Before we proceed with questions I wish to make a brief announcement for the information of the House concerning a complaint that was received under Standing Order 58 concerning remarks made by Deputy Gildea during the course of Private Members' time on Wednesday 21 November 2001 in respect of a named company. I am making this announcement at the first available opportunity in view of the unusual circumstances which gave rise to this complaint without in any way establishing a precedent requiring the Chair to have to report to the House on every complaint received under Standing Order 58, which has never been the practice. It is therefore unusual in that respect that I am making this announcement.
I have given careful consideration to all aspects of this matter including the debate on the motion of censure taken in the Dáil two weeks ago and in particular that the letter of complaint was all but read into the record in its entirety – the parts which were not read in were those which made counter allegations – and I have had a number of exchanges of communication with both the complainant and Deputy Gildea.
It should be borne in mind that Standing Order 58, which deals with complaints of this kind, is not an all-embracing comprehensive procedure which affords a complainant the same rights of redress as he potentially would have before the courts and the redress provided is that the complainant be enabled to incorporate an appropriate response on the record if it complies with other features of the Standing Order. The Standing Order goes on to state that the response shall be brief and strictly relevant to the questions at issue and shall not contain anything offensive in character. This is the balance between a Member's right to free speech and the right of an ordinary citizen to his good name. This is the balance struck by the Dáil in agreeing to this Standing Order. The decision by the Dáil was not taken lightly and I refer Members to the Dáil debate of 31 May 1995 in that regard.
In this context Standing Order 58 sets out a detailed procedure for dealing with a prima facie abuse of privilege in cases where remarks in the nature of being defamatory are alleged to have been made.
Paragraph 2(a) of the Standing Order states, “If the defamatory nature of the utterance is apparent at the time it was made during the course of proceedings, the Ceann Comhairle shall direct that the utterance be withdrawn without qualification”.
During the course of the debate I asked Deputy Gildea to withdraw his remarks and he stated "I accept the wishes of the Ceann Comh airle and withdraw the offending remarks". In addition I sought confirmation from the Deputy that the withdrawal made at the time encompassed the charge made against the company concerned and I have received a reply from the Deputy dated 11 December which states:
I confirm to the Ceann Comhairle that my statement of withdrawal as requested by the Ceann Comhairle during a debate on a motion on Private Members' time on Wednesday 21st November, 2001 applied to all my remarks including the remarks relating to the company concerned.
In these circumstances, in view of the provisions of paragraph 2(a) of the Standing Order, I will not be taking any further action on this matter.