Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

There is an unwritten tradition in the House that the preceding Minister for Justice in the Department tends not to participate in justice debates, perhaps because of his or her knowledge of what goes on in the Department and lest information that should not be is placed in the public domain is revealed. However, I am moved to speak on this Bill to address a matter that has been in the news in recent days concerning the temporary release under the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, of the four killers of Garda Jerry McCabe. The same men also seriously injured Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan. They killed a member of the Garda Síochána and attempted to kill a second one. It was done in a cold blooded, calculated way. It was not an accident, it did not happen by chance in the middle of a robbery. It happened when two members of the force were sitting in a car and men shot at point blank range into it with the clear motive of killing them.

Every time a member of the Garda Síochána puts on a uniform or takes up duty in plain cloths or every time a prison officer puts on a uniform and takes up duty, he represents this country, symbolised by the harp on the uniform. They carry out a job of constitutional importance, to protect the security of the State. An attack on any such officer is an attack on each law abiding citizen. These four men did as much to us as citizens as they did to members of the Garda Síochána. That is why such crimes carried a penalty of death by hanging. In more enlightened years that has been changed to a life sentence of imprisonment for 40 years.

These four men received between them prison sentences ranging from 11 and 14 years for killing in cold blood a member of the Garda Síochána and almost killing another member. At the time of their conviction we were told they would not come under the early release programme under the Good Friday Agreement. We were also told this within days of the signing of the Agreement. We took the Minister's and the Taoiseach's word in good faith. The widow of Garda Jerry McCabe, Mrs. Anne McCabe, did likewise.

I am having difficulty in seeing the connection between what the Deputy is saying and the Bill before the House.

I am speaking about criminal activity. This is legislation from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and you normally allow a wide ranging debate in such circumstances. Many issues were raised by earlier speakers. If you allow me to continue you may see a link.

The Chair rules on this matter. I fail yet to see any connection between the Bill before the House and what the Deputy has said.

I will do my best to keep mentioning the legislation and convince you that a Second Stage debate on legislation concerning the prevention of corruption entitles me to speak about the actions of Ministers, be they corrupt or not. I ask you to bear with me so that I can make the point I wish to make. I will find numerous precedents of Second Stage debates—

The Deputy should not lecture the Chair.

Perhaps you could allow me to continue because my time is limited.

That is why the Deputy should use her time to speak to the Bill.

Will the Minister explain why there is not a suspicion of a lack of truthfulness – I will not go so far as to say of corruption – in the answers given in this House regarding the temporary release of the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe? Yesterday in the House the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace, speaking on behalf of the Minister, tried to link the public release of a person under the peace process, a widely known scheme, with the temporary release of four men convicted of the killing of a garda. It is beneath contempt to try to do that and I am very disappointed that the officials in the Department, for whom I have the greatest respect, were forced to include this in her reply to the House. They know it is not the same thing. At the time, Pearce McAuley was not convicted of the murder of a member of the Garda Síochána. He was released under a public programme.

In the case of these four men the Minister has said they will not be released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement but have been granted temporary release under the normal procedures. However, these are not being followed. From information I have obtained I know that if any of these four men made a request for leave or a privilege it does not go through the normal procedures. Prison officers do not have the same say with these men. Having been a Minister for Justice I know this to be the case. I know there are constant discussions with Sinn Féin and connections with the IRA. The kind of lenient treatment these four men are getting must have come from the discussions to keep Sinn Féin quiet. Only this morning theIrish Examiner reported a comment from the Chairman of Sinn Féin saying that these men should be included in the prisoner release scheme under the Good Friday Agreement. The Taoiseach and the Minister have rightly said these men do not come under the terms of the Agreement, but sadly, they have found another way to give them special treatment. I will continually repeat this, both inside and outside the House.

There must be a reason men less than three years into their sentences were given granted this favouritism.

As Minister for Justice, I know the advice I would have got if I had tried to give temporary release for whatever reason to a person who had killed a member of An Garda Síochána. I recall before I left office a person who had killed a member of An Garda Síochána and who was in prison for many years looking for temporary release for some reason and I was warned and advised not to grant it. I am certain from my knowledge of the Department that the action in the case of these prisoners would not have happened without the Minister knowing about it. It was not just an official down the line who knew about it.

I have been told the welfare officers were not consulted about whether the letters about sick relatives were genuine. The prisoners were found in compromising positions. These are murderers. Why were they not escorted like many other prisoners? Prisoners who are in prison for less hein ous crimes are escorted in handcuffs to visit their grannies, mothers and fathers in hospital and to meet in clergymen's houses and safe places from which they will not abscond.

The Minister and the Government are standing over these temporary releases under the guise of compassionate leave. There may have been compassionate reasons but I want the truth from the Minister. I want to know if there is a special arrangement with Sinn Féin. Is it a case of doing this quietly and preparing them for eventual release when it is not a news item and no one is paying attention? Mrs. McCabe and her family are already suffering. I read a story in yesterday's newspaper that she was hassled and harassed in Dundalk by someone who told her they did not want her kind there.

The Minister owes this House an explanation. These releases did not go through the normal procedure of the half sheet. If a half sheet was done, it went to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform faster or in a different way. I hope the Minister knows I am speaking from experience. I am convinced the Minister's arrangement is keeping the Sinn Féin people happy and that is what is behind this. We are talking about a Minister who said in an article in a newspaper in November 1996 that "the Minister has absolute responsibility to discharge in an orderly and comprehensive manner all functions which come within the remit of her Department". If the shoe fitted me when I was Minister for Justice, it sure as hell fits the Minister now. He is not taking responsibility.

In November 1997 five men, who were detained for possession of £3 million worth of cannabis, were released because the District Court judge, who extended the period of their detention, had not been properly nominated. They then went back into court and three of them, having been rearrested, had to be released again. This happened during the reign of a Minister who stood up in this House when the Dominic Lynch saga broke, which was a serious issue, and cried from the rooftops about the danger to the security of the State of releasing these men. They were re-arrested and convicted. However, these horrendous criminals, who the Minister said when he was on this side of the House would run rampant in the State committing further crimes, were among the first people to be released after the Good Friday Agreement. He quietly signed their release from prison.

Who was the Minister in the first 22 weeks of this year when there were 28 violent deaths, stabbings in our prisons, prison officers abducted and prisoners absconding when out with prison officers on hospital or other types of visits? There were armed raids twice each week for the first two years.

The Minister must take responsibility for his Department. I am not blaming the officials. The Minister has misled Mrs. McCabe and this House about the way in which these four murderers are getting special treatment. It is a disgrace. We need honesty about the special arrangement. I know there are private meetings with Sinn Féin.

I ask the Deputy to conclude. As it is now 2.15 p.m., I must call on the Minister to conclude.

If Sinn Féin is still saying what it is saying, it must be getting a message from the Minister and his officials.

On a point of order, I was told I would have 20 minutes to speak.

The order was to call the Minister at 2.15 p.m.

I met the officials before I came in and I was given to understand I would have 20 minutes and the Minister would have only whatever time was remaining.

Twenty minutes is the normal slot, but according to the order of the Dáil today the Minister is to be called at 2.15 p.m.

If the Minister had wanted, he could have let me continue but he does not want to hear any more of his sins.

We should get back to the Bill.

Does the Minister get absolution?

I am delighted to hear Deputy Owen say she does not blame the officials. It seems that was not the case when she failed to delist Judge Dominic Lynch from the Special Criminal Court. She was prepared to blame officials then.

The Minister knows he is wrong about that. He should stop rewriting history.

The Minister, without interruption.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate on this important measure to combat bribery and corruption. The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill represents one important element in the Government's strategy to put in place a code for the behaviour of those engaged in public life. Its focus is on tackling bribery and corruption. Other measures include the Local Government Bill and the Standards in Public Office Bill and these will be further supplemented by measures recently announced by the Taoiseach to provide greater transparency in public life. I will return to this matter shortly.

The Bill brings anti-corruption legislation up to date so that it can meet current challenges. I acknowledge that our current law in this area stretches back a long way, but the changes contained in the Bill will have the desired effect of dealing appropriately with those who fall below the standards demanded of us.

The Bill achieves its aims by setting out a comprehensive list of persons who are subject to its provisions, including employees, Members of the Oireachtas, judges, members of foreign Governments or foreign Parliaments, members of the European Parliament and Commission and persons employed on behalf of a foreign public administration and providing that it will be an offence to corruptly accept or obtain or agree to accept or attempt to obtain, whether for personal benefit or for someone else's benefit, any gift, consideration or advantage as an inducement or reward for acting or refraining from acting in accordance with one's duty.

It will also be an offence for any person to corruptly give, agree to give or offer any gift and so on with a view to influencing the person in performing his or her duty; making indirect corruption an offence, for example, where a spouse is given a benefit with the intention of influencing the office holder; granting jurisdiction to the Irish courts in cases where any element of the offence occurs in the State or where an Irish office holder or official is involved, wherever he or she is resident; creating a new offence of corruption in office which will criminalise activity aimed at obtaining personal advantage; establishing the liability of officers of companies for offences of corruption; increasing the maximum penalties for those convicted of the offence of corruption to an unlimited fine or ten years' imprisonment or both.

The Bill, as well as improving on present anti-corruption laws, will allow Ireland to fulfil its international obligations by enabling ratification of three important conventions against corruption. These are the EU convention on the fight against corruption involving officials of the European Communities or officials of member states of the European Union, the OECD convention on combating bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions and the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption.

Before replying to a number of issues raised during the debate, I want to inform the House of a number of important changes I propose to make to the Bill. Last May the Taoiseach offered the Opposition parties a unique opportunity to take part in an all-party committee to consider and propose measures to maintain confidence in the political system. The committee's task would have been to examine various proposals, including measures to prevent corruption in public office, and to report before the end of September with a view to enacting the necessary legislation before the end of the year. Regrettably, the Taoiseach's offer was rejected and the opportunity was squandered. Attempts to portray the Government as insincere in its approach to the issue of corruption are nonsense and the Bill is proof positive of our determination to root out the bad apples.

If further proof was needed, Deputies need only look to the Taoiseach's recent announcement of a set of proposals to increase transparency and improve standards in public life. These include, in addition to the current Bill and amendments thereto, which I will outline shortly: provision for special accounts for political donations; limits to the size of donations; protection of whistleblowers; and regulation of lobbyists.

The Taoiseach's announcement indicated that the prevention and prosecution of corruption was an integral part of the measures which the Government is taking regarding standards in public life. In line with this, I will be proposing a number of amendments on Committee Stage to strengthen the Bill's provisions. While the Government has yet to approve the details, I can inform the House that they will provide for the following matters.

First, a new section will be inserted to provide that a presumption that a public representative has acted corruptly will arise in proceedings under the Prevention of Corruption Acts where it is proved that the public representative has failed to disclose a political donation and has acted such that the donor receives a benefit. Second, an amendment to provide for a presumption of corruption where proceedings are being taken under the Prevention of Corruption Acts against an office holder in relation to the exercise of certain functions and where there is proof that he or she received money or other benefit from a person who had an interest in the way those functions are exercised.

Deputies will appreciate that in each of the cases covered by these amendments there is a connection between the receipt of money etc., by the public representative or the office holder and their actions such that the person giving the money receives some benefit. This is similar to the provision in the 1916 Act, but differs significantly from the Labour and Fine Gael proposals in this regard which, as I have previously pointed out, were too wide in their scope and, therefore, likely to present problems from a constitutional and European Convention on Human Rights standpoint. A third amendment will provide for immunity from civil liability for persons who report, reasonably and in good faith, suspicions of corruption.

Contrary to Deputy Jim Higgins's statement, the Bill, as it currently stands, extends to bribery and corruption outside the public sector. The Deputy said that the Bill does not deal with corruption in the private sector, such as the banks and other institutions, including those in the semi-State sector. He said that it was confined solely to the public sector. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the Deputy had taken the time, which he clearly did not, to read the Bill properly he would have noted that the term "Agent" in section 2 includes "any person employed by or acting for another". This clearly covers those operating in the private sector.

Deputy Howlin referred to the presumption in the 1916 Act and the reversal of the burden of proof in cases covered by that Act. He argued that the presumption should apply in any circumstances where payment is made to a public official by a person who has a significant material interest in the outcome of a decision to be made by that official. He suggested that such an extension and the reversal of the burden of proof would be similar to the situation under section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, and the presumption that drugs were for sale or supply in certain circumstances.

The Deputy's reasoning fails to recognise, however, that the current presumption in the 1916 Act, like section 15 of the 1977 Act, operates in limited circumstances. In the case of the 1916 Act, the presumption only arises where there is a clear connection between the making of a gift and the award of a public contract. I have already mentioned the constitutional and European Convention of Human Rights difficulties of such a wide presumption as suggested and I have outlined my proposals regarding presumptions in certain circumstances, which I believe meets the Deputy's concerns.

I might also mention at this point that, during my initial contribution and in relation to the inclusion of the President as a public official covered by the terms of the Labour Party's Private Member's Prevention of Corruption Bill, I indicated that this raised a constitutional issue in relation to the position of the President and the exercise of the functions of President. The opinion of the Attorney General was sought on the matter. Article 13.8.1 of the Constitution provides as follows:

The President shall not be answerable to either House of the Oireachtas or to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and functions of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of these powers and functions.

The Attorney General has advised that it is clear from the aforementioned Article that the only liability which the President could have in law is for an act done by the person of the President declaring himself or herself to be doing it in a private capacity where the act itself is in no way connected with the exercise and performance of the powers and functions of the office. Whatever liability might be placed on the person of the President, therefore, cannot be connected with the President as a public official. Accordingly, it would not be possible to include the President as a public official covered by the Bill.

Deputy Shatter referred to events taking place before the tribunals established to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by politicians and others. Its seems strange that the House should go to the trouble of establishing these tribunals and agreeing the terms of reference by which they operate and then, in effect, seek to resolve these matters here.

Why do we establish tribunals if the parties opposite insist on ignoring their remit? One answer is that those parties do not have to take the facts into account. The tribunals will establish the facts and then reach conclusions based on those facts. It is my view that we should leave them to their task. A further point to bear in mind, which Deputy Shatter and others have clearly forgotten, is that it is not only members of one party who are being investigated by the tribunals. Members of the Deputy's party also have very serious questions to answer. No amount of bluster can disguise that reality.

The standards Deputy Shatter wants applied to Deputy Lawlor are in stark contrast to his own party's handling of events when the controversy involving Deputy Lowry first erupted. When Sam Smyth's story broke in theIrish Independent in November 1996 about Dunnes Stores' £208,000 refurbishment and extension to the then Minister Lowry's Tipperary home, Deputy Bruton, the Leader of Fine Gael, showed little of the concern he has displayed recently for high standards in public life. On that occasion, Deputy Bruton, the then Taoiseach, told an incredulous public that the story about Minister Lowry, as he then was, merited only “a cursory glance.” Deputy Bruton then sought to pardon Lowry's tax evasion and suggested it was in some way all right because it took place before he became a Minister.

He did not pardon it.

People with selective political memories should not be allowed to forget that Deputy Bruton ventured the opinion that the private business dealings of a backbench Deputy are in "a different category" to those after an appointment to Cabinet.

Is the Minister defending Deputy Lawlor?

The Minister should be allowed to conclude.

Is he defending Deputy Lawlor?

Not for the first time, public opinion did not share in Deputy Bruton's view and such was the outcry that his "best friend for ever" was forced to resign by the weekend.

Deputy Lowry was removed from ministerial office. The Taoiseach is refusing to remove Deputy Lawlor from the vice-chairmanship of the finance committee.

Deputy Owen should cease to interrupt.

Deputy Bruton's "open door" to Deputy Lowry to rejoin the party should surprise no one, particularly when one considers his reluctance to cut his own links with Deputy Lowry.

The Minister should conclude.

The Minister is going to be cut off in full flight.

He is scared to offer one word of criticism of Deputy Lawlor.

Even though Deputy Lowry's statement to the Dáil on 19 December 1996 failed to convince, the final political parting did not come until 6 March 1997. Even then Deputy Lowry pledged to support Deputy Bruton's Government although he was an Independent. Fine Gael made his re-election to the Dáil inevitable by running only one official party candidate.

The Minister is afraid to utter one word of criticism against Deputy Lawlor.

Deputy Bruton now wants his best ever friend back at his side.

Why is the Minister being allowed to continue when his time is up? You cut me off pretty fast.

I allowed the Deputy to speak.

On a point of order, you are allowing the Minister to speak when his time is up.

The Deputy should be the last to complain about the Chair. It is now 2.30 p.m. so I am required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of this day: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

On what date will Committee Stage be taken?

That is a matter for the committee.

This is another Bill which will languish.

Question put and agreed to.