Co-operation with Tribunal: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann is of the opinion that, given the sentence of the High Court, structured as it was to elicit full co-operation within a definite timeframe and the fact that the judge referred to his membership of Dáil Éireann, Deputy Lawlor should now fully meet the requirements of the courts and the tribunal or, that failure to do so within that timeframe would confirm his membership of Dáil Éireann to be untenable and that he should voluntarily resign his membership.

By way of background, I reiterate that the Flood and Moriarty tribunals were established by the Government—

By this House.

—with very extensive terms of reference and that additional powers were conferred on them by legislation brought forward by the Government to ensure they would be in a position to discharge their vitally important duties effectively, impartially and promptly.

The eyes of the public are focused on the tribunals and the institutions of State established under the Constitution at this time. The public looks to those who hold office in its name to establish and vindicate high standards for the administration of public affairs and the discharge of public office. The inquiries being conducted by the tribunals are central to the fulfilment of that public expectation.

It simply is not good enough to hope that standards of public behaviour will be established and protected without an honest and clear examination of instances where there is alleged to have been serious wrongdoing in the past. The Government and I have co-operated to the full with the tribunals and have been supportive of their work. Their job is to establish the truth in the areas they have been asked to investigate. Without prejudging their findings, much of what they have so far uncovered represents, on the face of it, a departure from the standards that both the public and all parties in the House expect, but we are looking at the exceptions, not the norm, whether for particular parties or the democratic system as a whole. We are also clearly engaged in a process designed to tighten up the rules and procedures applying to public life to prevent, as far as we can, future abuse of public office.

All of us live in a constitutional democracy and the tribunal process, like any other process established under law, must comply with and vindicate the system of standards and rights accorded to every citizen by the Constitution, which is the fundamental law of the land. There are no members of an untouchable caste in our Republic. No one is above the law. That is our united determination. Serving Taoisigh, Opposition leaders, well known figures from any section of society and respected institutions are publicly accountable in this democracy for the way in which their business is conducted.

By the same token, if no one is above the law, we must remind ourselves that no citizen is beneath the law either. Due process and the rule of law must be even-handed, consistent and fair. In moving the motion it is not my intention to prejudge or pillory anyone, but simply to demonstrate beyond contradiction that the Government and its supporters in the House are unambiguous and forthright in demanding that every citizen, whether elected to public office, should comply with his or her obligation under the law in respect of the important inquiries being conducted by the tribunals.

Article 6.1 of the Constitution provides:

All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.

Members of the House hold office and exercise their legislative and executive functions subject to that Article and, in the last analysis, at the instance of and subject to the verdict of the people who under our Constitution are sovereign. It is particularly noteworthy, as if it was necessary to say so, that it is the people who "designate the rulers of the State". This means that it is they and they alone who decide who sits in the House.

The Constitution accords to each House of the Oireachtas the sole right to order its own affairs by Standing Orders. Each House has the separate autonomous right under Article 15.10 to make its own rules and Standing Orders and to attach penalties for their infringement. Constitutional authors and historians sometimes debate among themselves whether it would be permissible for either House to put in place a penalty of permanent expulsion as opposed to temporary suspension. I am not in a position to state with authority how far the rules of either House could go in providing a sanction of expulsion for infringement of the House's rules. However, it seems that the right to penalise infringements of the rules and Standing Orders of each House of the Oireachtas probably relates only to matters particular to that House. That power does not confer on a majority in either House a right to penalise ordinary breaches of the criminal law with the additional sanction of expulsion. In so far as breaches of the ordinary law are concerned, Article 16 of the Constitution contemplates that laws of the State may provide for disability and incapacity to serve as Members of Dáil Éireann. Any such law would have to be administered by the Judiciary as part of the ordinary law of the State.

The people have in the past made judgments about who should and should not represent them in Dáil Éireann which are by no means free from controversy but which must be accepted. Persons have been elected and re-elected as Deputies to this House in circumstances where some members of the public, perhaps even a majority, might have wished for a different outcome. From hunger strikers who were serving lengthy sentences in respect of crimes of violence to persons who had questions to answer concerning their own suspected involvement in subversion and illegal and violent campaigns, whether in the distant past or more recently, the electorate has exercised its judgment in a manner on which it is possible to have strong personal opinions but which, nonetheless, is democratic and constitutionally valid.

I make this point not to reduce in any way the force of the motion which I am proposing but simply to remind the House that while we can express strong views on the subject matter of this motion, our Constitution reserves to the courts and people the final say on who can and cannot be a Member of this House.

It would be a danger to democracy to give power to a majority in this House arbitrarily and on a basis made up on the spur of the moment to exclude or suspend Members other than for a short period. Under our system of proportional representation, majorities are generally tight and we should be slow to establish any precedent which would allow this House to either prolong or foreshorten the life of a Government by reference to the unethical behaviour, real or alleged, of a Member. If there are to be new rules or standing orders because we find gaps in our procedures, they must be clearly established at the outset and known in advance, as well as being constitutionally sound so that there is no scope in the House for arbitrary exclusions.

Turning to the specific events that have caused the Government to lay this motion before the House, I take this opportunity to repeat that which I have often stated previously, namely, that I and the rest of the Government expect every citizen, and especially every Member of the Oireachtas, to co-operate fully with the tribunals of inquiry established under law by the Houses of the Oireachtas and to comply in every respect with the lawful orders of those tribunals.

I have stated previously, and I wish to repeat without reservation or equivocation, that I and the other members of the Government completely condemn disobedience, non-cooperation and conduct amounting to contempt of the courts and tribunals. For us to adopt a different standard would be to scandalise public opinion and to diminish both the rule of law and the standing of democratic representative politics in the eyes of the people. While holding this office, I have a special duty to make clear that I expect basic standards to be complied with by everyone else who holds public office or who aspires to hold public office.

At the same time, as holder of this office I do not enjoy the liberty afforded to others in this House to express their opinions freely and sometimes without regard to the consequences for the rights of others. I have to be careful in the language I choose, the circumstances in which I can speak and in the timing of anything I say. Some commentators and some Members of this House have said or implied that the timing and content of the remarks I have made on the subject matter of this evening's motion are dictated, wholly or partly, by a fear or reluctance of what others, including Deputy Lawlor, might have to say in public about myself and my colleagues. I wish to make it clear that I am not in the smallest way inhibited by any such consideration. I am not afraid of what others may or may not say or do in relation to me and I intend to discharge my office and to express my convictions in a free, forthright and fair way.

There have been occasions when forthright comment has been condemned by the Opposition because it might prejudice a fair trial. According to a press statement on 27 May last, Deputy Bruton stated that "politicians should not be interfering in court cases" and that "the constitutional right to due process should be scrupulously respected". Notice was given of raising a motion on the Order of Business on 30 May last expressing the opinion "that Members of the Oireachtas should not publicly call for particular verdicts in cases that have not been heard".

Even when court judgments are given, a right to appeal may be exercised. However, within those constraints, I and several members of this Government, including the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Minister for Social Community and Family Affairs, expressed views strongly supportive of the intent of the judgment of Mr. Justice Smyth, which was to secure Deputy Lawlor's full co-operation with the tribunal now and in the future and such co-operation from anyone inside or outside this House finding themselves in a similar situation in the future.

I have had the opportunity to consider the approved text of the judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Smyth on Monday, 15 January last. He stated that respect for the rule of law is enjoined on all citizens and persons within the State, especially on all who seek to promulgate, interpret or enforce the law. He stated that equality before the law is the rightful expectation of all those who come before the courts. He pointed out that in the matter of the obligation of citizens and persons within the State to comply with orders applicable to them: "there are no untouchables".

Mr. Justice Smyth, towards the end of his judgment, had the following to say:

In structuring the punitive element of the sanction of the court for the past contempt I am mindful that not only is imprisonment a most intrusive sanction interfering with the liberty of the person affected but also his whole personal and family life, his financial position and reputation. In the instant case, there is the fact that the respondent is a Member of the Oireachtas. This does not in contempt of court proceedings put him in any better position than any other person in breach of a court order. However, a protracted custodial sentence could in effect and in a real sense temporarily be thought of as a disenfranchisement of the people who placed their trust in him and voted him to the Dáil to legislate on their behalf.

This passage clearly shows that the judge was mindful of Deputy Lawlor's elected status when he passed judgment and that his continued membership of this House was taken into account in structuring the court's sanctions against him. In the light of those words, I do not consider it could be fairly said that the High Court judgment amounted to an invitation or a challenge to this House to attempt to expel Deputy Lawlor.

The High Court judgment, however, clearly amounts to a challenge and an opportunity to Deputy Lawlor to avail of its terms to put right the wrong that was done. It is fair to say, as the Government's motion suggests, that the challenge to Deputy Lawlor contained in the High Court judgment about him is one to which he must rise and if he does not intend to comply with the letter of the law and the spirit of the Constitution as laid down in the judgment, he would demonstrate such defiance of constitutional values as would justify the other Members of the House publicly and solemnly expressing their opinion that his role as a public representative was not tenable.

Ultimately a motion such as the one proposed by the Government this evening serves only as an expression of opinion and carries only such moral weight as the public attribute to it. In terms of fitness for office and sanctions for office holders, the people make the decision both at the beginning and in the final appeal.

We must be mindful that however strong our views, we are part of a constitutional order and are ourselves bound by constitutional rules and values. The strength of the Constitution and the rule of law relies more on the determination of the majority to uphold it than on the attitude of a minority who flout it. The moral force of democratic republicanism should not be compromised by those who wish to engage in expressions of comparative righteous anger. There are no shortcuts to be hacked through the rule of law even if its protections may seem burdensome to the righteous and inconvenient to the zealous. However, nobody is above or beneath the law.

I derive no satisfaction from the circumstances which caused this debate. I am mindful that we are concerned not just with an office but with a person. I hope this debate serves to underline the values which we were all elected to vindicate.

I hope, in particular, that Deputy Lawlor will avail of this evening's proceedings to state clearly and unambiguously that he understands and accepts the need to comply fully and effectively with the will of the people as expressed in the Constitution, the law, the resolutions of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the orders of the courts and the tribunals established on foot of them.

It is with deep regret that the House finds itself debating the motion before it. It is a sad day for the House and for Deputy Lawlor and his family. I do not wish to hear a vindictive tone enter the debate on this matter, a tone that was regrettably evident in much of the media coverage of recent weeks. That does not enhance anyone's standing or reputation.

This is a matter on which we should never have to spend parliamentary time, if the basic standard of common respect for the Houses of the Oireachtas and the tribunals they establish applied. That basic standard was most unfortunately brushed aside in recent events.

Today we debate a motion which has arisen from the conduct of a sitting Member, conduct rightly described by Mr. Justice Smyth as a scandal. While we would all prefer not to have to debate such a motion and not to have to witness such behaviour and contempt of court as we have seen, it is proper that the House should make its views known on these events and seek to bring about desirable and achievable change by whatever moral influence it can exercise.

The conduct of Members of the House in regard to our public duties has direct and large effect on the confidence our fellow citizens and electors have in this democracy. Fundamentally, the people are not stupid. They are not hoodwinked and blinded by bluster, bombast and evasion. Yet, their faith in their elected representatives and in our system of democracy has been tested unduly by the actions we have witnessed. That is why Mr. Justice Smyth's judgment struck a blow for democracy, for the people and for a fairer society. The House would also do well to recall and commend the fortitude of Mr. Justice Flood in the conduct of the tribunal which was put to the test in an unacceptable way before Christmas.

The tribunals established by the Oireachtas are doing their jobs well. The Flood tribunal, in particular, has confounded its sniping critics by proving that, through persistence and determination, it can root out the truth. Ultimately, the tribunals' success, which I am confident we shall see, may be of such importance that we may no longer need their like again. They should have the deterrent effect of signalling that our democracy means business when it comes to fairness, openness and standards in public life.

I do not wish to prejudice the tribunals' reports, but they are uncovering unsavoury and disturbing information. Our public accountability is being greatly enhanced by the tribunals, painful and shocking though the information they are uncovering may be. The tribunals' effectiveness has been damaged and the cost to the taxpayers has been increased not by anything the tribunals have done but by the evasiveness and lack of co-operation displayed by some witnesses. Members of the public are eager to hear the considered reports of the members of the tribunals at the appropriate time. Everyone has a public duty to fully and speedily co-operate with the tribunals in order that the answers the public clearly wants and deserves can be provided.

The Taoiseach has outlined the legal and constitutional position in regard to the powers of the House under the Constitution to remove a Member. He rightly pointed out the requirements of due process and constitutional order which govern all of us and to which the vast majority of us hold. We hold ourselves to these standards in public life even in the face of their being scandalously flouted by others.

Although it is the case in other jurisdictions that Parliament may remove a member, I concur with the import of our Constitution that it is ultimately for the electorate to remove a Member of the Oireachtas. We should dwell on this fact in our debate on the motion even though it only concerns the deplorable actions of one Member of the House. The sovereignty of the people is sacrosanct, not simply in an aspirational sense but as a practical matter which has particular consequences. We in this House cannot allow ourselves to forget this fundamental fact which drives all our efforts to ensure the Oireachtas is accountable to the public. As Members, we are but a conduit for that accountability.

The practical effect of the people's sovereignty is that we cannot, in this instance, cause the permanent removal of a Member of the House through our will alone. That would be to disenfranchise the section of the electorate which elected the Member in the first instance, a fact clearly pointed out by Mr. Justice Smyth in his judgment. While we can and do sanction Members for unparliamentary behaviour and while there is scope for us to examine how the extension of the rules under which we do so may serve to encourage greater standards in the discharge of public duties, we should restrain ourselves from seeking to cause the removal of a sitting Deputy.

If our Constitution did not prevent the removal of a Member by other Members of the House, the dangers would be evident to all. Such a power would be open to the abuse of a majority position in this House. It is better for democracy that our powers in this regard are limited. That said, I am open to examining the scope for broadening the grounds on which the House can discipline Members, short of expulsion, for behaviour which falls short of stated standards. As the Taoiseach said, these matters must be carefully considered.

At this juncture, we must ask what course of action is appropriate in the light of Deputy Lawlor's unacceptable behaviour towards a tribunal established by the Oireachtas. Should the House seek to use its moral influence to effectively procure his resignation at this stage? Any moral influence the House possesses depends as much on Deputy Lawlor's attitude to the opinion of the House as it does on the collective view of Members of the House. By extension, Deputy Lawlor's attitude to the Flood tribunal before Christmas showed his attitude towards the Oireachtas. In so far as the House can bring moral influence to bear, it should be applied towards the goal of procuring Deputy Lawlor's full compliance with the tribunal. Deputy Lawlor should comply with the tribunal in the spirit of accountability to the public which informed the decision of the Oireachtas to establish the tribunal in the first instance.

I, too, hope we shall hear from Deputy Lawlor today that he intends to follow this course with a change of heart and that we shall see that borne out by his actions in the near future. That must be the goal of this House as we cannot collectively ensure Deputy Lawlor's resignation, irrespective of how much any of us may desire it or feel it would be the honourable course of action. I and my party colleagues believe resignation would be the honourable course of action in the circumstances. However, we recognise that as far as the House is concerned, its primary objective is to promote compliance by its Members and all citizens with the rightful requirements of the tribunals it has established.

It is appropriate that today's resolution should be constructed as it is to accord with the requirements set out in Mr. Justice Smyth's judgment. It is also appropriate that the House should express the view that failure on Deputy Lawlor's part to comply with the tribunal's requirements will confirm the untenability of his position as a Member of this House. Even then, that is as far as we go. We cannot force any Member to resign. Our resolutions on the matter of the resignation of a Member in whatever circumstances, irrespective of the Member's identity, will always have to stop at the point of moral influence.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "that" where it secondly occurs and substitute the following:

"the imposition of a fine on Deputy Lawlor by the High Court and the court's sentencing of Deputy Lawlor to imprisonment for contempt of the Flood tribunal and of High Court and Supreme Court orders of discovery and his consistent failure to fully co-operate with the tribunal renders his continued membership of Dáil Éireann not tenable and Dáil Éireann calls on him to voluntarily resign his membership.".

This is a sad day for the House. In the midst of the controversy surrounding the Flood tribunal and Deputy Lawlor's behaviour, it does not give pleasure to any Member of the House to have to engage in this debate. However, we have a duty to ensure that certain standards are upheld in politics. We have a duty to ensure the institutions of this State are respected, be they the courts or this House, and that orders made by this House establishing tribunals to investigate matters of great public importance, orders supported by Members of the House, are not subsequently defied by Members in the context of their failing to comply with orders made by the tribunals or the courts.

Having acknowledged that this is a sad day for the House, Deputy Lawlor brought the difficulties which he is experiencing on his own head. He attacked and attempted to undermine the fabric of our constitutionally established institutions and, effectively, attempted to undermine parliamentary democracy. Deputy Lawlor brazenly defied this House's motion to establish the Flood tribunal and the House's view that he should co-operate with the tribunal. He also betrayed his constituents' trust. The Taoiseach's request to Deputy Lawlor to acknowledge to the House that he will now comply with the tribunal's orders replicates a view expressed many months ago by the leaders of all the main parties in this House. Deputy Lawlor chose to ignore that view. He has attempted to undermine the authority of the Flood tribunal as established by the House and to obstruct its work. The judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Smyth, a careful and quiet spoken judge who does his work with great care, details the behaviour of Deputy Lawlor from July 1998 to the date he was sentenced to imprisonment for contempt of court in the context of his continued defiance of a series of High Court and Supreme Court orders and his continued failure to co-operate with the tribunal.

The events which resulted in Deputy Lawlor being found to be in contempt of court were not just something unusual but rather a pattern of conduct extending over almost two years during the life of the Flood tribunal. It was a pattern of conduct which ultimately resulted in him having to serve time in Mountjoy Prison to partially purge his contempt.

The behaviour of Deputy Lawlor has not only done damage to the tribunal and its work, and undermined public confidence in politicians and politics in general, but has been designed to discredit our court system by continuously over a lengthy period contemptuously ignoring court orders made against him. It could be argued that he was shown greater latitude by the courts than most litigants who behave in such a manner. As a Member of the House he has been subjected to unprecedented judicial criticism with which the Taoiseach now says he agrees, and which has now finally been acknowledged and agreed to by some other members of Fianna Fáil. This is an issue to which I will return later.

The judicial criticism derived directly from a deliberate failure to co-operate with the Flood tribunal and a deliberate defiance of court orders. Scandalously, Deputy Lawlor revelled and flaunted his defiance of the House and the courts. By his alleged burning of financial documents which should allegedly have been furnished to the tribunal, still yet unexplained, which took place after he had been sentenced to imprisonment for contempt of court, and by his subsequent immediate return to this House after his imprisonment, Deputy Lawlor illustrated an incapacity to recognise that his continued membership of the Dáil is untenable. The Deputy has wasted tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money by bringing a multiplicity of court cases involving the Flood tribunal intended to postpone the day of reckoning and to destroy and obstruct its work. He first refused or declined the tribunal's invitation to give evidence or to provide information to it in private and took a court case on that matter. When the courts ruled he could not be compelled to provide information in private, and when the tribunal required that it give it in public, he then complained the tribunal would not hear it in private. He has sought to prolong the work of the tribunal as long as is possible and has consistently sought to evade his responsibilities to it.

Deputy Lawlor in various media interviews and odd pronouncements likes to present himself as a Don Quixote, tilting at an unfair legal system, when in reality he is seen by most people as some sort of political Al Capone. He is basically a blot on the landscape of Irish politics and he seems to even lack the awareness of Ray Burke, a former Minister for Justice, that his position as a Member of the House is truly untenable and as a legislator is no longer taken seriously by any person outside the House.

Deputy Lawlor has a very specific obligation to the Flood tribunal and the Taoiseach is right that we should not prejudge issues. We have a tribunal in place to address issues which must be inquired into, but serious questions must be answered by Deputy Lawlor. Only one conclusion can be reached by those observing events at the tribunal and on the basis of information received and obtained by the tribunal through investigation, not all of which was obtained as a consequence of Deputy Lawlor's co-operation, namely, that during his time in public life he has accumulated astonishing sums of money from activities directly related to his political work. At this stage Deputy Lawlor has confirmed to the Flood tribunal that he has more bank accounts floating around the banking system than confetti thrown at a wedding. His concept of public service seems to have more in common with self service. Fine Gael believes his behaviour is incompatible with his continued membership of the House.

The Taoiseach delivered an interesting speech. He stated that nobody in the House can compel a Deputy to resign, which is correct. It could be dangerous if by a majority vote we could compel a Member to resign. The Taoiseach stated that we should remind ourselves that people have in the past made judgments about who should and should not represent them in Dáil Éireann which are by no means free from controversy. He went on to say that persons have been elected and re-elected as Deputies in the State in circumstances where some members of the public, perhaps even a majority, would have wished it was different. He referred to persons being elected to the House who were serving lengthy sentences in respect of crimes of violence. The Taoiseach conveniently ignores the fact that our laws have been changed to ensure that persons sentenced to terms of imprisonment in excess of six months are no longer eligible to stand for election to the House and a person sentenced to imprisonment for a period in excess of six months, who at the time of the sentence is a Member of the House, automatically ceases to be a Member. That is as a consequence of legislation passed by the House.

There is not an issue about arbitrarily excluding a person from membership of the House. The central issue is to recognise that there is a value system which is worth upholding in politics and in this House and to recognise that as Members we have very special duties to co-operate with tribunals established by the House. The House has a duty and a moral obligation to express a view in circumstances in which a Member consciously seeks to undermine fundamental constitutional institutions, to bring this House and the courts into contempt and to undermine the work undertaken by tribunals established by the House. We cannot expel a Deputy but we can call on a Deputy to acknowledge that his behaviour – his failure to comply with certain basic values and to engage in certain basic conduct in which Members of the House should engage – has descended to such a level that we as a House believe his continued membership is untenable. We are entitled, and in the circumstances of Deputy Lawlor's behaviour, are obliged to call on him to consider his position and to resign from the House.

The proposal by Fine Gael and the Labour Party seeks to compel Deputy Lawlor to recognise that he has dishonoured his role as a Deputy, should consider resigning from the House and proceed to do so. This is the central issue.

It is interesting to note a very profound difference between the two Government parties. The Taoiseach talks about duties to comply with tribunals and high standards in public office, a theme to which the Taoiseach has frequently returned and on which he has great difficulty delivering. He goes on to misrepresent the judgment delivered in the High Court. He quotes the passage from the judgment in which Mr. Justice Smyth explains that the longer Deputy Lawlor spends in prison, the less accessible he is to his constituents, and in which he explains that as he is a Member of this House, a sentence of three months, with one week to serve, allows his constituents to have access to him. The Taoiseach then goes on to say that he does not regard the High Court judgment as an invitation or a challenge to this House to attempt to expel Deputy Lawlor.

What Mr. Justice Smyth explained was that the longer Deputy Lawlor spent in jail, the longer his constituents had no access to him but conscious of the concept of the separation of powers, Mr. Justice Smyth said nothing as to what this House should do in the context of Deputy Lawlor. The Taoiseach is right. Mr. Justice Smyth did not throw down any invitation or challenge to this House to expel Deputy Lawlor, nor did he comment on whether this House should call on Deputy Lawlor to recognise his public duty and resign. That is something the Taoiseach does not do. The Taoiseach does not acknowledge that Deputy Lawlor's behaviour over the past two years is such that he should resign but, strangely, the Tánaiste does. The Tánaiste made it clear in her contribution that she and the Progressive Democrats regard it "as the honourable course of action for Deputy Lawlor". She went on to state that she and her party colleagues believe that would be the honourable thing to do in the circumstances. The honourable thing they talk about is his resignation from this House.

The Government is deeply divided on this issue. The Tánaiste believes that the honourable thing for Deputy Lawlor to do is to resign from this House but the Taoiseach is not even prepared to publicly acknowledge that. The Tánaiste is bent under the Fianna Fáil yoke and although she believes that Deputy Lawlor should do the honourable thing, she will tonight vote against a call made from this side of the House that he does that honourable thing and resigns.

The Fianna Fáil Party has, since it came to office, engaged in the rhetoric of political probity but the rhetoric is not reflected by political action. The Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil's incapacity to decisively confront allegations of corrupt practices and tax evasion by members of Fianna Fáil amounts to a fundamental failure in public duty.

There are values in politics that are worth fighting for but it is clear that there is no appetite within the Fianna Fáil Party to fight that fight. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, on 15 December 2000, the day after Deputy Lawlor was stood down by the Flood tribunal, failed to utter one word of criticism in this House of the behaviour of Deputy Lawlor and attacked my call on behalf of Fine Gael that Deputy Lawlor be removed from the two Dáil committees, from which he finally resigned only last night, and my call on behalf of Fine Gael that Deputy Lawlor resign from Dáil Éireann.

On 15 January 2001, the day Mr. Justice Smyth delivered his judgment, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, while urging Deputy Lawlor to co-operate with the tribunal, did not utter a single word of criticism of his conduct and did not even acknowledge in the terms the Taoiseach has acknowledged that what was said by Mr. Justice Smyth in the context of the events that had occurred was correct. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, kicked for touch on the same issue in the same way on "Questions & Answers" that night.

The Minister for Health and Children made an extraordinary intervention on Thursday, 18 January, reported in the papers the following day. With reference to Deputy Lawlor's shenanigans, he stated that he was always wary of people trying to tell other people who should be their representatives. He said that if one goes back 100 years, there were people in jail for different reasons, albeit for causes which at the time society thought were horrible and obnoxious, yet those people in jail had a very fundamental part to play in the emerging democracy. Apparently the Minister for Health and Children believed that Deputy Lawlor's continued defiance of the Flood tribunal over a period of two years, his continued failure to co-operate with it and his contempt of orders of the High Court and Supreme Court amounted to some type of patriot game, something that in years to come would be lauded as heroic by school children taught the history of Ireland at the end of the last millennium and the start of a new one. Had the Minister for Health and Children lost his mind when he made those comments or was there some substance behind what he was saying? It was an extraordinary intervention from a senior Minister who is pro moted as the saviour of Fianna Fáil should the current Taoiseach choose to resign.

What about Fianna Fáil and the values it upholds? It took the Taoiseach a number of weeks after Deputy Lawlor was stood down by the Flood tribunal to finally recognise that perhaps his continued presence on two important Dáil committees was inappropriate. It took until last week for him to even arrange that a motion be tabled on those issues. If the Fine Gael Party had not raised the need to remove Deputy Lawlor from those committees, he would still be a member. The reality is that despite Deputy Lawlor failing to co-operate with the Fianna Fáil Party's internal inquiry, and removing himself as a member, officially, of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, the Taoiseach was quite happy since June of last year that Deputy Lawlor maintained his membership of both committees.

For Fianna Fáil, ethics in politics, maintaining good conduct, setting an example and accountability are not the primary values. The primary political value is to retain office at all costs. Although Deputy Lawlor resigned from Fianna Fáil in June last year, he retained offices on the Fianna Fáil floor, even moving onto the Fianna Fáil floor in the new building when it was finally opened. As well as retaining his two seats on the Dáil committees, he continued to liaise with the Fianna Fáil Whip to obtain voting instructions and, save for a few weeks in June, voted regularly with the Government on every important vote for which he was required in this House.

Even more seriously, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, delayed the enactment of the crucial anti-corruption legislation to preserve Deputy Lawlor's support for the Government and to attempt to protect him from criminal prosecution. The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2000, was published on 4 January 2000 amidst a great fanfare of publicity, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stating it to be priority legislation for the Government. Having published it on 4 January 2000, Second Stage commenced on 21 June 2000, six months later, and then went into a sort of political twilight zone. It disappeared off the horizon and was not resumed until 15 December 2000. Committee Stage still has not been taken. What is the reason? The reason is that the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill prescribes new penalties to be imposed for those who abuse public office and receive money in a manner that is corrupt.

I want to challenge the Government on whether its deliberate delay of a measure that it said was an urgent legislative necessity when published in January 2000 was to ensure that Deputy Lawlor was protected from the possibility of an early prosecution under that legislation, should it be enacted with greater speed.

Fianna Fáil likes to allege that corruption in politics is a problem for all parties. For party pol itical reasons, members of that party never miss an opportunity to spread the political manure and contribute to the public's growing political cynicism. The reality is different. Tribunal investigations are centrally concerned with Fianna Fáil former members of Government, TDs, councillors and Fianna Fáil associates. People outside this House, and indeed many Members of this House, are rightly sickened by the daily revelations from tribunals. The Fianna Fáil political effluent seeping daily from the Fianna Fáil silage pit in evidence given before the tribunals does not cast a shadow over Fine Gael, the Labour Party or other Members of this House. It casts a shadow over Fianna Fáil from events which have occurred for which members of that party are responsible and which the Taoiseach has utterly failed to confront and resolve.

In February 1997 when he was Leader of the Opposition, the Taoiseach told the Dáil: "What matters most is how a political party reacts to knowledge when it becomes available". Later, when speaking on the motion to establish the Moriarty tribunal he claimed: "It is our job to do everything in our power to restore public confidence in the political system". The Taoiseach has done everything to avert his eyes when major problems have arisen, whether they have related to the former Deputy Burke, Deputy Lawlor or Deputy Foley. What about Deputy Foley? The Taoiseach moved a motion this evening to replace Deputy Lawlor on the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. Yet Deputy Foley remains a member of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service despite the fact that he misled the Committee of Public Accounts and sat in judgment on banks when he knew he had an Ansbacher account concealed from the Revenue to evade tax. The Taoiseach's concerns, expressed this evening in his speech, about public probity are not matched remotely by his actions.

The Progressive Democrats have become the political mudguard of the Government, maintaining in office a Fianna Fáil Party which is consumed by corruption. The Fianna Fáil Party, bent on avoiding taking political responsibility or taking decisive action when people are found within its ranks to behave in a manner which undermines public confidence in politics and which does damage to the standing of this House generally, has abandoned principle for power. The Progressive Democrats have also abandoned principle for power. Prior to her contribution this evening, the Tánaiste publicly acknowledged that Deputy Lawlor's continued membership of the House as a consequence of Judge Smyth's decision was untenable. She made that case in two separate interviews. Yet she now regards his membership as sort of provisionally untenable; that what the Government proposes doing by putting Deputy Lawlor on a type of political probation will again urge him to comply with orders of the tribunals. The fact that he has consistently ignored orders of the courts made over a two year period that required him to comply with orders of the tribunal and to co-operate with the tribunal is something from which the Taoiseach and Tánaiste are now turning away their faces.

The reality is that Deputy Lawlor and the two Government parties are incapable of coming to terms with the reality of Deputy Lawlor's position. We saw in England how Peter Mandelson resigned over an issue, the importance of which was minimal compared to the extraordinary conduct of Deputy Lawlor. The Tánaiste is prepared to put Deputy Lawlor on political probation, while in her speech she has acknowledged his position is untenable and he should do the honourable thing. The Taoiseach is not even prepared to do that and Deputy Lawlor does not even have the insight of the former Deputy Burke. Is it not extraordinary when in this House it is necessary to laud the fact that a former Fianna Fáil Minister who resigned in disgrace, Ray Burke, deserves some praise for acknowledging that at least he did the honourable thing and left this House? Is it not extraordinary that we can now put the former Deputy Burke on a higher pedestal of political probity than Deputy Lawlor?

There is something obscene about Deputy Lawlor's insistence that he retain membership of a Parliament for which he has shown contempt. If he had any sense of decency he would resign and leave the political stage. He should go now and go quietly and should not, when speaking in the House tonight, engage in scatter-gun politics, spewing out false allegations against other Members of the House to try to take the spotlight away from his unacceptable and disreputable conduct. I hope we hear words of apology from Deputy Lawlor tonight. Nothing I have heard him say or seen him do either prior to his being committed to prison for contempt of court or subsequent to it indicate any real possibility that words of apology will be expressed. Deputy Lawlor may, by his conduct tonight when speaking to the House, do further damage not only to his standing but to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste for failing to acknowledge that the time has come for him to go and for failing to call on him to do so.

I have no faith that any of the Independent Deputies who regularly support the Government will recognise the seriousness of this issue but I call on them to provide support for the amendment to the motion tabled by the Fianna Fáil Party. I ask them to vote in the lobbies with us on this issue. It is important enough that they should do so. It is setting down a marker that there is conduct beyond which it is unacceptable for any Member of this House to go.

The Tánaiste referred to new regulations or new laws being put in place to deal with misconduct by Deputies. Mr. Justice Smyth in his judgment not only sentenced Deputy Lawlor to imprisonment for contempt of court but imposed a fine of £10,000 on him and in doing so expressly stated that he felt the fine he was imposing was too low in the context of the manner in which Deputy Lawlor conducted himself before the tribunal. It is noteworthy that the Taoiseach made no promise that Government legislation would be brought forward to change the law to increase the financial penalties that the courts can impose on those who act in contempt of court orders and fail to co-operate with tribunals. It is yet again an example of where the Progressive Democrats are looking in one direction and Fianna Fáil is looking in the opposite direction.

The Tánaiste acknowledged the need for some unspecified reform, while the Taoiseach does not acknowledge there is a need for any reform at all. At the end of the day the Progressive Democrats, as they will do tonight, capitulate and go along with the Taoiseach. This House has not even been given a commitment tonight by the Government that it will introduce the legislation necessary to enable the courts to impose the type of fine I suspect Judge Smyth wished to impose on Deputy Lawlor if the law permitted him to do so.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Gormley of the Green Party and Independent Socialist, Deputy Healy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Government has tabled this motion which calls on the House to express itself in a particular way. The Labour Party has tabled an amendment to the motion which reads: ". . . is of the view that his conduct is incompatible with the standards of accountability legitimately expected of public representatives by those who elect them to office; that his membership of Dáil Éireann is now untenable and that Deputy Lawlor should now voluntarily resign his membership".

There are two people answerable in this debate to this House. The first is the Taoiseach who in this motion is equivocal and unclear. It contradicts the position he adopted on 11 October when, in response to a call from me and supported by the other Opposition parties, he said that the Dáil should pass with unanimity and without debate a resolution calling on Deputy Lawlor to co-operate with the tribunal of inquiry and that if he failed to co-operate he should at that stage resign. We were told then by the Taoiseach, that such a motion, if passed in the House, even without debate, could in some way interfere with the rights of justice to which any citizen, including Deputy Lawlor, is entitled. I would like the person replying on behalf of the Government to tell me what has changed since 11 October whereby such a motion can now be before the House apparently without undermining the rights of citizenship which Deputy Lawlor has.

The second issue on which I want to challenge the Taoiseach is his deliberate assertion that the Government set up the tribunals. That is a parliamentary lie. This House set up the tribunals and demanded that the tribunals be established, not withstanding an extremely reluctant and equivocal Government in its response to the debate that took place. We gave extra powers to the Flood and Moriarty tribunals because of the recommendation made by Mr. Justice McCracken in his findings in respect of the inquiry he undertook following the revelations by Mr. Ben Dunne about donations to Mr. Charles Haughey, former president of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach has two things to correct. The first is the wrongful information given to the House that it was legally not judicious, possible or proper for the House to pass a resolution without debate because it would be prejudicial to the interests of a citizen and, second, he has to allow the record of the House stand clear that it was this House of the Oireachtas that established the tribunal and not the Fianna Fáil Party or the Government, as he claimed.

I want to make something very clear on behalf of the Labour Party. We derive no pleasure, benefit or sense of achievement in moving the amendment and calling for the action on which I will elaborate. Our concern is with the reputation of politics, the standing of politics in this Republic and the damage that has been done to politics by the Fianna Fáil Party led by a Taoiseach who every time he has to take a clear and unambiguous decision when confronted with a failure to maintain the standards of behaviour which he said he wants from all the members of his party refuses to act until the very last moment.

The motion before the House is in that tradition. As a consequence the reputation of politics and politicians in this Republic has been damaged. It is in the public domain that more than three quarters of people in a recent opinion poll indicated they would like to see Deputy Lawlor voluntarily resign from the House and not to do so at the end of the tribunal or when he has completed his co-operation with the tribunal. He can and should do all those things and is under a suspended sentence for contempt if he does not comply with the tribunal. He does not have to continue as a Member in order to co-operate with the tribunal. That salient fact has not been clearly stated by the Taoiseach but it was effectively admitted by the Tánaiste.

The undisputed facts are that a serving Deputy, Liam Lawlor, has failed to co-operate fully with a tribunal of inquiry established by the unanimous will of Members of the Dáil and Seanad; that he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for contempt of court as a result of his attitude; and that speaking of his conduct Mr. Justice Smyth said, ‘That he did so as a citizen is a disgrace, that he did so as a public representative is a scandal', in a judgment of the High Court that was not appealed.

By his conduct Deputy Lawlor has done significant damage to the Oireachtas and to the political system. It is the view of the Labour Party that such conduct is incompatible with the standards of accountability legitimately expected of public representatives by those who elect them to office. We should not forget that this was not the first occasion that Deputy Lawlor failed to co-operate with a body seeking to examine the murky world of planning in the Dublin County Council area in the 1980s and early 1990s. He failed to co-operate fully with the committee of inquiry established by his own party, chaired by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in his capacity as chairman of the parliamentary party, and resigned from Fianna Fáil when that committee published its report highlighting his non-co-operation.

Deputy Lawlor was not the first person to have failed to offer full co-operation to a tribunal of inquiry, but there are few others who have done so in such a brazen and provocative manner. Deputy Lawlor did not just fail to co-operate, he effectively gave a two finger sign to the tribunal and, by extension, to the Oireachtas which established it. On one occasion Deputy Lawlor, or perhaps it was ‘sources close to the Deputy', was quoted in the media as saying that he would not turn up on the day required and would be off playing golf. While Mr. Justice Flood was finding it very difficult to get Deputy Lawlor into the witness box, Deputy Lawlor was widely and freely available to the media to comment on this and express a view on that.

It was not the first occasion on which a tribunal witness failed to give the co-operation required, but it was the first occasion on which a serving member of the Dáil did so and this adds an extra dimension of seriousness to the affair.

I agree with Mr. Justice Smyth's judgment. I believe Deputy Lawlor's conduct as a Member of this House and public representative is a scandal and that that scandal should be dealt with effectively by the Deputy indicating his decision to resign his seat forthwith. We cannot compel, nor would I want the House to be in a position to compel, by way of vote the departure from this elected assembly of any Member, irrespective of who he or she is. However, we can call upon Deputies, in the interest of the reputation of politics and to ensure the maintenance of proper standards, to listen to the voices of their peers and the concerns of people who have, like them, been elected to this House; to take stock of the judgment given in the High Court; to announce that they will resign from Dáil Éireann and as citizens will continue – in this instance, Deputy Lawlor – to co-operate fully, as he is obliged to, with the tribunal of inquiry. That is the net point of the issue.

We are being looked upon by the rest of the nation, which is looking at how we carry out our affairs in this House knowing full well that we do not have the powers to exclude or expel a Member, but, likewise, knowing we have the power to express our condemnation in clear and unequivocal terms. The Government's motion, on which we will be asked to vote, requires us to do exactly the opposite and that is why the Labour Party has tabled an amendment similar in tone and intent to that of the Fine Gael Party because nothing less than a clear call on Deputy Lawlor to announce his voluntary decision to resign from Dáil Éireann will meet the demands and standards we have set for ourselves in this republic.

I call on Deputy Lawlor, who entered the House with me in 1977 and who on a personal level must be experiencing a very difficult time, to consider objectively the appeal being made by the Labour Party, the leader of the Progressive Democrats Party, the spokesperson for the Fine Gael Party and, I expect, representatives of other parties in this House, with the sole exception of Fianna Fáil to which he no longer belongs, to listen to the voices of his peers and signal his intention to resign from this House because of the damage he has done to the reputation of politicians in general and to elected Members of Dáil Éireann in particular.

In our experience of dealing with this matter, and other matters already referred to, what this House needs is a code of conduct. That would enable us to ensure that standards of proper behaviour are, in the first instance, identified and agreed by all of us collectively, that the way in which those standards would be maintained are clearly established, and that a system of censure, punishment and sanction would be identified, agreed and put in place. Given what has happened in this House in recent times and having regard to the fact that many other parliamentary assemblies have such a code of conduct, it is unacceptable that we do not have one.

I want two messages to go out from this House this evening. First, a unanimous call from all the parties represented in the House that it is our desire – having regard to the facts, the behaviour in public before the tribunal, and the judgment of the courts, in particular that of Mr. Justice Smyth – that Deputy Lawlor should listen to the voices of his peers and signal his intention to voluntarily resign. Second, I would like to see a commitment in principle that we are prepared to establish a code of conduct for ourselves to ensure that we do not find ourselves in this situation again. If we did, however, we would at least have a clear mechanism of sanction to invoke and exercise collectively within this House upon any Member who not only fails to observe the standards set out in the code of conduct but also undermines the very sinews of democracy upon which this republic rests.

The Green Party takes the view that the Dáil must censure Members of this House who steadfastly refuse to co-operate with a tribunal of inquiry. A Member who behaves in this fashion undermines the credibility of the Dáil, and although he or she may suffer the consequences in the courts, this House must also have recourse to adequate sanction. One such possibility is the removal of a Deputy for a certain period from a Dáil committee. We would join others in asking that Deputy Lawlor should voluntarily resign from this House. We believe, however, that the House should not have the power to remove a Deputy; that should be left to the people to decide. We must certainly act, however, because the reputation of politicians and politics, which has already been severely damaged, will suffer even further if we do not.

Deputy Lawlor has already suffered the consequences in the courts, which I think he agrees were fully justified. It is my sincere hope that Deputy Lawlor will now reflect upon his situation, like Mr. Frank Dunlop, and that he will decide to co-operate fully with the tribunal. This means giving all records and details to the tribunal, and naming all the names. If Deputy Lawlor were to do this he would be performing a great service for justice and democracy.

It is far too convenient, however, to portray Deputy Lawlor as the bogeyman of Irish politics. He may have benefited to an inordinate degree in terms of consultancy fees and legitimate donations, but he certainly was not alone. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that he was the only one at it, so to speak. The function of a scapegoat is to atone for the sins of others. Deputy Lawlor and others were part of a distinct and unsavoury culture in Irish politics which reached its nadir in the 1980s. I am very disturbed by reports in the Sunday Business Post about the voting record of the Tánaiste and the Progressive Democrats, those paragons of political virtue and masters of spin who have scaled the summit of the high moral ground. They have been quick to condemn others, yet, in 1983, the Tánaiste proposed or seconded seven motions with Deputy Lawlor for section 4 approval or material contravention of the county development plan. The proposed developments included a section 4 directing officials to grant a planning application by a Mr. V. Cosgrove for a restaurant at Rathcoole service station on the Naas Road. A planning official said at the time that “the proposed development would endanger public safety by reason of a traffic hazard”.

A material contravention motion tabled by the present Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and seconded by Deputy Lawlor, directed the planners to allow the development of a pitch and putt course by a Mr. Henry Beattie at Loughtown Lower in Newcastle. Mr. Beattie was a Fianna Fáil activist and a neighbour of the Tánaiste at the time. A section 4 motion proposed by Deputy Lawlor and seconded by Deputy Harney, directed the council to grant permission to another neighbour of the Tánaiste, a Mr. Noel Beattie, for a bungalow at Brownstown, Newcastle.

Deputy Lawlor, seconded by Deputy Harney, proposed another motion to allow Dennis Fitzgibbon to build a house at Ballynakelly in Newcastle. The development was in conflict with the agricultural zoning of the land. Deputy Lawlor and the Tánaiste moved a similar motion directing the council to grant permission to a John Harnett of Hillview, Rathcoole, for a house which was described by a planning official as seriously injuring the amenities of the area.

At that stage, a report had identified the Tánaiste as one of the most active councillors for moving the notorious section 4 and material contravention motions between 1982 and 1983. Having proposed ten motions, she occupied joint second spot with two other councillors on the 78-member council. Deputy Lawlor only came in fourth, so he was not up there with the best of them.

Deputy Harney was even more active with section 4 planning motions in 1980 and 1981, working closely with the late Seán Walsh. Deputy Harney proposed or seconded 12 section 4s with the former Fianna Fáil Deputy. We all know that after Deputy Walsh's death in the early 1990s, it was reported that he had received some of the biggest political donations from developers at that time. I remember clearly that when Frank McDonald reported on this matter inThe Irish Times he was excoriated by people who said he had impugned a person's reputation and asked how he dared to say that people were taking brown paper bags of money. It has all come out since in the tribunals, however, and it is good that it has. In fact, when Fianna Fáil held its own internal inquiry – and I do not expect too much to come out of it – it was discovered that Deputy Seán Walsh had actually paid for one colleague to fly home from London to vote on a rezoning proposal.

In 1980, Deputy Harney and Deputy Lawlor jointly seconded a section 4 motion proposed by Deputy Walsh for a 15,200 square foot, two-storey office block at Rose Cottage, Tower Road, Clondalkin. Both Deputy Harney and Deputy Lawlor also seconded a section 4 motion that Walsh proposed for a bungalow in an area zoned as high amenity at Glademore, Brittas. Five previous applications to build on the site had been refused by the council and the proposed development was said to be "not in accordance with proper planning". This is, quite frankly, scandalous, yet the media and others seem to treat the Progressive Democrats with kid-gloves. We cannot do that. We have to say that they have done this, it is on the record and it needs to be investigated. The old reply to all of this is that while people may have received donations they were legitimate ones. We need to define what is a legitimate donation because it is being bandied about that people got legitimate donations. I am afraid when people rezone, propose section 4 motions and material contraventions in this fashion, one has to ask questions and I am here tonight to ask questions because we have a situation here where the Progressive Democrats pots are calling the Lawlor kettle black. It is a bit rich for them to do that.

I also ask about the rezoning there and the problems in relation to Leamhcán in which the Progressive Democrats were involved. A great deal of credit has to go to my colleague, Deputy Sargent, who had the courage to stand up in the Chamber, hold up a cheque and ask if anyone else had got one. He was physically assaulted in the Chamber. At the time people from various parties said he was a disgrace. I am delighted that he has been vindicated by the tribunals. There is much more to come out. If Deputy Lawlor has the courage to go in and name those people, it would be a great day for democracy and I urge him to do that.

I refer to the widespread description of Deputy Lawlor in the media as an Independent Deputy. It is my belief that Deputy Lawlor is a Fianna Fáil Deputy. He stood as a Fianna Fáil candidate, was elected as a Fianna Fáil Deputy, is sitting on the Fianna Fáil benches, is operating out of Fianna Fáil offices, supports this Government and is being supported by the Fianna Fáil Party. I take it as a slight on Independent Deputies that Deputy Lawlor is being described in the media as an Independent Deputy – he is no such thing.

Contrast that with the situation this evening where a Member of the House, Deputy Joe Higgins, has been suspended from the House. Democracy is being turned on its head. Deputy Higgins was suspended because he wanted to ask the Taoiseach a question on the Order of Business. He had to resort to picketing the House this morning. Members of the House who have held Ansbacher accounts, a Member who has obstructed the tribunal and Members of this House who have accepted corporate donations with no favours asked or given, if one believes that, are free to speak and vote in the House while Deputy Higgins, who simply wanted to ask the Taoiseach a question on the Order of Business, is excluded from the House. That is a scandal and a disgrace.

In recent years corrupt payments to politicians, massive tax evasion, tax amnesties, toleration of bogus non-resident accounts and golden circles have been the order of the day. This has gone on during the course of several Governments. Deputy Lawlor's situation, as Deputy Gormley said, is just one example of this but there has been quite a bit of it in recent years. The sleaze and corruption in political parties is making the job of parents and teachers almost impossible. Public representatives and Deputies must lead by example. The mere avoidance of proven wrongdoing is a completely inadequate ethic to protect public life from graft and corruption. Public representatives must act in accordance with the principle that they should not put themselves in a position that there could be even a reasonable suspicion that they acted out of self-interest in their public functions.

The example being set by powerful people, including politicians, is corroding decent values throughout our society and is creating a jungle in which ordinary citizens are easy prey to the self-seeking. This moral crisis can and will only end when those who have compromised themselves are forced to resign from public office. The justice in the court case referred to the fact that Deputy Lawlor showed contempt for the courts, the tribunals and this House and he suggested that it was a disgrace and a scandal. I ask Deputy Lawlor, as other speakers have done, to consider his situation and to voluntarily resign his membership of this House. Others should follow.

I have no hesitation apologising to this House and its Members for the difficulties that arose following my evidence at the Flood tribunal during the four days I gave evidence. During those four days I answered all the questions to the best of my ability which I judged to be within the terms of reference. I questioned other issues which had not been raised in advance and which I could not have foreseen.

I will now very briefly refer to the three orders on which I was summoned to the tribunal. There was an order regarding banks – that all documents and records in my possession or power relating to any accounts held in any financial institution inside or outside the State or any lodgements of money which I could be deemed to have benefited from should be discovered to the tribunal. It also requested all details on the second order regarding companies – all documents and records in my possession dealing with any directorships and any records of accounts held by such companies. The third order was to provide the tribunal with all documents relating to the tax amnesty.

I set about and had discovered very substantial documentation to the tribunal under those three orders. What transpired over the four days dealt with a whole range of issues about which I willingly could have provided detailed information to the tribunal if I had realised it was legally required and had been given any request. As Members may recall and as was covered in the media, property interests in the Czech Republic arose and documents were handed to me in the witness box. I was requested to write out names and addresses covering over a ten or 12 year period relating to any property with which I had any involvement in the Czech Republic. I do not wish to be facile but one could hardly pronounce, never mind spell, some of them. If I had been made aware of the necessity to provide that information, I would have readily provided it and would have been very pleased to do so. Since then, I have set about providing a very substantial amount of detail to the tribunal, irrespective of whether it is within or outside its terms of reference.

Many other issues arose during the scope of the questioning. Prior to and particularly after the four days of evidence to the tribunal, I embarked on a most comprehensive discovery of documentation, financial records and all other relevant information requested by the tribunal. When Mr. Justice Smyth made his orders, I was given one week for discovery of a lifetime of records. Mr. Justice Smyth's recent judgment determined that I should have until the end of March 2001, to make discovery on a fortnightly basis, is a much more reasonable and realistic time frame. Yesterday, I supplied to the tribunal 73 lever arch files with thousands of documents. The process is ongoing. I have no difficulty whatsoever, and actually look forward to providing the fullest information and addressing any questions arising in due course at the tribunal.

Since being stood down as a witness, I obviously have had plenty of time to read the detail of the transcripts of the four days of evidence. Having had that opportunity to review my contribution, I am far from happy with it. I fully accept that it was unsatisfactory and I take this opportunity to apologise to the chairman for the exchanges that occurred which were unhelpful to him in the difficult task he has to perform. I have no hesitation putting that on the record. On 14 December while giving evidence I stated to the chairman:

All I can say, chairman, is I apologise to the tribunal if I didn't discover what might be discoverable and I will certainly endeavour to discover whatever material I can to the tribunal and will be very pleased to forward it to you.

I have fully accepted Mr. Justice Smyth's judgment. I have served seven days and have paid the fine levied. I accept and respect the laws of our land and would not ever do otherwise. I could develop a number of points in mitigation of my offence. However, I am not here today to recap the four days of the hearings of the tribunal or the subsequent High Court hearing. I am content to have made a full apology to the House and to move on and deal with the matters that arise. I particularly look forward to addressing issues which are at the core of the Flood tribunal's work, the issue of planning in County Dublin, as suggested by Deputy Gormley. In that context I wish to quote Deputy Rabbitte speaking on a recent Olivia O'Leary television programme where he said:

Liam Lawlor is a very able figure, a ruthless politician, a very effective street fighter, has been a leading figure in Fianna Fáil for many years. He has always held very definite views on the shape of County Dublin. I always found him to be a man of considerable ability. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. He believed very strongly in what he wanted to see achieved and I disagreed with him a lot.

I recall many times discussing with Deputy Rabbitte what should and should not be done in County Dublin and how, why and when it should be done. We agreed on a number of major job creation projects. I recall he was gracious enough to come to me and suggest that the whole argument about the Quarryvale issue was correct at the time and what was done should have been done because it provided badly needed facilities for an area in my constituency. Most certainly I have strong views on behalf of the constituency I represent which went through many revisions. I have represented the area for more than 20 years. The transition that has effectively taken place has not occurred anywhere else in western Europe. There are two satellite towns within the one constituency.

I was elected to three or four country villages in 1977 which today have a population in excess of 250,000 people. Whether one liked it or not, one was confronted daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually with decisions taken and objected to. It was stated that there was more construction, house building, town centres, industry than anywhere else in the country and within western Europe when the two satellite towns were developing. The third satellite town was Tallaght. The editorial of the Sunday Business Post of 21 January 2000 states:

It is a basic tenet of democracy that the people decide freely who should be their elected representatives. It is their right to reject those they believe have failed them . . it is up to the people to decide . . It is certainly not the function of other politicians in Leinster House to demand that he step down.

The joint-call for Lawlor's resignation by Opposition parties is as fatuous as it is cynical . . .

Apart from making the Opposition appear righteous, the motion is aimed at prising open divisions within government. That's politics. But let us call it just that. Can anyone recall the demand by John Bruton that his former minister, Michael Lowry, should quit his Dail seat? Ruairi Quinn's lack of consistency is also on parade. At the beginning of last week he declared it was up to the people to decide who should represent them . . . Meanwhile spare us the cant and the hypocrisy.

As mentioned earlier by Deputy Quinn, on 11 October the party leaders issued a joint statement dealing with the Flood tribunal. It is worth reading into record:

The Flood tribunal was established by the unanimous will of Members of this House. Every citizen and even more so every member of the Oireachtas owes a legal, moral and democratic duty to co-operate with the tribunal, not to obstruct it and to comply with its lawful orders. We would expect any citizen and member of the Oireachtas who disputed the validity or legality of any tribunal order to make his or case to the tribunal and, if necessary, to the courts.

I recall at the time that that is what I did and yet it is being paraded here that this statement in some way had some other meaning. I fully supported the statement in its entirety. I had no difficulty in making a complete disclosure to the tribunal. The High Court has ruled that I must make a disclosure which substantially exceeds the timeframe and breadth of the tribunal's inquiries. I have no difficulty in making such a disclosure.

It is a fact of life that submissions such as this take considerable effort because great care must be taken to ensure the disclosure is complete and presented in such a way as to be helpful to the tribunal. It is a considerable task. All matters in which I had any involvement will be detailed as far back as records allow and I am actively preparing the outstanding elements of this submission, as per Mr. Justice Smyth's judgment, in fortnightly tranches to the end of March. I have been ordered by the High Court and will willingly comply and have no difficulty and irrespective of the court decision would have had no difficulty.

I call on other Members here to make a similar approach. I have had the benefit, through the media in recent weeks, of considerable advice from colleagues, particularly from the far side of the House, and from the Seanad. It is a continuing subject of wonderment to me why these colleagues do not follow up on this advice by making detailed statements of their own affairs to the tribunal. I hope it will come about. Some have gone as far as to deny in the media that they have had contact with the tribunal despite having appeared there in private session and having discussed these matters.

I wish to refer to the media for a moment because certain sections, not all, never fail to disappoint. A considered and incisive judgment by Mr. Justice Smyth was demeaned in certain sections of the media through its portrayal as some veiled threat to other tribunal witnesses or a punishment for availing of access to the courts. It was none of these things. Where a considered examination of the law of contempt may have been of value we were treated instead to a torrent of personal abuse and an entirely unfair and unfounded portrayal of our prison system as an AIDS infested cesspool of degenerates. Those were the words of one newspaper. Could you credit how anybody could pen that type of statement? The personal abuse is par for the course. The other remark brings journalism to a new low. In what is surely in itself a contempt of the tribunal, to be called to the tribunal can now in itself be considered a punishment. This ‘guilty until proven innocent' approach is at the heart of many concerns regarding the tribunal. There are certain people whose names have been mentioned at the tribunal and allegations made against them, some of which are running for 12 months, and they have not had the opportunity to address or refute those allegations.

No less a person than Mr. Justice Kearns in the course of his hearing of my earlier case in the High Court referred to the assumed powers of the Flood tribunal as draconian and incredible. However, it is fine that Liam Lawlor should be subjected to that situation. To say that some of the media coverage was over-kill is an understatement.

It is fundamental to the Constitution that all Members of this House are equal. We are not here as individuals or as party members but as representatives of our constituents. Many seem to have forgotten this important principle of representation. The motion before the House seeks to frustrate that basic constitutional right of the people to choose their representatives. It seeks to allow a populous media and an increasingly panicked Opposition to decide who represents my constituents. The people of Dublin West returned me to Dáil Éireann in 1997 and the people of the successor constituency, Dublin Midwest, will decide in the next general election who their representative should be.

When Deputies are contacted by the Flood tribunal and are asked to match my level of disclosure I have no doubt they will fully co-operate. This will involve producing business and private documents and financial records for the past 26 years and records of telephone calls for the past six years. If full disclosure of all one's dealings is a standard for one Member it should be standard for all. I have nothing to fear and I look forward to all my colleagues meeting the same high standard on which they pontificate.

An interesting feature of my dealings with the tribunal is its confirmation that its initial reason for seeking information from me was based on media reports. Receiving a letter asking for a response to what was contained in a Sunday newspaper initially raised one's shoulders. Another colleague received a letter requesting co-operation, but the first communication I received was on foot of a newspaper article. Probably two years later the basis of that article still has not been investigated. The source of the information to the article has not even visited this country to attend a tribunal. I hope that will happen. I look forward to those who have allegations to make doing so at the tribunal and to having the opportunity to hear them and consider the truth of them or otherwise. That has not happened yet.

Many of the ill-informed comments from Opposition leaders and other Oireachtas Members throughout this week have been based on those media reports. The media star chamber has decided that I must be guilty, I do not know of what. I am not aware of one allegation the tribunal has made. I have asked several times, as has my legal team. If there are allegations and I am informed of them I will deal with them, but as I address this House and correspond with the tribunal, it has skirted around the fact that it does not have any allegations.

The absence of a shred of evidence or even a clear accusation seems to count for nothing. The leaders on the other side of the House have refused to account for their own actions. They believe they have the right to be judge, jury and executioner and to take from my constituents their right to representation. I will not allow that to happen and I ask all Members of the House to reflect on this core issue at the heart of their amendments. To be fair, Deputy Quinn referred to this when he first commented on the issue and this was reported in the Sunday Business Post. I am heartened by the strong statement last week by the chairman of the Flood tribunal censuring the interference in its work by the media and reminding those involved of the penalties for this form of contempt. I understand this was done on the basis of references to 13 politicians and the suggestion by the chairman that the leak could have come from some banking sources. It is a belated recognition that there has been much media coverage of “what might be alleged” against various people, yet unproven.

Deputy Gilmore referred to my support for the Government and there has been considerable talk and innuendo regarding my ongoing support. In this respect imaginations have run riot with talk of secret deals and special treatment. My treatment from my former party has been far from special, however, I accept that is part of politics and a necessary if unpleasant part of the ongoing process. My support for Fianna Fáil and this Fianna Fáil-led Government is based on no special deal but on honour and respect. I was elected as a Fianna Fáil Deputy and I was a life long member of the party until my resignation last year. The purpose of that resignation was to remove from the Opposition the opportunity to use my situation to distract from the work of the Government. The Government will continue to deliver for the people of my constituency and the country. More importantly, given what has been trumpeted about opinion polls, Opposition parties could do well to learn the lesson that the people believe, as they always have, that negative, sneering politics is not popular in Ireland. The Fine Gael Party is in the process of learning it.

There was reference to the serious allegation carried in recent headlines in theSunday World. To the best of my knowledge a journalist and photographer from the newspaper trespassed into my garden and removed papers that had been discarded under the supervision of my solicitor. After four days of evidence to the tribunal, on the 12, 13, 14 and 15 December, I had a meeting with my legal team. We were already embarking on a further discovery for the tribunal of a range of documentation. In the witness box I made several commitments to the tribunal to the effect that had I been aware I would have discovered certain details. I was cataloguing these commitments to ensure my compliance with the tribunal's request. At that meeting it was agreed that my legal team would take total charge of the ongoing discovery requirements and my solicitor and counsel virtually took up residence in my office from December 22 to oversee and supervise this under a range of headings.

I wish to inform the House – I will in due course inform theSunday World– that the credit card copy statements it published in its edition of 21 January had already been discovered and brought to the attention of the legal team to the tribunal's council, I think on 3 January. In my affidavit, sworn and handed over to Mr. Justice Smyth's court, I stated I had discovered this material to the tribunal and I can so inform the House. I believe that was on 9 January, but I wish to be cautious about what I say.

The Sunday World will in due course have the opportunity to address the accuracy, or otherwise, of its headlines, based on the legal action I am proposing to rigorously pursue with that newspaper. While two members of the Sunday World staff were illegally removing papers from my home, another senior journalist from that newspaper knocked on the door of a life-long friend and colleague in Lucan and informed his wife that if her husband would speak to him it would be to his benefit. I do not know what that means, but that is what was said. In difficult times comforts come from unexpected sources. My office and home have been inundated with telephone calls, notes and other expressions of sympathy from my constituency and from all over the country. I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone concerned.

I wish to deal with the Dublin West constituency and to what one was confronted with there, but before doing so I will comment on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. At a recent meeting of the committee I referred to certain matters. I did not make any allegations against anybody, rather I suggested that certain matters should be investigated. Is it not the heart of this debate that matters should be investigated?

Deputy Shatter was a member of Dublin County Council. He recently appeared on television with Deputy Rabbitte, Deputy McGuiness and Senator Dardis, who I do not believe has been elected to any position. Having failed several times to be elected to this House in the Kildare constituency he sees fit to lecture me and to advise what others should do. Fine Gael's involvement in planning decisions probably will, and should, be investigated. I do not make an allegation, but I ask were letters written promising that certain Fine Gael votes could be secured if certain business was secured associated with certain projects? Was illegal action initiated to pursue such a deal? I have no doubt Deputy Shatter will vigorously pursue this matter. I also have no doubt that in the fullness of time, issues associated with the Labour Party will be fully investigated in the interests of truth, transparency and integrity. Regarding those actions from some of its Oireachtas Members these issues, when investigated, will not rock the foundations of the State, but they will rock the foundations of the Labour Party.

Deputy John McGuinness appeared recently on a television programme and spoke about what I should and should not do. He is not long in the House and I have no doubt that in the fullness of time he will be able to co-operate vigorously with the tribunal, on his association with, not him directly to the best of my knowledge, a countyman of his and a close colleague of his, his brother, and that they will be able to address a major controversial rezoning at Dublin Airport which was vigorously opposed by Aer Rianta. This went through and is now probably the basis for a major development.

Deputy Lawlor should tell everything and not throw muck at the wall.

(Interruptions.)

Deputy Ryan, please.

Has Deputy Ryan made a statement to the tribunal?

Deputy Lawlor to continue without interruption.

The Deputy's colleague would make an interesting one.

I know what went on. I know the facts.

If the Deputy knows it all, he should give the information to the tribunal. The Deputy has not done so.

That is good. When the Deputy gets his moment down there, he will be able to stand up and justify it.

The Deputy should not make insinuations about anyone else.

If Deputy Ryan waits his turn he can explain all.

Deputy Lawlor should address his remarks through the Chair. I ask Deputy Ryan to refrain from interrupting.

I interrupted no one. I listened to what everyone had to say, and they are entitled to say what they said. I have no doubt that certain matters should and will be investigated.

I thank Members, 99% of whom listened to my contribution with courtesy, for their attention. I was elected to this House in 1977 and throughout the years my respect for the standards and democracy it represents has not diminished. To date, I have not entered the Dáil Chamber without feeling a sense of humility at its traditions and the history of that Assembly. I stand here this evening more conscious than ever of the responsibilities and privileges membership of this House brings. I fully commit myself to upholding those responsibilities for as long as my constituents decide I should have the honour of representing them.

I wish to say something about disclosure and co-operation with the Flood tribunal. I never had difficulty, and do not have difficulty, disclosing every piece of information available which can be secured, disclosed or dealt with at the tribunal. Given the wisdom of hindsight, I probably got a little agitated and a little uptight about the fact that false allegations, in my view, yet to be proven, were made in various newspapers and taken as fact. In the fullness of time, I will deal with all those matters at the tribunal. I have no problem dealing with them. I have now given, even though it was not asked for under the orders, a comprehensive financial statement to the tribunal. I was confronted in the witness box at the tribunal with a list of figures, which was not part of any of the orders to which I have referred. I said at the time to the chairman that I would prepare such a response in co-operation with my accountants, which I have since done. If I had been asked for this in advance of going to the tribunal, I would have provided that information, including issues regarding the Czech Republic and so on. I have no problem dealing with these matters, which are now being dealt with. I have been given a reasonable timeframe by Mr. Justice Smyth in which to deal with the issue. I will attend the tribunal and address all issues arising from my exercising of my public duties.

I resigned from Dublin County Council in June 1991. I was not even a member of the council when so many matters which were the basis of the investigations of this tribunal were going on. I made the decision on the Quarryvale project – Deputy Currie and the late Deputy Lenihan also represented that constituency – because Blanchardstown and Clondalkin-Lucan were two fledgling satellite towns, the population having increased to more than 50,000. Tallaght had to get special tax designation to have its town centre built. We had a responsibility to oversee progress in these two areas where thousands of people were disenfranchised, particularly in north Clondalkin. This has been a very prominent part of my constituency in which I have received substantial support over the years. We reached what we believed was a fair and reasonable compromise about these two centres.

One of the developers in the Blanchardstown centre went berserk with a programme of disinformation after we made the decision. The only reason we made the decision was on foot of his agreement. With the wisdom of hindsight, the centre in Blanchardstown was built and is one of the finest centres in Europe. Liffey Valley-Quarryvale is cheek and jowl and is successful. All the ballyhoo and controversy about these two centres turned out to be unnecessary. I hope these issues will be dealt with at the tribunal, not the Czech Republic and other distant places which I fail to see have relevance to the tribunal.

A Cheann Comhairle, if we have heard a submission which was described by Deputy Lawlor as one of humility, I certainly would not like to see arrogance in this House. The only new information we heard this evening from Deputy Lawlor is that after a week in Mountjoy Prison he finally submitted 73 lever arch files to the tribunal. I wonder how many more does he have, or will more time be spent in Mountjoy Prison to continue the drip-feed of information to the tribunal. Listening closely to what Deputy Lawlor said this evening, one can only be reminded that most of it is a rehash of what was put to the tribunal in the final days before the matter was referred to the High Court. It is worth reminding the House of the words of Mr. Justice Smyth in that regard when he said he was satisfied, and was finding as a fact, that on close reading and consideration of the evidence that was put before him, the application and the careful consideration of the submissions made on behalf of the parties, Deputy Lawlor was not only in contempt of court orders to discover and produce documents and to answer questions upon such documents, but was so in a most deliberate and most serious manner.

I regret that in the course of the debate this evening Deputy Lawlor again availed of an opportunity, as he did in committee and outside the House on the public airwaves, to spread muck and create a smokescreen to hide his difficulties by attempting to involve the names of other Members of this House in a most appalling manner. I thought that in the course of his apology to the House, he might have availed of the opportunity to set the record straight in relation to his extraordinary and appalling outburst in committee some weeks ago. He speaks about the hounding at the hands of the tabloid press. If one is to look sympathetically at the plight of Deputy Lawlor, having read in the tabloid press some of the details of his exploits, one would have to put it to this House that by his actions on exiting Mountjoy Prison and heading straight for this House in the manner in which he did, he was merely fuelling the desires of the tabloid press and adding to a very high degree of cynicism among the public, which affects not only Deputy Lawlor but, regrettably and unfortunately, other Members of this House in an unfair manner.

The amendments in the names of Fine Gael and Labour are worthy of support. It is disappointing the House must divide on this issue.

I regret the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were most equivocal in their contributions. Late last year they were prepared, at the invitation of my party leader, Deputy John Bruton, to join in the signing of a letter which called upon Deputy Lawlor to co-operate with the tribunal. That was an unprecedented step. I would have thought that the least the House could do was draw up a joint statement or motion, on behalf of all party leaders, which would take a serious view of the events of recent weeks, events which directly involved a Member of the House in a manner that, in the history of the State, is without precedent. I regret the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have fallen short of appealing to Deputy Lawlor to take a certain course of action.

The Tánaiste's contribution fell considerably short of statements she made prior to Deputy Lawlor's appearance before the courts. Deputy Gormley posed a number of questions for the Tánaiste which, in light of her contribution, are worthy of a comprehensive reply on her part.

Deputy Gormley's party is okay; what he said was all right

The judge described Deputy Lawlor's behaviour, as a Member of this House, as a scandal and a disgrace. The Tánaiste is on record as having said that "Any representative of this House found to have acted in an improper manner should be required to resign their seat, whatever the implications for the stability and continuance of the Government." The comments she made earlier fell considerably short of that. She refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the judge's comments, who, in reprimanding a Member of the House, used the words "scandal" and "disgrace". She said that, at most, what she might encourage is the granting of scope to extend the rules. That falls considerably short of putting forward a view that improper conduct should render a person's membership of this House untenable.

The amendments ask that a Deputy of the House should consider his position in a voluntary way. Everyone acknowledges, as the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste stated, that, as Members of the House, we are powerless, either collectively or individually, to impose a sanction on another Member. That is taken as given. However, on listening to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste one would form the view that we did not know that. I would have thought that the Government Members who contributed to the debate might, at least, have referred to an initiative they might embark upon to ensure that our rules, regulations, practices and procedures might be extended or expanded to allow us mark, in a united manner, the activities of a Member of the House with which we fundamentally disagree.

There was no indication on the part of the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste, both of whom represent a majority grouping in the House and both of whom are heavily reliant on the vote of Deputy Lawlor to allow them to remain in office, that the rules would have to be changed. That is a serious lapse on the part of the majority party, Fianna Fáil, and the Progressive Democrats.

Deputy Lawlor, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have one thing in common, namely, that they all referred to a constitutional barrier which they claim prevents the House from taking action of the type envisaged in the amendments tabled by Fine Gael and Labour. I do not believe that is the case. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are attempting to hide behind a constitutional barrier and Deputy Lawlor, not surprisingly, is attempting to use the same avenue. If such a constitutional barrier exists, why and how did the House manage to pass the Electoral Act, 1992, which sets out in clear terms the circumstances under which a Member of the Dáil might be dis qualified. There is no reference in that Act to the fact that there is a constitutional barrier on same.

Section 41 of the Act lists 12 instances where a Member may be disqualified. I wish to concentrate on just two of these which state that a Member may be disqualified where he or she is "undergoing a sentence of imprisonment for any term exceeding six months, whether with or without hard labour, or of penal servitude for any period imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction in the State" or, in the alternative, where he or she "is an undischarged bankrupt under an adjudication by a court of competent jurisdiction in the State, shall not be eligible for election as a member, or, subject to section 42(3), for membership of the Dáil." The Act to which I refer was passed by the House not so long ago and on that occasion there did not appear to be the type of constitutional barrier about which we have heard so much from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

It is regrettable that neither leader of the majority grouping in the House decided to put forward any suggestion regarding how a tightening of our regulations might be explored. For the benefit of the House, I constructively suggest to the majority Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, the group reliant on the support of Deputies Lawlor, Healy-Rae, Fox and other Independents to ensure its survival, that we should consider an amendment to section 41 of the Electoral Act. This amendment should include conviction for an offence committed under the terms of the Tribunal of Inquiries Acts, 1921 to 1998. If we want to take the route outlined by the Tánaiste – perhaps we might do more than she appears prepared to do – we might consider the creation of a new Standing Order which would lead to the automatic suspension of a Member from the Dáil when he or she receives a prison sentence and where a motion of suspension has been passed by the House, following a debate during which the relevant Member has been given an opportunity to contribute.

Deputy Lawlor and some persons writing in his defence have spoken in recent weeks about due process. I accept there should be due process. The Deputy availed of the opportunity to make his contribution to the debate, though I am not sure how far matters were advanced as a result.

Consideration should be given to allowing the ethics committee to be requested to examine the returns made to the Public Offices Commission to ascertain whether Deputy Lawlor or other Members of the House have complied with the disclosure requirements. While the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil stated that their hands are tied by the Constitution when it comes to suspension or expulsion, it is worth bearing in mind that Ireland is one of only seven countries where an elected Member of the Assembly cannot be suspended or expelled by his colleagues. There are clear grounds for expulsion in many of these areas.

Unless the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, is going to surprise us at the last moment – one can bet one's bottom dollar that he will not – what we have seen this evening is another example of the Government equivocating. We are not asking too much. All we request is that the Fine Gael and Labour amendments be accepted to show that the House can at least attempt to adopt a stance that might, in some way, alleviate the high level of public cynicism that has been visited upon it following the events of recent weeks. However, we will not get that. What we have got is a proposal from the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, that will allow Fianna Fáil spend an additional £1 million in elections. No doubt it will collect that money from its friends in big business at a time when Ministers refer to the need to restore public confidence. Surely the restoration of public confidence is not a priority of this Government given its feeble motion before the House. I would have thought that on the first day of a new Dail session we might have at least put on the pretence of making a fresh start as far as the relationships between big business, politics, donations, money and sleaze are concerned.

That is supposed to be happening tomorrow.

That is not happening and it is regrettable the House cannot unite on an issue on which the people require a united voice.

Whatever about me surprising the House, Deputy Flanagan did not do so as he reverted at the end of his speech to the usual scurrilous kind of garbage I have come to expect from Fine Gael. I will give way to the Deputy if he will explain how Fine Gael cleared a massive debt between 1995 and 1997.

The difference is that this is not a different era. It is not in the past.

Perhaps he might like to explain some of the strong arm tactics in which Ministers of that Government engaged to extract money from business, particularly the agri-food business.

The Minister should deal with the present.

When the Deputy is as white as he would like us to believe, he can start to preach to this side of the House.

I am disappointed we have to debate this subject in the House. Speakers on all sides have noted that it is sad we have to devote valuable time to this subject which would have been unnecessary if Deputy Lawlor had co-operated fully with the Flood tribunal. I am pleased Deputy Lawlor was present to put his side of the case and that he apologised to the House. That should be recognised by all Members.

Mr. Justice Smyth pointed out, and it has been accepted by Deputy Lawlor, that there is a special onus on elected Members of this House to respect and co-operate with the tribunal. That same onus applies equally to all Members. While it is sad matters have come to this, it is right that we take time to consider the activities of a fellow Member when those actions have been of such gravity.

Some would argue we have been dealing with Deputy Lawlor's fitness to serve in this House and to represent the people who elected him. However, that is not the case. The kernel of this debate is whether it is appropriate for this House, which set up the tribunal of inquiry, to seek to extract a voluntary resignation from Deputy Lawlor on top of the action already taken by the tribunal and delivered through the High Court.

While I appreciate that Opposition amendments have been carefully constructed to suggest that Deputy Lawlor act voluntarily, it is important that we bear in mind the terms in which the High Court delivered its sentence. The court by its judgment sought to elicit Deputy Lawlor's full co-operation with the tribunal within a definite and definitive time frame. The judgment specifically acknowledged his membership of this House. It is important to underline this point which was mentioned by the Taoiseach in his opening remarks.

If the High Court was of the opinion Deputy Lawlor should resign his membership it was open to it to force him to do so through its sentence. Had the court chosen to hand down a decision which resulted in the Deputy undergoing a sentence of imprisonment for a term exceeding six months, then the provisions of the Electoral Act, 1992, would have rendered him ineligible to continue his membership of this House. However, it is also important to note the court chose not to do so. For that reason this House should not adopt a resolution which might suggest the High Court underestimated the seriousness of the error of Deputy Lawlor's ways. Nor should it suggest in any way that the High Court got it wrong.

That is untenable.

I fear that the Opposition amendments, framed as they are, might suggest precisely that.

Not at all.

The Government's motion is specifically worded to take into account the High Court's decision and the care with which that decision was so obviously delivered. Our motion seeks to reinforce the main thrust of the High Court's sentence which is to guarantee Deputy Lawlor's full co-operation with the tribunal within a very specific and specified time frame. This is the only way to proceed. To proceed on the basis of the Opposition amendments would be to undermine the High Court's view.

No one should suggest that I or the Government condone Deputy Lawlor's behaviour. As is clear from my comments and those of the Taoi seach and the Tanaiste, we deplore the actions of any person who appears before the tribunal and does not fully co-operate with it. I was glad to hear Deputy Lawlor state that he fully accepts Mr. Justice Smyth's judgment and to hear him apologise to the House.

Is it a surprise that Deputy Lawlor accepts the judgment?

However, what is now needed is for Deputy Lawlor to give practical effect to the contrite statement he made in the House. He must comply with the terms of the High Court judgment and co-operate fully with the tribunal.

I applaud the tribunal for the work it is doing, the progress it has made and the vigour with which it is pursuing the truth. As the Taoiseach pointed out when he opened this debate, this Government established the Flood tribunal. We have been and remain unequivocally supportive of its work and will continue to support it through the remainder of its work. I respectfully suggest that the focus of Members of the Opposition should be the same. Our overriding objective has to be to continue to be of assistance to the tribunal, to help it to get on with its work sifting the allegations and separating fact from fiction.

In the cut and thrust of debate we should not forget a fundamental point. While the tribunal is proceeding with its work, nothing has been proven other than the fact Deputy Lawlor behaved in an unacceptable manner as a witness. We should leave the tribunals to get on with their work and make their findings so we in this House can act on findings and not accusations.

I look forward to the conclusions reached by the tribunals and their getting to the heart of the matters being investigated, acting strongly and independently of this House. The tribunals would benefit from a little less interference from this House. All sides of this House and the country desire the truth and that is what this Government and its motion seek to facilitate. I commend the motion.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand".

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.

Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.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, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Woods, Michael. Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis J.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.De Rossa, Proinsias.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.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.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.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.
Question, "That the motion be agreed to", put and declared carried.