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.