Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is a short but important technical Bill, the immediate purpose of which is to ensure that Judge Mahon as chairperson of the tribunal to inquire into certain planning matters and payments, previously chaired by Mr. Justice Flood, can make orders regarding applications for costs incurred during the tenure of the previous chairperson. The issue became apparent following the resignation, in June 2003, of Mr. Justice Flood as chairperson of the tribunal.

More specifically, the issue arises with regard to the determination of costs concerned with certain modules dealt with in the already published interim reports of the Flood tribunal. These modules were dealt with at a time when Mr. Justice Flood was the sole member of that tribunal and the reports were accordingly prepared by him. The determination of costs had not been made at the time of Mr. Justice Flood's resignation.

A key provision in the Bill, accordingly, is section 2. It provides by way of amendment of section 6 of the Tribunals of Inquiry Act of 1979, for the insertion of a new subsection 1A under which the sole member of a tribunal, or the chairperson, if there is more than one member, may make an order on any costs that were incurred before his or her appointment and which have not already been determined. In exercising this power, the sole member or chairperson must have regard to any report of the tribunal relating to its proceedings in the period before his or her appointment. The Bill makes clear that the new provisions will apply to tribunals appointed and costs incurred before or after the passing of the legislation.

During the course of the debate in the Seanad on 9 December last, where the Bill passed all Stages, some concerns were expressed that the Bill, in making provision to permit a new chairperson of a tribunal to make orders regarding costs that were incurred before his or her appointment and which were not already determined by a previous chairperson, was somehow retrospective in effect.

I do not believe, and the Attorney General agrees, that such concerns are justified. The new chairperson is permitted only to make orders on costs which were incurred before his or her appointment and which have not already been determined. If in fact the previous chairperson had made determinations on costs, and the new chairperson sought to amend or reconsider such determinations, then it could legitimately be argued that there was retrospective action involved. Moreover, the Bill makes clear that in making a determination on costs, the new chairperson is required to have regard to any report of the tribunal relating to its proceedings in the period before his or her appointment. In this way there can be no doubt but that the chairperson is acting within certain prescribed parameters.

Another key provision of the Bill is contained in section 3. It provides an express power for a tribunal to seek the direction of the High Court relating to the performance of the functions of the tribunal, including costs. This provision mirrors similar provisions provided for inspectors appointed under the Companies Act 1990.

Section 3 also provides that the High Court may hear an application otherwise than in public, if satisfied that it is appropriate to do so because of the subject matter on which the direction is sought, the risk of prejudice to criminal proceedings, or any other matter relevant to the nature of the evidence to be given at the hearing of the application.

The High Court is also asked to give such priority as it reasonably can to the disposal of the proceedings in the court concerning an application made to it from a tribunal and the court rules committee is empowered to make rules to facilitate giving effect to this provision.

Section 3 of the Bill also provides an express power to the chairperson to direct other members of the tribunal, where there is more than one member, to sit as separate divisions and to determine the conditions that will apply, including the preparation of reports.

There is, it is fair to say, fairly widespread dissatisfaction on all sides, including the Government, with regard to the costs associated with tribunals. These have become quite significant. Many Deputies would wish that the Government was bringing forward today a more comprehensive Bill regarding the operation of tribunals, particularly in regard to legal costs. We are conscious that changes are needed in the organisation and administration of tribunals in an effort to reduce the levels of legal costs associated with tribunals. To that end, I mention two initiatives currently under way.

Following approval by the Government, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform published in July 2003, the Commissions of Investigation Bill, which, it is hoped, can provide for an alternative, more timely and cost-effective mechanism for investigations into matters giving rise to significant public concern. This will not be a single or permanent body but it is planned that commissions may be established as required and that more than one may sit simultaneously.

I confirm that the legislation to establish commissions of investigation will not amend or alter any of the legislation relating to tribunals, nor will it alter in any way the powers available to tribunals currently under way or any other inquiry or investigation mechanism already available. It is envisaged that commissions will, instead, provide a new and alternative mechanism. In certain instances, they will be a precursor to a tribunal of inquiry. Commissions will be required to establish the factual position. A commission may be followed by a tribunal where it is unable to establish clear facts.

In those situations, the evidence collected by a commission will be available to the tribunal, thereby reducing the time and cost associated with tribunals. In reducing the time and cost involved, while ensuring fair procedures and respect for confidentiality, the proposed commissions of investigation will add significantly to the mechanisms and instruments available for public investigations. It is hoped that further progress will be made towards the enactment of this Bill in the present session.

I also direct the attention of Deputies to the work of the Law Reform Commission, which has been examining all issues concerning tribunals. The commission issued a lengthy consultation paper in March 2003, which traced the history of public inquiries in general, dealt with the legal and constitutional issues which have arisen, the type of proceedings involved and the issue of costs. The consultation report made a number of recommendations with regard to the totality of issues involved with tribunals. It is expected that the final report of the commission should be available later this year. It will surely provide an important input into how public inquiries might be conducted in the future. However, the Bill we are considering today, though critical, is primarily concerned with the issue of determination of costs, with particular reference to an existing tribunal.

I commend the Bill to the House.

The Fine Gael Party will not oppose this Bill. It is eight months since Mr. Justice Flood retired, and we welcome the fact that it has come to the House.

This Bill can essentially be described as a technical Bill. It is worth reminding the House of the circumstances which gave rise to the need for certain aspects covered in it. In June 2001, Mr. Justice Flood requested extra judges but only in March 2002 was that request acceded to. On 16 June 2002, Mr. Justice Flood announced his decision to step down as chairman but said he would remain on as an ordinary member thereby enabling him to determine the question of costs. However, in late June 2003 he announced his decision to resign completely. I understand that up to a certain point in time he was willing to remain on and determine costs but that following a meeting with the Attorney General he decided to resign fully.

This legislation will allow Judge Mahon to adjudicate on the costs issue arising from the first five years of the tribunal. It is necessary. I agree that without the legislation, Judge Mahon's decisions could be open to legal challenge. Currently, the legal costs submitted lie between €25 million and €30 million. Mr. Ray Burke's legal team has submitted a bill of approximately €10.5 million. I hope that when this legislation is enacted and Judge Mahon decides on the costs issue, he will take a firm stance with those people who obstructed and did not co-operate with the work of the tribunal. I will be delighted if he takes a firm, frank line with those individuals. This would send out a necessary and meaningful message.

Any legislation represents a potential opportunity to disrupt and delay the work of the tribunal. A well drafted provision would deter potential challenges. Section 2 of this Bill will be heavily scrutinised by the legal teams of particular individuals.

Will the Minister of State confirm if the Attorney General was personally involved in the drafting of this legislation? Will he assure us that he is convinced of the strength of this provision? This is an important matter and the legislation needs to be watertight. I hope the Minister of State will provide us with these assurances when he concludes the debate.

Section 3 of the Bill allows the tribunal to seek direction from the High Court in matters relating to its function and costs. The purpose of including this safeguard in the legislation is to reinforce the finding of Judge Mahon, which I support. The second part of section 3 allows tribunals to sit in divisions. It gives the Mahon tribunal potential to sit in three distinct parallel units. In theory this could mean the work of the tribunal will be three times faster, but it may be too optimistic to say that. Modules in these tribunals are intertwined and, in many cases, the same characters play a leading role in each module. I am not convinced this measure will result in any great breakthrough at the tribunal, but I hope I am wrong about this. Uncovering the truth can be a slow process.

The Minister of State referred to what may be more pertinent legislation in terms of the working of tribunals and the history of tribunals in this country, namely, the Commissions of Investigation Bill. As I understand it, under this legislation new inquiries would be conducted in private and a public hearing would only be held if this type of inquiry did not succeed. I welcome the fact that this measure is due to come forward and I urge that it be done as soon as possible.

The Fine Gael Party has tabled four Committee Stage amendments. We do not oppose this Stage of the Bill and recommend its passage.

The Labour Party will not oppose the Bill either. It is a fairly straightforward and short Bill which has arisen from the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood who dealt with the planning tribunal. If he had been treated in a proper fashion, and if his concerns had been given due consideration, the Bill before us may not have been required.

When Mr. Justice Flood requested extra resources and that other judges be appointed, a deaf ear was turned towards him and no response came from Government. In tendering his resignation he offered to stay on to deal with the matter of costs which is a legally tricky aspect at the heart of this legislation. If Mr. Justice Flood had been requested to remain in place this legislation would not have been required. However, the Government did not make this request and, in fact, created a limbo situation at that time through Government spin.

The Taoiseach misled the House in the manner in which he presented the case. He gave the impression that he had just heard about it when, in fact, he had the letter from Mr. Justice Flood for over a month before he announced it in the House. He informed the House that he had not properly considered the issues because he had just received the note, this, however, was not the case, as he already knew all about it. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, declined to consider the offer of Mr. Justice Flood to stay on.

The manner in which this has taken place is most strange. It is too much of a coincidence when we observe that Ms Justice Laffoy also expressed severe reservations about the way in which the Government handled the problems which she was facing and that she also received no co-operation. She went as far as saying that there was deliberate obstruction.

The Taoiseach constantly informs us that he was the man who began the process of a number of these inquiries. However, the Government appears to be extremely reluctant to co-operate enthusiastically with any of the inquiries. It appears to be more intent on putting obstacles in the way of inquiries conducting their business and putting out a spin to the effect that they will continue for many years. The Taoiseach used a figure of 15 years at one time in regard to the Flood tribunal and then a figure of 30 years.

Any citizen listening to that spin would remark on the terrible waste of taxpayers' money. The beef tribunal concluded with nobody being held accountable; nobody went to prison. This led to frustration and to people calling for an end to the tribunal system. However, the tribunals, are doing much good work. The context in which the tribunals were established reflected a lack of accountability and transparency in the conduct of public administration. The point should be reached where tribunals will no longer be necessary. Although they were occasionally a thing of the past, the plethora of tribunals at present reflect a diminution in public standards and a lack of accountability by the organs and institutions of State. We have all failed in that respect. It behoves us to ensure that everybody gets their house in order and that we, as legislators, construct a proper framework to govern the way in which we do our business. This will assist the various servants of the State in how they conduct their business and ensure the private sector is sufficiently monitored and scrutinised that it does not become a law unto itself or operate in an illegal or rogue fashion.

We have a responsibility to ensure that we put in place structures and amendments to allow the Mahon tribunal, formerly the Flood tribunal, to conduct its work properly and that it will not be delayed again by a legal challenge. I hope that what we put in place regarding the manner in which costs are prescribed and adjudicated will be sufficient. I think it will be, even though it means the new chairman will operate in a retrospective fashion.

It is important that this matter be rectified by means of a statutory amendment. It is also important that the chairman is provided with a backup allowing him to seek direction from the High Court on the performance and functions of the tribunal, including the matter of costs. I hope both of these measures will have the desired effect in allowing the allocation and determination of costs.

Large sums of money have already been mentioned. The former Minister, Mr. Burke, is allegedly seeking in the region of €10 million to €12 million in legal costs. He wants the taxpayer to foot his bill when there are serious findings in regard to his activities. The matter is an extremely delicate one and it must be got right, otherwise the taxpayer will foot the bill in all of these cases.

The third matter dealt with in the Bill is the question of the tribunal sitting in separate divisions. I welcome the appointment of the two other judges, Judge Mary Faherty and Judge Gerald Keys, which will make the Mahon tribunal a three-person one. I hope this will expedite the business of the tribunal so modules do not have to be dealt with by a single member or the tribunal as a whole, but that its business can be dealt with in a modular fashion. We are forever talking about the question of costs and the timescale that will be required.

A motion was debated in the House in July 2003 on the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. This sought approval for Judge Mahon, Judge Faherty and Judge Keys to be appointed as new members of the tribunal. There had been a number of exchanges on the issue of sitting in parallel in separate divisions that would be established to expedite the work of the tribunal.

The leader of the Labour Party wrote to the Taoiseach on the possibility of tribunal members sitting in parallel. It reads:

Dear Taoiseach,

I write in reference to the exchanges between us during the Dáil debate last Thursday on the Planning Tribunal. I had expressed regret at the ruling out of order of my proposal seeking to enable the Planning Tribunal members to sit in parallel, where feasible and appropriate. [While it could have been done at that time, the Government obviously knew best.]

The Minister, Deputy Cullen, intervened to say: "That is a matter for the judges. It is not for us to dictate how they order their business." We now know it was not. And you [the Taoiseach] said:-

"We are not changing any of the terms of reference. If we tried to change the terms of reference we would have another difficulty. There is no reason to do so. I hope they do sit in parallel for some of the modules. I agree with the Deputy, but they can do that under the present terms of reference."

If that is the case, why is this Bill being introduced? I have quoted what the Taoiseach said when the appointment of the Mahon tribunal members was being dealt with.

The leader of the Labour Party replied:

I merely raised the point for discussion because when many people saw three extra judges being appointed to the tribunal they assumed it was going to speed up. They also assumed that different modules could proceed in parallel and that the work would be done simultaneously but they have been surprised to find that is not the case.

Even though there were three judges, there was no provision to expedite the work.

The letter continues with a quote from the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who intervened at a later stage in the proceedings:

"... I agree with Deputy Rabbitte on one point. I shared his misapprehension that when three judges were assigned to the work of this tribunal of inquiry, it might be possible for them to sit separately and determine issues in a separate way. Were that done, I have no doubt that it would expedite the work of the tribunal. Again, as was made clear in the course of this debate, that is a matter for the tribunal itself to determine. I welcome Deputy Rabbitte's stating of the fact in the House that he would like to see that happen. If it does assist in expediting the work of the tribunal in dealing with more of these modules, then all the better."

The purpose of this letter is to seek explicit clarification in relation to the issue, which is not I believe contentious, politically or otherwise.

Are you advised that it is possible under the present legislation and terms of reference for the tribunal to sub-divide, so that individual members could be allocated separate modules to be inquired into and reported upon by them sitting alone? Could there be two or more divisions of the tribunal sitting, in relation to separate matters, at the same time?

Clearly, my own belief that such a procedure is not at present permissible is not shared by you or your colleagues in Government. But, on checking the record of the second stage debate on the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill, 2002, it seems to me that the then Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue, interpreted his legislation in much the same way I do. Has there been a change in the advice offered between then and yesterday?

Section 4 of the 2002 Act amended s. 2 of the 1979 Act and inserted a provision to the effect that, subject to rules governing the awarding of costs, "a decision or determination of a tribunal consisting of more than one member may be that of a majority of its members and, in the case of an equal division among its members as to the decision or determination to be made, the decision or determination shall be that of the chairperson of the tribunal".

The Minister said (22nd March, 2002, col. 5): -

"The phrase 'may be that of a majority of its members' rather than 'shall be' is to take account of the possibility that decisions and determinations may be unanimous".

Later (at col. 8), he repeats that: -

"I have already outlined, section 4 provides that a decision of a tribunal consisting of more than one member is to be that of a majority".

And at cols. 6 and 7 the Minister considered a situation where -

"the original tribunal member has left the tribunal and that person was the sole member when particular evidence was heard, while the additional member(s) were not members or reserve members at that time. The tribunal might, in those circumstances, conclude that it would unduly prejudice a person's legal rights were it to make findings on evidence it did not hear and to which it has access, perhaps, only in the form of transcripts... "

Two conclusions seem apparent from the framework of that Act and the Minister's common sense explanation of its workings. First the decision of a tribunal is that of the majority of its members. Second, a member should not contribute to decision-making on an issue in relation to which that member has not heard the evidence. That being so, it seems to me to follow that it is not at present possible for a single member sitting alone to receive the evidence and decide the issues arising in respect of a discrete module. The member cannot decide it alone because that member is not a majority of the membership of the tribunal. Yet the other members cannot contribute to the decision-making because they have not heard the relevant evidence.

You will appreciate that members of the Dáil and Seanad have a legitimate interest in arriving at a clear, common and consistent view on this question. We are all of us concerned to ensure the efficient and economical workings of the tribunal and this issue is relevant in deciding whether there is any need for either legislative change or future amendment to the governing terms of reference.

Thank you for any light you can shed on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Pat Rabbitte T.D.

Leader of the Labour Party

This letter was dispatched to the Taoiseach on 10 July 2003. It sought guidance in a matter on which there was a difference of opinion in the Dáil some days earlier. The Taoiseach replied by letter on 21 July 2003 stating:

Dear Deputy Rabbitte,

Thank you for your letter of 10 July 2003.

I am glad that you recognise that the objective of ensuring that members of the Tribunal may sit and hear different modules concurrently is one that is shared by all sides of the House. Our common desire to achieve an efficient and working inquiry system — which reduces the exposure of the State to legal costs — is something that should inspire political cooperation, in the Dáil and Seanad.

The public are, rightly, concerned at the level of costs incurred in connection with various tribunals. Proposals to reduce the costs of conducting inquiries are contained in the Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003. [I wish we had that Bill before us now]. However, that Bill does not, of itself, address the problems of costs and of duration that affect the operations of current tribunals. Thus further legislative changes require consideration.

It is correct that the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 2002 contains provisions dealing with tribunals of more than one member. As you know this effect of the legislation of 2002 was set out by the then Minister for Justice, Mr John O'Donoghue TD in his speech in the Dáil at the Second Stage of the debate on what was then the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill 2002. But there is other legislation that also needs to be considered in relation to the operations of tribunals. My advice is that our existing legislative code does not prevent parallel sittings.

As you are aware, in light of the recent resignation of Mr Justice Flood, it will be necessary to bring new legislation before the Dáil and Seanad at the earliest possible date in the coming session. This legislation will facilitate the Tribunal in making orders as to costs, arising from the hearings which give rise to the Tribunal's second interim report, in the absence of the former Chairman who alone had presided over those hearings.

The Oireachtas will undoubtedly wish to avail of this opportunity to make additional legislative changes which might, for example, simplify existing statutory procedures including the conferring of an express power on a multi-member tribunal to sit in divisions of the same Tribunal. [On the one hand, it is supposed to be there, but on the other, we need legislative provision to do it]. As I made clear in the Dáil last month, I and my colleagues in Government will carefully consider these issues in their entirety in order to produce an effective and legally sustainable set of proposals.

I look forward to your cooperation in respect of the forthcoming changes to our tribunals legislation. I will revert to you when the Government has completed its consideration of the possible options for further amendments to the tribunals legislation.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely,

Bertie Ahern T.D.

Taoiseach

That is the type of confusion that exists and unwillingness to come to grips with the issue and deal with it properly. The original decision was not to accept Mr. Justice Flood's offer to deal with costs and stay on, though it would have avoided most of that. However, the simple amendment that is now being put in statutory form to allow the tribunal to examine modules separately was sought for a considerable time. One of the things that Mr. Justice Flood wanted was extra judges and resources so that he could conduct his business properly. Ms Justice Laffoy also wanted extra resources, for the same reason.

I raise that now because, while we support the legislation, we do not want to give the Minister the impression that we feel that everything is hunky-dory in the tribunals area, since it is not. We would not be in this situation at all today if proper responses had come from the Government. If the Government were doing its job, properly resourcing the tribunals and listening to their chairpersons, who have been writing letter after letter to it protesting at the inadequacies of its response regarding documents and so on, this sort ofad hoc plugging of the gaps when something could have been dealt with generously and properly to ensure that the work of the tribunals is expedited would not have happened.

When we consider Mr. Justice Flood's second interim report, produced in 2002, we see the enormous amount of work that he has done. There was a range of activities which no one could have envisaged might come within his ambit. Who would have thought that? When he began the work of looking into Mr. Burke's activities, which obliged him, as he says in his preface, to investigate substantial payments made to Mr. Burke in the course of his long political career, the terms of reference looked good. However, when the ripples went out and the pathways were scrutinised, it was discovered that Mr. Burke had been involved in an enormous plethora of activities with several question marks over virtually all activities where money was involved. That meant that Mr. Justice Flood had to continue his work and expand his area of activity to include land rezoning, radio broadcasting, offshore trusts and corporations. We cannot therefore blame Mr. Justice Flood for the length of time that it has taken the tribunal. It is the subject matter that has required so much time and such an extensive trawl. However, despite all that having taken place, Mr. Justice Flood states in his preface:

All citizens have a duty to co-operate and assist a Tribunal and to tell the truth when summoned to appear at a public hearing. It is with considerable regret that I have concluded that I must report, as one of my findings, that certain parties who appeared before me chose not to co-operate with the Tribunal in its task and, further, having been duly sworn did not tell the truth.

That is a very serious allegation to have to make. Mr. Justice Flood goes on to say:

The extent to which their actions may have involved them in breaches of the criminal law is a matter upon which the Director of Public Prosecutions has absolute and exclusive jurisdiction.

We would have expected that every citizen of this country would co-operate. He goes on to point out that he is mindful of the significant costs incurred in conducting the inquiry to date. He says that he has endeavoured to conduct the inquiry in as economical a fashion as possible, having regard to the rights of the persons appearing before it. He also points out that the Revenue Commissioners and the Criminal Assets Bureau have informed him that "to date, in excess of €34,500,000 has been paid to these bodies in connection with inquiries into Revenue compliance issues arising directly or indirectly from this Tribunal". He says that he believes that to be a significant consequence of the work of the tribunal to date. The impression has been given by the Government's spin doctors that the tribunal is a total waste of taxpayers' money. However, a great deal more money has been recovered from sources which received corrupt payments or had offshore accounts as a result of Criminal Assets Bureau and Revenue Commissioners investigations.

The enormous abuse in the planning arena, bribery and corruption, and the unholy trinity of politicians, public servants and developers working hand in hand blighted this city, with ugly developments on greenfield sites turning them into concrete jungles. We really had a party of cowboys riding roughshod over planning. Rezonings should not have taken place, and the brown paper envelope became the motto of the developers in those years. Now the city of Dublin sprawls as far as Kildare and Meath. I noticed that yesterday's big story concerned commuters having to travel up to Cavan to get decent affordable housing. At the moment we have the fiasco over Carrickmines, the Southern Cross and the Jackson Way consortium. Underhand, disreputable, abusive activities took place to allow people motivated only by greed to redesign major sections of this city and rezone it according to the wishes of the developers. That is what this is about, and it is important that it all comes into the public arena. It is very important that we get matters right regarding costs and that there is no opportunity to contest matters in the courts. We must get how the tribunal conducts its business right so that it can do it more expeditiously by having simultaneous parallel modules.

One issue that has never been addressed, and is not being addressed in this Bill or the Minister's proposals for the Commission of Investigations Bill, is costs. It is no good saying that it is being dealt with. Almost all the costs come from the legal profession. Tribunals would cost extraordinarily little if there were not enormous payments of fees to those members of the legal profession participating. The Minister's contribution to this matter, when he was Attorney General, was to increase those fees by €800 a day. That is the man who talks to us about doing something regarding fees. He tells us that the situation is not good enough. He had the chance to do something about it by prescribing terms and conditions and putting in place a package remunerated by a scale of fees. Did he do anything of that nature? No, he merely increased the fees and allowed those members of the legal profession working in the tribunal to become millionaires. This matter must be addressed and the first thrust of legislation should be to ensure that taxpayers receive value for money, not from the tribunal, as that is already the case, but in respect of payment to the legal profession for the work it does.

The future of tribunals is another important issue. The tribunal of inquiry is the Rolls Royce of inquiries and, as such, it will always be an expensive item. In many cases, however, this type of inquiry is not necessary. To some degree, the Minister, in his Commissions of Investigation Bill, outlines proposals, with which I largely agree, to institute measures, procedures and mechanisms which would result in a gradual approach being taken and the establishment of a full-blown tribunal of inquiry as a last resort.

While the proposal to have different types of investigation is welcome, the Minister omitted the most important area. Essentially, Members of the Houses are elected to make legislation, govern and ensure that the public administration is scrutinised and nobody is above the law. Although the Oireachtas has a wide-ranging role and broad responsibility, it seems to be regarded as a talking shop which does not exercise the range of powers it should. In other jurisdictions, notably the United States, the committee system has assumed a major role and has considerable powers to deal with matters of this nature, ranging from powers of scrutiny and monitoring, to the power to call to account public servants and those involved in the private sector. This House embarked on that process but was suddenly short-circuited and stymied by the Abbeylara decision.

The Abbeylara inquiry was an anomaly which did not fall within the normal range of investigations a committee of the House could conduct. Essentially, the case involved a manslaughter offence. The manner in which the House dealt with it — through a committee — was not appropriate. The fact that the House ran into a brick wall in that inquiry is not a reason for suddenly stopping and deciding it no longer has any role or powers in this area.

We should make all the constitutional or legal changes necessary to enable the committee or sub-committee system — I am currently engaged in the Barron inquiry being conducted by a sub-committee of the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights — to conduct investigations. This could involve the appointment of a parliamentary investigator to perform the role carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the DIRT tax scandal, after which a relevant sub-committee or committee could conduct an investigation. The considerable potential for the committee system to deal with matters requiring investigation should be explored and I hope the Minister takes this on board in the commission of inquiry Bill.

The Green Party welcomes this worthy Bill, which fills a gap and thereby creates certainty with regard to the ongoing tribunals. I have, however, three concerns about the legislation with regard to timing, costs and organisation. On the issue of timing, the current tribunals are taking an extraordinarily long time to conclude. It is worse than watching paint dry because we are effectively watching people grow old. I do not believe I had a grey hair on my head in 1997 so time is passing.

Deputy Costello's party leader mentioned walking along on his zimmer frame discussing matters with the current Taoiseach following his retirement. The danger is that with time passing, similar concerns persist regarding what is currently unfolding. I am getting a seven year itch about the tribunals as I had hoped to get swift, sharp conclusions. Instead, their progress is akin to walking through treacle and there is a feeling of slow motion to almost every aspect of their deliberations. I suspect that this is allowing further damage to take place not only in Dublin, but throughout the State. I look forward to changes which will allow much sharper, shorter tribunals to be held.

Perhaps it will not be necessary for tribunals to be as short and sharp as the recent inquiry by Lord Hutton across the water, which, while cheap — it cost some £1 million or £2 million — did not produce results with which all of us are enamoured. A happy medium could be found between a timeframe of seven or 14 years and one of several months and I hope we proceed in that direction.

On the issue of costs, I agree with my colleague, Deputy Costello. It is extraordinary that some of the best legal brains in the country continue to be employed on an hourly basis for years. This is wrong and I am saddened the legislation does not address it because incredible amounts of money are being made by those working for the tribunals. Lengthy tribunals, such as those currently under way, should be permanently staffed by people on secondment from the Civil Service and I regret the Bill does not address the enormity of staff costs.

Although I do not have a legal background, as a planner I am familiar with the workings of An Bord Pleanála, which deals with matters of a quasi-judicial nature on a daily basis and does so in an effective, clear and successful manner. While some of those involved in planning cases use legal teams, the inspectors who consider appeals before An Bord Pleanála listen carefully to the arguments made by members of the public in layperson's language and translate them into the framework of the planning legislation. It must be possible to do something similar in the case of the tribunals we have established, whether through the Oireachtas committee system or a standing commission of inquiry. The steps we have taken to date on this issue have been wrong, as demonstrated in recent years by the slow pace of progress in the tribunals.

I will now address a more serious issue, namely, the scope of the tribunals, particularly the Moriarty and Flood tribunals in the area of planning. We should remember that these tribunals only deal with allegations concerning specific land parcels in Dublin. Dubious rezonings are occurring on a monthly basis all around Ireland. Those rezonings are at best bizarre and at worst grotesque. They are neither unbelievable nor unprecedented. We need to get to the heart of the planning difficulties. The curious patchwork of rezonings that took place in north Dublin in the early 1990s is being repeated in the development plans that are currently being compiled around the country.

A fundamental review of the process of compiling a development plan must be undertaken. At the very least we should ensure that development plans are referred to an examining body which can examine the sustainability of those plans. Many of the present development plans are not sustainable.

Deputy Costello referred to Carrickmines. As we speak the lands north, south-east and west of Carrickmines are being rezoned for development and I am not convinced that is in the best interests of the people of Dublin. I am not convinced that the kind of rezonings that are taking place in Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim and elsewhere in Ireland are in the best interests of the communities they purport to serve.

It must be remembered that planning corruption is not a victimless crime, it affects families, the young and the old. These people are unable to walk to and from a church or the shops and young children are living beside busy main roads without a playground, shops and other amenities nearby. Those decisions are being made as a result of rezonings that appear to be made more in the interests of developers than of communities.

We should consider the implications that should stem from the planning tribunal, but it is too late because these zonings are being cast in stone and concrete all around the country. It is too late for a generation of Irish families who will be left marooned miles away from public transport and a local shop where they can buy a litre of milk or a newspaper. They are increasingly car-dependent, increasingly caught in traffic and increasingly finding it impossible to buy housing at an affordable price. That is the legacy of the dubious rezonings of the 1980s and 1990s ,and unless there is a swift conclusion to the tribunals, that will also be the legacy for the first decade of the 21st century.

I look forward to the report of the Law Reform Commission and to the committee of investigations legislation being enacted. I am concerned that by not moving fast enough and by not making fundamental reforms to the process of land zoning and land development, we will be sowing the seeds which will cause problems for future generations of Irish families.

This Bill is designed as a contribution towards ensuring the better conduct of the Flood, now Mahon, tribunal. Anything that endeavours to improve the conduct of tribunals is to be welcomed. It must be acknowledged that as sole member, Mr. Justice Flood acted in an impeccable and impartial manner. He rendered the State a considerable service in producing two interim reports that stand out as models of lucidity and clarity of expression. However, there were indications of Mr. Justice Flood's discomfort with the Government's attitude to the then Flood tribunal as far back as June 2001. At that time, Mr. Justice Flood sought additional assistance by way of extra judges to deal with the massive volume of work that was accumulating. There was a distinct tardiness about the Government's response to his request and the response finally came nine months later just in time for the general election in 2002. No doubt the general election and all the subsequent political machinations were trotted out as reasons for the lengthy delay of another 12 months until Mr. Justice Flood's request was acceded to. Mr. Justice Flood was willing to remain on as an ordinary member of the tribunal but within the next two weeks he received sufficient bad vibes from the Government to precipitate his absolute and complete resignation.

The Government's attitude to politically sensitive tribunals was clear for all to see in the fumbling, bumbling response to the changing circumstances brought on by the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood. There is something that is somewhat strange and sinister about the circumstances that forced two eminent, distinguished members of the Judiciary such as Mr. Justice Flood and Ms Justice Laffoy to take the ultimate step of resignation from tribunals of inquiry into two of the most fundamental issues which are of concern to most people in Ireland today, corruption in planning matters and child sexual abuse.

This Bill is largely concerned with the matter of the current chairperson in dealing with costs that were incurred prior to his appointment and which were not determined by Mr. Justice Flood. This task could have been made considerably easier had the Government acceded to Mr. Justice Flood's expressed willingness to remain as an ordinary member of the tribunal. This was an excellent and logical offer and I do not understand why the Government refused it. Apart from the clarity of Mr. Justice Flood's opinions and judgments, it would have ensured continuity and would have been of considerable assistance to the chairperson in the determination of costs.

The Flood-Mahon tribunal has been of significant importance in revealing the seedy side of the planning process, particularly in County Dublin. It brought the activities of a coterie of individuals to public notice. The tribunal has had a domino effect in that each revelation spawned further revelations of improper practice and various whistle blowers emerged to open further cans of worms. I wonder how many other cans of worms exist which are undiscovered, never mind unopened. I am sure there are people who are not sleeping well at night. It would be foolhardy to think that Dublin is the only area where planning corruption happens. I have no doubt that the rest of the country is not snow white in this regard.

The investigations have been aided by many crusading journalists such as the irrepressible Mr. Charlie Bird, Mr. Frank Connolly and Mr. Jody Corcoran, with nightly reprises by Mr. Vincent Browne and the tribunal team. It became an excellent radio soap, regrettably based on fact, even though it sounded like fiction. Unfortunately, the pace of tribunals has been slow and ponderous and they have been extremely expensive and somewhat unwieldy. The findings cannot be used as evidence in subsequent legal proceedings. A further question arising from this tribunal is the reason so few powerful people have been brought to account.

There appears to be a growing dissatisfaction with tribunals generally. I have no doubt that legal firms and lawyers lick their lips at the possible mention of a tribunal. It is a little like winning a lotto without buying a ticket. The public are sceptical and rightly so. It is important the Judge Mahon be facilitated to the greatest extent so that public cynicism can be eliminated and the tribunal enabled to act with improved efficiency.

The Bill will shore up the legal position of Judge Mahon against the demands of those who have been judged to have hindered and obstructed the tribunal during Mr. Justice Flood's service. I am happy to note this provision will have a retrospective effect and those whose activities have been exposed by the tribunals will have no such redress against the taxpayers. It is important that Judge Mahon's other judicial colleagues on the tribunal will be enabled to sit separately and to conduct various modules of the tribunal concurrently.

I wish the Flood-Mahon tribunal well and hope it will complete its investigations and deliberations with all due speed.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate. It is a sad day when the House must deal with an issue such as tribunals of inquiry. It saddens me because the integrity of politics is damaged when we must deal with this type of legislation.

Ireland, once known as the land of saints and scholars, is now better known as the land of scandals and tribunals. There has been an erosion of confidence in sectors such as politics, banking, the media, the Church and the legal profession in the wake of the scandals I have mentioned. The consequent profound impact on our value systems has forced many people to seek other sources of moral and ethical guidance.

Ireland's development as a fairly prosperous country has led to certain dilemmas. Society has to make difficult decisions about awkward questions such as the distribution of resources. Many people's credibility has been seriously tainted by the damaging scandals which have been investigated by tribunals. Poverty is endemic in many areas of Irish society, but perhaps the most serious form of poverty that exists in this country is the poverty of leadership. The Ireland of the thousand welcomes is dying. It is time to draw a line in the sand and to stop the rot. Our people are not looking for miracles — they want straight answers, decent leadership and political guidance.

The Bill before the House deals with an issue of concern which arose following the resignation in June 2003 of Mr. Justice Flood as chairperson and a member of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, or the Flood tribunal. The issue relates to the determination of applications by parties for costs arising from the tribunal's findings, in respect of certain modules contained in the Second Interim Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, which was published in September 2002. The modules were dealt with at a time when Mr. Justice Flood was the sole member of the tribunal and the second interim report was accordingly prepared by him.

This Bill also provides for an express power for a tribunal, on its own volition, to seek the direction of the High Court relating to the performance of its functions, including those relating to costs. Similar provision is provided for inspectors appointed under the Companies Act 1990 and a somewhat similar provision is also contained in section 25 of the 2000 Act which established the Laffoy commission. It is also proposed to provide an express statutory power, vested in the chairp

erson, to direct other members of a tribunal which has more than one member to sit as separate divisions and to determine the conditions that will apply, including the preparation of reports.

Section 3 of this Bill amends section 4 of the 1997 Act by providing for a new section 4A which provides for the tribunal, or the chairperson if the tribunal has more than one member, whenever it or he or she considers it appropriate to do so, to apply to the High Court for directions relating to the performance of any of the functions of the tribunal or the chairperson, including their functions relating to costs. I welcome this positive and progressive step.

I have outlined the Bill's main provisions. However, we should not lose sight of the real issues in the debate about tribunals. When discussing tribunals, we have to examine the wider questions for society. I have raised such questions because the public will switch off in greater numbers if we do not consider them. Bribery and corruption are widely accepted as part of the political process. I totally reject the usual claim that all politicians, particularly those in this House, are all the same. The major political parties have to bear some responsibility for this perception. It is not good enough to say that political donations to major political parties from big businesses and large companies do not influence wider political decisions. I disagree with the three major political parties in this regard. The sad political reality is that the big boys and girls hang out with the big political parties. It is the shame of the tribunals and the scandals.

It is important to ensure that officials involved in this game are not forgotten in this debate. When I travelled around the country recently, many citizens told me of their suspicions and genuine concerns that public officials, especially those involved in planning, are "on the take". History has proved that such concerns are founded on a legitimate basis. It is essential that we root out all forms of serious corruption in this State. The public demands confidence in politicians. Cabinet Ministers and others, such as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, should show leadership by dealing with the suspicions and allegations I have mentioned. I accept that this Bill is part of that process. I demand action on these issues. Successive Governments — I do not blame this Government alone — have stayed silent on these important matters. We should speak openly in this debate about the crisis in our political life. I long for the day when these tribunals will be a thing of the past.

I support the legitimate concerns of many people about the length of time the tribunals are taking and the amount of taxpayers' money that is being spent. I would like shorter and more efficient tribunals that stay within their budgets. We should seek a new and radical system of dealing with corruption and other tribunal issues. Constructive alternatives should be sought and good practice elsewhere should be examined. I have been told that there is an effective system in place to deal with such scandals in Germany. We should open our minds and look to other countries for examples of good practice which are more efficient and less time-consuming and which stick to their budgets. We cannot allow people to run up significant costs. People should be able to stay within their budgets. When tribunals are being established, a specific deadline should be set and the resources available should be made clear.

I accept that we have to ensure that everyone is treated in a fair and just manner. We cannot allow politicians and those involved in big business to disrupt and delay tribunals — it is not an option. The people are sick to the teeth of the tactics employed by some people to delay tribunals. If we want to alleviate the public's boredom with tribunals, we should make them fair and efficient and we should ensure that they do not exceed their budgets. Such matters are the subject of this debate and this legislation, which I support.

It is important to note that one of the reasons so many Independent Members have been elected to this Dáil is that people have lost trust in the major political parties. The increase in the number of Independent Deputies has resulted from this loss of trust.

The Deputy should not paint all parties with the same brush.

I will not go down that road.

He does not like to be painted with the same brush as some of those on his side of the House.

The people lost trust in the three major political parties and decided to seek an alternative. Another scandal which can be linked to the major political parties is that some media organisations ignore the political mandate of Independent Members of this House. I have been a Member of this House for almost two years.

The Deputy is never off the television.

Newspapers such as theSunday Independent and The Sunday Tribune have yet to publish a report on one of my speeches or press releases. Deputy Costello might think that he lives in a liberal democracy, but I ask him to think again. Media censorship of Independent Deputies is rampant.

The Deputy is moving away from the subject of this Bill.

We are dealing with scandals, so it is right that I should refer to this scandal.

I ask the Deputy to refer to the Bill before the House.

It is important that I highlight the fact that elected Members of this House are being censored because of their political views. It is time for certain people in the media to take a look at themselves. It is sad and possibly a matter for another tribunal that democratic results are not accepted by some people.

When one speaks about scandals, one does not refer only to politicians. I mentioned earlier that public officials are also involved in this regard. In the past, many people who had information about planning matters and similar scandals were intimidated into saying nothing about these issues. Staying silent about planning matters and corruption in public life is not an option. This debate on the tribunals is important for that reason. I will return to many of my criticisms of the media in the future. I will support this positive Bill, which contains some constructive proposals. Some of the problems encountered by tribunals result from the delaying tactics that are pursued by some people and the out-dated procedures that have to be followed. A new, radical and fresh look at these procedures must be taken. If other states have progressive ways of dealing with these kinds of issues, I urge the Government to investigate them in the interests of good practice. I welcome the Bill and will support it.

I am surprised to hear Deputy Finian McGrath saying that he does not get appropriate air time or print media coverage.

In some sections of the media.

I thought he was doing well in media coverage. He might have consideration for the poor and humble Fianna Fáil backbencher who is rarely covered by the media.

The Deputy is not so shy himself.

I welcome the Bill and the opportunity that Second Stage gives us to expand on its content and the issues around it. I am conscious that there are a number of different tribunals and it is a sensitive issue due to public reaction to them and politicians. At the same time, as politicians, we need to give leadership. If that leadership entails putting forward suggestions that are different and radical, then we should not be afraid to use this debate to do so. The Government has been upfront in dealing with all the tribunals. It has not only established various tribunals to deal with matters, it has also funded them and monitored their progress. The amount of paperwork that public representatives have to complete at national and local level is a further indication of the commitment of the Government to keep everything on the straight and narrow. Public representatives, selected by the public to hold important office, are reminded of their responsibilities in the work they undertake on behalf of the public on a daily basis. There is no harm in this.

However, I urge caution because what is required in terms of accountability for public representatives could go overboard. As we continue to monitor accountability, establishing a norm in an ever-changing situation is difficult. However, we will arrive at a point of best practice as we move along. When we do, that best practice must be applied to everyone holding public office and public officials across the board. Deputy Finian McGrath referred to the various pillars of the community such as politicians, the Garda, the church and the State. These institutions, in which everyone had such confidence, are now being questioned.

That would be no harm either.

The public's confidence in these institutions is shattered. It was right to demand the establishment of the tribunals because what happened in the past was shocking. However, it must also be remembered that there were honest and decent people who were part and parcel of public life and these institutions and who never did wrong in their lives but served their communities well with distinction. It is unfair of us in this House, the media or the general public to tarnish every political party or profession with the one brush. As leaders in our communities and Members of the Dáil, we must constantly remind people that it was a small minority who brought the various professions into disrepute, through what we see on a daily basis at the tribunals. Members owe it to themselves and the people they represent to do just that and not to be afraid of media criticism for doing so. I am conscious that it is a sensitive issue.

While I agree that these tribunals were established to deal with certain issues, the framework in which they are working must now be examined, particularly from a public accounts perspective. I have tabled a number of parliamentary questions on this matter. In one instance, I was informed by the Ceann Comhairle that the Minister in question had no official responsibility to Dáil Éireann for these matters which fall within the remit of the tribunals, which are statutory independent bodies. I accept this but we are also responsible to the taxpayers as to how their money is spent. At the Committee of Public Accounts, members see the actual costs of many these tribunals.

In answer to a parliamentary question in November 2003, I was informed that the Moriarty tribunal, up to the end of September, had cost €14.2 million. At that time, senior counsel were paid €2,500 per day; junior counsel, €2,000 per day; senior research counsel, €571 per day; junior research counsel, €381 per day. Up to the 7 September 2003, the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments had incurred costs of almost €30 million. Senior counsel earned €2,250 per day while junior counsel earned €1,500. The reply also outlined the number of solicitors employed, two of whom were paid €1,000 per day while the remainder earned €450 per day. These figures are not just for sitting days. Other costs accrue for the ongoing work of the tribunals on non-sitting days. Factored into those costs is also the time spent by the various Departments called for cross-examination. The time of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform must be included in this, which I am sure continues to be monitored.

These are the costs we know. There are also costs that still have to be assessed. In a reply to another parliamentary question I tabled, I was informed that these costs will be dealt with after submissions are heard. However, it is not known what figures are involved. The reply stated:

... matters pertaining to the award of costs are normally decided by the chairman at the end of a tribunal inquiry and his or her decision is then announced to a costs hearing. The costs hearing is held in public after the publication of his or her report.

There is an onus on the Government and this Parliament to get our heads around how much these tribunals will cost exactly. Members need to know, as any business would demand, to what costs the State will be exposed. There is a growing cynicism in this regard. People now ask how many hip replacements could have been done or how many MRI scanners put in place for the money that was spent on the tribunals. These are valid questions which Members need to answer. I am not undermining the tribunals or taking away from their work, but there must be a better way.

The tribunals have been of some financial benefit to the State. In reply to another parliamentary question, I was informed that amounts recovered by the Revenue Commissioners and the Criminal Assets Bureau from follow-up investigations of the beef tribunal, Moriarty tribunal and Flood-Mahon tribunal were €5.4 million, €6.9 million, €35.7 million, respectively. This is a financial comeback to the State from the tribunals and the Revenue Commissioners are to be commended for the work they are undertaking.

Where do we go from here? We should take the valuable work that has been carried out by the tribunals and look at introducing a different system. We must begin to wind down the tribunals as we know them but use their findings. This could all be then factored into the work undertaken by various Oireachtas committees. There is much talk about reform of the Dáil and giving greater power to Oireachtas committees. Perhaps they can undertake some of the work of the tribunals at a much lower cost and bring it to a point where the findings can be handed over to other agencies of the State. Apart from the Oireachtas committees, the CAB and the Revenue Commissioners now have additional powers which should be taken into account. The findings of the tribunals should be handed over to those bodies, and perhaps a reformed set of Oireachtas committees.

If there is to be some form of ongoing tribunal structure it should be such that we would know where it begins and ends, what the cost is now and what it is likely to be. It is not sensible for the business of this House or this State to be conducted on the basis that we pay millions of euro some time in the future. That undermines the belief that people should have in the political structures. The public is quite cynical about these matters but it grows doubtful of the legal profession when it sees how much is paid to the tribunals and to the lawyers.

The public is satisfied now that tribunals have confirmed that something went wrong in the past. It did not want the tribunals to continue indefinitely. If people are found guilty and are brought through the court system — which could also be used in the context of these tribunals — they should be penalised. I have no problem with that, my concern is the ongoing high cost of the tribunals. Perhaps that money could be reduced and used more efficiently in the delivery of services through other Departments to fulfil other agendas. We can spend only a certain length of time raking over the ashes of our cowboy past. People do not want us to do that forever. They want a beginning and an end.

I urge the Members and the Minister to begin to consider where we go from here. With so many positive developments happening in our communities, we risk damaging our future by remaining trapped in this tribunal syndrome and not dealing with it effectively and efficiently. When I was first elected to this House in 1997, the tribunals began to roll out. Since then most of my time in national politics has been spent listening to this kind of debate and watching the tribunals. It is time we lowered the curtain on this, provided there is a new structure in place to continue this work at a lower cost. I welcome the Bill and encourage the Government to consider the points I have raised and which other Members believe should be debated and finalised.

Like most other speakers in this debate I give my full backing to this Bill. I have been following this matter reasonably closely over recent months. From a layman's point of view I cannot understand why we had to bring it in. If there was the slightest chance that this retrospective element could be challenged, we owe it to the taxpayers and every law-abiding citizen to let no one go by default. If, for whatever reason, there happened to be a successful court challenge, the people who were deemed to be corrupt and to have bribed their way through life would somehow or other get off on a technicality. That is the bottom line and people can see that.

I have no legal background but I have a deep interest in these matters. Mr. Justice Flood did an excellent job given that the tribunal was fully public, and its every deliberation appeared in the national media,ad nauseam. It has been a staple media diet for the past seven years. Eminent lawyers challenged every comma and dot of any description at the tribunal, as their job required. I do not understand why, when Judge Mahon replaced Mr. Justice Flood, any thought of retrospection emerged or why anybody would go to the High Court or Supreme Court to argue that somehow Judge Mahon was not in a position to continue the work done by Mr. Justice Flood. It would be different if parts of this tribunal were not held in public or if the various parties were not properly and legally represented on the occasion. If there is the slightest possibility of an appeal to a higher court, we must ensure that route is closed off immediately. I assume we will achieve that by passing this legislation today. How many senior and junior counsel believe this was necessary? What is the personal view of the Minister of State who is a lawyer? It probably depends on whom one asks. Many members of the public cannot understand the basis for this legislation.

It is reasonable for us to reflect on the tribunal culture. I gave evidence in a peripheral way to the beef tribunal. One could argue that was not our finest hour but tribunals have become more successful since then. Deputy Costello spoke in detail about the future of tribunals. If Ministers had answered the questions they were asked in this House there would have been no need for the Mahon tribunal. I am a Member of this House for a long time and I have seen it all. There is a culture that full information is not given to Members who ask parliamentary questions. I find it difficult to understand that culture. If a question is asked on behalf of the people — that is what we are elected to do — it should be answered fully and truthfully. I am talking about the culture of drip feeding information and the attitude that if a specific question is not asked, there is no need to give an answer.

That culture has given rise to the new phenomenon of tribunals. Efforts were made over the years through various Garda investigations, particularly in terms of the Dublin planning problems, but they did not get anywhere. I do not understand why that was the case, but I assume the Garda did not have the necessary investigative powers or expertise because this was a new phenomenon. We would not know what we know today if it had not been for the Flood tribunal. What we know is nothing short of extraordinary. I assume the public cannot be blamed for saying that if it happened in one area, it must have also happened in many other areas. I would be the last person to say that the effects of the tribunals have been good for this country. However, the public can say that only for the tribunals, it would not have known what happened.

There is another side to the coin, although I do not want to go back over everything that was said this morning. We must always get value for money. I have been a member of the Committee of Public Accounts for the past year or two and sometimes I am goggle-eyed at what I hear there. We have a professional Comptroller and Auditor General, we cross-examine witnesses and there are certain powers associated with that. There is the potential to set up certain types of committees in the Oireachtas, as was proven conclusively during the DIRT inquiry. I agree with Deputy Costello about the Abbeylara incident. I understand how we could face big problems. I do not have a legal background, but when that controversy broke, I understood how it ran into trouble. The committee system could be used to examine other areas.

I know the public is cynical about politicians and many other people. I do not spend a lot of time talking about this issue or studying the profession of which I am a part because that would mean I would not do anything. As regards the image of politicians, the more power we have, provided it is used properly and with dignity, the more the electorate will see that we are worth our salaries. Many people believe we are not worth what we get, regardless of what we do. One must work seven days a week to stay in this House.

We have an ideal opportunity to talk about what will happen post-tribunals, which will not last forever. The public do not want that to happen. I have estimated the costs of all the tribunals to date at more than £100 million. That is a huge figure. There is no sign of the tribunals coming to an end, which means that figure could double or treble. If someone had come into the House on the day we introduced the legislation for the Goodman tribunal many years ago and said it would be the start of something which could cost €300 million, there would have been another debate in the Chamber. We must strike a counter-balance. Some feeble efforts are being made in that regard. I hope the new legislation ensures that tribunal modules are run in parallel with each other. That will not make the tribunals any cheaper, but it will speed up the process. It is a long time for someone to have to wait for seven, ten, 15 or 20 years for justice to be seen to be done. Many tribunals will have outlived their usefulness by then. We must decide the future of the tribunals.

There will always be a need for judicial reviews. However, we must use the Oireachtas committee system, as is done in the United States and other countries. We know the public will support that, particularly after the progress made at the DIRT inquiry. The public was happy with that inquiry.

As regards tribunal payments, I cannot understand what is happening. If someone is lucky enough to be involved as a senior or junior counsel or as a legal researcher in a long-running tribunal, it is like having a golden goose. I find it difficult to accept the payment per day system. I know it has been ingrained in the legal profession for many years where they get so much money per day for court cases. However, when a deal is being made with someone to build a road, the Government knows the length of the road and the costs involved and people are given an opportunity to tender. Once it is established that the contractors are efficient, the lowest tender is accepted. That is the way business is done in the commercial world. However, that does not happen in the legal world. It seems that one only has to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time because the Government will not say a contract must be completed within a certain period of time. We must change that because the public will not accept it. It was all right in the past five or six years because there was plenty of money available. However, once the belt begins to tighten and people find it difficult to buy their own homes, they will become cynical and more questions will be asked. It is up to the Government and all Opposition parties to resolve that issue.

When Mr. Justice Flood sought help for his tribunal, everyone, including the dogs in the street, knew he had a good reason for doing that. He knew the tribunal proceedings were dragging on too long and that more important information was in the pipeline. He knew in his heart that if it were allowed to continue the way it was going, it would be years before the culprits would be brought before the courts. It is difficult to understand the reaction of the Government at the time. It dithered and dallied for nearly a year before it did anything. Would it have been happier if the matter took 20 years? Perhaps it thought some of the nasty items raised would reflect badly on the Government. Had it reached the stage that it did not care what happened?

As far as the Government was concerned, it could rumble along and to hell with what anybody thought. It is very difficult to understand. I believe the Government wanted it to drift along for years so that the public would get tired of it. While I am not sure whether the public are getting tired, if they discover that another €100 million has been spent on an item when better value could have been found elsewhere, there will be more debates in this House and there will be more controversy.

Fine Gael is delighted to back the Bill before us. In effect it will ensure the big day is coming for the people who were involved in bribery and corruption, those on the inner circle, the viruses of this life, the highway robbers and those who ensured it was almost impossible for young people to buy a house. When that day comes it will send a signal to the people that anybody who gets involved in that kind of activity in the future is on the highway to nowhere. Whatever else we do in modern Ireland, we will not put up with that carry on. I will be happy if this Bill is a small stepping-stone towards that outcome.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I was going to refer to it as an important Bill. However, one has to understand that it only arises to deal with a technicality that may be used by some lawyers on behalf of those who have caused considerable difficulties to the nation in recent years. These people have made every effort to frustrate beyond belief the efforts of Mr. Justice Flood to bring this matter to conclusion. If his efforts to get to the truth had not been thwarted by some of these people, Mr. Justice Flood would have completed the tribunal long ago and we would not need to introduce this Bill to give Judge Mahon powers that may have to be used to decide costs etc.

The Bill is short and fairly concise and will allow the new chairman to address the matter of the costs of those who have frustrated the tribunal. It will rightly force those who should pay to do so. In his speech, the Minister of State said: "section 3 of the Bill also provides an express power to the chairperson to direct other members of the tribunal, where there is more than one member, to sit as separate divisions and to determine the conditions that will apply, including the preparation of reports." This is very important, as it should speed up the operation of tribunals because it will no longer be necessary for one judge to hear all the modules.

One of the previous speakers referred to the "cowboy past". The word "cowboy" is certainly relevant when discussing the beef tribunal. Given events that have taken place in recent months, one has to wonder whether such activity is in the past. There was the case of the Punchestown millions. I was a member of the committee that discussed that matter. We were not informed how that decision was made. We were only asked to approve money for it. We took the word of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, on that matter. However, having seen how it transpired, it is not possible to say that the cowboy past has gone.

In the past few weeks, the Taoiseach has tried to defend his own situation.

On a point of order, Deputy Crawford is making some valuable points and there should be more Members in the House to listen to him.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I appreciate the bigger audience.

It makes it worthwhile.

As Deputy Costello said, I was making some very important points.

That is why we came.

I was saying it was not just a matter of the cowboy past, we have a cowboy present also. I mentioned the Punchestown millions and the recent developments in Kenmare. The Taoiseach stood up in the House without apology and admitted he had helped out his good friend and colleague, Deputy Healy-Rae, because he believed it was important for democracy. However, he is talking about taxpayers' money. We have heard criticisms today that the tribunals are wasting money, but the matters I mentioned are typical examples of wasting money.

In the past 48 hours we heard about the Government's intention to remove the power to distribute money from dormant accounts from a committee which was set up by the House, under legislation, for that purpose and give control to a Minister instead. I wonder what the reason for this is. Some people say it is for a slush fund, while others have other suggestions. Why were Members of this Chamber brought together to discuss a Bill to create an organisation to deal with what was then thought to be a small amount of money? When the Government saw there was much more money than previously expected, and much more political value to be obtained from its distribution, it dispensed with the committee and assumed control.

Deputy McGuinness mentioned the cowboy past, but we still have a long way to go before we can become true democrats, remaining true to what is said in the Chamber. A body was created based on the groups that were supposed to benefit from the dormant accounts. The Minister of State may sigh all he likes, but this is a retrograde step and the matter will hang around the Minister's neck.

Does this have anything to do with the Bill?

It was the Government's spokesperson who spoke of the cowboy past, so what I am saying is relevant to the debate. The only reason this Bill is before the House is that scandals have occurred. The problem started with the beef scandal and it has continued in many other areas since then. The cost of these tribunals to ordinary people is large and they are becoming fed up with it. I presume the Government is happy to allow the tribunals to run on because the longer they run, the less relevant they become. People begin to believe these matters are all in the past. I have no apology, as an Opposition spokesperson, for telling the House that unfortunately it is not all in the past.

The beef tribunal was buried in a valuable agreement with Northern Ireland. There was a real effort to bury it. It was a very important issue. The beef tribunal possibly saved the single biggest industry in this country from complete collapse because there was a realisation that things needed to be done in a proper and just manner. The cost of these tribunals, however, is an enormous problem. One of the first steps taken by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea's senior Minister when he came into the House was to increase the moneys available to the legal profession in this area. This has resulted in much cynicism among the public. While one group of people is being told to roll up their sleeves and make do with less money, those in lucrative positions are told they are doing well and are to have more.

The cost of the tribunals is a real cause for anxiety. I am afraid this sort of discussion may put the public off tribunals even more. It is important to spell out that, with the cost, there are benefits. One benefit is that the system is being cleaned up. Another is that although the lawyers and other experts in the tribunals system are very highly paid, they pay very high taxes. When somebody says that €40 million has been spent on a tribunal, that is not the real cost to the taxpayer as much of it comes back in tax. There is also the fact that through the Flood tribunal and others, taxes are being recovered because illegal actions that took place in the past are being revealed. Members of the House often cry about tribunal costs, saying they are unjust and they should be used for hospitals and other purposes, but those are not the real facts. The Government should make sure that money is available for hospitals and so on, but the tribunals must stand in their own right.

The real reason for the tribunals is the Government's failure to answer questions. We recently had statements in the House and when it came to the time allotted for questions, two questions were asked in 20 minutes. To put it mildly, the waffle that was said in answer to those questions left much to be desired. In other assemblies, although Prime Ministers perhaps do not spend as much time in attendance, they certainly answer questions in a much more direct and positive way. If this Parliament is to mean anything we must make sure that genuine answers are given when questions are asked and that Ministers do not burn up time speaking from a script for the two or three minutes allotted to them. We must make sure this is done.

It is fine for the Minister to read out a script based on a Bill. I appreciate that is what we are here to discuss. The Bill has some valuable aspects. It is to be made legally possible for Judge Mahon to obtain costs from the relevant people. It is also to be made possible for others to take part in modules so that things may be speeded up. Former Deputies Burke and Lawlor have been through the process and now former Deputy Flynn is to come before the tribunal. Much of the problems we must deal with today exist because the former two have opted to frustrate the efforts of the Flood tribunal, and that is a fact. Anyone who studies the tribunals can plainly seen that the system has been frustrated throughout. There have been denials and refusals to produce literature. It is vital that the people who cause these problems should pay for them to be fixed. The honest citizens of the State should not have to pay. Those who caused the problems should pay the bill.

There is a committee structure in the House, although the media do not give it much publicity. Deputy Perry, who is present, is Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts which does an excellent job. It highlights the waste and mismanagement that occurs throughout the system. We need to improve the structures of the committees so they can deal with the problems that arise. If answers are not given in the House, the committees could deal with the issues to a greater extent and avoid, as much as possible, matters going to tribunals. There is a list of tribunals and these give rise to costs which would not be incurred if committees of this House were strengthened. I accept that certain cases, such as the Abbeylara case, are legally difficult.

The Dáil has structures like the committees and Question Time and I am satisfied that they, especially Question Time, have been abused. This week, for example, I tabled a parliamentary question about a cross-Border road which I believed could have been dealt with through the North-South structures. The reply, however, stated that the matter would have to be dealt with by the National Roads Authority. The NRA has nothing to do with cross-Border roads until there is a political agreement. If there were such an agreement, they could be dealt with by the NRA if it is given that remit. These are the things that frustrate Members. I support the Bill but greater effort should be directed at making this House more workable and constructive.

I wish to share time with Deputy Timmins. I support this important Bill. One does not need to be a genius to see that public confidence in our public institutions will suffer a major blow if any decision on the issue of costs arising from legal representation before the Mahon tribunal is overturned on the grounds that the tribunal must honour the established practice that costs must be decided by the judge who tried the case. Sadly, in spite of the importance of a prompt Government response to this challenge, it is no surprise to welcome this Bill over six months after the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood and 18 months after the publication of the second interim report of the Flood tribunal.

This lack of urgency is entirely in keeping with the lethargy of the Government in supporting the work of the several tribunals of inquiry under way. In one sense, I sympathise with the Taoiseach that the Mahon tribunal will begin hearings on the Gilmartin module at a time when the peace process is in stalemate, Ireland has the honour of holding the Presidency of the EU and the European Parliament and local elections are imminent. The next phase of the Mahon tribunal might place the leader of this country under even greater pressure given his already difficult schedule.

At times it seems as if the Mahon tribunal has been hanging over the political and planning system for an eternity. The public's interest has flagged, as is reflected in their attendance at the hearings in Dublin Castle. However, the tribunals continue. The Taoiseach has only himself to blame for the fact that this module is only now being publicly scrutinised in the Mahon tribunal, seven years after it was established. It is an outrageous length of time. I am not sure if the Statute of Limitations applies to this tribunal, but it is extraordinary that it has been ongoing since 1997.

Clearly, our tribunals have been under-resourced in comparison with their UK counterparts, most notably the recent Hutton inquiry and the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Approximately 55 lawyers are working for the latter inquiry. In contrast, the Government expects the Mahon tribunal, with only about a half dozen lawyers, to conduct an inquiry into the hundreds, if not thousands, of developments that fall within its remit. It is unbelievable, especially when one considers that this inquiry gives value for money because cash has come to the Revenue Commissioners as a result.

The fact that some of the tribunal's investigations have encountered poor levels of co-operation should be reflected in future decisions on the legal costs of representation. It is baffling how one year of the tribunal's work was devoted to Mr. Raphael Burke's finances while another year, 2001, focused on the relationship between Mr. Burke and Century Radio. The tribunal only sat for 85 days, which is hardly satisfactory for a body established to investigate matters of urgent public importance.

As Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, the concept of value for money is of great importance to me. Would it not have made more sense for the Government to have given the tribunal sufficient resources to prosecute this inquiry in the shortest possible amount of time? After all, the further one moves in time from an event, the less valuable information relating to that event usually becomes. The inquiry is dealing with modules dating from seven years ago and the timescale for its work in the future has not been determined. Mr. Justice Flood operated manfully within these constraints but why did the Government give such an impossible mission to this individual who has given such service to the State? Has the Government learned from this mistake by appointing tribunal members who are younger or is this a sign that the tribunal still has decades to run? The fact that Mr. Justice Flood had so little time left before retirement and that the tribunal was under-resourced put huge pressure on him in making a determination on fees.

In a benign interpretation of history, the Government has shown the same lack of direction in this instance as when public spending went out of control in the two years preceding the previous general election. It is a matter of public record that almost a year elapsed between Mr. Justice Flood writing to the Government to ask it to appoint more judges to the inquiry and the Government agreeing to his request. That was extraordinary. One would have imagined that there would have been a quicker response in light of the public pressure for information. Instead, it took the Government a year to reply. It is unbelievable that this was the level of priority given to this important request.

There are those who would argue that the Government is in no hurry to bring this tribunal to a speedy conclusion. That would be regrettable. There is a great deal of media interest in this inquiry and it is regrettable that it is only dealing with modules that occurred seven years ago and that it has taken so long in its task. Let us compare that with what happened in the Hutton and Saville inquiries in the UK. It does not convey the message that we are doing our business in an efficient, effective way. The snail-like progress of this tribunal has resulted in a cloud being cast over the profession of politics and all Members of this House.

I am disappointed that my professional colleagues on the Government side have not pressed the Government to act with genuine urgency in this matter. It is far more difficult to restore confidence in politics while it suffers Chinese water torture in Dublin Castle. This affects the perception of inquiries and planning matters. There is a level of apathy within the political system and this can be seen in the local elections. We urge people to exercise their right to vote but the inquiries and what happened many years ago cast a large shadow. The existence of ethics in public office legislation, which is welcome and generally complied with, is overshadowed by the investigations of events that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. The Mahon tribunal is in profit as more than €34 million has been recovered by the Revenue Commission and the Criminal Assets Bureau as a result of the revelations. This is welcome. However, politics continues to pay an inestimable price while this cloud hangs overhead. For how much longer can we continue to pay this price? We must get an answer to this question.

The press is cynical of the political system and the level of delay in tribunals. For example, it has taken a full year to deal with the proceedings dealing with the finances of the former Minister, Ray Burke. Proceedings have been delayed also as a result of many of the key players taking cases to the High Court or not complying with Mr. Justice Flood's remit and powers. It is regrettable that we did not deal with this in a business-like manner, that the tribunal only sat 85 days and that the Government waited for a year before appointing additional judges.

The most important element of the Bill, which I hope the Government will adopt, is the provision to provide an express statutory power for the chairperson — if the tribunal has more than one member — to direct other members of it to sit at separate divisions and to determine the conditions that will apply, including the preparation of reports. This is important. I hope the Government will take it on board and that it will ensure that other modules are set up to run in parallel with the tribunal. There is no reason this should not be done because the tribunal is self-financing and €34 million has already been collected. There are also enough legal people eligible for appointment who could work in parallel with Judge Mahon to bring this matter to a swift conclusion.

As a parliamentarian, I remind the Minister of State that certain matters at the heart of some of our costly long-running tribunals would never have occurred if this House had been allowed to do its job properly by the Government of the day. In this context, it is ironic that the Seanad debate on this issue was rushed through with the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, refusing to take Opposition amendments on board. The Attorney General's office does not hold the monopoly on legal wisdom but, by guillotining important amendments, the Minister of State appears to believe it does. Constructive amendments made by the Opposition should not be dismissed out of hand. The fact that there was a guillotine on such an important issue is regrettable.

The most radical proposal of the Bill is the provision allowing the chairperson of a tribunal to establish separate divisions of a tribunal of inquiry under another member of the tribunal. This vehicle, if used properly, has the potential to bring the Mahon tribunal to a speedy conclusion. While the issue of legal costs are of great importance, they come second to the democratic imperative of ending these tribunals as soon as possible.

This amending legislation is critically important. There was a major debate on this issue back in 1997 when the tribunal was established. The powers given to Mr. Justice Flood at the time, the lack of co-operation by the Government, the Chinese torture method of inquiry and the length of the inquiry — now seven years — are regrettable. A clear timescale should be set out for the conclusion of the matter.

It is important to bring about a resolution. The Bill provides for an express power for a tribunal, of its own volition, to seek the direction of the High Court on the performance and functions of the tribunal, including costs. There would be a major outcry if the State had to take up the costs. This would be outrageous and a travesty of justice. A similar provision for the appointment of an inspectorate is contained in the Companies Act 1990 and in section 25 of the Act establishing the Laffoy commission.

The express purpose of the Bill is to provide certainty to the current chairperson of the tribunal. This is important in dealing with issues concerning the awarding of costs and to avoid ambiguity. Owing to the current situation, it is proposed, out of an abundance of caution, to insert a new subsection (6), which is welcome, to the effect that a person who is the sole member of a tribunal, or the chairperson, may make an order with regard to any costs incurred before his or her appointment which have not already been determined. In exercising this power, the sole member or chairperson shall have regard to any report of the tribunal relating to its proceedings in the period before his or her appointment. These new provisions will apply to tribunals appointed and costs incurred before or after the passing of the Bill.

These provisions of the legislation — the determination of costs, the power given to the chairperson and parallel inquiries — are of critical importance. The Bill is important and the Government must provide the resources for it. The tribunal is self-financing and the Minister should appoint several other judges who will run parallel modules. We do not need a continuance of the Chinese torture over many more years. I appeal to the Minister to bring politics back to the level of respect it should have.

A Deputy

Listening to this is the Chinese torture.

The tribunal must be brought to a conclusion and the people involved dealt with. Does the Minister of State know what Chinese torture is about?

He does; he had recent experience of it.

People going through the tribunal for the past seven years are certainly enduring Chinese torture. I hope the Minister will provide the resources to allow the tribunal to conclude as quickly as possible.

I thank Deputy Perry for sharing his time with me. This relatively simple Bill is important. While the sole member will be given the authority to decide costs, what strikes the public are the costs involved in the running of the tribunals. A solicitor in whose judgment I put much store recently stated that a senior counsel will not get out of bed in the morning unless he is offered €10,000. This is amazing. I am not that familiar with the legal profession but some of those on the Government side of the House are. The issue of legal fees has a knock-on impact. A similar situation arises in the case of housing. When a house in Sorrento Road in Deputy Andrews's constituency sells for €3 million or €4 million, the knock-on impact eventually affects a house in Kiltimagh or somewhere. We see the same effect on legal bills. I do not understand why they are so large.

When driving home last night I heard an item about the Barr tribunal. I had to rack my brains to recall what the Barr tribunal was investigating. There are so many tribunals that I did not know whether it was investigating the smoking ban, the legal profession or what. We are almost losing count of the number of tribunals we have. We must examine a different mechanism to run them or by which to avoid establishing them. The present tribunals have almost become part of our folklore, like "The Riordans" and "Glenroe", but unfortunately, if they were television programmes, they would probably be censored. Some of the material coming out, while quite comical, is damaging and almost unbelievable. We must admit, as we listen to reconstructions, that they give us the odd chuckle.

I would never have believed that corruption existed to the extent that it has been portrayed. We were used to the catchphrase "All politicians are corrupt". Now we can see from where this belief emanated. A small percentage of politicians quite clearly were corrupt. The knowledge of that existed, it filtered out and we were all tarnished. The result now is that there is a plague on all our houses. When I think of some of the comments that have been made at some of the tribunals regarding some of the activities, I remember the 1972 All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Kilkenny commentated on by Mícheál O'Hehir. It was a great game and, during the commentary, Mícheál said "Whoever wrote the script, God bless him". If the late John B. Keane sat down to write a script about politicians and tribunals, he would not have been able to come up with some of the terminology from the tribunals that will go in folklore.

One of the upsides of the tribunal is that hopefully we will get to the truth and the corrupt will be found out. I am not sure the tribunals will stop corruption and we will have to examine other mechanisms to address that. However, one of the downsides of the tribunals is that, if a politician promotes something progressive, people will ask who he represents or what he wants? Any progressive or positive view expressed immediately draws questions but a different view is taken if somebody opposes something.

People who are against something are often influenced by forces from the opposite end of the spectrum. Such forces often have a vested interest and do not want things to go ahead. People who refuse to zone land for some reason are every bit as guilty as those who zone it when they should not. These are the two ends of the spectrum and it is important to realise this.

I do not want the country to evolve into one where it is a crime to make a shilling. By the same token, politicians have got to be above reproach. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, referred to the extension of the Criminal Assets Bureau, I think a Bill is in the pipeline. There is great potential to extend the CAB and determine how we can address this once and for all. Whether I am a Member of the House for one year or 20 years, I do not want to come in here every other year to hear of accusations against politicians or officials. It is time to address the problem in a proactive way.

It is difficult to prove corruption. Many of those who have given evidence at the tribunals, whom the public perceive to have been wronged, are no angels. Due to a falling out or a belief that they have not benefited to the extent they wished, they decided to spill the beans, so to speak. People who have given corrupt payments to officials or politicians are party to the crime and, therefore, are unlikely to come forward to give evidence.

The notion of amnesty is not well regarded in this country, but if I were the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I would examine some such measure. While it is difficult to be prescriptive, I would look at the possibility of giving an amnesty to people who come forward with information that results in the prosecution of a politician or official involved in corruption. While people have a right to know their accusers, I would examine the issue of anonymity for those providing information of this nature. If such information is given vexatiously then the accuser should be subject to a charge.

Some seven or eight years ago I was naive enough to believe that, with the exception of one or two cases, corruption was virtually non-existent. I never believed for a moment that it existed to the extent that has since emerged, or that people in such high places were involved. I have become a little bit wiser. I believe others are involved in corruption, albeit on a lesser scale. Such people prey on vulnerable people who think they have to hand over something to get something.

Corruption is not the domain of one or two political parties, it goes right across the board. Neither is it the practice of the vast majority of politicians across the political spectrum. We have to be proactive in addressing the issue. Politicians have to be above reproach, but we have to devise a mechanism which can root out corruption and bring guilty politicians and officials to task. It should not be hanging over our heads to be thrown at politicians in every public meeting across the country.

I am not as long in the House as Deputy Timmins, but I am also under the impression that the days of corruption are probably past. I wonder if in future there will be tribunals into matters that are occurring today. It is something about which we worry and I hope there is no activity of that kind happening today. I hope the great legacy of the tribunals will be a change in the nature of politics and, to a lesser extent, business. I hope they will restore faith in the body politic generally.

I welcome the Bill, which is a technical one in many ways. Deputy Perry created a slightly erroneous impression by suggesting that the intention of the original legislation was not to allow for one member of the tribunal to separate into other areas of inquiry. That was always the intention of the original Act and in this Bill it becomes much clearer and is placed beyond doubt.

In recent days we have had much discussion on whether we should wait until the tribunals have an opportunity to investigate matters of topical interest. Calls have been made for parliamentary parties to carry out investigations, for individuals to produce evidence and for Oireachtas committees to undertake inquiries.

As far as I am concerned all of these stand as mere star chambers compared to the efficiency and fairness of a tribunal, in not only protecting the names of those people against whom allegations have been made, but also ensuring that the truth is ultimately arrived at because of the powers they have been given by the House over the past number of years. Those powers include the compellability of witnesses and the ability to discover documents. It allows us to have arrived at a state of knowledge in 2004 which was not the position in 1997. It is a matter of public record that when the Taoiseach gave his views in the House on Ray Burke in 1997, he categorically supported his good name. However, people are now saying he should have known then what it has taken seven years of a High Court level of inquiry to discover, that he should have known what the Garda fraud bureau has discovered, and what the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda have unravelled in the past seven years. This will be the legacy of the tribunals.

We accept it is the correct forum for the investigation of these matters for two reasons, namely, to find the truth and to protect the good name of people being investigated until such time as a finding of wrongdoing has been made.

I wish to follow on from Deputy Timmins's comments about lawyers. I declare an interest in that I am a barrister. The explanatory memorandum gives an indication of the fashion for lawyer-bashing that exists today and probably has done since the profession of lawyers came into being. Under the heading "Purpose of Bill", it states: "To avoid any ambiguity and out of an abundance of caution in the situation which has arisen", and so on. The term "out of an abundance of caution" is the kind of lofty sarcasm that is now commonplace in the way people refer to work done by lawyers.

In general, what lawyers do is examine legislation in the High Court. From time to time they discover loopholes in legislation and in that way they keep the Oireachtas honest. As parliamentarians, we are forced to go back to the drawing board and to correct the problems that have been exposed. That is a valuable service to the Oireachtas. It would be meaningless to produce legislation that has been examined through five Stages in the House unless there was some way of examining or exposing its loopholes at a later stage in a court. It is lawyers who do that work and this should be recognised. In my short time in this House we have had to revisit the Domestic Violence Act because of a finding in court and more recently the Immigration Bill for the same reason. The Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act also had to be revisited because of something that was challenged in a court of law. These are valuable services by lawyers in that regard.

The question of payment to lawyers often arises. When an advertisement was placed seeking barristers to assist the Laffoy commission investigation into child abuse, not enough barristers could be found, in spite of the fact that they were offering €800 per day or something of that nature, which is a great deal of money. The reason for this is that when one joins a commission or tribunal of inquiry one must suspend normal practice. The Bar Council did not defend itself enough on this issue. This would be similar to a GP closing down his or her practice for a period of a year and a half without a locum and then expecting to come back and find it in a healthy state. The reality is that if one closes down one's business and disappears to work on an inquiry, one will come back and have to start one's business all over again. That is why they were not able to find barristers to do that work. It is time that we dispelled some of the myths about what is going on. While I agree that there should be a tendering regime, I do not think it will improve the costs paid to barristers. Barristers will work on these tribunals as long as it is worth their while to do so. I do not think barristers have anything to fear from tendering. If anyone has anything to fear from it, it is the Attorney General. If it is a free market, he might find that he has to pay more than he pays currently.

I have not spoken in this House on Mr. Justice Flood or the work he did in the five years prior to his retirement. I knew him because he was chairman of a school in which I taught. He was a great servant of the community in which he lived and has done a great service to the nation. The work Mr. Justice Flood did at the tribunal during his period of chairmanship was efficient. Deputy Perry talked about it being financially worthwhile and continuing to be financially worthwhile. It has other legacies than a simple balance sheet of its costs versus what it has gained in terms of tax. Other benefits have accrued to the nation and, while these cannot be measured financially, they will be recorded in the history books.

The first is the Criminal Assets Bureau. Although it relates to another period, it has worked well with the findings of the tribunal in recent years. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform proposes to expand the powers of the bureau in light of Supreme Court decisions over the past two years regarding its powers. I look forward to the time when the CAB can investigate trusts. This is one of the difficulties it has had hitherto in getting at cash corruptly collected by criminals.

Another legacy of the tribunals will be the changes in electoral law, to which most public office holders are now subject. We have a raft of legislation in place that requires Members of the Oireachtas to provide details of any money we are given or spend. We must have separate bank accounts at election times and our election spending is limited. These changes are attributable to an extent to the work of the tribunal. This is not calculated in assessing whether tribunals have been worthwhile. Changes in ethics law are also attributable to an extent to the work of the tribunal.

The question of costs is always a vexed one. I am glad to see this clarified in the Bill. I regret the phraseology in the explanatory memorandum; it is dismissive and a little bit sarcastic in tone. While I may be interpreting its tone wrongly, that is that way I read it. I am glad to note that express provision has been given to the right of the chairperson to appoint other members to carry out separate divisions of the inquiry. I am sure we will deal with the problems and delays referred to by other speakers.

It is invidious to compare this inquiry to the Hutton or Saville inquiries. Those inquiries were investigations into single instances. For example, the Saville inquiry inquired into the happenings over the course of a day in Derry. The Hutton inquiry inquired into a single event, namely, the death of a government official and how this arose. The Flood and Mahon tribunals are inquiring into a series of events that will require considerably more unravelling. The support the House can give by way of technical amending legislation must be welcomed. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome and support the Bill. I always speak about where I come from and what I am doing here. I came from the grassroots and was elected to the Dáil two years ago. I have had a great opportunity to see life and assess the problems at the coalface. As a medical practitioner in a rural area, I link with all the people and share their joys and sorrows when I attend weddings and funerals. I decided to run for election as I could no longer cope with the frustration of trying to deal with issues in my surgery as a general practitioner. I saw the deficiencies in the service for people that needed to access hospital, either for acute or non-urgent treatment. I bore witness to the deprivation experienced by the people in my area.

I speak about the issues that are important to my area on every chance I get. Last night, I spoke about decentralisation. I said that so much could have been done in the past that was not done. Half our graduates must go to Dublin to find their first job. Many of those who went to Dublin and are nearing retirement live in bedsits. They would have been so much happier in their home area and would have contributed to the area. The political parties did not do what they should have. Facilities and infrastructure that should exist do not. Decentralisation could have done so much.

Now that the Celtic tiger economy has passed, we have so little in our area that should be there. Mayo is the most economically deprived area in Ireland. It could have been so different and we now know from the tribunals how it could have worked. We know how the political parties, especially Fianna Fáil, worked. In the past, it would have been terrible to say in the Dáil that Ministers were involved in corruption. However, this is the reality. Those Ministers were no advantage to the good name of the Fianna Fáil party. This is the legacy we must all bear. This is the burden that Fianna Fáil backbenchers especially and the body politic must bear. It is a heavy cross on those who were not involved in corruption. There are good people in every party who were not a part of this and wish it had never happened. This is the affliction Fianna Fáil must bear.

The tribunals are supposed to address this and purge Fianna Fáil of those of its members who are guilty of wrongdoing, yet there is a perception that the tribunals are not doing this. They are seen as a mechanism to shift responsibility from those who should face up to dealing with certain individuals as they should be dealt with. What does one do with rotten apples in a barrel? One gets rid of them. Fianna Fáil should have done this to remove the contamination that affects the entire body politic.

People also feel the tribunals are being used to drag out proceedings and that the delays in the administration of justice will mean those who should have liability will escape from it. Seven years have already passed and, under the Statute of Limitations, these people will be untouchable. This is the perception the public has and why it is so cynical. Were it not for this cynicism and the history of neglect, I would not have been elected in the style in which I was.

Anything that will change this perception is to be welcomed and this is why I welcome the Bill. It sensibly states that there should be a facility for more than one judge to be appointed. If there is more than one judge, they can deal with several modules simultaneously. This happened in Britain and was quickly sorted out.

However, here it takes Methuselah's years to sort such things out. It would give the public confidence again if there were a concerted effort and Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were seen to be doing what was necessary, getting the right number of judges involved. People would judge them on what happened from now on. We have many laws, but it is their application that will make the difference. Their proper application will ensure that people have confidence again, enabling them to trust the body politic. That trust is gone, and that is terrible. The body politic must regain that confidence, otherwise we will have lost the plot.

This Bill is not rocket science, it is straightforward. It is certainly overdue, but I wonder how long it has taken for it to come about. It is obvious that there is a vested interest in dragging out the process. That exists from the point of view of wrongdoers, who would love to escape their legal liability, which would expire after the Statute of Limitations ran out. There is also a vested interest on the part of the political parties affected. They do not want all that dirty linen coming out, so the longer they can drag it out to avoid those issues, the better — out of sight, out of mind. Crooked Members have a better chance of escaping liability the longer the situation is left as it is. There is also a vested interest on the part of lawyers, since they are cleaning up.

No matter what is said or done, we must get real. We need infrastructure in the west. We need roads and a western rail corridor. A well-meaning Minister came down to the west for the day, but he did not have the promised €250 million in his pocket, though it was needed. When one thinks about the underspend of €322 million in the BMW area for public transport projects or the fact that in the order of 157% of projected spending went on the south and east compared with 51% in the BMW area, one sees that it represents money that should be going to the west. It should be there to ensure that we have the necessary infrastructure for balanced regional development so that we can keep our people living locally and half our graduates need not go to Dublin for their first job. That is being perpetuated all the time.

Those millions would have been better spent doing all those things — and might still be better spent. Let us stop that flow and try to deal with the situation. Give us the infrastructure that we need and a future. To do that, we need this money, but tribunals and a gravy train have been eating it up. There is a vested interest in ensuring that it goes onad perpetuum, for ever and a day.

I have great faith in tribunals and in what they can do. However, let us fast-track the situation with multiple judges. Let us make it all happen. The more judges we appoint, the quicker things will happen. The Bill is logical, referring to the chairman or tribunal members being able to go to the High Court. That makes a great deal of horse sense. It is a very useful and sensible contingency which will thwart those who seek to frustrate the quest for justice. I support the Bill, but I am talking about action. We have had many words, but we need action.

When I was elected to the Dáil the first time around, I could not understand why I did not have speaking time. We had to form the Technical Group to get it. Now the public talks and the press makes a field day out of it, saying that Jerry Cowley spoke only so many times in the Dáil. They cannot say that now, because we formed the Technical Group. The perception is that we can simply walk into the Dáil and speak, but there must be speaking time. It is obvious that there is a vested interest controlled by political parties. Independents as such do not have speaking time of their own. Now people are seeing things differently. I would not have got elected — the first to be elected — if people were not so cynical and could not see that there is another way. The power is in their hands since they are now getting it back. A whole new era is coming as a result of all these shenanigans. I see the wonderful vista of a Dáil not populated by political parties but by Independents.

It is a very good point that if we had proper Dáil procedures, with committees meeting every day or second day, and meaningful debate in the Dáil, there would not be so much need for all these tribunals since the work would have been done. Everything would be in the open and there would be a chance for meaningful debate. I saw that today in the Joint Committee on Health and Children, where it was obvious that things were coming out that would not have done so without that facility. For instance, people sent away by health boards and the Government to train in orthodontics could, simply by paying back the money afterwards, get out of the public system altogether and go off into private practice, leaving us bereft of a planned service. Fifteen thousand children who should have received treatment did not get it.

The authorities were able to continue to pour money into the national treatment purchase fund when it should have been going into supporting local services, rather than taking them away, as the Hanly report is attempting. That was done instead of building up services, getting rid of waiting lists and applying logic to matters. However, those points are not getting out because of the vested interests of so many to keep matters as they are. I can see another vista though. The legal profession is a powerful gravy train of vested interests. When all this pans out, if people escape liability under the Statute of Limitations, who will carry the can for that? Will the lawyers do it?

There should be an insistence on expediency and sanctions. In any contract, there are penalty clauses and so on, yet to what builder would one give a blank cheque to build as big a house as he wanted, taking as long as he wanted to do it? One would keep giving him the cheque book and tell him to write as many cheques as he wanted, since it would not be our money but that of the people. That is not at all acceptable and must change. In the real world of business, this would not happen, since there would be penalty clauses. To whom would one give a contract without penalty clauses? One would not give anyone a limitless contract and a blank cheque.

We need more accountability in all this since it is our money and it should have been used to do other things. Had it been so used, I would not be here, I would be at home in my surgery. It should be used to prop up the failing health service, which needs investment. Talk of a black hole is a fiasco. There is no black hole because we are only now getting the money that we should have got over the years. However, money is going into things that it should not go into. There are 200,000 people who deserve medical cards but are not getting them, supposedly because there is no money. Money is going into this sort of thing instead.

I say once again that I am not against tribunals. I am all for them, but there must be some sense and logic here. Much can be done. There are unemployed barristers going around looking for briefs, but the few barristers with the big private practices may be earning so much compared with what they would get from the State that they may not wish to return. However, that is no excuse for not having justice done and seen to be done. We need systems that allow people to have faith in the body politic again.

I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed by the last speaker. However, I question one or two matters regarding his reference to the political parties not doing the work. Everyone should speak for themselves. The political parties did the work, but what could and should have been done outside was not done. Regarding speaking time in the House, I have been here for some years, and there have been Independents and various groups in it. There was always time for all groups to speak in the House. I never saw restrictions, and I would never countenance any. The real difficulty was to ensure that members of bigger parties got an opportunity to speak in the House. Many of the regulations that have crept into the House in recent years exclude many of the members of my party and other bigger ones from speaking. I wish to set the record straight on that.

I will deal with this specific tribunal in a moment. However, the issue of tribunals goes back a long way. In my time in this House, we have had inquiries and tribunals. We had the Kerry babies tribunal and one on a sea tragedy off the coast of Cork. There were several others. A tribunal or inquiry is called for where there are questions which have not been answered adequately through the existing system. It illustrates a breakdown in the investigative authorities, the police in other words, or a lack of adequate powers to do the job.

While the beef tribunal sat for a long time, it seems relatively short in comparison to the current inquiries. One can draw one or two conclusions from the tribunal's results. It was deemed to be extremely expensive. On the other hand, the DIRT inquiry investigated a much longer period of activity than any other inquiry. It prepared itself well, investigated a 20 year period in six months, did a fine job and came to conclusions at very little cost. The benefit to the Exchequer was great with the most recent tally of recovered funds standing at almost €1 billion. None of those involved was a highly paid lawyer, which is not to reflect on the legal profession. The inquiry was carried out by ordinary Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas who were doing their work in the ordinary way. Pitted against them were some of the country's best legal minds, but they did not flinch even in the face of several attempts to unseat the inquiry. The job was done effectively through the political system and broadcast to the people on camera every day. The cost to the Exchequer of the inquiry was £980,000. The inquiry can be favourably compared to any within or outside this jurisdiction in terms of its cost effectiveness and its ability to reach conclusions.

I reject in its entirety the suggestion that only a particular group can carry out such inquiries in future. The reason we have so many tribunals sitting at present is that normal procedures were not observed in the first place. People did not obey the law and, for some reason, law enforcers were unable to get to the kernels of these matters and deal with them adequately. This is not intended to be a poor reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea. For a long time, a contempt-breeding familiarity with the law has been growing here. It springs from a daily recognition of the trappings of ill-gotten gains visible throughout the country. Every day, we see headlines which report shootings at the mansions of criminals known to the Garda. The public sees that these palatial mansions have swimming pools and other trappings and asks how it can happen so easily.

Why is it so easy for a criminal gang to seek the help of the Garda when one of its members goes missing? I acknowledge that we are all entitled to equal access to the law. These well-known professional criminals seek sun havens all over the world and are depicted as living it up and enjoying good business relationships with their colleagues in crime through worldwide networks. What else do they need? We say that something should be done and that is where we should start. There should be no circumstances in which a criminal, hardened or otherwise, can buy and sell property, acquire holiday homes all over the place and live on the ill-gotten gains of crime. If the public has erred, it may well be as a result of looking at some of what has gone on around it.

The tribunals were necessary as we had to do something about these matters. Many public figures suffered as a result. I am sure many people hoped everyone but them would be involved, but that is not how it happened. I cannot understand how a public relations specialist was able to carry a bag of money around to public representatives in positions of some authority and ask them how much they required to do the jobs they were supposed to be doing anyway. How did we arrive at circumstances in which that could happen? Why was this person not arrested in the first instance? Why did we allow circumstances to develop in which this person could come to this House and offer a bonus to Members who had been tasked with a statutory function? Why was nothing done about the people who authorised this behaviour? I cannot understand it. We have all dealt with planning regulations and permissions over the years. While the case of a person seeking planning permission may or may not be valid, once a financial inducement is introduced its merits become irrelevant. The case is automatically invalidated.

The last speaker reminded me of another tendency in our society and it prompts me to ask what branch of society has remained unscathed through the current spate of inquiries into wrongdoing. Politicians come immediately to the fore as the original culprits. I looked recently at a passport application form and noted that it required the applicant to obtain an endorsing signature from a person in authority. It set out a list of those from whom the endorsement could have been obtained previously and a list of those from whom it can be obtained now. Members of the Oireachtas are no longer regarded as authoritative signatories in this regard and I am uncertain as to the status of peace commissioners. The interesting list includes those who are entitled to sign. A member of the clergy is obviously unscathed by everything that has happened in the past 20 years, as are teachers. Gardaí are unscathed. A bank manager or assistant bank manager is——

Unscathed.

: —unscathed A solicitor or a judge——

Definitely unscathed.

Last, but by no means least, the list includes medical doctors. I do not suggest that all the odium which has fallen on the heads of Members of the Oireachtas and other public representatives was undeserved. All the odium should not necessarily fall on them, because others in society also erred. I am not suggesting for a moment that the members of all those professions should bear the burden, because they were not all responsible. The same applies to politicians. The word "politician" is usually used by the Government to spread the word into the wider masses and suggest that all politicians are supposedly suffering from the same malady. I say that for the benefit of those who tend to suggest from outside the House that all politicians are crooked and that they can prove it. Society needs to look at itself as well. I am not trying to justify or countenance the wrongdoings that have occurred, but we should know that society tends to ignore certain things when it wants to.

All that brings us back to the type of inquiry we are talking about, the cost of it and the modules. Everyone now talks about the cost of the inquiries. What also concerns people is the length of time they take to reach conclusions. If there is a need to set up an inquiry in the first place, which there has been, a conclusion must be reached using all necessary resources. Everything must be done to ensure there is no repetition, and that the same kind of circumstances do not recur with similar any consequences. We cannot have that.

I do not understand how the modules operate. The Minister of State may have different views on this, but there seems to be some confusion between tribunals of inquiry and courts of law. In a tribunal, a year can pass between an allegation and a rebuttal. That does not happen in a court of law. I know also of situations where those who defend themselves in an inquiry seem to presume the same rules and regulations apply as in a court of law, and for everybody's sake that needs to be clarified.

I emphasise again that the DIRT inquiry was a difficult job, done under much pressure. I say this not because I was a member, but because members of all political parties were involved. People outside the inquiry know little of the work done, but the inquiry was effectively carried out. There was no question of it dragging on. We knew it could not. It had to be dealt with within a specific timeframe, because it was not possible for ordinary parliamentary life to continue at the same time. That urgency was there all the time. Those who wanted to cross-examine got their opportunity too. They did not have to wait for three or six months to rebut an allegation. I cannot understand why the tribunals cannot do something similar, nor why it is not possible to reach conclusions much quicker, and accelerate the entire business. I know the judges and the tribunals might say I should mind my own business. Maybe I should, but this is what the public pays me for, this is what we are in this House for, and as long as we are here, that is what we will do.

It might be helpful if the modules were looked at again with a view to finding out whether an accused might have an earlier opportunity of coming forward, and that a particular segment of the inquiry be put to bed, as it were, rather than dragging on.

I am intrigued when I hear the dramatisation of the tribunal inquiries on the "Tonight with Vincent Browne" radio show. What amazes me is the modulated tone of the legal eagles, wherein they ask questions which are obviously loaded and ominous.

The Deputy should have been a barrister.

The reply from the unfortunate accused, whoever he or she may be, is: "I don't know." The barristers ask a couple of other modulated questions, and each response from the unfortunate accused becomes more and more shrill. This indicates a school for lawyers. Is the Minister of State teaching them? Has he perhaps taught some of these people?

No. They all speak with the same accent.

The accent used by Deputy Durkan was Deputy O'Dea's accent.

That is on a lighter note. In this case we recognise that in order to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion, it is necessary to pass this legislation which hopefully will allow the judge and subsequent judges to reach conclusions and to set costs in respect of the period prior to their being on a particular inquiry.

As Deputy Andrews said, there is something which we need to be careful of in this House. We live in a time when everything seems to be compartmentalised, regulated with set pieces, arguments for and against, ten minutes on one side and ten minutes on the other, whatever the case may be. The Immigration Act was struck down in the courts in recent times, and one of the causes cited was the lack of adequate debate in the House. We must look at that issue and recognise that the job of the House is to debate legislation. That is our first job, and our statutory responsibility. We are supposed to express our views on every Bill that comes before the House.

Someone recently said to me that we need to be briefed but that is not the case. We are supposed to be able to speak as we think, as elected public representatives, giving our own opinions, enlightened or otherwise. We are not here to be briefed by someone who might suggest to us a particular view of a matter. We must examine in our own way. We need more research and back-up facilities, but it is vitally important that we recognise the need to express our own unadulterated views on the legislation coming before us — nothing more and nothing less. Of course we may sometimes be wrong. So are lots of other people, including our good friends the judges, who get things wrong from time to time. Nobody has a monopoly on infallibility. We should not worry about that. We should be happy to express our views in our own way, and if people do not like it, that is tough.

I did not intend to speak for so long, but I tend to get carried away.

The cars are outside.

I support the legislation. I hope we will not have a visit from the courts to tell us we were too rash in our response or that we did not adequately discuss this legislation. We have discussed it adequately at this stage, and understand it adequately. While the rash of tribunals will undoubtedly continue for some considerable time, let there be a lesson in this for society and for Parliament. By operating the rules and regulations that are there, by using the investigative abilities of Parliament to do its job, let us try to ensure there is no repetition. I am not criticising the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who is sitting opposite and who is not the worst in terms of responding. However, when almost any question is asked in the House, an issue arises as to whether we should have the information. As the Minister of State knows well, it is the duty of Members of the House to ask the question and the duty of the Minister to whom it is directed to answer it. Failure to do that will ensure the necessity for more tribunals which will cost billions of euro.

I welcome the work the tribunals are doing and I welcome this legislation. It is important that the tribunal judges are immediately given whatever powers are required. I pay tribute to the former Mr. Justice Flood for the tremendous work he did and for his commitment and that of his staff. It is time to take stock of where these tribunals are going, and this legislation is timely in that regard. Obviously it makes much more sense to give the tribunals extra powers than not give them.

The reality is that this country's planning process has been proven to be corrupt at all levels, from Taoisigh, to Ministers down to councillors, and this House has not responded adequately to that problem. It responded by setting up tribunals and giving them resources and in the context of legislation governing Members' interests and declarations of money received or whatever, but the one area needing urgent reform is the planning process, particularly in the context of rezoning questions, which is the root of this problem. Rezoning is at the root of all the corruption I read about in the newspapers, including the rezoning of Carrickmines and of vast tracts of land in north County Dublin. It is about Ministers being gifted with houses they did not pay for and the nod and the wink, which is disgraceful. We have not dealt with that problem adequately but we must deal with it now. The Government must deal with this issue and bring in new legislation to examine how the planning process must change as a result of what is going on.

One of my colleagues said he does not disbelieve that the tribunals will go on for years and cost millions of euro. They will if we do not change the core of the process. The biggest problem is that when rezoning issues arise, and we must rezone because towns change and there are areas of growth and decay, there is no change in the interaction among councillors, public representatives and planners. Planning is supposed to be a quasi-judicial process. It is as if it were a court of law and from the planning point of view all sides must be looked at fairly and the arguments must be balanced, but what is the reality?

The reality in the rezoning that is taking place is that the people knocking on the doors of county councillors throughout the country, as the development plans are being prepared, are not residents' associations but landowners and developers. One county councillor in County Louth described to me an event that occurred in his house before the development plan was voted on. He said it was like spaghetti junction outside his door for a weekend, with developer after developer and landowner after landowner coming to him to make their case. That is fundamentally wrong.

If developers and landowners — this is where the change is needed — have points of view which are important to them, the planning process should be ring-fenced from the elected representatives and the planners. One should be able to make one's case through the relevant local authority, be it county council or urban district council, directly in writing and if the council requests that one should attend to make the case personally, if one felt so aggrieved about the issue. I would not have a problem with that, but the corruption occurs in the personal contact between the two sides of the argument. That must change. It is shameful that this system has continued for so long and that we have refused to change that aspect of it.

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Durkan, who said the vast majority of politicians are honest, decent people. Of course they are but there is corruption in politics and if we can make this change in our planning process fewer public representatives will appear before tribunals and there will be better debates in our council chambers. From reading the transcripts of the evidence given to the tribunal, one can see that the debate is about the landowner's interest when the land is being rezoned, what the landowner and the developer wants, not what the community should have.

When development plans are drawn up the developer sometimes has the plan even before the councillors. Councillors do not have plans which are prepared by county councillors. I was in a businessman's office one day talking about an issue when he produced a copy of a development plan for the county council of which I was a member but which I had not seen. I asked him where he had got it and he said it was widely circulated and that everybody had it, yet as an elected member of that council I did not have a copy of the plan. I contacted the county council but it said it could not explain how the plan got out, but it did get out. That was shameful. I could not lay the blame on anybody, and I do not do so now, other than to say that plan leaked like a sieve and the last people to know about it were the public representatives who are charged with deciding on the plan. That is what needs to change. That problem is at the core of the tribunals, the greedy, grubby, grasping hand that is reaching into people's pockets to get something from which one can benefit, and the public interest is lost sight of. We have a planning process that is not working. There is corruption in that process and we must sort it out immediately.

While I welcome this debate, we cannot continue to ignore the fact that the cause of corruption is the physical contact between landowners and developers and public representatives. If a quasi-judicial function is taking place and a planning development is being made, it should be an offence to personally approach public representatives in their homes or lobby them in any way. The day of the spaghetti junction outside county councillors' homes must end now.

To take the parallel of the courts, nobody goes knocking on the judge's door when a case is coming up in court. Nobody knocks on the juror's door saying, "My case is coming up on Monday, my argument is this, what can you do for me?" but the jurors in the planning process are the elected members. That door knocking is going on and until it stops, we will always have these tribunals. The Government must address that fundamental issue because it is destroying the credibility of the political process. It is a reality.

If one talks to young people about politics, as we all do, they say it is corrupt. They refer to the tribunals and they say we are all the same. We all hear this day in, day out. Young people, and many others, believe that, and that is the reason they do not engage in the political process because it has been proven to be corrupt in the tribunals. Let us get our act together. We have not addressed this issue and in that regard we have failed the public. This is where the change must be made.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to this debate. As I said at the outset, this is a short technical Bill which deals with a very important issue. I especially appreciated the comments of those who had regard to that fact.

The tribunals of inquiry legislation dates back over 80 years. In the interim it has been amended substantively five times. This Bill is the sixth amendment. In general, all the amending measures were occasioned by some specific need that emerged from the experience of sitting tribunals, tribunals which had just concluded their work or the anticipated needs of tribunals about to be set up. This is also the case with this Bill which has been inspired by the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood as chairperson of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. This Bill, as in the case of amending legislation since 1979, adds to the efficiency and effectiveness of the tribunals system as it stands. On this occasion we are providing certainty with regard to the authority of the chairperson of a tribunal to make a determination on an application for costs in a situation where he or she had not originally heard the evidence and where the chairperson must have regard to a previous report of the tribunal. We have also provided for two very effective mechanisms to assist tribunals, namely, for the tribunal to seek the direction of the High Court and also for tribunals, where there is more than one member, to sit in separate divisions to allow for more efficient and speedy consideration of the matters concerned.

Deputies raised a number of points, some of which I will respond to briefly. Deputy Connaughton asked the fundamental purpose of the legislation and why there was a need to set it up in the first place. The fundamental issue is that there was some uncertainty as to whether, when a tribunal is sitting and the chairman resigns or is replaced, his or her successor can determine costs, even though he or she has not been physically present to hear the evidence in respect of which he or she is determining costs. The fundamental purpose of this legislation is that we wanted to put that beyond doubt.

Deputy Deasy expressed the view that Judge Mahon should refuse costs to people who obstructed or at least did not co-operate with the tribunal. I do not want to anticipate what Judge Mahon decides. There are findings to show that certain parties did not co-operate with the tribunal and some actively obstructed the tribunal. Judge Mahon has the right to make his own decision on costs. Deputy Deasy asked also if the Attorney General was personally involved in the drafting of the legislation and if we are satisfied that it is watertight. I confirm that the Attorney General cleared this legislation and all the advice available to us is that it is watertight. We have made every effort to ensure it is watertight.

Deputy Durkan said that when an allegation is made against a person in a tribunal it takes a long time for him or her to get the opportunity to reply, unlike when an allegation is made about a person in court. The reason is that in court cases, there is usually a net issue and there are usually just two parties. Even in a criminal case, there is the prosecution and the defence; in civil cases there are usually two parties. By its nature, a tribunal of inquiry will involve many parties. There will be many people who have to give evidence. How quickly one gets a reply to an allegation made against one will depend on how many others are being questioned. Deputy Durkan is correct. This is a fundamental weakness in the tribunals system. That a serious allegation can be left hanging over a person for an indefinite period is a serious lacuna in the tribunals system and one which the Law Reform Commission will be addressing in its current examination of the system.

Deputy Costello said the public was getting fed up because of the spin emanating from spin doctors, Government spokespersons——

Especially those in Limerick.

——and with tribunals. There is spin and reality. The reality is that people genuinely are getting fed up of the tribunals. They say they are taking too long and are costing the earth. They are asking if they will ever come to an end. They are asking the questions Deputy McGuinness asked, namely, whether the money could be put to better use in building hospitals, providing radiotherapy units and so on. What permeated this debate from start to finish was the cost of the tribunals and the length of time they are taking. The Government is moving on both those fronts.

On the issue of procedure, the Commissions of Investigation Bill, which we expect to revisit before the end of this session, provides not necessarily an alternative to tribunals, but something that will stand side by side with tribunals and will often serve as a precursor to a full tribunal hearing — an effective and speedy mechanism to gather evidence where that does not need to be done by the full tribunal. Sometimes all that will be needed for a particular investigation is that new model which is envisaged by the commissions of investigations legislation. That will help the position not only in terms of time but in terms of costs because if it takes less time and can be done more efficiently, obviously it will cost less.

On the specific questions of costs and tribunals, it is envisaged that tribunals as we know them will continue to exist side by side with commissions of inquiry. The Law Reform Commission has been asked to direct its attention to this and is doing so. Its final report is expected towards the end of the year. It will look at the structures of full-blown tribunals, how to control costs and so on, and how to proceed more efficiently and more quickly.

Deputy Finian McGrath suggested we look at other models, such as Germany. Reference has been made to the Hutton inquiry in the United Kingdom which proceeded much more expeditiously, even though some have expressed unhappiness at the ultimate outcome. There is a fundamental difference between Germany and Britain. There are very fundamental differences between Germany and this country. Whatever is in the written constitution in Germany, it is different from our Constitution. Germany does not have to contend with Supreme Court decisions, such as the Jock Haughey decision, where people were given the right to protect their characters and to cross-examine their accusers on any allegations made against them. Tribunals and courts must operate within the parameters of that decision. Ireland is a common law country, Germany has a civil law tradition which is a completely different set up. The same applies to a lesser extent in Britain. Britain is also a common law country but it does not have a written constitution and the constraints imposed by the Supreme Court.

People have referred to the success of the DIRT inquiry conducted by a committee of this House. I agree with everything that has been said in that regard. I agree with Deputy Costello that it was unfortunate that we came up against the courts in the Abbeylara case, which was a manslaughter case. There is room for much greater involvement by parliamentary committees in these matters. That is an issue the Law Reform Commission will consider seriously, particularly in view of the success of the DIRT inquiry.

I understand some of the Opposition parties intend to table a number of amendments on Committee Stage. I put Members on notice that the Government will accept all reasonable amendments.

Question put and agreed to.