Private Members' Business. - Sheedy Case: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Shatter on Tuesday, 7 November 2000:
That Dáil Éireann:–
noting the report of the Chief Justice into the circumstances leading to the early release of Mr. Philip Sheedy and the Chief Justice's acknowledgement that it was not possible for him, on the basis of written statements and individual interviews, to resolve disputed questions of fact and that to do so would necessitate an inquiry of a nature different from that instituted by him;
noting the reports of the 20 May 1999 and the 24 June 1999 of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights made to both Houses of the Oireachtas;
noting that Article 35.2 of the Constitution provides that "all judges shall be independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and subject only to this Constitution and the law";
recognising that judicial decisions made and judgments delivered can be distinguished by law from the conduct of members of the Judiciary;
acknowledging that it is in the public interest that disputed questions of fact concerning the early release of Mr. Philip Sheedy be resolved;
calls on the Government to enact legislation to establish a specific inquiry, to be chaired by a judge from another jurisdiction, to inquire into the circumstances leading to the early release of Mr. Philip Sheedy and to confer by legislation on such inquiry the power to compel the attendance of witnesses and to hear evidence from all persons it deems appropriate concerning the early release of Mr. Philip Sheedy.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
–notes the reports of the three separate inquiries in connection with the early release from prison of Mr. Philip Sheedy, namely, the Report of the Chief Justice, the Report of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Report of the Chief State Solicitor's office;
–notes the reports of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights in relation to this matter;
–notes the report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in respect of the Courts and Judiciary;
–looks forward to considering the forthcoming report of the Judicial Committee which is examining the question of Judicial Conduct,
and requests the Government to continue to examine the constitutional, legislative and other initiatives which may be required in relation to the matters dealt with in these reports.
–(Minister for Justice, Equality and
Law Reform).

What has become known as the Sheedy case has ricocheted through the judicial and political systems like a plague, leaving devastation everywhere in its wake. Everyone and everything touched by the Sheedy case has suffered, including the Sheedy family themselves. Nobody, however, has suffered from the tragedy comparably to the pain and loss inflicted on the Ryan family, who are constituents of mine. Unfortunately, nothing we can do in this House can restore the late Ann Ryan to her family. I am sure everyone involved, including Philip Sheedy and all Members of this House, would wish that it were otherwise.

What this House can do, however, is put in place a mechanism to facilitate answers to the profoundly serious questions that remain unanswered and that have already been adduced in this debate. The Sheedy affair will never be banished from the national psyche until an honest, open attempt is made to have those questions answered.

It was appalling, last night, to watch the bizarre conduct and inappropriate buffoonery of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in his reply to the Fine Gael motion. I am not predisposed towards believing that the inquiry demanded in this motion will reveal premeditated, malign motivation on the part of any of the actors involved. In fact, I believe it will demonstrate nothing of the kind, but that is not an argument for the Opposition parties to collude with the manifest desire of the Government parties to sweep the Sheedy affair under the carpet.

Public confidence in the administration of justice and in judicial credibility is the most significant casualty of the Sheedy affair. Is the coalition Government asking the House simply to ignore this issue and to move on? The detailed questions that arise from this proposition were spelled out by Deputies Shatter and Jim Higgins last night and I do not have time to repeat them here.

Deputy Howlin has forensically demonstrated that from day one the attitude of Fianna Fáil has been to shut down the questioning. On June 27 this year, when Deputy Howlin sponsored a motion that would have caused an invitation to issue to former judge, Hugh O'Flaherty, to voluntarily appear before the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to answer some of the relevant questions, Fianna Fáil contrived to use its majority on the committee to vote down the Labour Party motion. This stifling of the committee took place against the background of the then Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's offer "to make a statement to the Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Affairs, and to answer any and all questions its members may raise."

Why would Fianna Fáil want to obstruct the committee from providing such a straightforward open forum to answer some of the questions that were, and still are, uppermost in the minds of the public? The Fianna Fáil desire to kill off this issue is a pattern that runs through the entire affair. At the outset, they tried to shake off the tenacious reporting of The Star newspaper. They tried to use the Hamilton report to terminate further scrutiny of the issue. When I wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, at the request of Mr. John Ryan, on 15 February 1999 – long before the matter came into the public domain – I said, inter alia, “I would be greatly obliged if you would direct whomsoever is appropriate in your Department, to let me know on behalf of the Ryan family what is the official position in respect of this matter”. I received only the customary acknowledgement. I was forced to write again, on 12 March, to complain that: “I was greatly disappointed that, having regard to the serious questions raised, I have had no reply other than an acknowledgement.”

Eventually, after the matter came into the public domain, the Minister replied to me on 22 April, attributing his failure to reply to the assertion that, "In truth, a number of draft replies had been prepared but each time the contents were overtaken by events". I have no idea to what this refers, but I wonder if I would ever have received a reply if the public controversy had not erupted. Quite frankly, on such a grave matter, that is neither acceptable from the Minister nor from his Department. It is, however, in keeping with my own personal experience in dealing with that Minister and that Department.

I wish to ask the Minister and, through him, his officials to make available to me an explanation as to what is meant by this sentence, "In truth, a number of draft replies had been prepared but each time the contents were overtaken by events". I am entitled to apply for it under the Freedom of Information Act, but I would ask the Minister to furnish it to me without my having to do that. I am ashamed to say that I do not believe any drafts were prepared. I do not believe either the Department or the Minister had any intention of replying to me. I would remind the House that I had sought the Minister's assistance on 15 February 1999, at the request of Mr John Ryan. I was replied to – on such a serious matter – on 22 April, but only after it had become public.

The same Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, came into the House last night to respond to the Fine Gael motion seeking an inquiry, against the background of his own statement to the Dáil, on 20 April 1999, that, "It must be clear to everyone that a tribunal of inquiry is necessary if the disputed facts are to be resolved". Why has the Minister changed his mind? His reasoning seems bizarre and distasteful. First, he argues that such an inquiry would only cause further trauma to the families involved, the implication being that to do so would be, somehow, the fault of the sponsors of this motion.

"What likelihood is there", the Minister asked, "that matters which remained undisclosed throughout the entire period since the Sheedy case first came to public attention would now suddenly be made known"? This statement must surely be indicative of a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with the oddest mindset ever to have held that office. He then devotes five pages of his script to an entirely inappropriate and distasteful attack on the credentials of the author, Mr. Richard Douthwaite, whose candidacy for the EIB apparently attracted the endorsement of Fine Gael. This descent into vulgar ignorant abuse of an intellectual – whose ideas are not mainstream, but who has pricked the curiosity and conscience of many thinking people – was bizarre and inappropriate. I wonder if his colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, approves of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue's, lamentably ignorant efforts to poke fun at Richard Douthwaite? It ill behoves the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to attempt to ridicule a man who has repeatedly put his ideas between book covers to some critical acclaim, when the Minister's total literary output is his tragicomedy on zero tolerance.

I also note from the record, that the Minister was cheered on from the sidelines by that other well known expert on sustainable growth and global warming, the Minister of State, Deputy Davern. In any event, a motion on the Sheedy affair and its tragic consequences and unanswered questions, was not the appropriate place for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's reversion to his vaudeville personality.

The Labour Party is pleased to support the thrust of Deputy Shatter's motion. On an aspect of detail, though, our view would be that in order to inquire into the Sheedy affair, the Tribunals of Inquiries Acts are adequate.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Ardagh, Brian Lenihan, Pat Carey and Briscoe.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

When the Dáil votes on this issue in about an hour's time, Opposition Deputies will duly troop into the lobby to vote against the Government amendment. They will do so in a comfortable frame of mind, secure in the knowledge that the Dáil will endorse the sensible response of the Government and of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the blatantly opportunistic motion tabled by the Fine Gael Party.

In an effort to lend an appearance of gravitas to the proceedings, the Fine Gael Whips had each member of their parliamentary party append his or her name to the notice of motion. Reading that notice, one might well imagine that this is regarded as a live and burning issue by all Fine Gael Deputies who dutifully added their names to the list. The truth is that no such fervour was evident during the debate in Private Members' time yesterday. For most of this supposedly important debate just three Opposition Deputies have been in the House. Deputy Rabbitte is the fourth. That makes three Deputies from Fine Gael and one Labour Party spokesman. Perhaps a few more will troop in as a result of what I have said.

One does not normally expect a full house on occasions like this, but if Fine Gael was seriously exercised about the issues involved, surely it might have mustered a few more Deputies – half a dozen, perhaps – to proclaim their support for Deputy Shatter's arguments and to vent the indignation they profess to feel. Where are they and why are they not in the House? The answer is that, in the first place, they have more sense than to go out of their way to dignify an obviously insincere and cynical exercise in parliamentary tactics.

More political slapstick.

It is to their credit that many of them in their hearts do not relish the idea behind this incessant and relentless hounding of individuals whose careers and expectations have been demolished as a result of these tragic and unfortunate events.

My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, was disposed to be charitable when trying to assess the motives of the Opposition in putting forward this motion. It is hard to believe that a responsible political party would, in such a crass and brutal fashion, seek to capitalise on the awful tragedy that befell so many people, especially the Ryan family. Why would it go to such lengths to reopen questions that have already been the subject of no less than four separate reports including a report by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights? Why does it want to discuss again an issue that has received more media coverage than any other subject since I was elected to this House? On one weekend alone, 43 articles by 17 different journalists referred to the O'Flaherty affair. I felt that was at the time "a bit over the top". I said so to Charlie Bird and Eamon Dunphy. In the following weekend's Sunday newspapers I found out just how sensitive some of them were. One even referred to me as Mugabe. The answer is clearly political opportunism in the hope that it can once again create a similar media frenzy. Perhaps it might be a godsend to the Labour Party to detract from its £3 billion spending policy statement.

Will the Minister give way?

The Ryan family are constituents of mine. Profound questions have not been answered. Is he, as a Cabinet Minister, seriously telling the House that he does not understand why it ought to debate a mechanism to bring this into the public domain?

The Ryan family might have been better served if this matter had not arisen, as has been pointed out. If the Deputy allows me to proceed, I will give reasons.

Did the Minister consult the Ryan family before delivering this piece of political claptrap?

The matter has been investigated diligently and exhaustively and an investigation carried out by the most senior judge in the State must stand for something. The fact is that we have had all the reports we could possibly have on this issue. Those reports have established certain facts and I do not see how a further inquiry would throw any additional light on the actions of the parties concerned.

The real answer lurks in concealment behind the unctuous legalistic arguments advanced by Deputies Shatter and Howlin yesterday. The truth is that Fine Gael and Labour believe their parties benefited politically from the extensive publicity generated by this issue throughout the year. They want to keep it going and they do not care who gets hurt in the process. That, and not any genuine concern for the legal system, is what this is all about. The Opposition leadership is under the impression that it will again gain political rewards by treating the public to yet another spin of this long playing record. However, the record is beginning to sound scratchy and overplayed.

The truly sickening extent of Fine Gael's vindictiveness and rank hypocrisy in its approach to Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty was exposed last night by the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. Such was the Fine Gael leadership's spite in Mr. O'Flaherty's case that it supported the nomination by the Green Party for the board of the European Investment Bank of a gentleman whose views on economic matters and on Europe generally are totally alien to those of Fine Gael Deputies, as they would be to those of most Deputies in the House. That gentleman's views would, if they were aired at a Fine Gael party meeting, be the subject of raucous ridicule. Yet, such is the party leadership's thirst for vengeance on Hugh O'Flaherty that it was prepared to send this man to represent us on the European Investment Bank. That is just about the ultimate in sheer irresponsibility. How many Fine Gael Deputies who signed tonight's motion were aware of this man's views? Were they consulted about his nomination? That decision by Fine Gael was certainly not indicative of a party that entertains any serious aspirations of being in Government.

The political agenda that prompts this debate is transparent and the people will see through it. The people can distinguish the enormous difference between a crime and a mistake. At the heart of this issue lies a mistake – the mistaken gesture of a compassionate and decent man. As a consequence, he resigned his prestigious position and returned to private life. The Deputies opposite should drop the hypocrisy and pretence that they want an inquiry under a foreign judge to enlighten them further about this unhappy episode. They want to create an expensive forum which will command more airtime and more newsprint as old coals are raked over repeatedly. What is a good deal worse is that they want a vindictive witch hunt so that they can continue to punish and pillory individuals who have already paid dearly for any errors of judgment they may have made.

I thank Deputy Shatter for raising the question of whether there should be an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding what has become known as the Sheedy affair. I accept there is continuing public interest in the matter and it is reasonable the Dáil should consider if a further inquiry is warranted. It is important to set out where stands the issue of inquiring into the matter and what has been done in that regard.

As the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, stated yesterday, three separate inquiries have been conducted which have resulted in three reports. The main report was that of the most senior member of the Judiciary, the former Chief Justice. There was also a report of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and a report of the Chief State Solicitor's office. These reports were considered by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights, under the chairmanship, at that time, of Deputy Eoin Ryan and, in his absence, Deputy Barnes.

One of the issues adverted to by the joint committee was the effect that all the publicity and ongoing discussion has on the family of the late Anne Ryan. I am sure there is a wish in this House not to prolong the grief of the family who lost a wife, mother and daughter.

A report of the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution in respect of the courts and the Judiciary has been prepared. A report is awaited from the judicial committee which is examining the question of judicial conduct. The amendment tabled by the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, last night requests the Government to examine the constitutional, legislative and other initiatives which may be required in relation to matters dealt with in those reports.

The question arises as to what an inquiry would achieve beyond the facts already brought out in the initial inquiries. The Minister stated last night that he believes it would be extremely unlikely to uncover facts or motives so far undisclosed in the course of all the other inquiries that have taken place. One of these reports was conducted by the State's most senior judge, as was mentioned. I agree with the Minister it would not be right to set up what would undoubtedly be a very expensive process with no realistic prospect of producing worthwhile results.

The idea of bringing a judge in from another jurisdiction to carry out an inquiry does not sit comfortably with me. I would have thought that such a suggestion could be deemed as a slight on the Irish Judiciary, particularly given that Deputy Higgins said last night that the Judiciary has the capacity to be incisively and piercingly self-critical.

The foreign judge aspect of the motion might have been included because of the shortage of available judges in Ireland due to the number of tribunals of inquiry and judicial inquiries in progress at present. The Government has never shirked its responsibility for setting up a judicial inquiry when it was necessary in the public interest and likely to achieve results. The number of such inquiries in progress at present is testament to the Government's good faith in those matters. We are fast approaching a situation where there will be judicial and parliamentary gridlock, a situation where we are so involved in looking back that we do so at the expense of ensuring our future actions are done in a right and proper manner.

When one balances pragmatically the inquiries that have taken place, the work being done by the judicial committee on judicial conduct, the ongoing examination by the Government of the constitutional, legislative and other matters raised, the scarce time and resources which would be taken up by an inquiry and the extreme unlikelihood of uncovering further important facts on the affairs, one finds that an inquiry, as suggested by Deputy Shatter, would not serve this State. I support the amendment to the motion.

I also support the amendment tabled by the Minister. There has been a number of reports on this matter, which are listed in the amendment to the motion – the report of the Chief Justice, the report of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the report of the Chief State Solicitor's office and the reports of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. Those are very extensive documents.

The Opposition tabled this motion. Deputy Shatter, in moving the motion yesterday, referred to certain unanswered questions. That has been a persistent feature of press, Opposition and general comment on this matter.

Deputy Shatter did not point to the existence of a single document which would justify us in carrying this inquiry further from the inquiries that have already been undertaken on the matter. He did not point to the existence of a single statement inconsistent with anything that has been said by the various witnesses who have given their account of the matters in question to the various investigations which have taken place.

I must, therefore, question whether we can justify the expense of a further inquiry which, in all probability and on the basis of what Deputy Shatter laid before the House yesterday, would not carry the matter further. I am not convinced, on the basis of what was outlined to the House yesterday, that the inquiry proposed in the motion would establish further facts in this matter. It is most unlikely it would, on the basis of my reading of the reports on this matter that have been laid before the House. We are dealing with a realm of speculation rather than fact and an attempt to establish an inquiry to investigate speculations rather than facts.

Deputy Jim Higgins brought my name into this debate yesterday and asked me to state my level of involvement on the public record. I have done so in the past and I do not think it just of him to raise the matter in this context, when I have already dealt with it in a public context and on the public record. I do not want to impugn Deputy Shatter in this regard – he made a fair case and I am trying to reply to it. However, it was deplorable of Deputy Higgins to engage in that kind of broad-brush approach by bringing names into the debate solely for the purpose of suggesting a level of involvement which has been publicly dealt with, as far as I am concerned, and which simply does not exist. That is an example of the kind of false foundation that is being advanced for this inquiry.

However, there is a constructive matter to which we should all attend. I was glad all the parties involved in the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution's fourth progress report were able to agree a number of very practical matters in relation to the establishment of a proper foundation for judicial ethics in the Constitution and a proper system for its enforcement.

The courts are established by the people under the Constitution and no suggestion should be tolerated that the courts can, in some sense, formulate, enforce and police their own code of ethics, apart from the general one that is given by the people to the courts in the Constitution. There should be an express recognition in our Constitution of the need to formulate such a code of ethics, the need for a judicial council, whose function it should be to investigate this, and the need for lay participation in any such judicial council. If we were to establish such a council, it would go a long way to allay public fears in this matter.

In the case of the former Mr. Justice O'Flaherty and former Judge Kelly – I do not seek to differentiate them in this regard – the Government and the Chief Justice, who conducted an inquiry into the matter, were in the very difficult position of having no intermediate sanction or censure available to them in relation to the matter. They were left in the position where either the option of impeachment had to be pursued or no censure whatsoever would be attached to the personages in question. No intermediate sanction exists in relation to a judge of the High Court or Supreme Court under the Constitution. That unsatisfactory state of affairs is addressed in the progress report.

That report also addresses the whole question of the impeachment procedure itself. It is clear from the view the Ceann Comhairle took at that time that there are frailties in our existing impeachment procedures, which date back to the so-called glorious revolution – which, of course, was not very glorious as far as this country was concerned – in the late 18th century and are clearly in need of reform. I commend that report as a constructive way forward for the political establishment in this matter. I agree with all the speakers that we must do all in our power to foster respect on our part for the institutions to which we belong and confidence on the part of the public in them.

The Minister referred last night to the qualifications of the nominee put forward by Fine Gael for the European Investment Bank. The nominee has interesting views on economics and the environment. However, what I find most amusing or strange about the nominee suggested by Fine Gael is that he was on record as being opposed to the establishment of a European currency. That seems a rather extraordinary conviction to be entertained by someone deemed worthy by the principal Opposition party to be a suitable nominee for the position of the Director of the European Investment Bank. It is extraordinary that, at the time, the matter did not receive more investigation.

That chapter is closed. No words of ours can take from the tragedy suffered by the Ryan family in this matter. Lesser tragedies and hurts were suffered by those who should have been, and were, called to account for their involvement in what subsequently ensued. We would do best, as a House, by proceeding to see how we can put the Judiciary on that kind of firm, ethical foundation. We would serve better the cause of respect for ourselves and the Judiciary among the general community were we to take that course. That is why I am happy to support the amendment.

I support the amendment. There was a time in the recent history of this House when Private Members' time was a forum for advancing and debating legislation from the Opposition benches. The present Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform pioneered the art of legislative reform in Opposition and demonstrated that an active and enthusiastic parliamentarian could, from the Opposition benches, lead the process of legislative reform. Those days seem to be gone. Tonight the Opposition calls for the enactment of legislation which it cannot, or will not, prepare. It calls on the Government to enact legislation. No explanation is offered as to why Deputy Shatter is either disinclined or unable to draft the necessary legislation. He should share his difficulty with the House. Was it that the Deputy tried to draft the legislation he seeks to have the Government enact and failed? If so, he should declare his failed efforts to the House. Or was it that he simply could not be bothered? Is that the extent of his commitment? That, too, should be shared with the House.

Whatever the answer, it is clear that the crafting of the legislation which it sought is either beyond Deputy Shatter's ability, which I doubt, or beyond his inclination. In the circumstances, he has resorted to the ultimate call of the part-time parliamentarian. He wants somebody else to do his work for him. Such a glib and tabloid approach to legislation is not the hallmark of the serious spokesperson which I thought Deputy Shatter to be. It is the refuge of the lazy. Deputy Shatter's call for "somebody to do something because I cannot or will not" is a calculated insult to the work that has already been undertaken on this issue by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights. Twice in the past 18 months, on 20 May 1999 and 24 June 1999, the committee reported to this House. The reports were not rejected by the House but were noted for what they were – fair and honourable efforts to resolve a difficult matter. The reports, unlike Deputy Shatter's motion, were well-considered documents into which a great deal of work had been put.

The committee considered in detail, and at length, the advice of an eminent senior counsel. His experience and advice is reflected in the deliberations of the committee and in its conclusions. Its reports deserve better than the glib one line dismissal they receive in the motion. It is as if the joint committee had not ever sat or considered this issue. Had Deputy Shatter chosen to address in a meaningful manner the legislation which he calls for he would have been forced to accept, as the joint committee accepted, that this is an issue that goes to the heart of the doctrine of the separation of powers. This doctrine is central to our constitutional democracy. It is neither new nor without pedigree. Both the 1937 Constitution and its 1922 predecessor enumerate the powers of Government in three distinct categories, legislative, executive and judicial. In the Sinn Féin funds case Mr. Justice O'Byrne, speaking in the Supreme Court stated: "In this State all powers of Government shall be exercised in accordance with the well recognised principle of the distribution of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial organs of the State and require that these powers should not be exercised by others".

The doctrine of the separation of powers was again expressly recognised by Chief Justice Ó Dálaigh in the case re Haughey in 1971 where he stated: "The Constitution of Ireland is founded on the doctrine of the tripartite division of the powers of the Government". In Crotty . v. The Taoiseach in 1987 Chief Justice Finlay addressed the issue and stated: “The separation of powers involves for each of the three constitutional organs not only rights but duties also, not only areas of activity and function but boundaries to them as well”.

This motion is an ill-considered attack on the doctrine of the separation of powers. It seems to ignore and breach boundaries that have served this State well and does so in an ill-considered manner. Does anyone seriously believe this half-page call for unspecified legislation is a suitable reaction to an issue that has already been examined by the highest judge in the land and twice by an all-party Oireachtas committee? If the proposers of the motion were serious in their quest for legislation they could have sought to craft that legislation. They could have addressed in some meaningful manner the doctrine of separation of powers and indicated where they wanted the acknowledged boundaries breached and how the proposed breach would be constitutional.

If the Deputy had read my speech he would have all the answers to that.

The Deputy must not have understood it. It is relatively straightfoward.

They could have, in some way, addressed the provisions of Articles 35.2 to 35.5 of the Constitution. They did not do any of this and it reflects poorly on their seriousness and ability. This motion is a half-hearted effort from a part-time parliamentarian. The House deserves better.

How many Private Members' Bills did the Deputy publish since sitting over there?

I have three minutes. Deputy Shatter should not try to prevent me from speaking. He will have an opportunity to reply to the debate later.

I hope the Deputy's contribution will be intellectually more interesting than his colleague's.

The motion is a mass of contradictions and hypocrisies. It quotes Article 35.2 regarding the independence of the Judiciary but then seeks to directly contravene the Constitution by calling for a foreign judge to inquire into what are clearly judicial matters. What in justice would the inquiry suggested by this squalid little motion set right? Judge Matthews sentenced Philip Sheedy to four years imprisonment with a promise of a review after two years plus 12 years suspension of his driving licence. When this was reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeal, it handed down a two year sentence which he has served.

We passed the legislation. The courts have enforced it. We cannot proceed to second guess them in every case. If the Oireachtas wants more severe penalties for such drink driving cases, we have it in our power to introduce such measures by legislative amendments. If the proposers of this motion are truly serious in their concerns, they should be using tonight's Private Members' time to debate a Bill to give effect to this change, not rehashing old political skirmishes. This motion inherently rejects the concept of the separation of powers as enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution as approved by the people contains a balanced separation of powers in the same way as the earlier Free State Constitution. The courts in their rulings on matters relating to the Oireachtas and the Cabinet have upheld this respect for the separation of powers. The courts exercise self-restraint in this regard and we should do likewise.

This motion seeks to interfere with this balance for base party political motives. It speaks volumes about Fine Gael's commitment to the supremacy of the Constitution and the judicial process. For it, the Constitution is supreme until there are new political points to be scored. Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty has, by his important and significant decisions, had a more positive and real impact on the day to day lives of more people than anyone on the Opposition benches. Through such important decisions as the Nolan Transport case we can see how Hugh O'Flaherty held the rights of people and absolute respect for fair legal processes in the highest esteem: "The State representing the rest of us ordinary citizens and taxpayers has a very keen interest in seeing the harmonisation of industrial relations. We all stand to lose too much where there is strife and conflict. We should now have advanced sufficiently in our respect for democracy and the rule of law in all its refinements to work out a better way."

During the Second Stage debate in the Seanad on the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, Opposition Senators were compelled to admit that this judgment was enlightened while their colleagues in this House were beating a path to RTE and TV3 to denounce and pour calumny on Mr. Justice Hugh O'Flaherty's integrity and reputation. They should be ashamed. Everyone sympathises with the Ryan family but the suffering caused to the O'Flaherty family is something about which they should be ashamed. The record will show years from now, when somebody is doing a PhD on the subject, the injustice and lack of care for justice which Members of the Opposition showed. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Philip Sheedy was roaming free.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Stanton, Belton, Ring and Boylan.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I listened to the defensive and, indeed, ill-tempered contributions from the other side. I am glad, as the Member who chaired the proceedings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights on the Sheedy affair, that there was a consensus in the committee whereby we worked together to come to terms with the enormity of what everybody, inside and outside the House, was experiencing at the time, particularly the trauma and devastation of the Ryan family. Insults have been hurled across the floor but I hope that would not be forgotten.

I am sorry Deputy Carey left the House before I commented on the report which I, on behalf of the committee, sent to the House. It is not just vindictive but ignorant of him to suggest that Deputy Shatter is a part-time Member of the House. It would be nice if Deputy Carey and other Members could introduce 18 Private Members' Bills and motions as Deputy Shatter has. We should all appreciate the commitment and legal expertise Deputy Shatter has brought to the House. I also acknowledge the work being done by Deputy Brian Lenihan in the committee on constitutional reform. I agree that reforms are needed to deal with the unprecedented situation that occurred and with which the Oireachtas was powerless to deal despite the alarm and concern of the people we represent.

I wished for the urgent introduction of legislation to provide for the ethics, standards and independence which was required then. Members of the committee were keenly aware of the separation of the Executive from the Judiciary. The committee's report was not dealt with so Members on this side of the House are now attempting to bring some form of closure to the matter, not just for ourselves but for the people who still have unanswered questions. Even the sequence of events after the release of Philip Sheedy gives rise to huge concern and a lack of confidence in the integrity of the judicial system and its ability to guarantee justice for everybody. As legislators we have a huge responsibility to uphold that integrity and sense of confidence in the Legislature, legislators and those who implement legislation.

When the committee lodged its report with the Dáil we wished it to be processed further. I will again read the relevant extracts from the statement I made, as chairman of the committee and with the full agreement of the members of the committee, and from the conclusions the committee reached. I said:

Unfortunately, this report from our committee presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas confirms that without the co-operation and participation of the principal players, our committee is unable to proceed any further. However, this should not hinder the Houses of the Oireachtas from continuing to make progress on this matter. The outstanding issue at the very least needs to be considered by the all party committee on the Constitution, even to the prospect of having a referendum on a constitutional amendment.

The volume of correspondence and comment to members of the committee from the public demonstrates an anger and frustration and a demand for answers surrounding this case.

It is important to note that I was reporting for an all-party committee and no member of the committee disagreed with that statement. We are not playing politics here.

The committee considered two options. The first would have been extraordinarily difficult because of the constitutional difficulties and the lack of resources for committees. The second option was a tribunal of inquiry. I will quote from the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights on matters arising from the early release from prison of Mr. Philip Sheedy:

The second option which suggests itself is the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts. The committee appreciates that there may well be considerable public resistance to the establishment of a further tribunal of inquiry but considers that appropriately narrow terms of reference which included a fixed time for reporting back may go at least some way to allaying concerns in this regard.

I come now to an issue which has been raised repeatedly and in a destructive way by the other side of the House, as if there were an inter national conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the judges in this State.

The nature of the matters to be inquired into would appear to require the appointment of a serving or former member of the Judiciary. However, this gives rise to potential difficulty on two counts:

(a) the impact an appointment would have on the hearing of cases before the courts; and

(b) the extent to which members of the Judiciary would be personally acquainted with one or more of those involved in the release of Mr. Sheedy.

The committee is of the opinion that these difficulties could be avoided if a former member of the judiciary of another jurisdiction were appointed as presiding member.

The report concluded:

The committee requests that this report be the subject of debate in both Houses and seeks the views of the Oireachtas as to how the outstanding issues can be resolved.

The all-party committee clearly indicated that there were unanswered questions and that it was powerless in certain respects. It offered an option which is the kernel of the motion. It would go some way towards dealing with the unanswered questions. Some of the participants in the unfortunate affair wished to give evidence before the committee. We should bear in mind that their reputations are left hanging in the balance because they did not get that opportunity. I therefore commend the motion in the most positive terms and I pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy Shatter, for introducing it.

I, too, pay tribute to Deputy Shatter for putting down the motion. If he introduced 18 Private Members' Bills as a part-time parliamentarian, I wish he would become a full-time one and introduce even more. The Government has been given a chance to close this question once and for all in the motion. I am struck by the viciousness of the responses of various Ministers, the personal attacks and the defensiveness. Why is the Government so defensive? Of what is it afraid? What is it hiding? Why does it not support the motion or amend it to enable it to proceed in some other fashion while holding its integrity? It strikes me that the Government is hiding something and is afraid of something. That is extremely worrying. We, on this side of the House, want the motion to bring closure to this issue. When a person dies there is a period of mourning and then a period of closure. This is not happening here. The Government is not allowing that to happen. Time and again the opportunity to bring closure to this issue has been presented to Government, but it has not allowed that to happen.

Prior to the summer recess the Government nominated Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank. If there was anything that would have opened up this issue, that was it. I was surprised by the viciousness expressed by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. He questioned why in one week alone 43 articles by 17 journalists referred to the O'Flaherty affair? We did not instigate the O'Flaherty affair? The Government, particularly the Minister for Finance, did that. If the Government had any compassion for the families involved, it would have been far more sensitive. The Taoiseach indicated it was a mistake to do that. Eventually members of the Government were dragged kicking and screaming into saying it was a mistake to do that by the people who represented themselves regarding the European Investment Bank position.

This is a sad affair. It will not go away. Deputy Briscoe is correct. In 20 or 30 years' time people will be writing PhDs on this subject because it is not closed. Until the Government of the day, irrespective of which Government that will be, instigates some form of inquiry, tribunal or commission on this issue, it will not go away. In 20 years' time television programmes will be made by journalists and others reflecting on unanswered questions from 2000. What a way to start the millennium. When people reflect on this century, this issue will be the highlight of the Government's tenure in office, the O'Flaherty affair and the Sheedy affair. This is for what the Government will be remembered. This is the big issue and the Government is refusing to close it.

Deputy Barnes said there are many other people whose reputations are in tatters because the Government refuses to allow this affair to be closed. Let this House put forward a mechanism whereby it can be closed, unanswered questions can be answered and people who want to answer questions are allowed to do so, but the Government refuses to do that. Why is that the case? Why do the Taoiseach, the Ministers for Finance and Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other Ministers and the Progressive Democrats not allow closure on this issue? This question will continue to be asked for a long time.

The Minister mentioned narrow political motives. There are none. If there are, the Government – not us – has brought them forward. Deputy Barnes mentioned reports of various committees. The former Chief Justice said he went as far as he could but could go no further because he did not have all the facts. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said last night that questions remain to be answered. The fact that questions remain unanswered does not in itself provide jurisdiction. He acknowledged that questions remain unanswered and, while questions remain unanswered, this issue will not be closed and the suffering of all the people involved will continue. That is not fair. I appeal to the Members opposite to join the Opposition in supporting this motion and to ensure the Members work together. Members should not be vicious about such a sensitive issue by attacking other Members who are doing their best in a sensitive way to bring closure to this most important issue. I am appalled at the viciousness of the Members opposite over an issue such as this.

The Minister said last night that his Department set out the facts that it was able to establish. That implies there were facts it was not able to establish. Let us do our utmost to establish the facts. If the judges and all the other people who were involved in this have nothing to hide, let us clear their names, if that can be done. Question marks will hang over them forever unless that is done.

I, too, support this motion. Events happened so fast here in recent months that one is inclined to forget them. Members of the Government were in a stand-off position over this issue for a week. The Tánaiste would not talk to the Taoiseach and he would not talk to her. We are led to believe the Minister for Finance intervened, the honest broker, and he patched up things. It is worth recalling what the row was about. It was about the Sheedy affair. The Taoiseach told the Tánaiste that he would come into the house and place on record that he had made representations on this case, but he did not do that. That is why the Tánaiste got annoyed and why there was a row in the camp. That is why the Minister for Finance took time off to do the patching up and brought the Government back on the rails once more. When people say that introducing this motion is playing politics with the issue, it is worth noting what was happening on that occasion. Who was playing politics for a whole week? The Tánaiste said on the Six-One News, "This is a very serious matter."

There is no better Deputy on record inside and outside this House than the Tánaiste when in Opposition. On many nights she stood on the plinth in full glare of camera lights when the rainbow Government was in office – a decent Government compared with what we have had for the past three years – and told the people:

The truth must be told. It is our job to tell the truth. That is what the Progressive Democrats are here to do.

People forget. Once they sit on the Government benches, everything changes.

When a democracy is being set up, one of the first institutions that must be put in place are courts. If courts are not established, there will not be order. Courts are the basis of a democracy, society or civilisation. The Government has undermined the process of democracy by not proceeding with the inquiry sought in this motion. Any politician who calls himself or herself a democrat would have to support this motion. It is in the interests of the preservation of democracy in our State, which was hard fought for. We send observers throughout the world when elections are being held to establish democracies, yet some Members of this Assembly will not back up this motion to show justice must be administered to all the people at all levels in a fair fashion. The people know that and have said it in many opinion polls. They said it in the ballot box in Tipperary and they will say it at the next general election, and the sooner that is called the better.

I am delighted to support the motion tabled by Deputy Shatter and other members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, asked where were the Fine Gael members who put their name to this motion. I am present and my name was on it before the list of speakers was drawn up. I did not decide to put my name to this simply because the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation spoke. I am entitled to speak on any issue here that I feel is important to me and on which I wish to make a contribution. I will not be instructed by the Minister or anyone else. I compliment Deputy Shatter on his marvellous contribution as a parliamentarian. It has been a pleasure to work with and support him.

With regard to this issue, I am taken aback by the viciousness of the Government's response, as are fair-minded people outside this House. Why is it so vicious? Perhaps because it hits a raw nerve. Many Ministers and Government Deputies are no more aware than I why this came about. I want an answer and so do the people. The Government says we are trying to resurrect this matter and to keep it alive. That is not true and shows how far removed from reality the Government is. People are continually talking about the Sheedy affair; how he was released after one year of a four-year sentence handed down after due process. If Mr. Sheedy was a man he would have served his sentence and paid his debt to society and to the Ryan family. The late Mrs. Ryan was a stranger to me, Lord have mercy on her. I never knew her but she was a wife and mother.

This is a sad case. It is sad for Mr. Sheedy but he was wrong and had a debt to pay. What is my interest in this? There was a similar case in my constituency without any drink being involved – a tragic motoring accident with a life lost. After due process a six year sentence was handed down to a young man who manfully served his sentence. He was a model prisoner and used his skills to help out others in prison with less education than him. He was a wonderful young man, terribly remorseful about what happened, and after two and a half years of his sentence his family requested he be allowed out to attend the Confirmation of his youngest brother. They requested three hours of freedom and I was prepared to put my name down that he would have returned to prison, although that would not have been necessary. That young man did not get three minutes, yet Mr. Sheedy ran free after 12 months. Why? Simply because he knew somebody who knew somebody.

Who was the person he knew and who authorised his release? That is what I and my constituents want to know? Is there a law for one and a different law for another? It stinks and it leaves a bad taste. The Government will not get away with it and it will not leave the agenda until full answers are given. Unlike the tribunals, where people are using every trick in the book to escape giving evidence, people have volunteered to come before an inquiry and to give information to see if we can get to the root of how Mr. Sheedy escaped his sentence and escaped paying his dues to the Ryan family. That would show the law is fair and above board.

As the law is administered at present it is a matter of who one knows and if one has money. That is what is being said to me. Is that the truth? I cannot say that it is not because I do not know. It is unfair to the Judiciary and casts a shadow on them. It is very serious for democracy that people going to court doubt they will get the same treatment as anyone else and feel that a judge will look at a person's background and in consideration of the status of that person's father or uncle hand down a lenient sentence. Is that the way democracy operates? Is that the slippery slope we are going down? Is that what the Sheedy case points to?

Decent man that Hugh O'Flaherty was, I do not doubt he believed in his heart he was doing a good turn, but if he made a mistake let him come out and tell us how it was done, who influenced him and why he acted as he did. Those answers have not been given and until they are this issue will not go away.

The young man I referred to and the many others – there may be hundreds for all we know – are entitled to know. They are entitled to a fair answer to a fair question. The Government need not be vicious about this but should come out and give us a straight answer. Then we will let the dead rest.

I agree with Deputy Boylan. We do not want to bring this issue up. The reason we are doing so is that the people are outraged about what happened last year. It will not go away. I talk to judges and others in the legal field and they want the good name of their profession restored.

Deputy Boylan is right. People have always felt the State and the Judiciary were separate and that when someone went to court, nobody could ever talk to a judge. It was something I was told going into politics; one does not get involved in the law. A judge was above the law and made the final decision in matters of law. I was amazed in the context of another debate that after all that has gone on we found Ministers writing to each other to appoint their friends as judges. This is very wrong and cannot go on.

Why do we have a position where someone can talk to another person about these matters? We have a two-tier society of the rich and the poor. When the poor go to court they do not have to put a fine in the poorbox; they have to go to Loughan House or Castlerea or Mountjoy prisons. When the rich go to court it is who and what they know that decides how they get on. That is wrong but that is what is happening. That is why the decent people in the Judiciary want this inquiry held. They want to know what happened from the beginning to the end. Until that happens, the people will not be satisfied and will continue to ask what happened with the Sheedy case. That is why this motion was tabled – to get an inquiry so that the legal profession can investigate this itself, as it is well able to do.

The Minister, Deputy McDaid, criticised Fine Gael for tabling this motion. This is not about the Olympics or places in Sydney. It is about fair play, the truth and justice for everyone, not justice for the rich and justice for the poor. We want justice for everyone. We want to know what happened, from step one to the end. Who interfered with who? Who asked the questions? Who made the decisions? What price was paid? The people have a right to know.

For 20 years there was talk of certain people having certain things in this country and were it not for an incident in America we would still not know what was going on. Many people in this city knew what was going on but others would not believe it. It is still going on. When The Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, was in Opposition she was the conscience of the nation. I am asking the conscience of the nation to ask the Government to hold this inquiry and to let the people know what went on.

I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Ryan family in relation to this particular case, which was raised as a result of issues that entered the public domain in recent years. Given the tragic nature of this case, it is important that we should seek to address the issues raised by Deputy Shatter in a way which does not inflame the situation further, particularly in light of the personal hurt that has been visited upon many of those involved.

With regard to the issues raised by Deputy Shatter such as serving the public interest and the principle of accountability being met, one must take cognisance of the fact that, quite apart from the opinions that were expressed by the Chief Justice in his report, the judgment handed down by Judge Matthews in the first instance was reaffirmed and that the serious issues of accountability were addressed in that the careers of two judges came to an end as a result of the Chief Justice's investigation. Those are important considerations in addressing the issue of public confidence.

Members of the public looking at what occurred in this case would have recognised that serious issues were raised which the Chief Justice sought to address in his investigation and that there were a number of serious consequences. On the basis of the public being entitled to witness the principles of accountability being observed, it is indicative that, because a Supreme Court judge and a High Court judge resigned as a result of this series of events, the consequences were such as to meet the requirements of the situation.

While, as stated in the Chief Justice's report, Judge O'Flaherty's involvement came out of a humanitarian interest, the judge was prepared to resign, not on the basis of that being a wrongdoing in itself – he was not exercising a judicial function in so doing – but because his involvement was open to misinterpretation. Members of the Judiciary have set a standard in terms of actions which may be open to misinterpretation and Members in this part of the Oireachtas understand that such standards are difficult to meet. However, it is clear that the standard was met on this occasion because the judge recognised that his involvement could be misinterpreted. As the Chief Justice outlined, it was not a wrongdoing in the exercise of a judicial function but because his involvement was open to misinterpretation which brought about the resignation of a Supreme Court judge.

It is clear that there is a difference of opinion – a difference which will remain – between Judge Cyril Kelly and Judge Matthews, both in terms of their recollection of a telephone call and other events and in relation to how the issue was handled from their own perspectives. I am not convinced that could be resolved by an inquiry.

It is important to point out that the resignation of Judge Cyril Kelly sought to meet the public concerns which were expressed at the time. In terms of upholding the integrity of the Judiciary, its public standing and the esteem in which it is held and emphasising and underlining its independence, it is important also to point out that these significant actions were taken as a result of an investigation by the Chief Justice in relation to the way this case was dealt with and that the understanding by Judge Kelly of a precedent which was not agreed to by the Chief Justice meant that he too would be terminating his career as a judge and facing the consequences of his actions. That in no way is meant to equate or apply equivalence to what happened to the judges to the trauma and loss experienced by the Ryan family.

The motion seems to justify the inquiry being sought by Deputy Shatter and the Fine Gael Party on the basis that public confidence has been undermined. However, the public must consider the reaction of the Chief Justice, the nature of his report, the steps taken by the personalities involved in this case as a result of its publication and those taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in terms of acknowledging the need for reform of the administration of the justice system to make it more effective, transparent and modern through the establishment of the Courts Service. A number of matters flow from the latter, including the need to ensure better training and introduce a code of conduct. As far as I am aware, Article 35.4 of the Constitution has never been judicially interpreted and there is a need to deal with the constitutional problem that only stated misbehaviour can be punished by the Oireachtas. There is no option available to the Oireachtas in circumstances of this nature other than that severe sanction has led the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to recommend that this issue be addressed in order that justice will be done for all concerned.

In the Government's view it is a question of achieving a balance in terms of deciding whether the public interest would be served by a further inquiry into this matter. In my opinion the principles of accountability have been adhered to as a result of the resignation of the judges concerned. It is our responsibility to ensure that the circumstances surrounding this case are not repeated by improving the structures and accountability procedures which apply to the Judiciary while recognising the need for the separation of powers, a principle which is central to the Constitution.

In bringing to a conclusion what is a serious and important debate, I thank all my colleagues in the Fine Gael Party and the members of the Labour Party who contributed to the debate and who are supportive of the motion. It is most regrettable that, in the context of a serious issue which goes to the heart of how we deal with major difficulties in our constitutional democracy affecting the Judiciary, from most speakers opposite we have been subjected to political pantomime and buffoonery of a nature which is insulting to other Members of the House. Their actions substantially undermine their expressed concern for the awful tragedy that befell the Ryan family and, as I accepted yesterday, for the personal tragedy, of a very different nature and at a different level, visited upon the judges involved.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, obtained a sense of how foolish the contributions of his colleagues had been before he entered the House. It is quite notable that, while I may not agree with his conclusions, he delivered a serious and straightforward contribution which ignored most of what is contained in his prepared script. I thank him for that and I wish his colleagues, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for fun and sport, Deputy McDaid, had treated this issue more seriously. It would be nice if Deputy McDaid did not treat this Chamber as if it was the Gaiety Theatre.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform arrived at an extraordinary hypothesis last evening. We are saying that there are unanswered questions which must be addressed. That has been acknowledged in every report that deals directly with the Sheedy affair to which the Minister referred. I quoted from the Chief Justice's report where it was stated that there were unanswered questions the Chief Justice could not resolve which would require different procedures.

Earlier this evening Deputy Barnes referred to the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights on this issue. She, with the agreement of all members of that committee, came before the House and referred to the need for an inquiry. The committee acknowledged that it lacked the capacity and ability to obtain answers to the unanswered questions. It did not have the parliamentary support, procedures or legislation required to enable it to do so. The committee recommended that such an inquiry be conducted by a judge from outside the State. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform seemed to ignore that point. He thought that my raising that as an issue was an insult to the Judiciary for which I should apologise.

We have been well served by the Judiciary. It does a difficult job and the shock of the events relating to the Sheedy case derives from the high esteem in which it is held by all Members of the House. However, it was the view of the joint Oireachtas committee, across party lines, a view supported by the Minister's colleagues, that should there be an inquiry there was a very good reason it should be chaired by a judge from outside the State, not only to do with the pressure the Judiciary is under with the existing tribunals and the backlog of cases in the courts, but also because it would place current members of the Judiciary in an invidious position to conduct such an inquiry.

The Minister facilitated some of his backbench colleagues such as Deputy Pat Carey who ran the same line. It was also in the script of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, but he obviously heard what Deputy Barnes said, corrected it and left it out of his script.

I did not hear it.

This is a serious issue, not one for slapstick or the usual party political posturing, of which all of us in this House are guilty on occasion. This is an issue to which the general public wants answers. It derives from events which rightly caused public outrage. We had the unprecedented event in this democracy of two senior judges resigning leaving questions unanswered. As I said last night, the Minister acknowledged in this House on 20 April 1999 that the only way in which we would get answers to these questions was by holding an inquiry. In its own report his Department stated that, in the context of the conclusions it had reached, questions were left unanswered "that will no doubt be raised in the period ahead". I presume the Minister sanctioned the publication of that report. There is not one single report into this affair which does not recognise that there are unanswered questions.

What reason does the Minister give for not holding an inquiry? The reason is that he is not sure that the holding of an inquiry would achieve results which eluded previous inquiries, in other words, he personally does not know anything that is not already in the public domain which would justify the holding of an inquiry. On that basis we should never hold inquiries into anything. If anyone in public life engages in serious misconduct, we should ignore it. If they resign, we should say, "Good on you; off you go, we do not want to know why you did what you did". Is that the ethos that we want? Is that the new Fianna Fáil concept of openness, transparency and accountability? Is this the result of lessons learned and another example of the philosophy of climbing up every tree to find out what is going on, except that when we get to the top of the tree, we should wear blinkers and not look down to see what is beneath us? It is an extraordinary approach.

The Minister knows that there are fundamental questions to be answered about the Sheedy affair. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, said that, on balance, there is no point in holding an inquiry. The overwhelming majority believe that we should get answers as to why Cyril Kelly, when a judge in the Circuit Court, saw fit in a hearing which lasted no longer than one minute to release from prison someone who had been sentenced to prison by another judge as a consequence of causing the death of another person on the road in a case which had been concluded a year earlier in the Circuit Court, where the Circuit Court had no role to play of any nature whatsoever. That is the nub of it, the central issue.

A sitting judge of the Circuit Court, Judge Joseph Matthews, who is not accused of misconduct of any nature whatsoever – I do not want to say anything which could in any way damage his reputation, credibility or personal integrity – presents a series of events concerning the original sentencing of Philip Sheedy and former judge Cyril Kelly's involvement in the Sheedy case that is totally at variance with what former judge Cyril Kelly told the Chief Justice. Is a sitting judge of the Circuit Court not entitled to have an inquiry to determine what did occur and who is telling the truth? Are we, in this republic, not entitled to have a judicial system which is not hanging under a cloud as a result of the events in the Sheedy case? Are we not entitled to ensure, if there are allegations of misconduct or improper conduct in public life which result in people resigning, the full story becomes known? We are.

To what were we subjected last night? We were subjected to political slapstick from the Minister and, tonight, to the eccentric contribution of the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Where are the Progressive Democrats? Not a single member of the Progressive Democrats has contributed to this debate. The Progressive Democrats have had psycho-political difficulties in coming to terms with this issue. At various stages the Tánaiste wanted judges to resign, then she did not want to talk to the Taoiseach, then she wanted one of the judges who did resign but would not explain himself to be sent to the European Investment Bank and then she wanted the person she was proposing for the European Investment Bank to stand down. The Progressive Democrats, who said that they wanted to know the full story, will now presumably vote with the Government to prevent an inquiry being held, but lack the courage to come into the House to explain themselves. They are invisible.

Does anyone know where is the leader of the radical party, the Attorney General? Is he advising the Fianna Fáil Party to vote against an inquiry? Is he advising the Progressive Democrats to vote against an inquiry? Is he advising the Government to vote against an inquiry? Which role is he playing? One can imagine the enthusiasm for an inquiry from the Tánaiste and the then Deputy McDowell three or four years ago in this House. One can imagine them jumping up and down demanding answers and accountability and insisting that the public is entitled to know, as it is, but where are they tonight? They are completely and utterly invisible. Presumably, they will creep into the Chamber, hide themselves among the crowd when the division bells ring and move slowly up into the lobbies to vote down our proposal in the hope that their presence will not be noticed. No doubt tomorrow or the next day in addressing a meeting outside the House the Attorney General will be critical of some other group. Yesterday he was critical of the Garda; presumably he will be critical of someone else for some other worthy reason that he wants to articulate.

Fianna Fáil has been talking about accountability in public life. It talks about a new type of politics. Fianna Fáil has been grossly embarrassed – rightly so – by the behaviour of a whole series of Members of this House, Deputies Foley and Lawlor and former Deputy Ray Burke, but where has it learned the lessons? Where does the rhetoric match the reality? We know that they do not match. The reality is that if the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats truly want to restore credibility to politics and public faith in the institutions of the State, they will support the Fine Gael motion.

The motion is not before the House for any party political reason. It is before the House to bring closure to an issue which requires closure, to ensure the full story can become known and the people involved can get on with their lives, but for party political reasons the Government parties will vote it down. I predict that this will be one of the issues on which the electorate will visit retribution on Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in the next general election. It will be one of the issues to which people will point as highlighting the cynical behaviour of the Government, the fact that neither party in Government can be believed when it promises better politics and suggests that it will clean up its act. The reality is that they are endemically incapable of doing so. At this stage the Progressive Democrats Party is no more than an arm of the Fianna Fáil Party. We have not yet worked out whether they are an official or a provisional arm.

The Progressive Democrats are at this stage intellectually consumed by Fianna Fáil and we must wait to see whether they will also be physically consumed by that party. Perhaps when Deputy Bertie Ahern ceases to be Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil, the Attorney General will have given up on the Progressive Democrats and will apply for his job. Either way, the credibility of the Government parties which speak about restoring faith in our democratic institutions will disappear into the sand this evening if they vote down this motion. I invite them not to vote it down. I extend to them the opportunity to save themselves politically but I do not have faith that they are capable of doing so.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.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.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.

Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis J.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.

Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda. McCormack, Pádraic.

Níl–continued

McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.

Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Flanagan and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.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.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.

Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis J.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.

Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael. Currie, Austin.

Níl–continued

D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.

Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

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