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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 7 Feb 2001

Vol. 530 No. 1

Private Members' Business. - Code of Conduct for Members of Dáil Éireann: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Quinn on Tuesday, 6 February 2001.
That Dáil Éireann:
–aware that Article 15.10 of the Consti tution enables each House of the Oireachtas to make its own rules and standing orders, with powers to attach penalties for their infringement, that such rules may extend to matters relating to the conduct and discipline of Members as well as the procedures of the House, but that rules of such a nature have yet to be adopted by this House;
–further aware that recent controversies involving Members of this House have highlighted the absence of such powers;
approves, in principle, the adoption of a code of conduct for its Members;
refers the draft code, as laid before Dáil Éireann on 1 February 2001, to the Committee on Members' Interests for its consideration, both as regards the content of the code and in relation to its implementation and enforcement (including in particular any amendment which may be required to the Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000, in relation to the proposed function of the committee under the code); and
instructs that committee to report its recommendations in the matter to this House not later than 1 May 2001.
Debate resumed on amendment No 1:
To add the following to the motion:
"and in supporting the principles included in the proposed code of conduct before the House and its referral to the Committee on Members' Interests, further instructs the committee that it has power to draft a code of conduct consistent with that envisaged in the Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000, and to consider submissions from Oireachtas Members and political parties, including the proposed code before the House.".
–[Minister of State at the Department of Finance].

Last night I said a code of conduct should not be necessary – and would not be – in an ideal world. A code of conduct should be in the hearts of those in public life but we are not in an ideal world and that is why we are debating this motion. A small minority of people in public office have made this debate necessary.

We should be proud of our privileged position and that we have been elected to serve in public office. We should defend the role of the public representative and those in public office against the current perception that tars us all with the same brush. This perception has arisen because of the actions of a tiny minority of people in public office and it is unfortunate that we all suffer as a result.

The Minister of State spoke last night about the scrutiny we are under and that is true. The final date for Members to submit declarations of presents and so on was 29 January and those declarations will make up a document for public scrutiny. Yesterday all Members received notification to declare any interests in property and those results will also be open to public scrutiny.

The Minister of State said that more information about those in public office is now available under the Freedom of Information Act. Last week all Oireachtas Members were notified that a Sunday newspaper was looking at Members' expenses under the Freedom of Information Act. That is legitimate but some fairness should come into it. Nobody seems to point out that expenses have to be legitimately incurred and information about expenses is provided under an unfair system that seriously discriminates against some Members.

The legitimate expenses incurred by Ministers and Ministers of State by having drivers provided and being paid mileage, for example, is not disclosed alongside the expenses of Members who are not Ministers or Ministers of State. In some constituencies, such as my own, the majority of Members are in Cabinet and there is serious discrimination against those who are not in that happy position, as when expenses are published under the Freedom of Information Act those figures are taken up by the local media. The figures are simply listed out because generally speaking reporters are quite lazy and reprint what they get as they are given it. This discriminates seriously against those who are not Ministers, as Deputies are reported as having been given a certain amount while Ministers' legitimate expenses are not given.

There is further discrimination against Members who have constituency offices. The expense of running a constituency office is not clarified and a Member with such an office will have his or her expenses compared to a Member with no constituency office but a secretary in Dublin. There is no comparison between the expenses. Although the concession is that one has the same facility regarding a secretary, a Member must provide an office and I challenge anyone to guess how much it costs to provide and run a full-time constituency office. That is clear discrimination.

When we discuss a code of conduct for those in public office we should realise that there is much unfair reporting which gives an impression that downgrades our position and leads to the popular view that we are all in the one boat. I support the Labour Party motion but a motion will not change legislation. It is just an opportunity to debate matters but from that point of view it may convey to the Government the necessity of drawing up a code of conduct. I regret that it is necessary to draw up a code of conduct for our behaviour in public office as such a code of conduct is already being observed by the majority of Members.

There should be a code of conduct in every aspect of life such as families and schools and not just public life. We should establish a code of conduct for our children at the earliest age possible and then, whether those children enter public life or not, they would know they have a code of conduct to live up to. That is the approach I would take: establishing a correct code of conduct for people in all walks of life as well as those in public office.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In supporting the motion as amended and having listened carefully to the earlier contributions, it is clear there is broad cross-party support for moving ahead on an all-party basis towards an agreed and enforceable code of conduct for Members of the Oireachtas.

Recent events have highlighted the need for us as elected Members of the Dáil to be enthusiastic and proactive in this regard. However, this does not mean we should be driven only by the politics of the last scandal as interpreted by the media or elsewhere or that we should as a group buy into the now common assertion that all of us are tainted by the acts or omissions of a few. I, and I am sure many Members agree, do not accept a vicarious responsibility for the misconduct of a handful of Deputies over the years who have acted improperly or in a way that brings the Dáil and our profession of politics into disrepute. If we start to accept that populist and anti-intellectual nonsense, we will only contribute to the debasement of politics.

During the debate last night, there was predictable, unfortunate and misplaced criticism of the Government for not taking the initiative on a code for Members. The Executive has no function in determining the rules of procedure of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Article 15.10 of the Constitution provides that this is a matter for each House. In any event, far from being remiss in the area of ethics in public life, the facts show that we have a detailed cohort of legislation across a broad spectrum. I refer in particular to the Ethics in Public Office Act, the Electoral Act and the Standards in Public Office Act, which, after consultation with committees of the House, envisages a code of conduct for Members. Other legislation in the pipeline relates to whistle blowers in addition to the Prevention of Corruption Bill, 2000, with proposed amendments to provide for the prevention, prosecution and punishment of corruption. The Local Government Bill, 2000, also proposes a comprehensive regime for local authorities, public registers of councillors and senior officials and codes of conduct for members and staff.

The motion was understandably prompted by a perceived impotence on the part of the House and the weakness of the current Standing Orders to act when a sitting Member was found to be in contempt of court and jailed accordingly. Members, and the public generally, were extremely frustrated that, notwithstanding a raft of ethical provisions on the Statute Book, there was no effective mechanism through which the House as Parliament could indicate its disapproval or sanction misconduct which fell short of criminality or insolvency. Some of us felt it was an inadequate response to say that the ultimate sanction lay with the electorate. It should be possible, even given the constitutional limitations, for us as elected Members to agree sanctions, short of expulsion. Other professions so regulate their members and we owe it to ourselves to at least consider this matter in depth and devise a reasonable and responsible regime.

However, I am reluctant to outline at this stage an overly prescriptive or exhaustive formula. It is not appropriate for one party or an individual Deputy to declare what that code should be without an in-depth analysis politically and legally of the implications and workability of the proposed code. A major concern is the potential danger of the partisan use of the code by a majority in the Dáil against a minority. Safeguards must be built in to guard against this potential abuse of a code.

Although the motion is valuable, a prolonged public debate on these issues, particularly in a party political climate, may feed into what has become a near obsession with political sleaze. The debate, therefore, should be purposeful, reasonable and finite if we are to avoid unduly diminishing the primacy of politics and the standing of the Dáil itself in the eyes of the public. While this debate was fuelled by embarrassment and frustration on the part of Deputies on all sides, arising from the misconduct of a particular Member, it is also properly motivated by a desire to protect the House as Parliament and an institution in our democracy.

The Dáil is the principal organ of accountability in our democracy. It is to the Dáil, and not to the Government or the Opposition, that Ministers and the Executive are accountable. None of the tribunals would have been necessary if the Dáil had been competent as a vehicle of accountability. If parliamentary questions had been honestly and completely answered, there would have been no need for the beef tribunal, the hepatitis C tribunal or other inquiries and the current tribunals which are dominating public life and discourse.

The pathetic fact is that, unfortunately, Ministers in all Governments have misled the House. This perhaps is the most fundamental offence against Parliament. In some cases, civil servants and officials were necessarily and undoubtedly involved. Who can forget the note on the file in the Department of Agriculture, as disclosed in the beef tribunal, which stated in the margin of a reply to a parliamentary question "That should confuse the Deputy"?

During my five years of experience in Oppo sition of tabling questions to various Ministers and Departments, I was regularly in receipt of misleading, incomplete and evasive replies to parliamentary requests for information to which I was entitled. If we are talking about the primacy of the Dáil and ways to protect it and make it a sovereign organ of our democracy, independent of the Executive, the role of civil and public servants in replying to parliamentary questions is central. In this context, it is important to note that the Standards in Public Office Bill embraces the conduct of all persons in public life.

Section 7 of the Bill accordingly provides that codes of conduct will be drawn up in consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission by the Government in the case of office holders and the Minister for Finance in the case of public servants generally. In the case of Oireachtas Members, the Bill as published provides that a code of conduct will be drawn up by the commission in consultation with the relevant House of the Oireachtas, but can only be applied to Members by a resolution of the House. I understand the Minister will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage to the effect that drafting the code will be done by the Select Committee on Members' Interests. It appears the provisions of the Bill have considerable consequences for the workings of our democratic institutions. The Bill also requires Oireachtas Members and the most senior public servants and judges to have tax clearance certificates.

The passing of the motion, as amended, will be an important part of an ethics related reform process and demonstrates that the House, as distinct from the Government, is at one on the goal of achieving the highest standards in public life. In a way, this debate is part of a painful and exposing period in public affairs. Recent times have been demoralising for many of us involved in public life and the public generally. Many, if not all, our institutions have been found wanting in terms of accountability and honesty. The public interest has not come first; the Dáil, at times, has failed in its primary function. It was a scandal of enormous proportions that child abuse, state neglect of citizens in respect of the hepatitis C scandal and maladministration was concealed from the public and the Dáil for too long. Many individuals' lives were damaged or destroyed as a result.

The Dáil has had some limited success in revealing and punishing wrongdoing by the State and its institutions. Those of us in Opposition and the Executive are first and foremost Members of the Dáil; our first allegiance is to the people through the House and perhaps this should be the first commandment in any new proposed code of conduct. If we as representatives of the people lose sight of the basic principle that we are first and foremost Members of the Dáil, the role of the House could be gradually eroded. It is our job as elected Members to defend the Dáil and the primacy of politics. We must, however, be careful not to unwittingly undermine the integrity of democratic politics by a party political debate or by parroting the clichés of cynical elements in the media.

I wish to share time with Deputies Roche, Killeen, Fleming and Conor Lenihan.

I have thought about ethics over the past few days. Indeed, I was given every encouragement to do so by remarks made about me in the House, even if they were wildly inaccurate shots from an angry Parthian on a slipping saddle. I did not like what was said. In 22 years as a public representative, I have done nothing to warrant investigation by a tribunal, as was suggested, and I regret the privilege of this House was used to punish me for views which I honestly held. However, what was said was said openly. It was not whispered behind my back in the corridors. If it was uncalled for, it also gives me the opportunity to look my accuser in the eye and tell him he is wrong, and I am doing that now. Many Members were angry during that debate. Indeed, I was far from pleased, but I am concerned that we could over-react to what has been happening over the past few years. I do not want to have to carry a rulebook under my arm in the House.

We were elected because the public felt that we could be trusted to make laws. I wonder if lawmakers need rules to keep them in line and if they do, whether they should be lawmakers. Do we need rules if the great majority can impose moral sanctions on the errant few on the odd occasion that this is necessary and we have the will to do so? Is it a problem that we would prefer rules to do that for us and if that is the case, will rules help? Last week, for instance, the Members of this House could have registered their disapproval by walking out en masse. I do not know the answers to these questions but we should debate them.

I just wonder about a code of conduct. We are going through a phase in the history of this country – post-colonial, adolescence, wild west, call it what you will. We are on the cusp of a transition from the time when a stroke got you everything to a time where it gets you into hospital or jail. It is inevitable, it is traumatic but we are maturing and it will pass.

If we are to introduce a code of conduct, we should do so fully conscious of all this and the fact that rules are frequently introduced after the great need for them has passed. The consequence is that we may bind the many unnecessarily to a narrow path after the need to curtail the few is no longer pressing. Also we need to be sure about the message we are sending out about ourselves. For instance, one often hears the phrase "removed from political influence". It is often used, even by politicians, as if some great good had been done. It simply means that this House has handed over the responsibility to someone else for fear that that responsibility would be abused. There are many examples to be found of this in local government and in health and it is perhaps the reason for half the bureaucratic nonsense in this country, but it says a great deal about what politicians think about themselves or have been persuaded to think about themselves.

Integrity, idealism, duty and public service are alive and well here. The will to do good, make a difference and create a better Ireland motivates the vast majority of our politicians. We should remind ourselves of that and draw strength and confidence from it.

The public know we are human. In fact, they have a clear idea about wrongdoing and human frailty, and they understand that these are often entwined. They understand also that there is a change of culture occurring, with all the trauma which that has brought, and I think they are becoming uneasy about the amount of time we are spending on washing, dirty linen, however necessary it is.

Perhaps a code of conduct is necessary but one must remember that we are not schoolboys and the public do not expect us to be saints. They expect us to give leadership. What we really need to do, and what I think the public would like to see us do, is to stand up for our vocation, rebuild our pride and courage, set aside inter-party point scoring about the past and get on with doing our best to make the future better for everyone.

I thank the previous speaker for sharing the limited time available. I welcome this debate which should have taken place a number of years ago. In the dark days of December 1994, when a group of us from the Fianna Fáil Party and the Labour Party were trying to save a Government which was on its last gasp, I proposed that a standing ethics commission on politics be created, that it would be independent of this House and independently funded, and that it should have a strong investigative role.

Politics has not been served well in the recent past and certainly it is not served by the kind of petty point scoring which we have heard. We are at a crossroads in politics. I asked a group of young students who I brought in here today from St. David's school in Greystones whether any of them were interested in politics and not one of those vibrant, vital young people was. If politics is to be killed by cynicism and by the corruption of a few, this country and democracy will suffer.

What should we do? Earlier the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, spoke of the Standards in Public Office Bill and it was referred to last night. I wish that Bill a quick introduction into this House and a very speedy passage, but the question is not of a code of ethics. Most of us know what is right and what is wrong. The question is: how will that code be implemented?

One of the oldest questions in democracy is: who guards the guardians, who judges the judges? Juvenal, the Roman poet, asked that question. Last week when I was talking about the proposed judicial commission, I suggested that it would be bad to have judges judge themselves and I believe it is also bad to have politicians judge themselves. I would like to see not only a strong code but one which will be enforced by an independent commission, a Standards in Public Office Commission or whatever we will call it.

I wish to put a few points before the House. That commission must have three fundamental elements. First and foremost, it must be independent of this and other institutions. This House cannot judge itself, nor can it really judge its Members. We have gone through a great deal of nonsense in the recent past about what committees of this House can and cannot do. The truth is that we cannot judge ourselves. The public perception is that we are not fit to do that job. We need an independent agency to do that. It must be independent, institutionally and in the perception of the public. Second, it needs to be powerful in the true sense. It must be powerful with the capacity to enforce its views and its findings and whatever code is agreed commonly. Third, it must be resourced and staffed. It must have an investigative capacity and a substantial budget, and I will deal with that later when we come to the Standards in Public Office Bill.

I welcome the idea of a code because the concern about what has happened to politics and the low ebb of politicians is not confined to any one side in this House. I left a job in the public service many years ago to serve the public in a different way through politics and I know many of my colleagues on all sides of the House are also motivated, not by money, personal wealth, personal ambition or even by the pursuit of office, but by a sense of public service. It is time that we combined our forces to ensure that we have an institutional framework, in which we can express that interest and in which we can deal with those few people who transgress.

The Committee on Members' Interest, to which this code is being referred, has already recommended the adoption of same in a report a little over a year ago. Two members of the committee spoke last night and indicated that it was quite a difficult job, but we will certainly undertake it if that is the wish of the House.

Aristotle, in Politics and Ethics, presents a coherent classical account of the relationship between politics and ethics. It is interesting to look back on the work of Aristotle and Plato quite a long time ago and the difficulties which had to be addressed by those who wanted to produce an ethical democracy before the advent of parliamentary democracy.

If I had been speaking two years ago, I would have agreed with much of what Deputy Roche said but having had an opportunity to examine, in practice, the kind of commission he illustrated in at least one jurisdiction, the kind of adversarial situations which it produced in Parliament and in the media, and the increased levels of negativity towards parliamentarians it caused in that jurisdiction, the cost of it and many other factors, I would certainly shy away from going down that exact road, although I would go some of the way and I know my colleagues on the committee would do likewise.

When people see the title, Committee on Members' Interests, they assume it is charged with improving conditions for Members. It would be much better if it were called the Committee on Ethics or something which would bring to mind to people exactly what its business entails.

It would give rise to some smiles.

Certainly. Those of us who are members of the committee who have had reason to examine the experience elsewhere have been shocked at the shenanigans engaged in by people in other jurisdictions. Even the worst matters being investigated here do not compare in terms of seriousness. Nevertheless, anyone might be forgiven for thinking that the public has scant knowledge of what is happening in national or local politics other than scandal. Even in Parliament we tend to have a very narrow focus on ethics, looking for evidence of bribery in its various manifestations. We need to face up to the fact that the focus has been too narrow and frequently badly directed. There is widespread denigration of politicians caused by the ethical shortcomings of relatively few and that is something which is agreed by all parties in the House. Nevertheless, it is a driving force towards creating a legislative environment and a situation where codes of practice would be introduced and implemented.

However, it will take much more than codes to address our difficulties. One of the fundamental considerations must be that the right resides with the electorate to send people here. In a sense, we set ourselves a very difficult task in that we have no choice about who comes, but it is a task we must confront and it is a task this parliamentary democracy has been very slow to address.

I have no doubt that one of the reasons is that there is not a tradition of the separation of the duties of the parliamentarian and the Parliament from that of the Executive. The system under which we operate ensures little more than half the Members of Parliament are predisposed to not being critical of the actions of the Executive. That applies equally regardless of which parties are in power. The most fundamental requirement of this Parliament is that it acts as a Parliament for the people and makes the Executive answerable in some of the ways illustrated by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and by others who spoke last night and tonight. It is the most fundamental weakness of this Parliament that we have not set about in an adult manner establishing answerability in the House. It is the cheapest place in which to do it and it would benefit the State most.

Hear, hear.

I support fully the establishment of a code of conduct for Members and I look forward to that proceeding as quickly as possible. I must depart from my normal style. I do not like engaging in bitter, confrontational politics. It is not my style and I do not normally do it, but I must do so on this occasion. I direct my comments to Deputies Quinn and Gilmore for their gross hypocrisy on the Order of Business every day since we resumed after the Christmas recess.

Is it in order for a Member to make a charge of hypocrisy against another Member? Under Standing Orders I understand it is not.

It is a normal political charge and what the Deputies have said every day on the Order of Business has been disingenuous. What I have seen from Deputy Gilmore and from his party leader, Deputy Quinn, is a classic case of not seeing the plank in one's own eye when seeking the splinter in someone else's.

That is rich.

They have been disingenuous in their criticism about the proposed new limits on election expenditure. Their accusation is that it is a measure being introduced by the Fianna Fáil Party to provide for additional expenditure for itself at election time. The Labour Party has attacked Fianna Fáil on this issue every day since the Christmas recess. The facts are that the Labour Party is the greatest offender in attempting to buy votes and I will prove that.

Since the previous general election, which was not fought under expenditure limits, five by-elections have been fought with strict election expenditure limits. In the course of those five by-elections, Fianna Fáil has spent £1.88 on every vote obtained in those.

That is the money it declared.

What about the money in the bags?

The Fine Gael Party spent £1.94, the Labour Party spent £2.14 and The Workers' Party, of which Deputy Gilmore was a member when he was elected to the Dáil, spent an average of £6.17 on every vote obtained in the by-elections. In the Dublin North by-election, the Democratic Left party of which Deputy Gilmore was a member at the time, spent £16,049 to get 225 votes. That was an expenditure of £41.04 on every vote.

Is there any advance on that?

That is the worst excess of election expenditure by any party in the history of this State and I predict the Deputy's party will spend more per vote than Fianna Fáil in the next general election. I want the record checked and the media to report on it. When the next general election occurs, which will be the first election under the new expenditure limits—

I am glad the Deputy is not in Fianna Fáil headquarters.

—we will spend less per vote than the Labour Party and that will be on the record. That party is the greatest spender when it comes to buying votes and the facts prove it. These are official figures from the Public Offices Commission. The Deputy should check them.

A shrill note is entering the debate and it is good to see that there is some robust comment in what is essentially a wonderful motion which, for the first time for a number of years, brings ourselves and the Labour Party together on a motion. As most people in the Labour Party know, I have a great belief in that party. I trust them and I hope some day we will be together again.

They do not trust Fianna Fáil. That is problem.

I hope, in that bright new future which may be offered by a coalition between ourselves and the Labour Party, we may do together the great work that needs to be done to reform the workings of this House—

Fianna Fáil is conceding an overall majority.

—and to render irrelevant that great irrelevance, the Fine Gael Party.

People speak of codes of conduct. We should examine conduct of behaviour, conduct unbecoming, the state of play in Fine Gael and the manner in which its members mistreated their former leader, the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton. It was a tragedy for politics. One can have a binding code of conduct in this House but, if parties continue to devour themselves like Fine Gael has done over the past week—

What about Charles J.?

—it gives a very unseemly example to the people. Fianna Fáil tried that in the 1980s due to the horrible scourge of factionalism and sterile personality conflicts. It did a disservice to the country in the 1980s with the disputes between Mr. Haughey and Mr. Colley. It did not do any good for the public which expects the best from its political class and parties. It is unfortunate to see Fine Gael engaging in those unedifying things of which we were guilty in the 1980s.

No one was assaulted in the corridors.

I found it endlessly amusing and I was forced to conclude this week that Fine Gael is one of those parties which, although often unsuccessful in elections, has a very high estimation of itself. There were no fewer than eight potential leaders of Fine Gael in the past week. The field has thinned down to four this week.

The Deputy is obviously short of something to say on ethics.

It is a wonderful thing for a party doing as poorly in the opinion polls as Fine Gael to have eight potential leaders.

We are in a period of State-sponsored and media-sponsored ethical cleansing. It is a period that is difficult for politics and I hope this motion and the legislation that will flow from it in the code of conduct will help improve things. However, I agree with Deputy Fleming.

The Deputy was doing so well.

I find it a bit odd to hear the high moral tone being adopted by former members of The Workers' Party. The failed Marxists of an earlier era are now joined with the soft middle left that we know to be the Labour Party. In due deference to Deputies Higgins and Howlin, they do not generally adopt that shrill tone; it is the more revolutionary former Marxists who seem to engage in this shrill invocation to ethical cleansing in this House. Naturally, I reject all such revolutionary rubbish and rhetoric.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Michael D. Higgins, O'Sullivan and Joe Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank Deputies Fleming and Lenihan for their flattering comments in respect of my contribution to debates in the House in the past week or two. The more vicious the attack from Fianna Fáil and the lower members of Fianna Fáil dredge the barrel for insults, the more effective the criticism of the Opposition. At the risk of being a little sentimental, the comments made this evening reminded me of the kind of speeches we used to hear from former Deputy Ray Burke and former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who, every time they were put under pressure, gave us precisely the same litany as Deputies Fleming and Lenihan. I am a little disappointed that Deputy Fleming, who is normally independent-minded in his thinking, allowed himself to be sent into the House with a script—

From the programme managers.

—from the Fianna Fáil press office, but as a former full-time employee of the Fianna Fáil Party with responsibility for its finances and who is, probably, on leave on absence—

And awaiting his summons.

—it is useful to take an each way bet. I regret I was not in the House yesterday evening to hear the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, who is present in the House, but I read it during the course of the day. It read a little like the confessions of St. Augustine, albeit without the salacious bits. It was a case of, "Lord make us good, but not yet". The Minister of State indicated what the Government proposes to do to reform politics. It has been in office almost four years, during which it has voted down many of the reforming measures proposed initially by the Labour Party and which the Minister of State now claims will be introduced by the Government.

The Labour Party would not participate in an all-party committee.

The Minister of State identified seven activities in which the Government will engage. He informed us that the Freedom of Information Act is to be extended without acknowledging that it was introduced by the Labour Party—

I have often acknowledged it. The Deputy should not be ridiculous.

—and that the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is to introduce legislation dealing with the registration of lobbyists, again without acknowledging that the Government rejected a Labour Party proposal dealing with the same measure about two years ago in the Seanad. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is to introduce reforming measures for local authorities. He has not yet introduced the Local Government Bill, 2000, published last May for debate in the House while the Standards in Public Office Bill is still awaiting Committee Stage. Although we have been informed that there will be amendments to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, to which I will return, they have not yet been circulated. The Prevention of Corruption Bill, which is still awaiting Committee Stage, could have been dealt with if the Labour Party Bill on the same area had been accepted. Apparently, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is also to introduce amendments to the Whistleblowers Protection Bill which was introduced initially by Deputy Rabbitte. If there is a reforming will on the part of the Government—

I acknowledged that last night.

Let it go through Committee Stage and it will be passed. Why are we waiting? Why is all this being put off into the future?

The Deputy seems to have a different view from his party leader.

I am pleased the motion in the name of the Labour Party has been accepted by the Government. Its response, however, has been half-hearted and, in many respects, two-faced in respect of many of the reforming measures being considered. For example, last June the House debated the Labour Party's Electoral (Amendment) (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill which had, as one of its principal objectives, the imposition of a ban on corporate donations to parties or candidates. The Labour Party believes strongly that this reform is essential if the lessons of the tribunals are to be learned and we are to begin the process of restoring confidence in the political system. Rather than directly oppose the Bill, the Government parties tabled an amendment which provided that the Bill was deemed to have passed Second Stage on 1 December. On 14 December, under pressure from the Labour Party, the Government agreed to pass a motion referring the Bill to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government.

At the beginning of January I requested the chairperson of the committee, Deputy Healy Rae, to schedule the Bill for consideration by the committee. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, has now written to Deputy Healy Rae, however, requesting that the committee consider the Government's electoral Bill, which includes the controversial proposals to increase spending limits at elections by up to 50% before it discusses the Labour Party Bill. The Minister justifies his request by referring to the fact that the Government has promised to publish amendments to the electoral Bill which will provide for a limit, but not a ban on corporate donations.

I regard this intervention by the Minister as a serious attempt to overturn a decision of the Dáil and interfere in the work of the committee. The Government is effectively attempting to bury the Labour Party Bill which was mysteriously omitted from the list of legislation before the Dáil published on 25 January by the Government Chief Whip. The Labour Party intends to fight the Minister's interference and I am insisting that the chairperson of the committee, Deputy Healy Rae, allow the committee to consider the Bill at the earliest possible date.

In its attempt to block our Bill and push through legislation which will allow Fianna Fáil to spend an additional £1 million at the next election, the Government has shown that it has no interest in trying to clean up politics. This morning the Taoiseach confirmed on the Order of Business—

The Deputy is lowering the tone of the debate. He should have been present last night.

—that the Government is blocking the Labour Party Bill.

That is the sort of nonsense—

No, it is not nonsense. It is fact.

The Deputy is reading slavishly from a prepared script.

At least, I prepared it myself.

The Deputy should come up with an original idea.

This morning the Taoiseach confirmed on the Order of Business that the Government is blocking the Labour Party Bill and wants the House to consider instead its own electoral Bill which is intended to increase by £1 million the amount Fianna Fáil can spend at the next election. To have the Minister for the Environment and Local Government's Bill passed by the House the Government will require the support of the four Independent Deputies, Deputies Healy Rae, Fox, Gildea and Blaney. A Bill to allow Fianna Fáil to increase its electoral spending is hardly in the interests of independent Deputies whose capacity to raise political funds must be limited and whose seats, notwithstanding their support for the Government, will be targeted by Fianna Fáil at the next election. I am sure Fianna Fáil fundraisers are even now divvying up their additional £1 million and planning their election spending sprees in those constituencies.


The four independent Deputies concerned should seriously examine the Minister for the Environment and Local Government's electoral Bill and consider whether it is in their interests or in the wider interests of democracy to support it when, if ever it is brought before the House.

I very much welcome the fact that the motion has received support from all sides of the House. It is heartening that so many Deputies have spoken positively in favour of a code of conduct. I listened with care to the speeches made last night and this evening. It is of the utmost importance that politics is restored to where it should be in the public mind. I listened with great interest to what Deputy Killeen had to say in quoting Aristotle. He was right to refer to the fundamental principle that politics is at the core of civil society. When politics is devalued, civil society is weakened. The code of practice for elected representatives sponsored by the Labour Party and supported by the Government through an amendment is but one part of the task that lies ahead in restoring politics to its proper place. For example, with the work having been done in regard to how representatives govern their behaviour in terms of their responsibilities, how it is to be placed in terms of the perception of politics in the wider world? Politics has been weakened by forces which we must also address. It may not be popular but it is necessary to say that what exists in the outside world is a comprehensive disinterest in ethics. In regard to, for example, economic matters in the 1980s and 1990s Ireland went through a version of neo-liberal economics which proposed that many things both in the social and administrative realms were to be governed by market principles, whether it was broadcasting or social welfare or the distribution and delivery of services.

There has been a collapse in language from political language generously conceived and philosophically built around the principle of social cohesion into a new neo-liberal guff that seriously marginalises that which is done for the public good. One does often hear words today such as "solidarity", "social cohesion", "redistribution", "inclusion" and so forth except when people are forced to use them. I am under no illusion about the enormous task of recreating a social ethic built around the bonds of the larger society.

Many of the institutional forces which describe politics, particularly in the media, hardly cover much of the work of politicians who have reformed the working of the Oireachtas through a committee system that is under funded, poorly staffed and hard working. One, therefore, regularly finds a corrosive diet of cynicism delivered, particularly to young people whom I had the honour to teach for more than 20 years, in which politics is continually devalued. It is important to recognise that the task of restoring the place of politics is not confined just to this one instrument and that it is a bigger task.

Turning to the motion and that for which we have responsibility, it is best to speak bluntly and I am encouraged by Deputy Fleming and others to do so. It is my belief since I first stood for election more than 30 years ago that the vast majority of politicians entered out of a sense of public service. I recall often speaking to the late Noel Browne who would describe politics as the most important profession for which there is such little training. The most important training is in ethics. Most politicians have entered politics because of an impulse to give public service. Many people have left other occupations or businesses which were often more rewarding financially and otherwise to serve in public life.

Those who are currently before the tribunals and, for example, have had allegations made against them to which they are replying have something in common. They are mostly people who had some connection with the grossly speculative activity, building land, in one form or another, a bloodsucker speculation that has made it impossible for people to put a roof over their heads. I emphasise out of a sense of fairness that these people from the shadows did not capture whole parties but sections of parties and it is a scandal that the public outrage is not directed at those who are responsible for that disgraceful intersection between politics and the worst elements of society.

Politicians of all parties should not have to carry the burden of the behaviour of Mr. Haughey or Mr. Burke or all the others. It is in the sense of building support for the motion that I need not complete the list. They have something in common and they are disproportionately from a certain version of the Fianna Fáil Party. There was something earthy about Deputy Killeen's reference to Aristotle. Perhaps the flavour of this debate is closer to Dylan Thomas who wrote in Under Milk Wood: "O Lord we are not wholly good nor are we truly bad". That is the version politicians will recite.

The value of the code is that it should be able to draw a distinction between something that happens in public life and mistakes. The leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, last night stated there should be a mechanism for people to put a mistake right. As somebody who is a legislator and has been a Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas, I say that would be a very valuable facility. There is a huge distinction between a mistake that can be corrected and a knowing act of corruption, which is very different.

I agree with Deputy Killeen that the sooner the House establishes autonomy in relation to its practices, funding and staffing separate from the Executive the better. We must also be clear that we are involved in a process which is necessary and of which, for example, the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1996, which the Labour Party introduced in Government, and this motion tabled by the Labour Party are part. As the tribunals continue from time to time people put it around constituencies that the tribunals are costing a great deal and outline where all the money could be spent and so forth. I have heard tribunals bad mouthed again, unfortunately, by members of the Fianna Fáil Party who suggest that perhaps the money should be spent elsewhere.

We set up the tribunals.

The House set them up, not Fianna Fáil.

Unfortunately, they fail to recognise that they made the tribunals necessary.

With regard to spending money in constituencies I have been contesting elections since 1969, mostly as a sole candidate, and have never spent more than £12,500. If Deputy Fleming wants to examine who is trying to buy votes, he should ask my constituency colleagues from his party about which one of them spent almost £50,000 on an election. He will get a very illuminating answer.

It is good that there is such unanimity about the work before us. I also hope that those who cover this debate will embark on an agenda of discussing how they also might contribute to the appropriate regard and respect for politics and its profession, the importance of participation, and how dangerous and damaging to social cohesion it is if commentators suggest that, for example, younger people should be disinterested in politics or that there is something superior about being more interested in the economy than in the polity.

We live one life and if it is to be lived morally it means putting politics at its centre, encouraging others to respect different opinions genuinely held and being able to encourage the most popular form of reflective moral discussion and the different content of politics as opposed to a pap corrosive cynicism that is borrowed from outside this country.

While I welcome the cross-party support for the motion on a code of conduct, particularly the Government support, the bombast of Deputy Conor Lenihan's contribution contrasts with the telling comment made by his colleague, Deputy Roche, where he referred to the fact that not one of the young people who accompanied him in the House today was interested in politics. There is a great contrast between that and the attitude displayed by Deputy Lenihan in trivialising the issues covered by the motion. We would do well to listen to the points made by Deputy Roche regarding young people. If we cannot interest them in politics, there will be serious concerns about the future of democracy in Ireland. It will take a long time, unfortunately, to retrieve the reputation of politics after the damage that was done during the era referred to by Deputy Lenihan when George Colley and Charles Haughey vied for the leadership of Fianna Fáil. Huge damage has been done to the public perception of politics by the activities which are now coming to light at the tribunals. It will take the public a long time to get over the deeply held images of brown paper bags and of the most powerful person in the land being given wads of money in the way outlined in the tribunals.

We have a duty to overcome that, however, and this code of conduct is part of a network of measures to do it. These measures have largely been introduced by the Labour Party and include the Ethics in Public Office Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Electoral Acts and other legislation. There is more legislation we wish to introduce, particularly legislation providing for the separation of business from politics. Such measures must be put in place if we are to reclaim politics after the damage that has been done, primarily by sectors of the Fianna Fáil Party.

Democracy is a hugely important instrument and our jobs in this House are important and powerful. The public knows that. They know we make decisions about basic things in their lives such as the education of their children, the health service and financial support when they are going through difficult times. They want to trust those decisions and be sure that Members represent them impartially and fairly. We are the people's intermediaries and representatives in the House so we owe it to them to ensure there is a restoration of confidence in the democratic process and in the Oireachtas.

We put forward this code of conduct in that context and I welcome the fact that it is supported by other parties. However, the other pieces of the jigsaw that are not yet in place are vital to restoring public confidence, particularly the separation of the funding of politics from big business and corporate bodies. People will still have questions if political parties continue to get large sums of money from representatives of business. They will have questions as to the outcome of the presentation of that money, whether it is to individual politicians or to political parties. We will not be able to clear that concern or those questions until the Labour Party legislation in that regard is enacted. Under that legislation, politicians will be unable to accept such contributions in order to fund politics. That measure and others, such as the whistleblowers legislation, have still to be agreed by the House.

It is not until such time as these measures are implemented that people will turn back to politics and believe they can serve them in a transparent way. That is the essence of the public service which all Members of this House wish to represent. This code is an important part of what we are trying to achieve but we need to achieve the rest as well. We want Government support for the other measures.

I am a relatively new Member of this House. We have a legacy from the past that we have great difficulty adjusting to and dealing with. Every day we meet people who have given up on politics as a way of providing for a just society and it is up to every Member to overcome that. We can do it but we must do so in a way that confronts these issues and brings us into an era in which people will know exactly how and why we operate and will be assured that we make decisions for the right reasons. While I welcome this code there are other measures, which are perhaps more important, that still must be agreed. I call on the Government parties to support the measures in this regard which the Labour Party has consistently put before the House.

(Dublin West): I support the motion, with some conditions which I will mention later. People who are guilty of manipulating the planning process for personal enrichment or of accepting bribes or who are influenced by gifts from big business, developers or speculators should have no place in an assembly that is supposed to represent the interests of the people. Unfortunately, the main establishment parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats have, for decades, tolerated people who have been involved in the manipulation of the planning process and who have accepted gifts from speculators and developers. As a result, this type of corruption has found a manifestation in the membership of Dáil Éireann.

Courtesy of those main establishment parties and what they have tolerated in their ranks over past decades, ordinary people would be forgiven for, and justified in, believing that Dáil Éireann provides a home for bribe takers, Ansbacher men, tax amnesty clients, people who obstruct tribunals of investigation and even cattle rustlers. One might travel many a long day to find such a gallery of rogues in one institution.

That is not to talk about the legal conflicts of interest that are tolerated in the Dáil. Sitting thickly on these benches are, for example, substantial landlords and wealthy publicans who are protected by legislation or lack of legislation, depending on which is better for their interests. Publicans are defended by legislation while landlords rack rent by virtue of an absence of legislation.

Is the Deputy denying the democratic right of anybody to stand for election in this country?

The Deputy and his party have done well from it.

(Dublin West): I am saying that many of the people who sit in this House for the main parties are bought and sold by established interests before they come into the Dáil.

That is outrageous.

(Dublin West): That is the only way we can interpret people accepting bribes from big business and then coming into Dáil Éireann.

That is an outrageous slander.

(Dublin West): Is anybody who accepts tens of thousands of pounds from developers and speculators and calls himself a public representative anything other than bought and sold? The Minister should cop on. He knows this well. The dependence of the major parties on big business is in itself a source of scandal.

The Deputy is abusing the privilege afforded by the House. He should respect it, not abuse it.

(Dublin West): No ordinary person believes that big business or millionaires give massive donations to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and do not expect that their interests will be looked after when those parties are in power, perhaps quite legally.

That is nonsense.

(Dublin West): When a Minister for Finance makes his Budget Statement, one or two percentage points of a difference in terms of tax can mean tens of millions of pounds for a bank. Does the Minister think that when Allied Irish Banks and the Bank of Ireland divided hundreds of thousands of pounds—

The Deputy does not have a clue how these things are governed.

(Dublin West):—between the major parties in this House, they were doing it because they like giving their money away? Ask any small business person whom they have bankrupted or anybody whose house has been repossessed. They did it because they understand it influences the political parties who form the majority in Dáil Éireann. Corruption is one issue and it should be rooted out but what I call legalised corruption, by which the major parties come into the House to represent the interests of established, powerful, big business interests, is another form of corruption.

I have one reservation with this motion. The Dáil must be able to condemn bribery, corruption and so forth but the provision for suspension for breaking the law will have to be framed clearly. Any provision to suspend a Deputy must be very clearly framed. There are times when it is correct and just to break the law if it is an unjust law.

Táim lán sásta go bhfuil deis agam labhairt ar an rún seo. I condemn the outrageous insult levelled by Deputy Higgins at the decent Members of this House who come here having been elected by people of integrity. Nobody should generalise about a category of people in the way Deputy Higgins has done. We are not all in the happy position of drawing a State salary and receiving a big party allocation for a single man party which blows in the direction of whatever breeze it chooses.

(Dublin West): The Minister's leader receives an annual allocation of £700,000. Is he suggesting the Taoiseach uses it for personal reasons?

The Minister, without interruption. The Deputy should resume his seat.

The Government is happy to support this motion, subject to what is a useful amendment. We have had a valuable opportunity to discuss this important topic. The motion correctly refers to Article 15 of the Constitution which reserves to the Houses of the Oireachtas the making of rules in relation to the conduct of their business and membership. That important constitutional principle protects the vital independence of the Houses, a freedom at the heart of our democracy. The privilege of independence bestows the responsibility on all Members to properly order our affairs. It is important, therefore, that we produce an effective and well balanced code of conduct.

There is a wide consensus in the House on the need for a code of conduct for Members and that the task should be bestowed on the Select Committee on Members' Interests. The drafting task itself is best left to the committee but it may be worthwhile to consider the type of code we, as Members, want for ourselves and future gener ations. The code of conduct must be specific about the standards to be expected of Members in order to constitute a real source of guidance.

I concur with comments made last night and earlier this evening to the effect that in an ideal world, we would all have a well developed personal sense of right and wrong. Most of us have exactly that. However, we live in a complex and challenging world and not every decision facing a Member of the Oireachtas is a black and white one. The code of conduct should help us, as Members of Parliament, to resolve those dilemmas. The code should also have regard to its overall context. The members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests are all experienced people who will be aware of the nature and breadth of the work of parliamentarians and their personal experience will be of considerable assistance to them.

It is also important that committee members would have regard to the legislative context of their work. Considerable mention has been made during the debate of the various pieces of legislation affecting Oireachtas Members. A range of legislative initiatives is being progressed and the committee should bear these in mind when drafting the new code. In particular, the Standards in Public Office Bill sets out what the code's primary aspiration should be, namely the indication of standards of conduct and integrity appropriate to the person to whom it relates in order that that person can be guided by the code and have regard to it in the performance of his or her duties.

Acting Chairman

The Minister has one minute remaining.

Chaith mé nóiméad ag éisteacht leis an bhfear sin ag scréacháil.

(Dublin West): Bheadh níos mó ama ag an Aire mura scread sé orm ar dtús.

The standards in public office legislation will confer additional legal status on the code of conduct. It will be admissible in court proceedings, the proceedings of the Select Committee on Members' Interests of the relevant House, a tribunal or the Standards in Public Office Commission. This should be borne in mind in the drafting stages. We must remember that the Standards in Public Office Commission will be established as a result of the standards in public office legislation. This House and its committee, rather than the new commission, will be the appropriate recipients of complaints about Oireachtas Members, other than office-holders, as is appropriate under the Constitution. However, the committee will be in a position to refer important issues to the commission for investigation if it so wishes. This will be an important additional facet of the committee's work as we are now conferring extra responsi bilities on it. A code of conduct should underpin public confidence in the Houses' operations. It should, therefore, be capable of withstanding public scrutiny in regard to its content and the manner in which it will operate.

It is clear from the provisions of the standards in public office legislation that the Government not only supports the introduction of a code for Oireachtas Members but has placed that within a legislative structure which will support and assist the Select Committee on Members' Interests in its implementation.

I thank Deputy Howlin for sharing five minutes of his time with me. I support the code of conduct proposed by the Labour Party but I believe the current cloud of suspicion which hangs over political and public affairs will only be dispelled through the introduction of a regime of true accountability and transparency. This will require a major programme of reform and the political will to carry out such a programme is less than evident from the contributions from the Government side.

Codes of conduct alone, however welcome, will not resolve the problem. A clear and exemplary punishment must apply when accepted standards are contravened or disregarded. A new political environment must be created as we acknowledge that the trust upon which politics is founded has been shaken to the core by tribunal revelations over the past ten years. We, as politicians, must forge a new relationship with citizens and we must acknowledge that a golden circle of well-heeled business interests has exercised undue influence over a handful of senior politicians for years, thereby subverting constitutional democracy with little regard for its fundamental pillars.

In order to restore the balance and attract public confidence, many areas of reform must be addressed. In short, we must amend the Electoral Act, 1997. We must publish a Bill which would place the role, functions, rights and responsibilities of political parties on a statutory footing. Registration of lobbyists' legislation is essential to address the twilight function of lobbyists within our political system. Such legislation would allow for full disclosure of lobbyists' activities, the development of a strict code of conduct for lobbyists and the banning of lobbyists from making political contributions to any individual candidate, politician or party. Each registered political party should be required by law to return a detailed annual financial statement clearly outlining all income and expenditure. Detailed particulars of all expenditure from State-funded leaders' accounts should be published on an annual basis. There must be a shift in the balance of political party funding from private donations from wealthy individuals and corporations to the Exchequer.

The financing and expenditure of political parties strikes at the heart of democracy. If total Exchequer funding is provided to political parties, no donations should be allowed. However, if some fund-raising is to remain, it must be tightly controlled and carefully measured. Donations must be clearly defined to include gifts and services as well as funding. It is not possible to distinguish between corporate and individual donations as it is common knowledge that many individual donations can be significantly higher than those from corporate entities and companies. Quite often, individual donations are effectively corporate donations paid through personal rather than business accounts. The reform of corporate and private funding for political parties must be based on the twin premises of equality and accountability. There are also consequences for smaller parties, independent and non-party candidates, some of whom have contributed to this debate.

In view of the imminent introduction of strict limits on donations to political parties, the issue of foreign donations must also be addressed. Gifts and bequests from international states and organisations should be banned. All candidates should be required to maintain a separate and distinct electoral bank account which would be available for inspection if, and when, required.

I welcome the Labour Party's proposed code of conduct which must be viewed as a component in an overall package which will assist the creation of a new political environment through the reform of crucial aspects of the manner in which we conduct our public affairs.

I thank the various Members who contributed to a very useful and important debate. A debate of this nature could be viewed as introverted in that we are examining our own affairs, conduct and standards. We would rather use this precious Private Members' Time to hold the Government to account and to debate its abysmal record on the health services, homelessness, housing, waste management or the myriad other pressing issues which demand our attention. However, due to circumstances of which we are all aware, we are again debating an issue which concerns the standards and behaviour of public representatives.

I welcome the Government's acceptance of the Labour Party position but there is a pattern in the way the Government and, in particular, the Taoiseach, respond to matters of this kind. It is quite clear that the strategy is, when it is put up to him, not to resist but to accept. As far as possible thereafter, however, bury.

It is regrettable that the Government has not led on issues like this, tabling its own standards Bills rather than stopping progress on all the range of issues that colleagues of mine have listed, from whistleblowers to banning corporate donations, which has been the standard response to date. It is interesting that the Government has accepted the proposals we have put forward tonight. No doubt, in a week or in a month or two, they will be presented as Fianna Fáil pro posals, just as the tribunals are now Fianna Fáil tribunals. As the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Cullen, indicated in an interjection earlier in this debate "Did we not establish them".

Fianna Fáil did not establish the tribunals. This House established the Tribunals and Fianna Fáil was most reluctant to agree to the terms of reference and they were dragged—

That is not true.

—by pressure to agree—

That is not true. The Deputy's memory is playing tricks on him.

—again on foot of threat from their Government partners. This attitude is characterised with the misinformation of Fianna Fáil in relation to these matters. We had it yet again tonight with Deputy Fleming's interjection.

Deputy Fleming said the Labour Party spend all the money and break the regulations. Let me, once again, set the record straight. In relation—

On a point of order, I never said that.

—to the matters that Deputy Fleming—

Deputy Fleming should resume his seat.

I never said the Labour Party broke the regulations.

I never said they broke the regulations. I never made such a comment.

We heard the Deputy.

—whose only outing on the public record of late was to go on national radio and, in the most sleeveenish and despicable manner, to recycle the filthy language and accusations used by a Deputy who was in jail. To recycle those filthy charges and to put some sort of extra spin on them has been Deputy Fleming's contribution to reforming public office and public life in recent times. I, therefore, put little store on his contribution tonight. It does him no service and in the fullness of time even Deputy Fleming will regret and be ashamed of his contribution.

We make no excuse for tabling this motion. Let me set the record straight in relation to the Labour Party position on this so-called over-spend. In the five by-elections that have been fought on the basis of legislation that the Labour Party introduced in Government and that I had the honour, as Minister for the Environment, of fighting through this House against the unremitting Opposition of Fianna Fáil and, in particular, the Progressive Democrats and which the current Attorney General announced as being unworkable and unconstitutional, we persisted and, after months of debate, got them enacted. We set the record.

Labour spent £497 over the £17,000 limit in Dublin north and the Public Offices Commission concluded the over-spend was not knowingly incurred and that the amount was not material.

That is the fact.

In Dublin South Central the overspend was £257 over the £17,550 limit. Again, the Public Offices Commission concluded that the agent did not knowingly cause the over-spend and the amount over-spent was immaterial.

Let me give one other valuable bit of information. The Labour Party was charged a rate of 21% VAT on its literature in those elections. We are now informed that that might have been a mistake and that we should have been charged VAT at a rate of 12.5%. We are most likely—

Thanks to Minister McCreevy, a decent man.

He had nothing to do with it.

—to have a significant underspend in those elections. I hope that finally nails that lie.

There is another spin going around the House today. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and Government Chief Whip, Deputy Brennan, is now making this dreadful accusation against the Labour Party that, under the limits introduced by myself, it will not be able to spend the same amount in the next general election as it spent in the last. That is what we are designed to do, to reduce the over-spend, to push everyone down. That is what it is all about. Do the Government Deputies miss the point?

We do not miss the point.

It is to stop wasteful expenditure—

Deputy Howlin is not including the external—

Stop interrupting Deputy Howlin.

—that we have in mind. Our objective in these matters is simple. We make no excuse or apology for tabling these proposals but in doing so we claim no special status for our selves as a party or superior standards for ourselves.

Hear, hear.

Nobody sets themselves up as any way better than any other party or individual in this House.

I am delighted to hear it.

I make that absolutely clear.

A fact I acknowledged last night.

We have a common objective and that is to restore public confidence in public administration. As Deputy Rabbitte, very succinctly, put it last night in his contribution, we want to make sure that the public is disabused of the notion that public men can be bought with private money.

Hear, hear.

Hear, hear.

If we fail to do this our pursuit of all other social objectives that we, individually and collectively as Deputies and parties, want will come to naught. It is a time for all in this House to address these matters and to end the whispering campaigns to which Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred that are going on around the House, such as "they are all the same, they are all at it".

We are not all "at it". The vast majority of every party in this House is not "at it". It does no service to anyone or to the standards that we demand of everyone for this sleeveen whispering campaign of pulling everyone down to the lowest level. We will not have it and we need a collective will of the House to ensure it is faced down by us all.

The simple truth is that a tiny handful of individuals have abused their positions in this House down the decades. They should be disowned by all and should not be stood by, not defended and not have their lies recycled on the national airwaves. That sort of approach will be the death knell of representative democracy.

Why a code of conduct? Every profession now recognises the need for standards to be clearly laid down so that we have a yardstick by which our conduct can be judged and clear sanctions by which those who do not live up to those standards can be dealt with.

Deputy Michael Higgins is correct when he says we are not in the business of setting traps to trip ourselves. There will be misdemeanours, omissions and mistakes and we have to allow for those. The laws we have enacted try to do that to enable us to make corrections.

What we are out to do is to deal with serious abuse. Article 15.10 of the Constitution allows us to do that. It sets parameters for us to regulate our affairs and up to this we have not used those parameters, save to deal with disobedience of the Chair or disruptions in the House. It is time we used those sanctions.

Let us understand those sanctions. I am a member of the Committee on Members' Interests and when we dealt with the complaint against Deputy Foley people did not understand the penalty, as we could only deal with the offence committed, not with the litany of other offences that were in the public domain. Let us understand and explain the standards and the penalties that we apply.

Labour introduced the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, the Ethics in Public Offices Act and the Electoral Act, 1997. We are proud of our continued efforts in this regard. Tonight's proposals are but another step. They are a draft code and every Member must be part of the process of perfecting them.

We can win back public confidence in politics and politicians but we must have that if our democratic institutions are to have any future. I hope the collective will of the House is a major step in that direction.

Amendment put and agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.