Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to present to the House the Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003. This Bill provides for the establishment of commissions of investigation. The function of a commission of investigation will be to investigate into and report on matters referred to it that are considered to be of significant public concern.

The House will be aware that the Bill has its historic origins in the need to provide a means for investigation into the child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. It is generally accepted that the very public and sometimes adversarial nature of tribunals of inquiry does not lend itself to investigation of matters of such a sensitive and intensely personal nature. Nonetheless, such inquiry needs to have at its disposal powers which are no less vigorous and effective in the pursuit of answers to difficult questions. Separate from that instance, Government had recognised the need to devise a new form and method of inquiry in any event.

In a useful and significant way this Bill adds to the range of mechanisms available for investigations. It contains several new features that will ensure more timely and cost effective investigations, without compromising or encroaching upon the proper conduct of an investigation. In fact, the opposite will be the case as the extra features will, instead, enhance the ability of a commission of investigation to meet its objective of establishing the facts about any matter referred to it. I also believe the interests of justice and accountability will be advanced by a speedy conclusion to an investigation.

The fact that the Bill facilitates more cost-effective investigation is a not insignificant consideration. It is estimated that between 1997 and October 2003 the accumulated cost to the State of tribunals and other major inquiries was more than €100 million. That figure does not include third party costs. Many of the tribunals and inquiries are ongoing. The approximate annual cost of these ongoing tribunals and inquiries is some €47 million. The accumulated cost overhang in respect of third parties could run to hundreds of millions of euros

It is essential that the issue of costs of inquiry be addressed and this measure achieves that without in any way diluting the effectiveness or efficiency of the inquiry. Before explaining what the Bill contains and how a commission of investigation will go about its business, it is important to have a clear picture of what the Bill does not do. This legislation does not replace or amend in any way the legislation under which tribunals of inquiry are established and operated. While commissions may, as we shall see, be regarded as precursors or alternatives to tribunals, the Bill makes no changes to legislation relating to tribunals.

It is important to note that the Bill does not establish a single or permanent investigations body. It enables the establishment of commissions as and when required, and it is one of the attractions of the new legislation that several commissions may sit at one time, investigating several and varied matters. In other words, the Bill gives the State and the Oireachtas a flexible investigative mechanism.

Several of the new departures and innovative approaches to be found in the Bill are particularly important and worthy of emphasis. I will, therefore, draw the attention of the House to aspects of the Bill which relate to the terms of reference of a commission and to the guiding principles which aim to encourage co-operation. I will explain the way it will conduct its investigations and the strong powers available to a commission, as well as the provisions designed to ensure time limits are respected and costs are kept under control. I will underline the importance of the reports of commissions. Given these features, I hope Deputies will agree that the Bill introduces a timely and effective additional mechanism to ensure accountability and transparency in our public affairs.

Before addressing these aspects of the Bill, the most basic question is when and in what circumstances we envisage commissions being established. The Bill provides that a commission will be established on foot of a Government order approved by the Oireachtas. The subject matter must, in the words of the Bill, be an issue giving rise to "significant public concern". An issue giving rise to significant public concern is one that is of more than mere interest to the public; it must, instead, be an issue which has serious, including long-term, implications for public life. These implications could include the welfare and safety of a sector in society or the effective and safe operation of a significant public service.

While the Bill provides the mechanism and structure for the operation of investigations, it will remain the function of the Government of the day and the Oireachtas, as the representatives of society at large and the guardians of the public interest, to make the judgment in any particular case as to whether an issue is of such significant public concern that it requires investigation by a commission.

It has come to be recognised that having clear and well defined terms of reference which are tightly drawn is often the key to a successful investigation. The Bill addresses this issue directly in sections 4 and 5. The process leading to the establishment of a commission starts with the presentation to the Oireachtas of a reasoned statement of the need to establish a commission, with the draft establishment order. Following the approval of the order by the Oireachtas, the terms of reference are to be set by the Government or the Minister with overall responsibility for the commission in question. Consultations may take place with interested parties about the terms of reference but the terms must, in the final analysis, comply with the detailed parameters set out in section 5.

Section 5 requires that the systems or specific events, activities or circumstances to be investigated are identified and that the periods and locations or persons to which an investigation relates are specified. Deputies will agree that observance of these criteria will result in tight and well defined terms of reference. It will also be noted that section 5 requires that the terms of reference must be accompanied by statements setting out the likely duration of an investigation, as well as its cost. The terms of reference and the accompanying statements on costs and duration will be published.

Section 6 recognises that terms of reference may need to be altered on occasion, but it states that any amendment must be for clear purposes, either to clarify, extend or limit the scope of an investigation. The statements as to costs and timeframes must also be amended when the terms are altered. This will ensure that the full implications of any alteration are clear to all. It is worth noting that amendments may only be made where the commission consents and it may withhold that consent where it is satisfied that the amendment would prejudice the legal rights of any person who has co-operated with or provided information to the commission.

I am satisfied that the overall effect of these important sections is that we are, in this legislation, ensuring that all the difficult matters which have come to beset other investigations and inquiries are met and addressed at the outset. The scope for subsequent surprises should, therefore, be considerably reduced.

In keeping with the general aim of the Bill, section 7 adopts a flexible approach to determining the membership of commissions. This arises because of the variety of circumstances in which commissions may be established. Under the terms of section 7, we will be able to draw on a wide range of skills and expertise and will be able to achieve the right mix of such skills and expertise. The experience and qualifications of the members can be supplemented by experts who can be recruited under section 8 to assist and advise the members. My aim is to ensure that all investigations, irrespective of the subject matter, will be carried out by those most qualified to do so and sections 7 and 8 will ensure this will be the case.

Section 9 sets out the guiding principles by which all commissions must operate. A commission will be required to seek the voluntary co-operation of witnesses and the Bill places a responsibility on it to facilitate witnesses in that respect. It is not possible, given the multitude of circumstances in which a commission may operate, to state the manner in which a commission will meet that obligation, but one can speculate that, for example, it will be prepared to hear evidence in locations and at times that are more convenient for the witness, and that it will accept evidence, subject to certain safeguards, in forms other than in person, for example, by live or pre-recorded video links or by affidavit.

Section 10, which provides that, in general, evidence shall be given to a commission in private, complements section 9 and will support a commission in adhering to the guiding principles to which I referred. I say this because the arrangements set out in section 10 will result in a less adversarial atmosphere. This is designed to encourage witnesses who might otherwise be intimidated by, for example, the prospect of lengthy and detailed cross-examination, to come forward and assist the commission.

Section 10 provides that legal representatives of other parties will be present only if the commission is satisfied that their presence is necessary in the interests of the investigation and of fair procedures. Likewise, cross-examination by or on behalf of other parties will take place only where the commission agrees. However, the commission may question a witness on the evidence he or she has given.

While I recognise that, in certain respects, the procedures in section 10 represent a departure from current practice, the new approach is designed to assist a commission in its primary task of establishing facts while, at the same time, ensuring that the procedures are fair. Since the hearings will generally be in private, the risk of damage to the good name or reputation of another is greatly reduced, as also is the need for legal representation. Private hearings also have the advantage of avoiding circumstances in which claims are publicly made by one party, but remain unanswered for a considerable period until the person affected comes to give his or her evidence. There is a real risk in those circumstances that unfounded or inaccurate claims can appear to go unchallenged and the good name and reputation of certain persons can be gravely and unjustly damaged. The new approach should reduce that risk.

While the issues to which I have referred are important, it is also important that private hearings are not abused in a way that would allow unfounded allegations and claims to be made or go unchallenged. Section 11 addresses this concern by providing that a commission should make any person who may be the subject of such claims or allegations aware of the claims or allegations, and those persons should be given an opportunity to deal with them. While no obligation is being placed on a commission to reveal the source of any evidence given, there may be occasions when in view of the purposes of the investigation and having regard to fair procedures, those details will have to be disclosed.

Section 14 requires a commission to establish or adopt rules and procedures relating to its operation. Deputies will note that those rules may, where a commission has several members, authorise the taking of evidence by one or more of those members. It adds that the evidence given in those circumstances will be regarded as having been given to the commission. This is an important feature which could help speed up investigations and save time and cost.

I turn to the powers being given by this legislation to commissions of investigation. While commissions will do everything reasonably possible to ensure voluntary co-operation from witnesses, they will also be in a position to pursue an investigation with vigour where such co-operation is not forthcoming. The Bill provides effective powers to deal with such non-co-operation, set out, in particular, in sections 15 and 27.

Section 15 specifies powers available to a commission regarding witnesses, including powers to direct witnesses to attend, to answer questions and to produce and disclose documents. Section 27 contains powers relating to entry into premises, inspecting and securing documents, taking copies of documents and requiring persons having charge of documents or related equipment to co-operate with the commission. All witnesses appearing before a commission are to be made aware that in the absence of co-operation, the commission may have recourse to the powers available to it under these sections. Furthermore, I draw attention to section 2(2) which provides a useful clarification on the question of who has control over documents, especially in large organisations. It states that in the final analysis, the person who can reasonably be considered to have control is in fact deemed to have control unless there is evidence to the contrary. This provision closes a potential loophole that could be open to abuse.

The Bill creates several offences of failure to comply with directions, of giving false statements and of obstruction. These offences carry fines on summary conviction of up to €3,000 or to a term of imprisonment for up to 12 months, or on indictment, to fines of up to €300,000 or five years imprisonment. It includes provision under which corporate bodies may be prosecuted for offences. In the event of a person not complying with a direction to attend or produce documentation, a commission may apply to the High Court for an order-in-aid seeking compliance. Failure to comply with that order raises the issue of contempt of court.

The powers being given to a commission of investigation under this Bill are necessary for the effective functioning of commissions. However, I also recognise that the powers are significant and it is for that reason that, for example, section 26 sets out the principles governing the use of the powers of entry and search. The powers may only be used if it is felt to be reasonable and necessary to do so in the interests of the investigation. I also point out that nothing in this Bill prevents anyone who is the subject of a direction from the commission under sections 15 or 27 from seeking a review of that direction by the High Court.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to section 20 in the context of a commission's powers and operating procedures. That section sets out how a commission may deal with situations where privilege is claimed in respect of information sought by a commission. The purpose is to find an effective but proportionate way of overcoming difficulties presented by claims of privilege. Such claims, especially where there is no justification for them, can seriously frustrate and delay the work of an investigation. The mechanism proposed in section 20 ensures that genuine claims will be respected while at the same time ensuring that the necessary information is made available to the commission. The section also provides that a commission may cause a summary version of a document, which contains privileged information, to be prepared where that is possible and the interests of the investigation and fair procedures are served by so doing. A person whose claim of privilege over a document is the subject of a determination by a commission that all or part of the document should be admitted in evidence may, within ten days of the determination, bring an appeal to the High Court under section 21 against the commission's determination.

I want to turn now to the important area of costs, or more precisely, the control of costs. Starting from the beginning of any investigation, as was noted earlier, the terms of reference must be accompanied by a statement from the relevant Minister of the costs likely to be incurred by the commission. This statement is to be revised in the event of the terms being altered. The costs covered by this statement will relate to costs to be incurred by the commission, including costs of experts appointed to assist it in accordance with section 8, including barristers and solicitors, where appointed.

The Bill contains a number of provisions relating to the circumstances in which witnesses may have their costs met in whole or in part by the relevant Minister. Generally, the Bill deals only with the repayment of legal costs, which I will deal with presently, but it does make some provision for non-legal costs. Section 15(3) provides for the payment of witness expenses. The relevant Minister, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, will draw up guidelines for this purpose. Expenses in this context are likely to include items such as travel costs. Section 16 provides that where a witness is held to have failed to co-operate or obstructed the commission and the commission or other witnesses have incurred additional costs as a result, then the party who causes the delay or obstruction may be held liable for those additional costs. Liability for the costs of the commission or other witnesses may be imposed on persons in addition to being proceeded against for the offence of obstruction under this Bill. It should be understood that obstruction is likely to have serious consequences.

On legal costs, section 22 provides for guidelines to be prepared by the relevant Minister, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, in advance of the commission's hearings setting out what legal costs will be regarded as being necessarily incurred by witnesses in connection with the investigation. These are the only legal expenses a witness can expect to recoup. Legal costs will be necessarily incurred where the good name of a witness is called into question or where other personal or property rights are at risk of being jeopardised as a result of evidence received by the commission. The guidelines prepared under section 22 may restrict the types of legal services or fees to be recouped and may set limits on the level of legal costs to be paid. Each witness will be furnished with a copy of the guidelines in advance of his or her giving evidence. This ensures that witnesses who wish to do so can arrange legal representation with full knowledge of the regime under which they may seek to have those costs recouped.

A commission is obliged, in accordance with section 12(2), to advise the witness of his or her legal rights and obligations where a witness is not legally represented for whatever reason. The result is that even where the commission considers that legal representation is not necessary to the extent that it will approve the recoupment of costs and the witness does not therefore acquire legal representation, the commission will seek to ensure that the witness is fully aware of all of his or her legal rights.

While the guidelines in section 22 provide information on the types of services and levels of legal costs that may be recouped, they do not give an automatic guarantee that legal costs incurred by the witness will in fact be met. Each situation will require consideration on its own merits, having regard to the criteria set out in section 23. All applications will be subject, in particular, to the criteria in section 23(3) which sets out a non-exhaustive list of issues to be considered by the commission. These include the complexity of the evidence given by the witness, the volume of documentation supplied, whether the evidence was given in private, whether the witness was cross-examined and the potential consequences for that witness of the final report.

Having considered the application, the commission may give a direction to the relevant Minister to pay costs at a level that does not exceed the maximum set out in the guidelines. The recommended level may be lower than in the guidelines. The Minister may either pay the costs as directed by the commission or may refer the matter back to it for reconsideration. That reconsideration may be based on aspects of the guidelines in section 22 or on the criteria in section 23(3) or, in certain cases, the Minister may ask that the ability of the witness to meet the costs should be considered further. The commission may, following reconsideration of the matter, reduce the proposed level of payment or confirm its original determination. The Minister shall then pay to the witness the costs as recommended by the commission.

Section 23(5) makes a limited exception to the general regime on costs. That will occur where a witness incurs exceptional costs other than legal costs, because of the volume or location of documents, for example, documents held outside the State. In those circumstances, the commission may direct that such exceptional costs may be repaid to the witness and as in the case of legal costs, the relevant Minister may request the commission to reconsider any direction about the repayment of such costs.

I have been anxious to spell out in some detail the provisions relating to costs, in particular, legal costs. In addressing the question of legal costs, the Bill takes account of the overall structure being put in place, including the level of risk to the good name and reputation of any witness because, as I expect, private hearings will be the norm. It is reasonable to say that the lower level of risk to the good name and reputation of any witness should be reflected in a reduced need for legal representation. On the other hand, the Bill ensures that costs that are necessarily incurred — and that is the critical phrase — in the protection of a person's good name and reputation will be recouped. It sets out to achieve a balance between the wider public interest to control costs and the protection of the rights of individuals to their good name. The proposals on costs achieve that balance.

Part 5 of the Bill deals with the reports and interim reports of a commission. Section 31 addresses the core point and provides not only that a commission must prepare for the relevant Minister a written report based on the evidence received by it but also states the precise purpose of the report, namely, to set out the facts it has established on the matter referred to it. It is not the function of a commission to speculate or to make findings or to reach judgments based on the balance of the evidence. However, by virtue of having become a matter requiring the establishment of a commission of investigation, there is likely to be dispute about some or all aspects of the evidence. Again, there is a balance to be achieved. It would be unreasonable to expect a commission to merely set out the conflicting evidence and offer no comment even where certain comment would be justified by the clear weight and quality of some or all of that evidence. Such an approach would undermine the credibility of a commission as it alone would be unable to draw conclusions that would seem obvious to all other observers. Section 31(2) addresses this issue and enables a commission to indicate its opinion as to the quality or weight of evidence relating to any area where the evidence is incomplete, insufficient, inconsistent or disputed. It does not go so far as to say that a commission may favour or find that one version of the evidence is more credible than another. It does, however, permit it to point out that, for example, certain disputed facts are supported by corroboration from other sources or that the clear majority of witnesses affected by a particular event support one version as opposed to another. Statements of that nature merely summarise where the weight of the evidence lies and they are, to that extent, merely stating what will be obvious to all.

I draw attention to some aspects of the Bill as they relate to the possible identification of persons in reports compiled by a commission. There is no general restriction in the Bill on the identification of persons in reports of a commission. However, section 31(3) sets out considerations that may lead to the omission of certain details from a report identifying persons who gave evidence or any other person. The grounds include where the context in which the person was identified has not been clearly established or where disclosure might prejudice any criminal proceedings pending or in progress or where it would not be in the person's interest and the omission would not be contrary to the interests of the investigation or any subsequent inquiry.

Sections 33, 34 and 35 contain provisions providing for an opportunity to persons identified in or identifiable from a draft report to submit comments thereon to the commission on the grounds that there has been a failure to observe fair procedures or in order to protect commercially sensitive information. A commission is required to give due consideration to requests for alterations and it may either amend the report, apply to the High Court for directions or submit the report to the relevant Minister without alteration. In the alternative, a person identified in or identifiable from a draft report may bring the matter before the High Court seeking an order from the court directing that the draft be amended before submission to the relevant Minister. The court may either order the commission to submit the report without alteration or with such alterations as it may direct, or give a direction to the commission to provide an opportunity to the person to give evidence or make submissions to the commission before the report is finalised.

Either way, no one will be allowed to delay publication indefinitely as there will be time limits for making submissions to the commission or applications to the court. Giving affected persons an opportunity to comment and to have their views considered will meet the requirements of natural justice, and the commitment to fair procedures will reduce the likelihood of court challenges to a commission's work and support the objective of efficient and effective investigations.

The final decision on the publication of a report or interim report rests with the relevant Minister. He or she may seek directions from the High Court where there is a risk that anything in the report or interim report could prejudice any pending or ongoing criminal proceedings. This is a useful final check. The Bill does not contemplate any other reason for delaying or withholding publication.

Section 39 confers absolute privilege on reports and interim reports as well as on other documentation of a commission, wherever published. It is likely that, in many cases, commissions will find themselves grappling with the difficulties of disputed evidence. As a result, it may transpire that, in some instances, a commission may be unable to establish or present the full facts in respect of some or all of the matters about which it has carried out an investigation. The Bill, therefore, leaves open the possibility of a tribunal of inquiry being established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2002 for the purposes of inquiring further into the matter. It is my view that it will be the exception to have to establish a tribunal as a follow-up to a commission. Neither will the establishment of a tribunal in such circumstances represent a failure on the part of the commission. On the contrary, it will have carried out invaluable preparatory work on behalf of any subsequent tribunal, thus saving time and cost apart from the quality and volume of the evidence it will have amassed.

Section 42 provides that, in the event of a tribunal being established, all of that evidence becomes evidence of the tribunal. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that information excluded from a commission's report under section 31(3) is not made public as a result of the transfer of the evidence received to the subsequent tribunal. Section 43 provides a mechanism for dealing with such information. It provides that the affected person is to be informed of any intention to disclose details that were previously excluded and that they have a right to make observations. Ultimately, the High Court may be asked to decide on the matter.

On the wider point of what a tribunal can be expected to achieve that the commission has been unable to do, I suggest I have already answered that. A commission is required to establish facts and may comment beyond that only to the limited extent that I have referred to earlier. This limited brief is required if we are to have a mechanism that reduces the adversarial content of existing fora and places less reliance on cross-examinations and other features that add to cost and delay. A tribunal hears arguments in public and, unlike what we generally expect to be the case with commissions, permits cross-examination. It can then come to conclusions based on the balance of the evidence available to it. In other words, it is able to make judgements about the balance of evidence in a way that we do not foresee for commissions of investigation.

I want to stress to the House that it is frequently sufficient that various people's versions of a particular incident come out because one person's opinion is frequently just as good as another person's, having heard the accounts of the various parties. I think back to the proceedings before this House on one occasion when a committee of investigation did not come to any conclusions but everybody was able to hear everybody else's account of the same transaction and, at that point, everyone drew their own conclusions and had an overview of the issue.

As I have already stated, I would expect that only in the rare case will there be a need to establish a tribunal following the conclusion by a commission of its work. A decision on whether to propose the establishment of a tribunal will, in the first instance, be a decision by the Government of the day and the proposal must then be submitted to the Oireachtas for its approval. It may be that the Government would decide that, even where the commission's investigation is not as complete as would have been hoped, enough evidence will have been collected for the Government to proceed to deal with the matter in another way, for example, by legislative or administrative action, to remedy the situation which arises on the material available.

This reforming legislation provides an efficient and effective alternative to the State for the purposes of investigating matters of significant public concern. It draws on our experience to date with other methods of investigation. It is a Bill that arises from recognition of the complexities of modern government and public administration. The opportunities for systems to fail are ever greater and the consequences of such failures are often far-reaching both for individuals concerned as well as society at large. It is important that we provide ourselves with a mechanism for responding to such failures that is responsive, sensitive and fair while at the same time is effective and efficient. To meet those criteria, it must be speedy and cost-effective. In that way it will command public respect and confidence and will be seen as the ideal way of dealing with complex situations while fully respecting fair procedures and natural justice.

I believe this Bill meets those criteria and am therefore happy to commend it to the House. I look forward to a reasoned debate on the various Stages of the consideration of this legislation. I undertake that, as in everything else, I will be alert to sensible and constructive criticism offered in regard to how the Bill can be improved and hope to achieve an even better Act than the Bill I present to the House today.

That is a modest approach from the Minister. I may take him up on it.

This is a topical Bill, dealing as it does with a new statutory mechanism to establish the factual position about a matter giving rise to significant public concern. It is topical because of the major focus of attention on the tribunals in Dublin Castle. I suppose it is fair to say that public inquiries of different kinds have multiplied and mutated in recent years. We are speaking now of a process which can be regarded, as has been mentioned by the Minister, either as a precursor or an alternative to tribunals. He said there may be a multitude of circumstances in which a commission may operate, including the child sex abuse scandals. I draw from that the first point I want to make, which is that the commissions of investigation proposal fits into the tribunal family. It is a new arrival but is part of the tribunal family and must be considered in that context.

The tribunal and public inquiry system is critical to the functioning of a democratic state. The core principles of an investigation are simple; it must be effective, efficient and have the full confidence of the public. Despite much excellent work by the current tribunals, there is clear evidence that the public is suffering from a severe dose of "tribunalitis", with major concerns about the format, cost and enormous time involved in producing results. Any new proposal, therefore, and this one in particular, will be judged by members of the public from three distinct perspectives: speed, cost and results. Any proposed model which fails to make significant improvements on these fronts will not bring about sufficient change. A new approach which may bring speedy results at a reasonable cost is, in principle, worthy of support. For that reason I will not be opposing the Second Reading. This is a new proposal worth considering.

Having indicated a broad support for the new approach, I have major concerns about the Bill. I am particularly concerned about what I see as the sidelining of the Oireachtas under the new system. I am also concerned that while there has been a new approach in regard to costs, it does not adequately tackle this issue. I do not think producing estimates is enough. I will come to that later, but essentially I believe we will have to endorse some system of competitive tendering for legal and other services so far as tribunals of inquiry are concerned. There are a number of other reservations that I will come to later.

The consultation paper of the Law Reform Commission addressed the whole question of public inquiries and tribunals and recommended that: "Legislation be enacted providing for a private low-key inquiry which focuses on malfunction of the system and not the wrong-doer." To some degree this Bill gives effect to that recommendation. That does not, of course, take from the need to deal with many of the other recommendations of that report. In particular it does not take from the need to reform and update the tribunal of inquiry legislation dating back to 1921.

I come back to my major reservation about this Bill, the sidelining of the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas seems to have no role except in producing a positive resolution to establish a commission. In every other respect the powers of the Minister are paramount and are exercised without reference to the Oireachtas. This is in total contrast to the position in the tribunals of inquiry legislation. Some of the powers which the Minister has taken from the Oireachtas and conferred on himself include: the Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, who will establish the commission by making an order, will have overall responsibility for the workings of the commission; it is the Minister who will set the terms of reference; the costs and timeframe are to be determined by the Minister; the Minister can amend the terms of reference without reference or recourse to the Oireachtas; the members of the commission are appointed by the Minister; the reports, whether in draft, interim or final form, must all be submitted to the Minister; it is the Minister who publishes the reports; and the Government has the power to terminate a commission.

These are some of the powers through which the Minister of the day can be the political master of a commission of inquiry. It is fair to ask whether the Minister has considered the effect this will have on public confidence in a process of this nature. That is my major question mark on the Bill. I contrast it to some degree with, say, the recent Hutton inquiry in the UK. By special dispensation the Prime Minister only got a copy of the report 24 hours before he had to deal with questions about it in Parliament. This was for the sole purpose of enabling him to answer questions in Parliament.

There was no legislative basis for Hutton.

We must draw on best examples when we are setting up a new legislative basis for commissions of inquiry. Hutton is an example we should not ignore. Also it cost £2 million sterling, which is another aspect that should not be ignored.

That was a great deal of money for a whitewash.

We have to look at what happens elsewhere. I want to go back to the question of the powers of the Minister as opposed to the Oireachtas. As someone who has been in this Parliament for quite a while — as indeed the Minister has — I am concerned at what effectively amounts to the sidelining of the Oireachtas. The Order establishing the commission may authorise the Minister to set the terms of reference. He or she may do so without reference to Parliament and, leaving Hutton aside, this is in stark contrast to the position under the tribunals of inquiry Act. It is different but it is one of the tribunals' family.

Under section 31 it is the Minister who receives the report. Under sections 32 and 33, interim and draft reports must also be submitted to the Minister. The independence of a body such as a commission of investigation is paramount. To enjoy public confidence the commissions must be at arm's length from the Government of the day. It is not inconceivable that a good deal of the commission's time may be spent investigating the actions of those not too far removed from the political sphere, if we look at current examples this day. I urge the Minister to take on board the need for the involvement of the Oireachtas as the buffer between the Executive and the commission. That is the way to secure the confidence of the public. Not alone must the commission be independent, but it must be seen to be independent. I am not pointing the finger at anybody who may be appointed. I am sure they will be fine people. However, the process must be seen to be independent of the Executive.

In responding to the Minister's point at the end of his Second Stage speech, I want him to look at a process by which the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas is reinstated. I believe that commissions should be established by the Oireachtas and have their terms of reference set or agreed by the Houses. In addition, the chairman of each commission should be answerable to the Houses or to a committee of the Oireachtas on the process of inquiry on which he or she is engaged. In the broader context and looking at tribunals generally, I like the idea of the chairman of a commission or tribunal meeting and reporting to a committee of the Oireachtas to answer questions on the process. Obviously, he or she would not answer questions on the content or detail of the investigation, but on the process. Such a report should be made every three or six months.

I accept that to have an estimate of the costs of a commission represents an important step forward. We must go further, however. InThe Sunday Business Post last Sunday we saw a headline to the effect that lawyers had received over €100 million in fees to date from tribunals. Let us stop giving out and do something about it. Perhaps it is the countryman’s approach, but to me, if the OPW wants to build a cowhouse it has to get three or four tender prices before it can give out a contract. Yet millions are being spent on lawyers and other services for tribunals. One takes one’s pick and pays later. Why do we not have a competitive tendering process for legal and other services for all commissions and tribunals? There is one other aspect of costs the Minister should consider. He has failed to address the awarding of costs to persons who delay or obstruct commissions of inquiry. Under the Bill, as drafted, particularly section 23, there is no expressed impediment to such persons being awarded their costs.

This Bill is predicated on the idea that it will be cheaper and faster than a tribunal. I emphasise the need for public support and confidence in the new system. One other danger should be pointed out — it was touched on last week inThe Economist, which referred to comments by a barrister, Jeffrey Jowell, who teaches at University College London, under an article entitled “Judge not lest ye be judged”. He believes political controversies can be neutered by handing them to someone who seems to embody a dispassionate inquiry. That is another reason for the intervention of the Oireachtas, as opposed to the Government of the day, kicking something to touch, getting it out of sight and out of mind.

The Deputy should bear in mind that it is usually the Opposition that looks for an independent inquiry.

I have to accept that over the years this seems to have been the Pavlovian response to any controversy. I fell victim to that in my early days in this House, but I would be slow to do so now. We must be careful when establishing commissions or tribunals of inquiry and their terms of reference. We have contributed to the demand for inquiries and that is why it is our responsibility to find a better way.

The Bill is predicated on the idea that a commission will be cheaper and faster than a tribunal, providing a forum for private and efficient investigations. In its consultation paper, the Law Reform Commission recommends the enactment of legislation to this effect and this Bill goes some way along those lines. The commission did say, however, that it would expect that such an inquiry would not attract the rules of constitutional justice. The Minister seems to have taken that on board but there are some questions.

Every commission must be constitutional.

I accept that the Minister was faced with a dilemma. He is walking a constitutional tightrope. He wants to establish private inquiries without lawyers or publicity but there are constitutional constraints. We must ask if the Bill strikes the right balance. Article 40.3.2° of the Constitution grants each person the right to a good name and the protection of this right before the courts necessitates the right of representation, particularly where one's good name may be called into question. As the tribunal system and the proposed commission system is, despite the best efforts of the Minister, somewhat adversarial in nature, questions are asked and answers given that often attribute responsibility to someone else. If, in a private hearing, a person is not aware of the adverse comments through a denial of representation, are his or her constitutional rights being violated? We must consider these issues now before the Bill is enacted.

The right to one's good name and the right to representation are so strong that any effort to restrain these rights, as the Bill proposes, raises the possibility of legal challenge. The Supreme Court highlighted the entitlement of a witness to cross-examine in the Jock Haughey case. In a more recent High Court case involving Dr. Kirrane and the Finlay tribunal, the court quashed much of the tribunal's report that connected Dr. Kirrane with the contamination of blood products. This order was made on the basis of natural justice and that his rights had been breached by the tribunal as he had not been afforded the right to representation, to cross-examine or to make submissions.

The Bill provides in certain circumstances for rights of attendance, representation and cross-examination. Has it done enough to avoid any potential infringement of constitutional rights? On the other hand, the workings of the commission seem, in certain circumstances, to veer towards the procedures that would be expected in a tribunal or a court. As we read the Bill, the distinction between a commission and a tribunal fades. Has the requirement of natural justice defeated the intention to have low-key, private, low-cost hearings? Has the Minister achieved his aim of private, swift inquiries without lawyers and without being bound to the rules of constitutional justice as suggested by the Law Reform Commission? If not we are simply adding another layer to the tribunal process which will be as costly and lengthy as what has gone before.

I raise these issues because that is the job of an Opposition that is genuinely trying to assist in the formulation of a better product. If we look at cost and efficiency, the public nature and consequent number of lawyers are the two ingredients which have made tribunals lengthy and costly. This legislation does not prevent these two factors from becoming an issue in commissions. Section 10 indicates that the bulk of a commission's work is to be undertaken in private. Under sections 10(1)(a) and (b), however, the commission must sit in public where a witness requests so or where fair procedures would require it to sit in public. These circumstances are potentially broad and reintroduce the public element to commissions.

Section 10(2) reintroduces the potential for the attendance of large and costly legal teams because it allows legal representatives of persons other than witnesses to attend. Sections 10(2)(c) and (d) introduce the right to cross-examine the workings of a commission. Again, we are veering into tribunal country with all the attendant costs.

Section 6(2) gives rise to concern. It states that the terms of reference cannot be amended where to do so would prejudice the rights of any person who has co-operated or provided information to it. That seems fair enough at first but it effectively grants immunity from further investigation of those who begin by assisting the tribunal irrespective of what negative details of their role become available later. Is it wise to tie the hands of the commission in this unusual way?

Section 9(2)(b) is another unusual provision. It imposes a mandatory obligation on a commission of investigation to seek the voluntary co-operation of persons whose evidence is desired and the commission must facilitate such co-operation. This section is good in theory but unduly onerous for the commission. How far does it go? Would the commission have to travel overseas to facilitate witnesses?

I give qualified support to the Bill. There must be a better way to go about these things than the current system. It may be that this Bill goes part of the way to addressing that but I want answers to the serious questions I have raised. At this stage we cannot ignore the current criticisms of the format and the endless time the tribunals take. The raft of tribunals of inquiry legislation stretches back to 1921 and it is time to reform it. The Law Reform Commission report in March 2003 was comprehensive on this issue. Does the Government have any intention of implementing that report or introducing new legislation? A review of the tribunals of inquiry legislation is long overdue. Last week at the Moriarty tribunal, Dermot Desmond, a respectable and responsible citizen, reflected the view of the majority of the public when he said that the tribunals have lost the plot. They are going from pillar to post without any end in sight. We must take that on board.

I do not blame the tribunals. We set them up and gave them their terms of reference. We underestimated the job we gave them and it is our responsibility to address the consequences of our own actions, seriously engage in a review process and introduce legislation to reform the tribunals of inquiry legislation. The consultation paper issued by the Law Reform Commission was 340 pages long. However, only five pages dealt with alternatives to tribunals, the rest concerned tribunals themselves.

This important legislation was published last July. Why has it taken nine months to bring it before the House? Remarks from the Minister earlier this year seemed to imply that the Opposition was holding up the Bill. As the Minister is aware, it is the Government that controls the business of this House, and when this Bill was launched——

It is the Opposition that obstructs it.

I will be giving the Minister the opportunity to reply later. When this Bill was circulated, on behalf of Fine Gael I committed the party to approaching it in a constructive fashion. However, I could not do so, since it took nine months to bring it into the House. Be that as it may, I intend to continue in that spirit, and on that basis I will not oppose Second Stage. However, some of the issues that I have raised are serious and should be addressed. I am usually concerned, not just as a member of the Opposition but as a long-term parliamentarian in this House, at the way in which the Oireachtas has been sidelined. I genuinely believe it to be the wrong approach — it is not the way to deal with this business. The Minister should from now on consider the amendments which he will table on Committee Stage to improve the Bill, and I will do likewise.

Deputy O'Keeffe mentioned that it had taken the Minister nine months to bring his Bill to fruition. That is a relatively short gestation for the Minister, Deputy McDowell's Bills to arrive in the House.

I got the Immigration Bill 2004 through very rapidly.

There is a fair number of them in the queue — approximately 30 — and it takes much longer to deal with many of them. The slowest one is that with which we were dealing the other day, the Private Security Services Bill 2001, which has been loping through the House at a meandering pace for three years and a month.

This Bill came even before that, since, when the Minister was elected and became a member of the Government as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, one of his first public pronouncements was that he intended to do something about the cost of tribunals and streamlining their conduct. As early as October 2002, he said that he would put in place some measure along the lines of a commission of investigations. He drew up a scheme in December 2002 and that was very much tied up with the "Cardinal Secrets" programme on RTE in which it appeared that there had been serious sexual abuse of minors, that those matters had not been brought to the attention of the Garda and that an investigation was required. As a result, the Minister said that he would introduce a new type of investigation that would cover that area in the archdiocese of Dublin but would be flexible enough to cover the rest of the country too.

That was one of the determining criteria which fed into the approach taken in the Bill. The legislation came in July 2003 and we have had to wait until now to deal with it. The impression has been presented to the media that the Opposition was obstructive and that if we had only co-operated, this Bill would have been enacted and implemented long ago. That is not good enough since both main Opposition parties have gone on record to say that they would very much facilitate such legislation because they thought that it would be very worthwhile. The Labour Party supports the thrust of the Minister's proposal. We would, of course, go much further with this legislation, but we welcome it.

All of us are aware of two constant and competing features of modern-day public life in Ireland. The first is the widespread recognition of the need to secure accountability from those in positions of power, whether in political life, business, finance, the church or the media. The second is the need to control the enormous legal costs that seem inevitably to arise whenever accountability is demanded in a public forum.

Today's Bill is an attempt to provide for an alternative to the full-blown tribunals of inquiry that have become an almost permanent feature of the landscape. The work they do is important and must be permitted to proceed, but the expense is unconscionable. When serious choices face us daily as to how public money should be spent, the creation of yet more tribunal millionaires at public expense strikes many citizens as an unattractive, if not downright repulsive, prospect. Unless it gets its act together, the legal profession faces the real risk that, by its own unstinting avarice, it will succeed in killing the goose that laid so many golden eggs for so many of its senior members.

Our party has made it clear that we are willing to examine constructively any proposals from the Government to protect taxpayers' money. That said, however, I stress some very important points. First, I reiterate that we would not be prepared to agree to proposals that would leave uninvestigated serious allegations of wrongdoing already in the public domain or in the possession of the tribunals. Second, I have no doubt that the complaints about expense and delay that feature so prominently in discussions about tribunals are orchestrated by those who have most to lose from the tribunals doing their job effectively and efficiently — in other words, from those with an interest in the truth remaining unrevealed and in discrediting the means by which they are being called upon to answer to the public.

Third, the merit of the tribunals' work is not measured simply on a profit-and-loss basis. It is not simply a question of working out how many otherwise undiscovered bank accounts and offshore stashes have come to the attention of the Revenue Commissioners, although those calculations are worthwhile. The recent reorganisation and revitalisation of the Revenue Commissioners would not have occurred unless its workings had been placed under the spotlight of focused public scrutiny, both in Dublin Castle and in front of the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts during the DIRT inquiry.

All our public institutions are engaged in an ongoing process, some faster than others, of institutional reform precisely because they know that old, lackadaisical ways are no longer sufficient, that questions can no longer be shelved and remain unanswered, and that historic decisions must be justified. The Labour Party, I am proud to say, led the way both in opposition and in government in securing major structural changes in the way this country is governed. The attitude to public life summarised in our demand for openness, transparency and accountability led to the passing of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and the Electoral Act 1997, which set out new and comprehensive rules for the funding of political life. The subsequent attempts at the evisceration of both the freedom of information and political funding regimes demonstrate just how seriously the Government objects to notions such as transparency and accountability. It hankers for old and discredited ways, but it will not succeed.

Fourth, it is important to point out that the investigation commissions proposed by the Minister today can only be an alternative but never a substitute for tribunals of inquiry, and I do not believe that the Minister makes that claim. The Bill recognises in section 41 that a report from a commission might in turn lead to the subsequent establishment of a full tribunal of inquiry of the type we have seen over recent years. However, at least the commission would have broken the back of the potential workload, and the tribunal could hit the ground running.

There are several reasons tribunals might still prove necessary, depending on the subject matter of an inquiry. Not least among those is that, following the referendum on Cabinet confidentiality, the Constitution now specifically recognises the special status of a tribunal of inquiry appointed by the Government or a Minister "on the authority of both Houses of the Oireachtas". I will return to that point. A commission of investigation appointed under this Bill would not be such a tribunal and would not enjoy the powers exclusively reserved to such a tribunal — to inquire into decision-making and discussions at a Government meeting.

The other reasons have to do with the limited status that a commission would havevis-à-vis a tribunal of inquiry. Precisely because it attempts, as much as possible, to be a lawyer-free zone, a more relaxed attitude is taken in this Bill to the rules of natural justice that were spelt out so comprehensively, if not dogmatically, by the Supreme Court in the Haughey case to which Deputy Jim O’Keeffe referred. However, that relaxed approach to investigation has an impact on the nature and potential content of any report that could be published by a commission.

The primary function of a commission will be to establish the facts of a matter.

As the explanatory memorandum points out, "Reports will set out the facts that have been established" but "it is not the function of a Commission to adjudicate where there is a conflict or incomplete evidence." Fact finding, therefore, if a conflict of evidence arises, will be outside the remit of a commission of investigation. This is presumably because the testing of conflicting accounts must involve due notice to the individuals likely to be adversely affected and the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, all areas where it is simply impossible to exclude legal participation.

The Bill provides that a commission may draw attention to situations where there is a clear balance in the evidence in support of a certain set of facts. Section 31(2), the seminal section in the legislation, states:

(2) If for any reason (including insufficient, conflicting or inconsistent evidence) a commission considers that the facts relating to a particular issue have not been established, the commission in its report—

(a) shall identify the issue, and

(b) may indicate its opinion as to the quality and weight of any evidence relating to the issue.

This is probably as far as the Minister believes and is advised he can go in the absence of formal natural justice safeguards. Is it not, in fact, a step too far? I would welcome more detail from the Minister about the thinking behind the drafting of that section.

On the one hand, an indication of the commissioner's opinion as to the quality and weight of evidence relating to a disputed fact is presumably intended to be something less than an explicit finding of fact, which could be made only if Haughey-style procedures and proceedings were involved. If so, the commissioner's opinion will not satisfy those who sought an inquiry on a matter of controversy precisely because they wanted the facts to be definitively ascertained. On the other hand, what is any report from an official source except the opinion of the author as to the quality and weight of the relevant evidence? What is a High Court judgment except an expression of opinion, binding on the parties to that case but, as far as findings of fact are concerned, of no binding significance to the rest of us?

In the Abbeylara case, the Supreme Court placed great significance on what it described as the "adjudicative" function that would have been performed by a committee of this House if it had continued in its inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. John Carty. An adjudication is, apparently, something less than a court determination but something more than an informal expression of opinion. However, according to those judgments, an opinion acquires the status of an adjudication because it emanates from an official, lawfully established source. To put it starkly, the media, for example, have opinions but Oireachtas committees, because they are organs of the State and exercise statutory powers, make adjudications. Adjudications liable to affect adversely the reputation or other rights of an individual cannot be made except in compliance with elaborate procedural safeguards, precisely the elaborate procedures the Minister is hoping to avoid in this Bill.

How can a commissioner be given the power under statute to express an opinion, following an inquiry conducted using powers of compulsion, if the usually prescribed safeguards that surround such inquiries are absent in this case? The Minister will agree that section 31(2) will create jurisprudence. He and his advisers must have thought long and hard about it and it is important that he share his thinking as to the viability of this proposal.

It is useful to have a commission option of the type proposed in this Bill available for use, but whether a commission or a more traditional tribunal would be more appropriate would have to be determined by the circumstances of the matter to be investigated. In this regard, it is disappointing that the Government appears to have abandoned the option of investigation by an Oireachtas committee where this would be appropriate. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred at length to this. The DIRT inquiry completed its public hearings within six weeks and recouped almost €500 million for the Exchequer. It acquired widespread public support because it involved politicians doing what they are elected to do, holding people accountable in the public interest.

However, not only has the Government not taken action in this area, it has reneged on the commitment it made to implement the key recommendations contained in the DIRT report on the introduction of legislation to provide for the appointment of parliamentary inspectors.

That was before the Abbeylara decision.

That decision would not have prevented the establishment of parliamentary inspectors. It might have restricted, as this Bill does, the areas in which they could operate. I am a member of the sub-committee which is compiling a report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. There are many such useful roles for the various committees and sub-committees of the Oireachtas. Abbeylara was a unique case and it is cited too often in this context. That case involved a homicide or killing and it is not the type of model we should use when considering the uses of the committees and sub-committees of the House and the manner in which they should operate.

It had been envisaged in the recommendations that a parliamentary inspector could be appointed to inquire privately into matters of public concern as a preliminary to a possible Oireachtas inquiry, as was the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General in the DIRT inquiry. On foot of the inspector's report, it would be up to the Oireachtas to decide whether to proceed with a public inquiry or to establish an independent tribunal of inquiry. If the Government is serious about establishing a procedure for inquiring into matters of public interest without costing the Exchequer an inordinate amount of money, it is inexplicable that it has not only not dealt with the issues arising from the Abbeylara judgment but has abandoned the commitment to the parliamentary inspector.

This Bill is significant but disappointing. It marks the rejection by the Government of any serious role for the Oireachtas and its committees in ensuring public accountability. That is probably the most disappointing aspect of it. Commissions of investigation, rather than being appointed by and answerable to this House will, under the Minister's proposals, be creatures of the Government.

I do not believe the Government has a realisation of the scale of the task facing this House when it confronts the need to radically reform the way it does its business. The Labour Party published a comprehensive policy document on this in October last year. It will be clear to anybody who has read the document that we put a great deal of research and work into it.

Dáil reform is about securing one important objective. It is not simply a Labour Party objective but a constitutional imperative. The Government is responsible to this House. For a Government to be formed and survive, it must secure and maintain the confidence of the House. The only test by which a proposal for reform must be judged is whether it assists this House in securing Government accountability. The task of parliamentarians is often described as being "to legislate". The late Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton, in a ruling in the course of the beef tribunal, put it differently. He said:

... it is,inter alia, the duty of the members of the Oireachtas to elect a Government, to legislate and to look diligently into every affair of Government. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents and to inform and be informed by them.

He also famously commented during the beef tribunal: "I think that if the questions that were asked in the Dáil were answered in the way they are answered here, there would be no necessity for this inquiry and an awful lot of money and time would have been saved." Members on this side of the House entirely agree.

That is a well-spun quote.

The narrow but predominant vision of the role of Parliament as simply a Legislature cannot be sustained. We cannot be benchmarked by reference to the number of Bills we have processed by the end of the year. If that was the only criterion, then the Dáil, sitting two-and-a-half days a week for fewer weeks in the year, would have far higher productivity than the House of Commons, which has a five-day week and far shorter holidays.

The history of the last century, in terms of public administration, has been one of massive expansion in the role of the State, through its executive, through the raft of public bodies that operate under the general aegis of the executive and through other bodies which operate entirely independent of the executive. It was both natural and right that the courts developed an expanded role in reaction to this phenomenon, primarily and particularly since the 1970s, through the process of judicial review.

Inevitably, the growth in executive competence and action, coupled with the increased vigilance of the courts in policing the lawfulness of public administration, has led to a generally perceived decline in the relevance of the third branch of Government, the national Parliament.

Apart from retaining a formal role in electing the Government and in assenting to Government proposals for legislation, the two Houses of the Oireachtas are in genuine danger of being relegated to the status of a reasonably well paid and well staffed talking shop, whose members sound off on the various issues of the day, without any real input into either the formulation of public policy or the scrutiny of its execution.

In our democracy, in addition to making law, the Dáil identifies who should form the Government of the day. Part of the job of Opposition is to establish that better alternatives exist. The Dáil must seek to ensure that the Government is accountable to the people. It must provide a public platform for discussion and the investigation of major issues. It must approve the raising of taxes and the way in which that money is spent. It must watch, appraise and criticise the activities of the Government and of the public service. It must provide a forum for individuals to raise issues and grievances indirectly through its Members. All of these are essential functions. Quite separately, Deputies have a representative rolevis-à-vis their constituents on a daily basis, a role insisted on by constituents and neglected at our peril.

I fully agree. The Constitution describes this House as a House of public representatives.

It is, but too often the impression is that its only role is to legislate. Our work is so much wider than that narrow circumscribed role. In that context I would like to see the role of this House and its committees expanded. The Labour Party says that, if the Dáil is to be a powerhouse of accountability, a true representative of the interests of the people, a place where maladministration leading to injustice can be investigated and rooted out, it must be modern, efficient, dynamic and powerful. It must be adversarial and tough, but fair and thorough as well.

Among the measures to which we are committed is a major role for the Dáil in carrying out public inquiries. As a result of the Supreme Court judgments arising from the Abbeylara case, and the knock-on effects of those judgments for the mini-CTC inquiry, it is clear that if parliamentary inquiries are to be effective, constitutional change is probably necessary.

We therefore propose a constitutional amendment to confer a clear mandate on the Dáil to "inquire into and report upon any exercise of the executive power of the State or in relation to the administration of any of its public services."

We also propose the establishment of a powerful new Oireachtas committee of investigations, oversight and petitions which would be bi-partisan in structure and chaired by a member of the Opposition. The role of that committee would be: to ensure consultation and collaboration between the Oireachtas and the ombudsman; to receive parliamentary petitions from interested groups in the community seeking the redress of grievances connected with the public services and with public administration generally; to arrange investigation of issues of urgent public importance which demand detailed and thorough investigation, of the sort that normally only a tribunal can satisfactorily deal with; and to supervise an office of parliamentary investigator.

The office of parliamentary investigator which we propose would be designed to ensure timely and cost-effective investigation of issues giving rise to significant public concern. Persons would be appointed from time to time to this office, on the basis of specific contracts, to carry out specific investigations. They would perform functions similar to those carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General and would have powers to secure attendance, to direct answers to questions, to direct the disclosure and production of documents, to secure evidence and to make determinations where privilege is claimed over information or documents. In general, they would take evidence in private, without legal and other representation by other parties, and would prepare written reports on matters of established fact, which could be used as the basis for further investigation, including tribunals.

On the other hand, such an inspection could not arrive at conclusions on disputed issues of fact. As the Minister has provided in this Bill, on the conclusion of an investigation, the investigator would prepare a written report, based on the evidence received, setting out the facts established in regard to the matters referred for investigation. In other words, the function of an investigator would be to undertake the preliminary investigation — the Minister reflects this in the Bill but it would also be done by the Houses — and, so far as possible, establish the factual position. In many circumstances, that would be sufficient. Where the investigator was unable to establish clear facts, however, his or her report would, if necessary, be followed by either a formal parliamentary inquiry or a tribunal of inquiry, as appropriate. In those situations, the evidence collected by the investigator would be available to the committee or tribunal, thereby reducing time and cost. The inquiry would, as I said earlier, hit the ground running.

Consideration of reports of the parliamentary investigator, making recommendations as to whether a further inquiry was required, the choice between Oireachtas or judicial inquiry, drawing up terms of reference for such inquiries, maintenance of liaison with the inquiry as it proceeded, including receiving and considering reports from the inquiry as to its progress, co-operation given and any delays encountered, would all be functions of the investigations, oversight and petitions committee.

One might think there is no necessary conflict between the role proposed for a parliamentary investigator and that of thead hoc commissions of investigation proposed here. However, the essential but crucial difference is that the Minister envisages an inquiry process initiated by the Government, with terms of reference drafted by the Government and whose work would be controlled and funded by the Government, subject always to Department of Finance approval. That is hugely different. While we go along with the thrust of what the Minister says, there is, nevertheless, a vast difference between the type of proposal which would involve the Houses of the Oireachtas and the committees of the House, and the proposals which would be subject to the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Finance and the Government.

There is no reason Ministers should not have power to appoint inquiries in respect of matters falling under their responsibility. However, neither is it realistic to expect that inquires under that degree of ministerial control, the work of which will be conducted almost entirely in private, would of themselves be adequate to meet serious public concerns relating to public administration. Deputy O'Keeffe also reflected this view.

The Members of this House are entitled to reject unthinking criticism that would treat the Dáil as a Bills factory and the work of a Deputy as a nine-to-five job. Equally we must accept that change is necessary to do as well as possible the complex job to which Deputies are elected. If this is to be achieved, Dáil Éireann must be a place to which people can turn with confidence when normal accountability is needed, when legitimate grievance needs to be aired, when issues arising from public administration of concern to the public need to be investigated and when vital legislation needs to be seriously and thoroughly addressed.

It remains to be seen to what extent the Commissions of Investigation Bill will meet the objectives of cutting legal costs and providing an effective vehicle for investigating allegations of wrongdoing. Certainly under the proposed new procedure legal participation would be minimised but not entirely excluded. This is quite appropriate because fair procedures, as constitutionally guaranteed, must be observed, even in private proceedings.

Our insistence — we will table amendments in an attempt to secure this — is that securing accountability is a parliamentary rather than an executive function. The relationship between Government and Parliament in this State is dysfunctional. If not amended this Bill will be bizarre in that it will merely further concentrate power within Government with regard to the control of an important initiative which is ostensibly designed to secure Government accountability.

Tá áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt faoin Bhille um Choimisiúin Imscrúdacháin 2003, a foilsíodh ar 1 Iúil 2003, tamall ó shin anois, cé gur dúradh go bhfuil sé an-phráinneach agus gur ceart é a thabhairt isteach gan mhoill. Sin scéal eile, áfach.

Beidh mé ar lorg freagraí ar an bhealach a oibreoidh an coimisiún ó thaobh fianaise as Gaeilge agus Béarla. Glacaim go mbeidh sé ar nós na cúirteanna agus gur féidir cearta a chosaint as ceachtar den teangacha. Ba mhaith liom sin a chinntiú.

Cuireann An Comhaontas Glas fáilte chosanta roimh an mBille agus tá súil againn go leasófar agus feabhsófar é agus é ag dul fríd an Oireachtas.

Having said that, we give the Bill a guarded welcome. To some extent, it is puzzling why it was published in a fanfare of urgency, prior to the Dáil summer recess, yet we are only addressing it now. Perhaps other factors and parliamentary considerations have to be taken into account.

That said, we have a number of reservations which we hope will be the subject of amendments to the Bill. Apart from the legislation being long overdue, we welcome it. One of my main concerns is that evidence is generally to be received in private. There is a danger that this will impede public access to information to which the public is entitled. It is ironic and somewhat unfortunate for the Government that the publication of the Bill came in the same week it decided to charge the public for freedom of information requests. We are concerned that the Bill is indicative of a culture of telling people as little as possible. I hope this will be balanced with the need for confidentiality. We need assurance that this will be the case. There is understandable concern at the motives behind it.

Various inquiries are ongoing and are beginning to be a way of life for many people, especially those in the legal profession. The legislation requires the approval of the Minister for Finance prior to the Government establishing a commission. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred to this point in his contribution. It is important to note that previous inquiries, as we are reminded by the Taoiseach any time anything appears to go wrong with them, were set up by the Dáil and, therefore, they have its sanction. The legislation before us appears to depart from this approach, which may become awkward and derail the integrity of the commission, although one would hope this would not be the case. There is a clear danger in putting all one's eggs into the Minister for Finance's basket in terms of approval.

While I do not foresee a problem with the present Minister, a future Minister for Finance could well be compromised by his or her involvement in certain activities which it is intended would be examined by a commission of investigation. If that were the case, the Minister would, in effect, have an improper influence over the matter. This aspect needs to be re-examined. While the 166 Members of this House may not be perfect in every way, we are representative, in the widest possible sense, of the people who elected us. The Minister for Finance, who is also representative of a certain number of the electorate, should not have a greater say in the matter of the setting up of a commission of inquiry than any other Member of the Oireachtas.

I recall my days as a member of Dublin County Council in the early 1990s when there was a considerable amount of tension in the air, some of which is the subject of lengthy discussion in tribunals, especially the Mahon tribunal. It is conceivable that a member of that local authority could still become Minister for Finance and be in a position where he or she is required to make a decision on a commission of investigation. When I asked in Dublin County Council if anybody other than me had received a cheque from a developer, I was physically taken to task by a member of a Government party, who is a serving Member of the Oireachtas, and who could well go on to become Minister for Finance. Where does that leave a commission of investigation when Members' previous representative roles may be under investigation? Has the Government thought through this matter? It could be unwise to leave the legislation unamended in this regard. The Oireachtas rather than the Minister should have the final say.

I welcome the proposals for time limits but fear this may lead to a commission being rushed through without sufficient examination of witnesses. This is a valid concern which is shared by people outside the House. As was previously mentioned, it is unlikely that we would have the Bill before us if inquiries were expeditiously dealt with in a timeframe shorter than is the experience at present. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred to the Hutton inquiry. I accept that this inquiry had narrower terms of reference and could not be seen to compare with some of the inquiries which are ongoing in this jurisdiction.

We need to look more closely at what brings about a need for inquiries. Although I do not wish to stray from the Bill, the need for Dáil reform is intrinsically linked to the need to examine how inquiries are dealt with. If proper answers were given in the Dáil there may not have been a need for a beef tribunal. In that sense we continue to risk the need for further tribunals when the Taoiseach or any Minister can basically read out whatever brief has been given to him or her, even though it may have little to do with the question being asked. If we leave this flawed parliamentary practice in place, there is a possibility of other tribunals.

The tribunals cause considerable annoyance because of the amount of money being earned by certain individuals in the legal profession on an ongoing basis. There is a need to discriminate between somebody who gets a brief for a case that can be dealt with in a short time, thus leaving that person between jobs, and somebody who is working for a tribunal that effectively has a guaranteed run. In comparing the payments in each of these cases, we are not comparing like with like. This must be examined and, if necessary, the subject of legal change.

There is a need to examine the role of the Oireachtas. The DIRT inquiry is obviously held up as an example of the effective use of an Oireachtas sub-committee. The Abbeylara controversy could snooker that potential. We need to see if matters can be resolved legally so Oireachtas sub-committees can be further empowered to do the work people want them to do, given that they are in a position to do so without having to buy in as much legal assistance as a commission of investigation might need, or a tribunal of investigation such as that in Dublin Castle. I hope Committee Stage of the Bill will be fruitful and that the changes can be taken on board.

In principle, where there is loss of life, abuse by those in high office or widespread waste of public resources as a result of an omission, misconduct or incompetence, people have the right to know what happened, why it happened and who was responsible. More particularly, they need to know how to prevent a similar episode happening in future. In such cases, public inquiries are in the public interest. The main objective of this Bill is to reduce the duration and cost of public inquiries in general and tribunals specifically. The Law Reform Commission's report lists all the inquiries and tribunals. There have been 29 major tribunals since the foundation of the State, four of which are ongoing: the Moriarty, Mahon, Morris and Barr tribunals.

This Bill provides for the establishment, on a statutory basis, of a new mechanism for investigation into matters of urgent public concern by way of commissions of investigation which may act as an alternative or precursor to a tribunal of inquiry. It is anticipated that these will help reduce the costs of such inquiries because there will be an emphasis on taking evidence voluntarily, in private if necessary, and in most cases without legal representation. The evidence to these commissions would be inadmissible in criminal or other proceedings but preliminary investigation work completed by a commission should reduce the duration and cost of any subsequent tribunal. This is to be welcomed.

A year ago the Law Reform Commission published its recommendations on public tribunals of inquiry and all the alternatives. It supported the formula which is to be found in this Bill. I look forward to going through the Bill in detail on Committee Stage, particularly Part 2, sections 3 and 4, which concern the establishment and membership of commissions, and Part 5, which concerns the powers of the commission to report back to the House. More work needs to be done on these Parts of the Bill.

There is a need for commissions to report to the House and not just to the Minister, given that the Houses would establish them. If amendments are required to the terms of reference, these should be referred back to the House. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe stated that, if we continue to delegate investigatory functions to powers outside the House, accountability to the House will wane. At the very least, we should ensure that commissions report back to the House, not just to the Minister, and that the House has a role in setting the terms of reference, costs and other matters referred to in the Bill but in respect of which the Minister appears to have the final say.

Sinn Féin broadly welcomes this Bill. It probably represents the most constructive contribution of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform since taking office. If he spent more time doing this kind of work and less time on his war against immigrants and republicans and on trying to undermine a rights-based society, we might make some progress.

I particularly welcome the strong powers of compulsion in the proposed commissions of inquiry. However, I have questions on this that the Minister of State might be able to address, one of which relates to the Law Reform Commission's recommendations. It produced a major report with many recommendations, some of which were proposed amendments to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. When we had a debate recently on the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill 2003, which was dealt with only a few weeks ago, those recommendations were not addressed. Will they be taken on board?

What about the points in the commission's report on parliamentary inquiries which were referred to by other Deputies? Can we have a discussion on whether there is a need to have legislation to assist in this regard? Do we require a constitutional amendment to address the problem that arose in the Abbeylara case in the High Court?

While the costs of tribunals have been frequently complained of since the beef tribunal, we need to maintain a balance. The ongoing Morris and Barr tribunals have helped to focus the public mind on the need for Garda reform, for instance, and for a Garda ombudsman. There should be no attempt to under-value the role of tribunals. Other tribunals have exposed corruption by establishing parties that have wilfully hidden their activities from the public view. They have had and continue to have a corrosive effect on politics in this State. We should not lose sight of the fact that measures that effectively serve the public interest represent value for money, even if they are costly. Therefore, we should continue to have public inquiries when required. Having said this, we welcome the reasonable measures to control costs of tribunals where they do not sacrifice constitutional rights and the public interest. Specifically, we recognise the need to address the spiralling cost of legal fees and look forward to the full implementation of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in this regard.

We agree with the commission that, where criminality is suspected, a greater attempt should be made to instigate criminal proceedings rather than hoping that the same objectives can be achieved under the guise of an inquiry. This would constitute a misuse or an abuse of that mechanism. It is certain, however, that there must be no new provision in this legislation that undermines the public's right to know or undermines Government transparency and accountability. The truth must come out and justice must be done. Changes in legislation, policy and practice must follow to ensure there is no repeat of past wrongs or mistakes. This means tribunals and commissions of investigation are not sufficient in and of themselves. Political will is also necessary to make changes.

British state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries and direct operations by British forces claimed the lives of at least 47 people in this State between 1972 and 1994 and Sinn Féin supports the families and those who have lost relatives as a result of State collusion, and who demand the truth. This should possibly take the form of a full public tribunal of inquiry covering this State, the North and Britain. We have consistently supported them without exception and will continue to do so.

Last year we started a debate with the publication of a consultation document about truth recovery processes. To date we are the only party to have done so. That is a pity and I hope others will engage in this debate and produce their own documents. Our document is on our website if anyone is interested. These processes of truth recovery need to be victim and survivor based. We call for full public disclosure from the British and Irish Governments on all these cases, without exception, to ensure truth and justice for the victims and the survivors of the bereaved who have their own newsletters, one of which is entitled Collusion. They have set up a group. This legislation must not be misused to obstruct these families in their search for truth, in which they deserve the unstinting support of every Member of this House. I welcome the Bill and hope that by the time it has gone through Committee and Report Stages, the concerns that I and other Deputies have raised will be addressed.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. Many people will be relieved to hear that the Government is attempting to deal with the issue of expensive and time-consuming tribunals of inquiry. While most recognise the valuable and important work of the tribunals there is no doubt that a type of tribunal fatigue has set in. Despite the disturbing revelations still emerging from the tribunals there is an overall sense of impatience and exasperation with the process. This is a pity because it can overshadow the work of the tribunals. We must ensure that this does not happen.

There can be no escape for those who belonged to a culture where money could buy anything, decisions were taken in the interest of private individuals and certain politicians ruled their patches like personal fiefdoms. They behaved like the lords of the manor who dispensed favours and granted wishes in exchange for large sums of money. I, like many people, am concerned that the lengthy nature of the tribunals and their exorbitant cost will act as a cover for those who are guilty, who will use and abuse the system to stall, filibuster and delay, to do whatever it takes to get them off the hook. Many Members of this House were Members then too. I was a member of the public with no involvement in politics and had no clue to what was happening. Only recently have I become aware of the fall-out from matters under investigation. I am anxious that no legislation passed in this House is used to ensure that certain issues under investigation would or could be left in abeyance or side-lined.

The tribunals are investigating the underbelly of Irish life and that process must not be halted. That is not revenge, it is accountability and an attempt to build a society whose public matters are transparent and honest. It can set a benchmark for public institutions now engaged in the reform necessary to deliver that accountability and transparency. I have been in this House for less than two years and one of my greatest disappointments of that tenure was the passing of the amendment to the Freedom of Information Act which in many ways neutered a system that might have ensured less need for tribunals or commissions of inquiry or investigation. While I broadly welcome the thrust of this legislation, I am deeply concerned that we have amended legislation that would have ensured a much more transparent system for managing our public business.

If Ministers were prepared to answer Dáil questions with the intention of providing information our public systems would be much improved. Perhaps it is naive of a first-time Deputy to expect this but at times the obfuscation and hindrance to the flow of information, and the double speak have been a surprise and a disappointment to me. With this legislation we can make real progress towards establishing a mechanism for a more timely and cost-effective investigation of issues that would give rise to significant public concern.

The tribunals have been very valuable in exposing the existence of dubious practices in the planning sector and elsewhere. They are taking far too long to reach their conclusions and are lining the pockets of certain lawyers. The public is horrified at these costs. Despite the examples of good practice abroad we seem to have devised methods of investigation designed to take as long as possible rather than expedite matters and reach conclusions in a timely fashion. We need a new system which will produce the outcomes necessary upon which to base legal action against lawbreakers while protecting the innocent from slander and long exposure. The tribunals seem to have weekly rehearsals in the Sunday papers, with occasional obvious leaks, perhaps seeking to influence the process.

The exceptional work of the Committee of Public Accounts led by the late Mr. Jim Mitchell is an example of good practice in this area. Is it not possible to empower Oireachtas committees and use them in certain circumstances to deal with matters of public concern? The public can see the live, televised workings of these committees and appreciates the excellent work done by many of them. That would also enhance the reputations of hardworking politicians.

I welcome this Bill as establishing a new form of inquiry which will have clear time and budgetary constraints. It will use the skills of certain experts such as accountants and investigators, who have the skills necessary to deal with this type of work. Where necessary these commissions of inquiry could be the precursor to tribunals of inquiry which would ensure that the evidence collected by the commission would be available to a tribunal and thereby reduce the time and cost involved. The commission will also be conducted in a less adversarial atmosphere than the tribunals and people will not have legal or other representation. The commission's powers are extensive, including compellability of witnesses to attend, answer questions and disclose documents. It can also give directions to enter and search premises to seize documents and to refer certain matters to the High Court for its direction. It is comforting that there will be much tighter control of costs, which will be addressed at the outset. Time limits will also be required for completion of the investigations.

While I broadly support this legislation, as Deputy Sargent said, we must also ensure that Dáil reform plays a central role in ensuring accountability. I ask the Government to reinstate the Freedom of Information Act, as originally enacted, to effectively respond to a new system and structure where commissions of investigation or tribunals will be rare events rather than the current ongoing spectacle to which we have become accustomed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It may be unprecedented that all speakers have welcomed the Bill and it represents a good start. A note of criticism was raised by Deputy Costello who complained about the time it took to introduce the Bill and how the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a queue of Bills waiting to be introduced. It struck me that if we did not lose so much time here on the Order of Business every day, we could squeeze in additional legislation every week. People should get on with the work of the House rather than play-acting at times.

A clear need to have a forum or a facility for the examination of issues that may arise occasionally has been well established in the past 11 or 12 years. Nobody will attempt to deny that the need exists for a retrospective examination of certain issues that emanate from time to time from within the public service generally. Regardless of whether it is the checking up on actions of public representatives or any other person related to the operation of public service, or the actions of those affected by the public service, including the suppliers of services to it, we know there is a need for a method for a forensic examination of events that may arise from time to time.

This is not an attempt to close down the tribunals and inquiries running at present. In the event of there being a need for a tribunal, following a finding of the commission of investigation, such a tribunal will be held regardless of the potential cost. We have several existing methods of examination, including an excellent forum in the shape of the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I have been privileged to be a member for three Dáil terms. It is worth noting how far the previous Government extended the powers of that committee and of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Those measures were taken to ensure we are in a position of empowerment in summoning witnesses, papers etc. and in examining issues that come before us. This was probably one of the most progressive and important steps taken by the previous Government in the area of control within the public service.

The previous Government and the current one increased the powers of the Revenue Commissioners to allow them to investigate fully and to deal with those who were untouchable under previous legislation. The Government has also introduced a regime of requirements for public representatives in the area of ethics and compliance to ensure there will be no repeat of alleged previous happenings, or if there is, there is legislation in place that will allow for appropriate penalties to be applied to the perpetrators of such actions.

Despite introducing all that legislation, occasionally we will need to conduct more detailed inquiries, and that is what this legislation is all about. As I said earlier, there is universal support for some such facility and I am sure that other speakers will raise points of concern about aspects of the Bill and that these will be addressed in time as the debate goes on. If I have time later I will refer to some matters in sections 14 and 15. There is universal agreement that no country of our size can afford the present system for carrying out the examinations that I agree we need.

This is an ongoing debate in the public domain about the cost of tribunals, which is the cause of huge concern to all of us who are taxpayers. As public representatives, we are in an awkward position in that, while being hugely concerned at the massive drain of funds from public coffers into the legal system, we are spancelled and almost afraid to comment on that aspect of things in case people think we are trying to cover up anything or trying to protect anybody. Unfortunately, we have a fairly muted approach to it at times. The cash drain cannot continue and one of the potentially negative results of the present system is that we may avoid examining fully some issues that should be examined for fear of legal costs involved. It is suggested at times that the costs involved are being exaggerated by both politicians and reporters on tribunals and inquiries. I do not believe there is any such exaggeration and we cannot continue to carry the burden of such costs. There must be an alternative option to the current system.

I referred to the Committee of Public Accounts model and I believe this Bill will provide another much speedier, more understandable and far less costly method of doing the same job. The Committee of Public Accounts is extremely concerned about the potential cumulative cost to the State of all the inquiries. Bearing in mind that they use the formula of very high daily charges and an open-ended approach to the investigations, there is no possible mechanism for estimating how much will be spent before the expenditure takes place. I am not aware of any other area of Government or State expenditure that would be allowed that level of discretion. It is of huge concern to those of us taxed with the job of evaluating the value for money aspect of public expenditure within the Committee of Public Accounts and we hope to study the issue more in coming months. I hope we will be able to make recommendations that will complement this legislation.

In his opening remarks the Minister mentioned that it is estimated that between 1997 and October 2003 the accumulated cost to the State of tribunals and other major inquiries was €100.99 million, which crucially does not include third party costs. He said that the annual cost of inquiries is about €47 million and that the accumulated cost overall could run to hundreds of millions of euro. When the cost comes in for all these inquiries, it will far exceed that figure if we do not make speedy changes. We have made inaccurate estimates in some areas. I mentioned last week that we estimated one figure for the cost of the pre-1953 social welfare stamps issue and the outturn will be eight times higher. However, in this case we are going in with our eyes open.

The public will be as concerned as I am about the horrific cost. The problem with the approach to accounting taken with tribunals of inquiry is that it will be too late to do anything about the costs once they have been incurred. I am cautious about referring to the cost of any inquiry that is currently ongoing lest it be misinterpreted. However, I have no problem in commenting on the beef tribunal, which many people may have forgotten. It was set up as far back as 31 May 1991. The fees for that tribunal were as follows: senior counsel briefing fees, €10,668.00; junior counsel briefing fees, €7,112.00; senior counsel daily refresher fees for sitting days, €2,400.30 and for non-sitting days, €1,333.50; junior counsel daily refresher fees for sitting days, €1,600.20 and for non-sitting days, €889.00. Counsel for the tribunal were paid a different rate. Senior counsel received €2,286 on sitting days and €1,270 on non-sitting days, while junior counsel received €1,524 on sitting days and €1,270 on non-sitting days. These are astronomical figures, given that the tribunal sat for 226 days. However, there were 419 non-sitting days.

When that tribunal was set up it was pointed out casually at the time that it could cost us a million or two million pounds and that it would be wasted money. As of 27 November last, the costs amounted to €26,413,251. Costs are still mounting. Estimated future costs are of the order of €3,121,715, which will almost certainly be paid out. That included a bill for administrative costs, stenographers' salaries and so on amounting to €3.4 million. When this tribunal was set up in 1991 there was no provision in the budget but the Government managed to spend more than €1.465 million. Provision was made in subsequent years and the costs increased every year. There was a small refund in 1995. More money was spent in 1996 and 1997. In 1998 more than €3.2 million was spent; in 2001, €491,000; in 2002, €961,000; and in 2003, €36,000. The bills are still being clocked up. This cannot continue. I do not care what wrongdoing there is. I do not care who is at fault. I do not care who must be punished.

Nobody was punished.

We cannot afford to pay €26.5 million. Let us take it that an even €30 million was spent on that tribunal, whatever the outcome. The bottom line is that we could do much with that €30 million. I could spend the rest of the night, if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would allow me, elaborating on how it could be used. We must make better use of our money and move in a far more positive fashion.

The reason for setting up commissions of investigation is to examine issues of significant public concern. Further definition of what constitutes issues of significant public concern may be necessary. Otherwise seven or eight Deputies could apply formally every day to the Chair for a debate on matters of significant public concern, which would mean adjourning the Dáil.

Section 10 of the Bill provides that the legal representatives of parties who are not being examined will not be present. I am concerned that a challenge might be mounted in the High Court or the Supreme Court to section 10 to ensure that the full team is present all the times. I do not believe that is necessary. That is how money is wasted. Unlike the Minister, I have no legal background, but I hope he will copper-fasten this such that it cannot be challenged and reversed. Section 11 provides for redress for people who feel they have been wronged.

On the appointment of people to commissions, it is important that when we ask people to carry out a difficult task, that we respect them totally. In the past I have heard reference to the boundary commission for Dáil elections referred to as a Government appointed commission, the implication being that it is biased. The commission, which was nominated in 1978 or early 1979 comprises mainlyex officio members. They include the Clerk of the Dáil and the Clerk of the Seanad. It is grossly improper to suggest that they are in any way politically biased. There was similar reference in the past few days to another appointee, casting doubt on the integrity or bona fides of that person. If we go down that route it will be difficult to find people willing to serve on commissions. Whatever the background of the people who are asked to serve this State on a commission, we should respect them and the work they do.

Section 6 deals with an area where we have learned most from previous experience. The Laffoy commission is the example that comes to mind. We found during the commission hearings that there was an obvious need to change its terms of reference. In section 6 there is an option to clarify, extend or limit the scope of an investigation. That must be spelled out and the financing will reflect that. That is critically important because, as happens regularly at the Committee of Public Accounts, one can begin to examine an issue and find out half way through that something else is the major problem and there is a need to refocus. We have the flexibility and ability to accommodate such circumstances. We work as a non-partisan, all-party group. We do not have votes. We work as a group with the wish to get the job done. Section 6 is crucially important to build in flexibility.

Debate adjourned.