I wish to share my time with Deputy Naughten. I do not take any pleasure in making a contribution to this debate on the issue of the Flood tribunal's interim report into certain planning matters and payments. This is an issue of huge importance. No political report published in my political lifetime has caused such public anger and revulsion. I have read large sections of the report and I understand why this is the case. I commend Mr. Justice Flood for his direct use of language and his ability to go directly to the point with bluntness and relative simplicity, considering the complexities of what his tribunal is investigating.
The contents of this report are a damning description of bribery and corruption at the top of Irish politics and business under the Fianna Fáil banner. The message is clear that there was a time not so long ago when favours could be bought from a certain Minister for commercial end within a golden circle where business, politics, bribery, corruption and profiteering were all intertwined.
Lest anyone listening to this debate thinks I am exaggerating in my description of the contents of this report, I recommend that they read chapter 16, summary of conclusions. In a little over two pages, Mr. Justice Flood outlines his list of evidence and comments in no uncertain terms on the many corrupt activities of Mr. Ray Burke as a councillor, a Deputy and a Minister.
I refer to a number of short extracts from the report to remind people just how damning it is in relation to the former Minister. Chapter 16, under the heading offshore bank accounts, states that a payment of £50,000 sterling on 21 December 1982 was a corrupt payment made by Mr. Tom Brennan to Mr. Burke. It states that a payment of £35,000 sterling to Caviar Limited on 19 April 1984 was a corrupt payment to Mr. Burke, probably made to him by Mr. Tom Brennan and his associates. It further states that a payment of £60,000 sterling to Caviar Limited in November 1984 was a corrupt payment to Mr. Burke and that a payment of £15,000 to the account of Caviar Limited on 19 April 1985 was a corrupt payment to Mr. Burke which was funded jointly by Mr. Tom Brennan and Mr. Joseph McGowan.
When referring to a meeting at Mr. Burke's home and a payment of £80,000, Mr. Justice Flood states that Mr. Burke assured those present at the time of the payment of moneys to him that he understood that the payment was made in connection with the proposal to alter the planning status of the Murphy lands and further assured those present that he would honour his commitment to do so. The report states that the payment received by Mr. Burke amounted to a corrupt payment and all present at the meeting were aware that it was such.
This report has confirmed in the minds of many people their worst fears of just how crooked certain senior politicians were in the past. We have a job to do as politicians to convince people that those murky days are now behind us but the only way to do that is by exposing the whole truth, punishing by law those who deserve it, moving on, learning the lessons of the past and putting safeguards in place to ensure that such events cannot happen in the future. The final part of the Fine Gael motion attempts to do that.
The Flood and Moriarty tribunals are playing a vital role in achieving the first part of this goal – finding the truth. People outside this House may not know it but there are four Deputies in their 20s and six Deputies under the age of 35 in my party, starting out a career in politics with all the right motivations for public service. There are many others in this House who have never met Mr. Ray Burke. I can truthfully say I have never met him, yet we, as politicians of the present and the future, must counteract the cynicism and anger directed at us following the activities of certain people in a different generation of politicians on a daily basis. With this in mind, was it too much to ask the Taoiseach to voluntarily answer questions as part of this debate and to explain why he made the decisions he did in relation to the appointment of Mr. Ray Burke as Minister for Foreign Affairs?
The Taoiseach said yesterday that he had no questions to answer on this matter. Let me tell him that we have questions to ask. If he has nothing to hide, why not, in the interests of transparency and co-operation in this House, of being up front with this country and the electorate who re-elected him as Taoiseach and of the 100,000 people who purchased or downloaded this report, make himself available for an hour or two for an open question and answer session? This is not a time to be obstructive to open debate or to frustrate the Opposition, which has valid questions to try to clear up – questions we have raised in the media and questions being asked in every pub and every political household in the country.
I have responsibility for the area of communications in Fine Gael. Unfortunately, Mr. Burke's corrupt activity was not solely confined to planning matters. While he was Minister for Communications in 1989, he was, as Mr. Justice Flood outlines, also involved in receiving a corrupt payment and acted in the interests of those who paid him, not in the interests of the public who elected him. Again in chapter 16, Mr. Justice Flood gives us a very concise description of Mr. Burke's relationship with the promoters of Century, the corrupt payment he received and the actions he took. I will read into the record exactly what was said. Under the heading Century Radio, the report states:
16-12 The Ministerial Directive obliging RTE to provide its facilities to Century issued by Mr. Burke as Minister for Communications on the 14th March 1989, was issued to advance the private interests of the promoters of Century and not to serve the public interest.
16-13 The payment of £35,000 to Mr. Burke by Mr. Barry on the 26th May 1989 was a corrupt payment made in response to a demand for the £30,000 cash by Mr. Burke, and was not intended by Mr. Barry to be a political donation to Mr. Burke or to Fianna Fáil.
16-14. In proposing legislation which would have had the effect of curbing RTEs advertising, altering the format of 2FM, and diverting broadcasting licence fee income from RTE to independent broadcasters, Mr. Burke was acting in response to demands made of him by the promoters of Century and was not serving the public interest.
16-15 The payment of £35,000 to Mr. Burke by Mr. Barry ensured that he was available to serve the interests of Century's promoters, as is evidenced by his willingness to meet with their bankers and to give them assurances that he would take steps, including, if necessary, the introduction of legislation which would be to Century's financial benefit.
The difference between corrupt decision making relating to zoning matters and decisions relating to Century Radio is that ministerial directives and the proposing of legislation require Cabinet approval and carry collective responsibility. I ask the Taoiseach whether anybody raised an eyebrow at Mr. Burke's favourable treatment of Century Radio at the time and the curbing of RTE's ability to raise revenue. In the light of what we have heard from Mr. Justice Flood, will the Taoiseach instigate investigations into other key directives or decisions made by the then Minister, Mr. Burke? If a corrupt payment was accepted in return for ministerial decisions in the broadcasting area, is it not reasonable to at least ask questions about other decisions made by Mr. Ray Burke and the motivations for these decisions when he was a Minister – for example, the circumstances surrounding the changes made to oil and gas exploration licensing when he was Minister for Energy and Communications?
These are the type of issues we, as an Opposition, wish to tease out with the Taoiseach by way of a question and answer session in this House, but he has refused to do that. There is now no provision to ask supplementary questions. If we are not clear on the answers provided to us in the prepared script which the Taoiseach will read, we have no facility to come back and question him. We cannot, therefore, do our job as an Opposition and hold the Taoiseach to account for decisions he and his Governments have taken in the past.
The signal going out to the public from this debate is that politicians will not answer straight questions and will not give straight answers. Mr. Justice Flood has served the public well in his work and in the publication of this report by shining a bright light into a dark corner of shady political dealings in the recent past. Unfortunately, the Taoiseach is not helping his cause with his attitude towards this debate.