Bacon is a fig-leaf that no longer disguises the Government's abject failure to halt the rampant manipulation and profiteering in land and building that now threaten the very success of this economy.

No single measure that we could take in this still sovereign Parliament would so confirm to the public that the past is a foreign country than the purchase of land to provide homes for the people. We do not take on, and we will not take on, the profiteering of the developers because the dominant party in this Government is one face of the political-business Siamese twin that is joined at the hip pocket. Instead, we continue to mutter that something must be done and set up death bed inquiries long after the horse has not only bolted but has been consigned to the knacker's yard. The House should ignore superficial comment and demonstrate by practical leadership that the nod and wink culture has also been sent to the knacker's yard.

The public deserve more credit than they are often given in the environs of this House. Unlike some of the more recent adornments to the media corps, the public have an uncanny ability to recognise a deliberate campaign to muddy the waters. Notwithstanding our modern approach to sex education, there are still some grown ups in gainful employment who believe babies are delivered by the stork. Last week I answered many questions and not even the Sisters of Charity would claim the questions were of a uniform high quality. Much of what was written was fair. Some of it was stupid. Some of it was alternatively insightful, nasty, tongue in cheek and careless and some of it was plain daft. None of it, I am glad to say, was malicious, although I gave that exemption before being told about the peculiar form of in-house perverse vindictiveness being operated byIreland on Sunday, where there is an especially monochrome view of politics, to which I shall return.

I have consistently believed that, notwithstanding the campaign to muddy the waters, the Flood tribunal would do the job it was set up to do. Clearly others believed that it would never come to this. Others believed that if the beef tribunal failed to draw conclusions, McCracken, Moriarty and Flood would similarly fail to make findings, but they were wrong. The difference is the order for the discovery of bank accounts, an instrument never once resorted to in the beef tribunal.

Some journalists, like Frank McDonald ofThe Irish Times, to whom there was a reference here this evening, who had another book published this evening, and Brian Dowling of the Irish Independent, did Trojan work in the period concerned. Some of us in this House remember Joe McAnthony back in 1974. Unfortunately, others want to equate the knowledge of today to the suspicions of a decade ago. Little enough attention was paid to a number of key speeches made in this House down through the years. The relatively recent speech of my colleague, the former Minister of State, Deputy Joan Burton has now at last been properly highlighted, but going back to the 1980s and early 1990s extensive speeches were made by Deputies Gilmore, Shatter, myself and others.

For example, only today at the Flood tribunal the matter of a certain transaction at the Strawberry Beds on the route of the M50 motorway was highlighted. That matter was comprehensively put on the record of the House by myself on 21 February 1990. The reference is Column 38 and following columns of the Official Report of 21 February 1990. I gave that reference because I am conscious of imposing an unreasonable burden on the media in terms of research for two weeks in a row.

The public are intrigued, fascinated and disgusted at what they are learning almost every day, but the thinking public understands this democracy can easily withstand the corrosive and corrupting influence of a small number of politicians who betrayed the trust placed on them by the citizens. The public also understands that our democracy can emerge from this crucible energised and strengthened depending on our capacity to respond. The first test is tonight. If the Government fails that test, it will be the begin ning of the end of its term of office. It will not have any authority or credibility in the current environment. This crisis will not go away. It is likely to get worse. The question of business funding will not go away. At best, the Government's procrastination is to buy time to allow the coffers to be replenished before a general election. This is a cynical price politics cannot afford to pay.

I do not recall one incident in the political life of the Taoiseach where he has taken a stance against the public mood. Why is he prepared to change the habit of a lifetime tonight? The answer is simple. He knows that the continuation of business funding confers enormous advantage on his party. He does not want to let go of an enormous advantage enjoyed by Fianna Fáil since the early 1960s. If he is serious about putting the past behind us and especially behind his party, the opportunity is tonight.

We have not come far in ten years. Yesterday I referred to some passages from the debate on Labour's Ethics in Government and Public Office Bill, 1991. While not directly at issue, the question of funding of politics naturally arose. The current Minister for Health and Children spoke on that debate. Deputy Martin rubbished the idea of what he described as the underlying assumption that widespread corruption may have been going on or particularly that a tremendous number of gifts were being handed to Ministers. In a more constructive tone, he welcomed raising the issue of funding of politics and political parties. Like the Minister before him in the same debate, now Deputy Reynolds, he stated that the matter should be considered by all parties in a non-partisan fashion in – wait for it – an all-party committee. Ten years later Fianna Fáil, having put obstacles in the way of the ethics and Electoral Acts, is erecting another barrier to progress.

This amendment is a fire blanket. It has one purpose, to get the Government from tonight to tomorrow with Deputies Healy-Rae, Fox, Gildea and Blaney along with them. Apparently ten years is not enough. Fianna Fáil needs another six months. The cover is that the issues involved are complex and difficult. That may be so, but the principle is simple. It is about the ending of corporate funding. That is all, no more, no less. We can discuss the detail, which is complex, but the principle is uniquely simple. To buy or not to buy into it, is a decision the Government and the Deputies who support it are refusing to make.

The issues under consideration have been discussed in political circles for the best part of a decade. As Deputy Howlin has attested, they have featured in decisions on Government formation on two occasions in the 1990s. Progress was made and resulted in the Electoral Act, 1997, an Act whose constitutionality has not been challenged and on which the Bill being debated is based.

The position is that ten years after this debate began, the Government has yet to formulate its position on the key issue of corporate funding. It has not and it will not because it would like corporate funding to continue. That is a fact. Corporate funding is what has Fianna Fáil where it is today.

An all-party committee also has obvious attractions for Fianna Fáil. It implies that all parties are equally responsible for the position in which we now find ourselves. It is an inference I totally reject on behalf of the Labour Party.

This amendment is the Government's attempt to seem reasonable while behaving utterly unreasonably – to explain away why long overdue proposals to ban corporate funding are being blocked here this evening. It is an approach consistent with how this issue has been approached over the past ten years by Fianna Fáil. Fine words rendered meaningless by equivocation and delay.

Remember this is the same Taoiseach who made an urgent personal project of legislation on standards in public office, but that was when banishing the Haughey spectre was an urgent priority. Three years later that legislation has not been published. Last year our whistleblowers Bill was accepted on Second Stage. It has progressed not one millimetre further in the past 12 months – that reflects some urgency.

I appeal to those members of the Government parties, like Deputy Fleming and the Minister, Deputy Ahern, who know that the age of corporate funding is gone, to think again. Do not support this sham this evening. End this nonsense. By obfuscating and fudging the issue they do neither politics nor business a favour.

My party will not take part in a sham consulta tive process. We will not participate in an an-all party approach that does not ban corporate donations. This Bill bans all donations to parties save those from registered electors. The issue concerning Fine Gael about defining corporate entities does not arise.

We will not be party to an all-party committee that deals only with proposals from the Opposition parties knowing full well, as tonight proves once again, that only the Government has the votes to get proposals through this House.

My party is reserving its position on participation in an all-party committee. Let nobody be unclear about the principle upon which we are standing tonight. We are not prepared to engage in any type of sham consultative process, if that principle is not accepted up front from the beginning.

I want to see the colour of the Government's proposals. It either wishes to clean up this sleazy mess, largely of its making, or it does not. It wants to end corporate funding or it does not. Sadly, the indication this evening against the background of Dublin Castle after the past few sickening months is that it does not. If the Taoiseach cannot jump this hurdle, he need not bother putting pen to paper.

We are being reasonable. We would be happy if our Bill was amended by all sides on Committee Stage as long as its fundamental principle is retained. That is what a Committee Stage debate is about. I remind the absent Deputy Fleming about that core point. I can think of no worse signal to send to a horrified public than this House refusing to endorse the principle of this Bill this evening.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.

Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt. O'Keeffe, Ned.

Tá–continued

O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Reynolds, Albert.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.

Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Ahearn, Theresa.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Lowry, Michael.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Neville, Dan.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put, “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor. Tá–continued

McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Reynolds, Albert.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Ahearn, Theresa.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Lowry, Michael.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Neville, Dan.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg
Question declared carried.