Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this short Bill is to strengthen the law on bribery of foreign public officials and to give fuller effect to certain provisions of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, which was adopted in 1997. The Bill broadens the existing legislation on the prevention of corruption and is designed primarily to ensure Ireland's full compliance with the OECD convention, which was ratified by Ireland in 2003. The Minister wishes to make sure that all of our international commitments and obligations in matters relating to foreign bribery and corruption in both the public and private sectors are addressed by way of legislation and are fully met.

The OECD is carrying out an evaluation of Ireland's compliance with the terms of the convention, which includes examining awareness of issues relating to bribery among the public and private sectors, as well as the relevant legislation. This evaluation, which commenced in 2002, is a process that all parties to the convention undergo. A team from the OECD visited Dublin in October 2006 to carry out the phase 2 evaluation of the application of the convention by the State, including examination of the relevant legislation. On foot of this visit a number of recommendations were made by the OECD evaluation team which were intended to ensure that Ireland met its phase 2 monitoring obligations more fully, and a report of the recommendations was published in 2007. Following the publication of the phase 2 report, as well as the new legislative proposals, Ireland took rapid steps to develop a number of initiatives to raise awareness of the foreign bribery offence, which I will discuss in more detail below after I have set out the key provisions in the legislation.

The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008 broadens the existing legislation on corruption. It extends certain definitions; for instance, the term "consideration" has been broadened to make clear that as well as monetary gain, the conferral of all types of advantage comes within the terms of this offence. With regard to corruption occurring outside the State, jurisdiction for this offence has been substantially extended to cover virtually all persons having a connection with the State, including companies and corporate bodies. The range of foreign public officials coming within the scope of the legislation has also been extended to include persons under the direct or indirect control of a foreign government as well as representatives of a wider section of international organisations. The Bill also provides new protection for whistleblowers, a term which covers employees and other persons who report suspected corruption offences in good faith.

In order to raise awareness of anti-corruption legislation, one of the Government's initiatives is the creation of an anti-corruption website,www.anticorruption.ie, by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The website is intended to increase knowledge of the OECD convention and of our obligations in this regard. Although set up by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the site represents a cross-departmental approach by the Government in raising awareness of the convention. It informs members of the public about the consequences of bribery and corruption for individuals and for companies working in an international business environment.

This year, the Government demonstrated its commitment to fulfilling all our obligations under the OECD anti-bribery convention by inviting the OECD examination team to carry out a further on-site evaluation in Ireland. The examination took place over a week-long period in June. The visit of the evaluation team on this occasion was characterised by the attendance and participation of a wide range of delegations, including representatives from all Departments, Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and members of An Garda Síochána and the Bar Council as well as representatives from civil society, NGOs, trade unions and others. The OECD is on record as stating it was very pleased with the level of co-operation and participation by the Irish authorities during their evaluation, and a report by the OECD evaluation team of their visit is expected to be published by the end of the year or early in 2009.

In addition to ensuring greater compliance with the OECD anti-bribery convention, the provisions of the anti-corruption legislation being put before the House today will contribute in no small way to the ratification process of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. The text of this convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its 58th session in October 2003 and opened for signature in December 2003. The convention was signed at that time by Ireland following approval by the Government. The UN convention is a comprehensive anti-corruption treaty whose stated purposes are to promote and strengthen measures to combat corruption more efficiently and effectively; to promote, facilitate and support international co-operation and technical assistance in the prevention of and fight against corruption; and to promote integrity, accountability and proper management in public affairs and public property. The provisions before the House regarding bribery of foreign public officials and the protections in the Bill for whistleblowers will also satisfy some of the key requirements of the UN convention, which the Government is committed to ratifying.

We already have a sophisticated body of anti-corruption legislation dating back to the late 19th century, which has frequently been updated, most recently by the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001.

That was the first time. It has only been updated once.

The legislation being considered by the House today proposes amendments, in particular, to the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001.

I will now set out more fully the provisions of the Bill, which amends section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 as amended by section 2 of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001. Section 1 contains a single definition, specifying that the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001 is referred to in the Bill as the "Act of 2001". Section 2 of the Bill amends section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 as amended by section 2 of the Act of 2001 in a number of ways; in particular, at subsection (2) by the substitution of the term "consideration or advantage" for the term "or consideration". The OECD has suggested that the term "consideration" be expanded to ensure that it describes other forms of advantage which might be used as an inducement to someone to commit an offence under the legislation. The words "or advantage" have been added to clarify that as well as monetary gain, all types of advantage come within the offence.

In section 2, the Minister also proposes to expand the definition of "agent" to ensure the provisions of the Bill apply to people working for or on behalf of the public administration of any other country, including persons who may be under the direct or indirect control of another state. The term "agent" is also expanded to apply to agents of an organisation established by an international agreement to which Ireland is not a party. It is understood that the OECD would favour the omission of terms such as "agent" altogether from the Irish anti-corruption legislation, which it considers retains implications inherent to the agent-principal relationship, in other words, that it implies subordination and a relationship of trust. However, the Government is advised that by expanding the definition of the term "agent" in the 2001 Act and by expanding on it further in this Bill, there is therefore no real difficulty presented by the use of the term "agent" in the context of this legislation. There is now an extremely broad definition of this term within the legislation.

A further amendment contained within this section is the insertion of a definition of the term "state", meaning a state other than the Irish State. The term "state" denoting a foreign jurisdiction will include, first, a territory, whether in the state or outside it for whose external relations the state or its government is wholly or partly responsible; second, a subdivision of the government of the state, and, third, a national regional or local entity of the state. The effect of this is to extend the jurisdiction and scope of the legislation.

Section 3 makes two drafting amendments in subsection (1) by inserting the phrase "(whether or not a person is an agent)" after "where a person" in line 1 and by substituting the words "relevant section" to replace "section 1 (inserted by section 2 of this Act) of the Act of 1906".

Section 3 also deals with the issue of extra-territorial jurisdiction in regard to the offence of bribery of foreign public officials. Normally, Irish law is territorial in its jurisdiction and applies only to acts done in Ireland. The intention here is to ensure that an act which could constitute a corruption offence in this State is also an offence if committed outside of Ireland, which in most instances is likely to be the case in the context of bribery of foreign officials. The provision, as it is currently set out, will allow this State to exercise jurisdiction in circumstances where the benefit of the relevant offence is derived by an Irish citizen or someone who is ordinarily resident in this State, a company registered under the Companies Acts, any other body corporate established under the laws of the State, or any legal person that has its head office in this State.

The issue of the exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction arises increasingly frequently in the context of a variety of our legislative provisions. Since the publication of this Bill, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has received comprehensive advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the question of the application of extra-territorial jurisdiction generally. These advices were not furnished specifically in regard to this proposed Bill. However, in light of this advice, the Minister is giving consideration to the application of a more consistent approach to the issue in a number of legislative proposals. The Minister would like to give notice to the House, therefore, that he may look further at the extra-territorial jurisdiction provision in this Bill with a view to a possible amendment on Committee Stage. The Minister is also of the view that the OECD may favour a broader exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction than is currently outlined in this Bill.

In section 3, which expands jurisdiction for the corruption offence, subsection 2(d) includes, among other categories, any other body corporate established under the laws of this State. In the course of discussions between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the OECD on this issue, it was suggested by the evaluation team that a specific reference to unincorporated bodies to encompass registered clubs, and other such bodies might also be included. The Minister intends to look at this issue again in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and, if it is considered necessary and if the House permits, will give consideration to an official amendment on this point on Committee Stage to address the OECD concerns in this regard.

Section 4 amends the Act of 2001 by inserting a new section 8(A) in that Act. This amendment provides for the protection of persons reporting offences under the Prevention of Corruption Acts, 1889-2008, which is the proposed collective citation of the anti-corruption legislation, following enactment of this measure. The new provision provides immunity for any person who reports in good faith offences under this legislation to an appropriate person, and sets out that an individual shall not be liable in damages should they report, in writing or otherwise, their opinion that an offence under the Acts has been or is being committed.

The protection applies unless it is proven that the person making the report has not acted reasonably or in good faith. The section also contains a provision whereby an employer shall not penalise or threaten an employee who makes a report of his or her opinion that an offence under the Acts is being committed. Examples of the penalisation in respect of which redress may be sought include the following: first, suspension or lay-off or dismissal within the meaning of the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2005; second, demotion or loss of opportunity for promotion; third, transfer of duties or change of location and place of work; and, fourth, unfair treatment including selection for redundancy.

Section 5 amends section 9(1) of the Act of 2001. That section enables responsibility for an offence under the Corruption Acts 1889 to 2005, where committed by a corporate body, to be attributed to certain of its officers so that individuals, as well as the corporate entity, can be held liable for the offence in particular circumstances. The new provision substitutes the collective citation "Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 2008" to ensure that the provision in respect of offences by corporate bodies also applies to offences under this Bill.

Section 6 relates to the protection for persons reporting offences as set out at section 4, and contains a Schedule providing redress for employees penalised if adverse action is taken against an employee reporting an offence under the Acts in good faith. The procedures set out in the Schedule include complaints to a rights commissioner, and there is provision for an appeal of the commissioner's decision to the Labour Court by the parties concerned.

Section 7 is a standard technical provision providing that the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 2005 and this Bill may be read together as one.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been working closely with the OECD evaluation team on the development of this legislation. The Minister has asked me to take this opportunity to place on the record his acknowledgment of the constructive input of the OECD into this process. Officials will continue to work with the OECD in the future to ensure full compliance with the Convention on Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Where it was felt it was appropriate to do so, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform took into account the views expressed by the OECD and drafted these legislative amendments accordingly. However, there was not always agreement with the views of the evaluation team in every case. In some instances the legal advice received from the Parliamentary Counsel was at variance with views expressed by the evaluation team. We have also retained for the present in these amendments some of the terminology that was a feature of the earliest anti-corruption legislation which perhaps the OECD evaluation team might have preferred to have been omitted.

The evaluation team has expressed the view that the various anti-corruption measures on the statute would benefit by being harmonised. The OECD has expressed the view in its evaluation report on Ireland, which was published last year, that, for example, it would wish to see a harmonisation between elements of various statutes. However, our advices indicate that this issue does not present any practical difficulty from a prosecution point of view.

The Minister has no fundamental objection to the consolidation of the anti-corruption legislation in the future, thereby putting all of the related anti-corruption legislation under one cover, as it were. It is understood that the Law Reform Commission has completed the restatement of all anti-corruption legislation. The Minister expects to have an opportunity to examine the Law Reform Commission's work and will then give consideration to the question of consolidation.

It is expected the OECD examiners may recommend in their forthcoming evaluation report that the Government should support the work of the Criminal Law Codification Advisory Committee, with which the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is involved, in conjunction with University College Dublin, towards the codification of all corruption offences. Consolidation and restatement of the legislation is an essential prelude to the codifying process. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is fully supportive of the codification project which it was instrumental in establishing. While it is early days yet in the work of the Criminal Law Codification Advisory Committee, the House can be assured that the Department will work closely with that body if and when it comes to consider codification of the various anti-corruption statutes. I commend this Bill to the House.

On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I welcome this legislation. We will be supporting the Bill, although we may consider submitting amendments on Committee Stage.

I had understood that the timing of this debate was to suit the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am aware that he had other engagements this morning but I was of the view that the debate had been timed to suit his diary. I am surprised, therefore, that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs has come before the House to deal with the matter of criminal law reform. However, I do not wish to cast aspersions on either the man or the office he holds. I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will contribute to the debate before it concludes.

It is a refreshing change to have Fianna Fáil associated with corruption in a positive sense. It is good to see that party introducing anti-corruption measures and engaging in the fight against corruption rather than, as we have become accustomed to, being associated with dodgy deals and corrupt practices. The Minister of State referred to the codification of the law, thereby giving the impression that there is a major corpus of law which must be brought together and that existing legislation is elaborate, lengthy and complex in nature. As regards the latter, nothing could be further from the truth. The Minister of State indicated that the legislation has been amended over the years. That is not really the case. In 2001 there was an amendment to an enactment that came about in 1906.

We have been particularly slow to legislate on ethical or whistleblower-related issues or matters relating to corruption. One could argue that this legislative deficit was partially responsible for the culture of corruption which characterised aspects of the planning process for many years and which was particularly associated with the Fianna Fáil Party and its cronies. Indeed, Fianna Fáil holds the record for the number of Deputies that have been expelled or resigned from senior positions due to allegations of corrupt practices. The culture under which the making of large payments was deemed acceptable stems from an arrogance at being in power for too long. There is a particular philosophy which permeates Fianna Fáil to such an extent that the party's entiremodus operandi has been the attainment and retention of high office above all else. Under the philosophy to which I refer, the exercise of power seems to be an end in itself.

The legislation before the House is not the brainchild of Fianna Fáil or of the coalition Government of which it is a member. Rather, it arises on foot of a highly critical OECD report and repeated criticism from a globally renowned group, Transparency International. Successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments have shown their contempt for good governance by delaying, procrastinating in respect of and removing proposed legislation on corruption and ethics in public life. The whistleblowers Bill 1999 was on the legislative programme for seven years before being removed in 2006. Ireland has signed but not yet ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. The criminal justice Bill to ratify the convention has not yet been published. However, the A list of promised legislation indicates that it is to be published before the end of the year, that is, in the coming weeks. We will see if that happens.

In the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Act 2007, the then Minister for Finance and current Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, ignored the recommendations of the Standards in Public Office Commission and instead focused entirely on the provision of gifts to ministerial and parliamentary office holders and raised the value of a gift to be declared from €650 to €2,000. Fianna Fáil-led Governments have consistently failed to show any leadership on the very serious matters of bribery, corruption and the acceptance of dodgy money. It is only after being embarrassed by the OECD and having its commitment to fighting corruption and bribery questioned that the Government has introduced this Bill.

The Bill will amend the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001. It will somewhat strengthen the law on bribery and corruption and will finally make Ireland fully compliant with the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. It also provides a modicum of protection to whistleblowers who report cases of corruption in good faith. I fully endorse this part of the Bill because there has been no compulsion to date on Irish companies to protect persons who report transactions of a corrupt or dubious nature.

Fianna Fáil has shown a determined reluctance to give legislative protection to whistleblowers. This issue has arisen on many occasions in different sectors such as health and justice. A confidential recipient has only recently been appointed within An Garda Síochána. This followed six years of revelations at the Morris tribunal and eight reports detailing the consequences of allowing a culture of indifference and unaccountability not only to emerge but also to fester for many years.

I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has on this occasion, unlike the last, consulted the private sector on the Bill's provisions. His predecessor failed to do so in respect of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2001. If the Bill before the House is to be taken seriously, and enforced as strictly as should be the case, it is vital that all public and private sector businesses must be made fully aware of the procedures relating to reporting corrupt transactions and also of the consequences of reporting such transactions. The Minister of State referred to a website. A public information campaign should involve much more than merely setting up a website.

The Bill will allow the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring more prosecutions against individuals or companies that are alleged to be involved in corrupt foreign transactions. Enforcing this law will be difficult. Will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicate before the conclusion of the debate the additional resources that will be provided to the Garda Síochána for report gathering in respect of such offences?

As already stated, the Bill came about as a result of an important OECD report, published in March 2007, on Ireland's implementation of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. That report was scathing in its criticism of the Government's attempts to meet its obligations under the convention. The OECD was of the view that the Government did not take its obligations seriously and levelled three main charges against it. First, it indicated that there was a very low attendance by officials from key Departments and bodies who were invited to meet representatives of the OECD while they were in Ireland. There seemed to be a reluctance on the part of the Government to either reply to invitations or to attend meetings. This made it very difficult for the OECD team to properly assess Irish efforts to comply with the convention. When requests were made in respect of information on the implementation of the convention, much of that information was not provided. The lack of attendance cast serious doubts in the minds of those on the OECD team as to the commitment of the Government to the implementation of the convention.

Second, officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed the OECD officials that no awareness campaigns on the convention had taken place or that information had not been targeted towards the private sector. The departmental officials stated that there were "no plans to make [the foreign bribery offence] more widely known than at present". Enterprise Ireland, part of the role of which is to offer advice and support to Irish exporters, felt it was "not responsible for raising awareness of the myriad of Government legislation" in this area. What is the point of legislating against the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions if Irish companies are not aware that a law exists and if said law is not enforced?

Third, the OECD also criticised the Government's failure to put in place adequate whistleblower protection for both public and private sector employees. The report notes the Government's "miserable" attempt to introduce a whistleblowers' protection Bill into the legislative programme in 1999. Rather than acting on that intention, two successive Fianna Fáil-led coalitions ignored the legislation for seven years before dropping it in 2006 in favour of what was described as a "sectoral approach". By providing for these matters to be considered on a case-by-case basis, the Government is leaving the door open for corruption, bribery and dubious transactions and engagements to continue. I understand that the only case in which this approach has been taken to date relates to the Garda Síochána, undoubtedly as a direct result of the findings of the Morris tribunal. The belated inclusion in this legislation of a section on whistleblowers may represent an acceptance by the Minister that the protection of such people has been woeful up to now. Is the Minister indicating we should expect to see new appropriate legislation to provide comprehensive protection for whistleblowers in all sectors of Irish life and business?

The OECD report recommended the introduction of legislation to fully implement the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. It proposed that an awareness campaign be organised to accompany the legislation. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform responded by saying there was a "general perception that legislation in place was sufficient". All we got was a typical response from a tired Government and a poor initiative from an arrogant Minister. According to the Garda, when the OECD report was published in March 2007, no cases of foreign bribery had been brought before the Irish courts, although five investigations had been initiated. I would like the Minister to update the House on the status of the five investigations. Where do they stand now? Why did no prosecutions take place? Was the lack of resources part of the problem? I am sure the Minister will comment on the current position. I assume that prosecutions did not take place partly as a result of jurisdictional matters. If the Garda requires additional resources, I hope they will be provided. The penalties for foreign bribery — up to ten years of imprisonment and an unlimited fine — are severe. When this legislation has been passed, the law on foreign bribery and corruption will need to be enforced. The Government needs to assure the House that prosecutions will take place and due process will be resourced rather than obstructed.

I am aware that an official anti-corruption website,www.anticorruption.ie, was launched in May 2008. What other mechanisms has the Government put in place to ensure this Bill can be a success? Can the Minister brief the House on the measures, if any, he proposes to take in this regard? When the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, was still in office, he said he intended to establish a committee of officials from Government bodies and agencies who were to be responsible for monitoring compliance with the requirements of the convention. I assume the committee is up and running and is in contact with the OECD on a regular basis. The OECD evaluation team was supposed to return to Ireland for another review in March of this year. Did this review take place? Is a report on the evaluation available? What is the position with regard to the interdepartmental senior official compliance committee? How does the Minister propose to raise awareness of our obligations under the various international treaties to which we have signed up? How can he keep this matter in the public eye? I understand that OECD reports and examinations are normally subject to oral reporting on an annual basis, with a written review every two years. Can the Minister clarify where the latest reports stand?

The Minister referred to the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001, which provides for a presumption of corruption when a public official or candidate for public office does not declare a political donation. Fianna Fáil's coalition partners in successive Governments, the Progressive Democrats, clearly failed to prevent corruption and bribery by those in public political life during that time. Now that the Green Party has taken on the watchdog role assumed by the PDs before its demise, perhaps it will have better luck in keeping an eye on Fianna Fáil. The signs are not good, however, as the Greens have behaved like a lapdog to date, which does not inspire confidence. I refer to the vote that took place in this House within the last hour, for example.

Any analysis of political corruption, dodgy dealings and questionable behaviour in Irish public life will show that Fianna Fáil is the clear leader when it comes to low standards in high places. Over the past 15 years, the State has been rocked by sleaze and scandal on a massive scale, with Fianna Fáil politicians in the driving seat on almost every occasion. We all remember the Al Masri passports affair. Politicians such as Haughey, Lawlor, Foley, the two Flynns, Burke and most recently, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, were frequently aided and abetted by Mr. Frank Dunlop. Mr. Dunlop, who fuelled the engine of planning corruption in this country for many years, was strongly associated with Fianna Fáil at all times. He was the ringmaster extraordinaire in a tangled web of deceit and profiteering. Perhaps Mr. Dunlop's only saving grace was that he eventually agreed to lay bare to the Mahon tribunal some of the detail of some of his activities.

Is it any wonder that many of our citizens are disillusioned and indifferent to this country's politics, public affairs and politicians? This disillusionment is compounded by the yawning gap the Government has created between itself and the people. In the recent budget, the Government ensured that its cronies will be well looked after, come what may. At the same time, it decided to remove the automatic entitlement to a medical card of people over the age of 70. The mobilisation of 15,000 people, most of them elderly, after this outrageous and ill-thought-out move showed that the public feels it has to march on the streets if it is to communicate with Fianna Fáil, which has truly lost touch with reality and the people it serves. When Deputy Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach, he spent more of his time coming up with a strategy for the Mahon tribunal than keeping his eye on the ball with regard to our economic plight. We have to thank him, in large measure, for the mess we are in.

I would like to mention a statement that was made by the former Fianna Fáil Senator, Mr. Des Hanafin, who guarded that party's purse strings for many years. When speaking about protracted public tribunal hearings, he said:

This demoralises, shakes confidence in politics and public servants, and even destabilises the State. All politicians and public servants are smeared and held up to public odium.

While there may be an element of exaggeration in that statement, it rightly points to the importance, in any democracy, of ensuring that politicians are not seen as removed from, or superior to, the people. Despite the actions of a handful of politicians, most of them from Fianna Fáil, it is important that those of us involved in this profession are not all branded as dodgy, corrupt or in it for ourselves. The actions of Deputy Bertie Ahern, Liam Lawlor and Ray Burke etc., have damaged democracy in this country by undermining people's faith in their public representatives. It is incumbent on us all to rebuild the trust between politicians and those we represent. A package of robust measures emanating from this House is the starting point in that respect. While this legislation is a start, it is no more than that. As the Minister of State said, it is a small measure. Further action is needed. My colleague, Deputy Varadkar, is promoting the Public Appointments Transparency Bill 2008 to that end. I propose a reduction in the dissuasively high fees charged when requests are made under the Freedom of Information Acts, which should be acting as a bulwark of transparency but, more often than not, are choked by the bureaucratic nature of the process. We need to protect and reward whistleblowers. We should ensure that whistleblowing legislation provides for comprehensive arrangements in the public and private sectors.

Fianna Fáil has been quick to make commitments on ethics but has found it impossible to stand by its promises. In 1997 the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government promised, in its programme for Government, to "restore public confidence in public life through a credible policing mechanism for ethical issues". In its manifesto of the same year, Fianna Fáil looked forward to restoring "people's confidence in the process of government" and to address the demand to eradicate all unethical conduct from public life.

This House set up the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, chaired by Mr. Justice Flood. However, when allegations arose about the most senior members of its own Government, Fianna Fáil yet again failed to show any leadership or responsibility on the issue, and instead backed its people instead of the people of Ireland. As already mentioned, Fianna Fáil holds the dubious record for the number of Deputies who have been expelled or have had to resign from senior positions, and it continues to allow that self-centred mentality within its ranks.

Fine Gael condemns the conduct of former Fianna Fáil Deputy Ray Burke and the failure of the former Taoiseach to properly investigate the allegations against him. There were many warnings given to the then Taoiseach about Mr. Burke but he decided to ignore them. Former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern appointed a marked man to high political office and, when challenged, stood by his man, come what may. The Taoiseach could not even bring himself to ask Mr. Burke a direct question. He instead chose the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to make inquires on his behalf. It is a pity the Minister is not here to elaborate on his role and function in the Burke affair.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, initiated inquiries on behalf of the Taoiseach, the Government and the party. The former Taoiseach's investigation of the Burke allegations was a total sham. In May 1998 he said, "I tried to find out the truth but got nowhere". This was after what he described as "every tree in north Dublin" had been looked at and after his colleague the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, had investigated the matter "to the best of his ability". The ability of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, is somewhat limited given that Mr. Burke was later successfully prosecuted in the courts. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in his handling of that affair, brought the highest public office of the land into ill repute.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, recently made an unwarranted political attack on a former and a current Member of the Oireachtas who reacted in an appropriate manner to information they received by bringing it to the appropriate person, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and current Ceann Comhairle, Deputy O'Donoghue. They could have given it to the media but did not. They acted in good faith and history will judge them to have acted fairly, honestly and to have done all they could within the limited resources they had. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, shamelessly attacked former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Brendan Howlin, now in the Chair. In doing so, he showed how partisan and narrow-minded he is. For him, as in the Burke investigation, Fianna Fáil always comes first, he closes ranks, and the public interest comes second. He showed it regarding the Morris tribunal and Mr. Burke, and he continually shows it.

The late Deputy Liam Lawlor was the only sitting Fianna Fáil Deputy to have landed himself in prison. In October 2000, following four orders to attend the Flood tribunal he refused to give evidence on everything from planning and Century Radio to his own finances. The tribunal was preparing to investigate eight allegations made against him. Deputy Harney called in this House for his resignation and was supported by all other parties. Mr. Lawlor quit Fianna Fáil in disgrace and four months later was before the High Court for refusal to co-operate with the tribunal. Having been told to co-operate fully, he blatantly refused to do so. He was sentenced to three months in prison, fined £10,000 and made pay the costs. After spending a week in prison, he was questioned on the burning of papers in a bonfire in his back garden and sent back to prison for another week. He again failed to make full disclosure and was finally sent to Mountjoy for a month. He made a mockery of the tribunal process and brought politics into disrepute.

All this took place against a backdrop of firm Government support for the work of the tribunals and the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern's assertions, in statements in this House on political donations on 28 May 1998, on "the need for financial propriety and probity in the conduct of our public affairs". However, when push came to shove, Fianna Fáil left the tribunal, which it contributed to establishing, out in the cold, in support of its less than honourable members.

When the Flood tribunal was established, the former Taoiseach Deputy Bertie Ahern said, "the tribunals we have established are, in my opinion, the best vehicle for following up any new disclosure if they can be brought within their jurisdiction and we should not try to prejudice, pre-empt or cut across their work". He did not foresee himself coming before the tribunal and that he would become one of the key players who would try to prevent and stall its work.

The then coalition Government deliberately set out to delay the passing of the Courts and Courts Officers Act so that, among other things, extra judges needed for the Flood tribunal could be appointed. Fine Gael demands that the Bill be prioritised were ignored. The Government delayed because it was afraid of the revelations the tribunal would make, once again implicating Fianna Fáil representatives at every level in less than acceptable behaviour bordering on sleaze and scandal.

In March 2002, Mr. Justice Flood had to go to the extraordinary length of writing to the Clerk of the Dáil, informing the Oireachtas that delay in passing the Bill prevented the appointment of new judicial members to the tribunal and this could, "adversely affect the tribunal's ability to progress to the next phase of the inquiry as intended." Only after great public and political pressure was applied did the Government move on the Bill.

No-one foresaw that a tribunal of inquiry would be still investigating allegations of bribery, corruption and unethical payments ten years later and that there would be substantial costs involved. Neither did we foresee Cabinet Ministers, particularly former Deputy Michael McDowell and Deputy Roche, arguing about costs and timeframes and publicly contradicting Judge Mahon as they squabbled with the tribunal's chairman in a bid to stop its revelations in the run up to the 2007 general election. The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, was almost hysterical in his efforts to undermine the tribunal and prophesied that it would cost €1 billion. We learned yesterday that the tribunal is to cost €300 million, the figure Judge Mahon calmly supplied to former Deputy McDowell in advance of last year's election. There may be added costs with that but the costs of the tribunal would have been far lower had witnesses co-operated. Therefore, blame should be laid at their door rather than at that of tribunal employees over the past decade.

In its 2006 annual report, the Standards in Public Office Commission included a chapter on recommendations for legislative change to improve the oversight of standards in Irish politics. This has largely been ignored. The commission wanted clear standards of acceptable behaviour and the power to initiate inquiry. Regarding standards in State bodies it recommended that the Minister for Finance introduce regulations applying the obligations of the Ethics Acts to board members and specified senior employees of each newly established public body from the date on which the body is set up. The commission also wanted broader applicability, for the Act to cover other Members of this House not currently included.

Instead of taking these considered suggestions on board by its own statutory agency headed up by Mr. Justice Matthew Smith, the Ethics In Public Office (Amendment) Bill 2007, published by the Department of Finance under Deputy Brian Cowen's stewardship, focused entirely on the provision of gifts to ministerial and parliamentary office holders, raising the value of a gift, but did little on taking on board the recommendations.

I welcome the extension of existing anti-corruption legislation to include persons acting on behalf of states other than Ireland. It is a strengthening of our corruption laws. I endorse the whistleblowers section and we can return to this later. However, a tougher approach needs to be taken. A message must be sent to those who are involved in unethical behaviour that Ireland has changed and that unethical practices are no longer acceptable or tolerated in either the public or private sectors.

I am sorry I do not have more time now, but such is the order of the House. I look forward to engaging in further debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on Committee Stage.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I too welcome the Bill before the House, in so far as it goes. I have a bit of a will-o'-the-wisp relationship with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I present at a committee on legislation, expecting him to be there, and I find a Minister of State in his stead. I come into the House, expecting him to introduce this Bill, and again I find a Minister of State. While I do not wish to reflect on any Minister of State, there are certain matters for which the senior Minister ought to be present. He ought to present his own arguments for the Bill but that is not happening in this case.

There are three items of legislation that precede independence dealing with this issue and when we enact this Bill, there will be three items of legislation post-independence dealing with corruption. The 1889 Act did not make any reference at all, good, bad or indifferent, to central government. Essentially, it dealt with local government. It is very interesting to see the kinds of issues that were raised at that time. My colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who did some work on this once, advises me that the outstanding authority is K. Theodore Hoppen and that the prevalence of lemons to be squeezed into whiskey to induce people to vote was one of the major matters addressed. We have come a long way since then.

I wonder if we have.

I would be amused, were it not so serious, at the section of the Minister of State's speech which states that "we already have in this country a very sophisticated body of anti-corruption legislation dating back to the late 19th century, which has been frequently updated since then". How in the name of heavens does the record show that the legislation has been frequently updated? The legislation has most emphatically not been frequently updated. Until the rainbow coalition Government introduced the Ethics in Public Office Act in 1995, the matter had been untouched since 1916, pre-independence.

If one came into this House as an innocent, one would take the ministerial script as saying that this Bill is broadening the legislation as it relates to the prevention of corruption; that it brings us into compliance with the OECD convention; that the latest inspection by the OECD indicates that it is very happy with us; that everything is above board; and that we have been frequently updating the legislation from 1916. That is a very seriously inaccurate picture of what has taken place. In fact, the dominant party in the State, Fianna Fáil, has shown no stomach at all for addressing this issue or for updating the law, not to mention updating the law "frequently", as is claimed in the ministerial script. That is not the situation at all.

While I do not want to go over the territory covered by Deputy Charles Flanagan, this legislation is before the House today because of the embarrassment caused by OECD criticisms. The embarrassment caused by Transparency International criticisms, although nuanced differently, is also very interesting and very pertinent to the culture that obtains in Ireland in this area. The OECD criticisms obviously had to be dealt with, but I am puzzled as to why we are dealing with them in such a piecemeal fashion. We now have six items of legislation and towards the end of the ministerial script, it is asserted that the OECD essentially shares the position of my party, which is that if we are expected to these items of legislation as a code in this area, then the sensible thing to do is to codify the legislation and bring it up to date. The script states:

The evaluation team has expressed the view that the various anti-corruption measures on the statute would benefit by being harmonised. The OECD has expressed the view in its evaluation report on Ireland which was published last year, that it would for example wish to see a harmonisation between elements of various statutes. However, our advices indicate that this issue does not present any practical difficulty from a prosecution point of view.

That is to quibble with the desirability of codifying the legislation, but I ask the Minister or Minister of State in his reply to tell me what prosecutions there have been to date. I would like to hear the number of prosecutions taken, whether convictions have been secured and so forth because, clearly, it does not present an obstacle to prosecution if there have not been any prosecutions.

The Minister's script seems to hint that, at some ill-defined stage in the future, he is prepared to examine the whole business of putting all related anti-corruption legislation under one cover. That is desirable and is what lawyers and others would expect and require.

It is a coincidence that we are discussing this Bill on the day in which we learn that the Mahon tribunal has concluded its public hearings. It is not our business in this House to draw conclusions for Judge Alan Mahon. He and his two colleagues will presumably do that in due course. However, it cannot be gainsaid that what we have endured for the past 11 years has done serious damage to politics and to public confidence in politicians. It is very difficult to read the evidence, day after day, before the Mahon tribunal without concluding — and without trying to draw conclusions for Judge Alan Mahon — that there was corruption and, indeed, may still be corruption, in the planning process.

Any of us addressing this issue should probably pay tribute to the remarkable patience and endurance of Judge Mahon and his colleagues while at the same time say that there must be a more speedy and economical way to address corruption in our society. A statute enacted in 1921, which precedes the foundation of the State, is scarcely the most appropriate way to probe corruption. Rather than frequently updating the legislation, we have been slow enough to address this issue.

Why is there not an expert unit in the Garda to which many of these matters can be transferred? Why can we not ask an appropriately equipped unit of the Garda to do much of the work, which takes such a long time to complete and must have due regard to keystone decisions such as the In re Haughey judgment, if one is going to pursue the matter by way of public inquiry under the 1921 Act? Is there any reason why forensic accountants could not be added to such a Garda unit? Could members of the Garda be equipped with such a mix of skills, given that it is possible in the Criminal Assets Bureau? Can we have a mix of skills in a unit of the Garda designed to probe white collar corruption? We have been very slow in attending to this area.

There is no wish to link the anti-corruption legislation to which I have referred with the electoral Acts and to tie them in a fashion that will give us greater protection. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, presented an initiative in respect of the commission of investigation facility which was an improvement on the instruments available beforehand. However, it is not adequate. One can predict the response from the dominant party in the country, namely, Fianna Fáil when the Mahon tribunal produces its report. It will be focussed on the cost, which will be significant. However, a storm about the cost will be created as a diversion. The cost may represent a substantial amount of money at a time when we are enduring a recession, but it is within the capacity of the House to produce a more efficient, speedy and economic means of investigating white collar corruption.

Why is the House and the Government so reluctant to re-establish inquiry by parliamentary committee? Given the nature and the narrow scope of this Bill, which involves the pursuit of misuse of public money and public procurement, inquiry by parliamentary committee is appropriate in some cases. However, by conventional wisdom it is taken that this method of inquiry collapsed with the Abbeylara judgment. This ought not to be the case as there were particular circumstances obtaining in the Abbeylara inquiry, which would not necessarily be present in most types of inquiry overseen by a Dáil committee dealing with pursuing the misuse of public money. Since the DIRT inquiry, there is no appetite on the part of the Government to carry out an inquiry by parliamentary committee. However, the DIRT inquiry retrieved just under €1 billion for the State and it cost just over €1 million. It is beyond me why there is reluctance to re-boot inquiry by parliamentary committee.

The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, referred in his speech to provision in respect of whistleblowers and Deputy Flanagan referred to the Labour Party Bill which I introduced. Deputy Power stated: "The Bill also provides new protection for whistleblowers, a term which covers employees and other persons who report suspected corruption offences in good faith". There has been a remarkable reluctance by the Government to deal with this issue. The Labour Party brought forward a Bill which the Government approved on Second Stage. With the benefit of hindsight this was an act of deception and dishonesty, as the Government only wished to avoid the perception that it would vote down a whistleblower's Bill as a general election approached. The Government gave the Bill the nod on Second Stage and then buried it in committee from where it has never resurfaced. There has been much talk about introducing whistleblower's protection on the basis of a sectoral approach, but there has never been a coherent argument advanced outlining why that is a better option.

Reference was made to the arrangements put in place for the Garda, but it is too early to evaluate the experience of the Garda, it has not been long enough in operation. Public representatives ought to have access to the confidential receiver appointed for the Garda. The Garda is a special and particular case and there are good reasons why individual members of the Garda may be concerned about making the approach themselves, which is a weakness.

I cannot pass over the whistleblower matter without being reminded of what happened in the House. There was a very inadequate, truncated debate on the eight reports from the Morris tribunal. The more I consider the matter the more angry I become with the position of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A retired High Court judge applied himself diligently to the task given by the House of producing eight painstaking reports. He unearthed matters experienced by the State of the most acute concern about the operation of some elements of the Garda. People were coerced into signing confessions to a murder that never took place. Gardaí planted explosives and claimed credit when they were uncovered, as it might assist their careers. There was a litany of other incidents contained in the reports.

In his 15 minute contribution to the debate on the tribunal, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law reform devoted nine minutes to criticising a Member of the House and a former Member of the House, referring to a particular remark by Mr. Justice Morris which indicated they might have engaged in more investigation. It took Mr. Justice Morris, with all the resources of the State, a long number of years to come to his conclusions. It is rich of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to lecture any Member of the House on how to investigate allegations, given his track record of investigation. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, sent him to London to investigate whether any of the allegations in the ether about former Deputy Ray Burke were true. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, came back to the House to report to the Taoiseach that there was no truth in these allegations. The Minister does not have a good enough record as an investigator to lecture people in this House about the steps they should take in causing investigations to be held into matters of public interest that are brought to their attention.

The reason this subject is important is because the reputation of the State is vital in terms of our ability to conduct international trade and commerce and do business with other countries. It cannot be a matter of satisfaction to anybody here that an organisation like Transparency International ranks this country as low as it does. Therefore, it is critical that we, as a modern western democracy, are in the good books of the OECD on the issue of our capacity to do business with other countries. After all, we do not have a big stake in any military industrial complex, we do not do business with the Saudis and we are not involved with large companies that supply other countries with a terrible record of corruption. That is not to say that the issues and the criticisms raised by the OECD are not especially important and we should show the will of this House by dealing with them.

In times of affluence, people tend to turn away from politics. In terms of recession, when things are more difficult, people begin to engage with politics again. We have seen that in the past few months. In that regard, it is regrettable that the standing of politicians has been lowered in the last decade due to the conduct of a small number of very senior politicians, former Members of this House. The damage done has caused public cynicism towards politics, which is very serious.

When the 2001 Bill was introduced, the then Minister was in full flight lecturing us on this subject. Former Deputy Jim Higgins, to whom I referred in a different context, produced the following quotation:

I staunchly supported Mr. Haughey. I admired Mr. Haughey greatly, and few men of this century were more committed to this country and its people than Charlie Haughey. There is a song which says follow the fellow who follows a dream, and Mr. Haughey had a vision of this country with which I could identify. A lot of people at grassroots level of Fianna Fáil could identify with it. It was a vision of a republic, of a just society, of a society which made up its own rules and did not ape and copy the rules of any other country for the sake of doing so.

The former Deputy's point was that the quote was taken from an interview inThe Voices of Kerry with the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who was introducing the 2001 Bill and lecturing us on the subject of corruption, yet that was his view.

There is a need for us to revisit the pieces of anti-corruption legislation that are now on the Statute Book. At that time, the Minister summarised it as follows:

At present, the law relating to corruption is governed mainly by the Corruption Acts 1889-1916. There was some updating to these made by the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995. Under these Acts, various activities are criminalised as corrupt practices. For example, the 1889 Act, as amended by the 1995 Act, makes it an offence for a person holding a public office, a special adviser or a director of, or occupier of, a position of employment in a public body, to corruptly solicit or receive any reward as an inducement for acting or refraining from acting in accordance with the individual's duty. It is also an offence for a person to offer such an individual any reward for acting or refraining from acting in accordance with his or her duty.

That summary is fair enough, but we have learned that the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 is in need of updating. There is a need for us to draw the necessary connections between the anti-corruption Acts on the Statute Book and the electoral law. That needs to be done as does the codification to which I referred earlier.

I would like the Minister to tell us about the instances of prosecution under the legislation so far. If it is the case that the instances are few, as I suspect, then the House needs to be reassured that we are not just going through the motions here and putting yet another amendment to an amendment on anti-corruption on the Statute Book, but it is never really the intention to invoke it or enforce it. What is being done in the Minister's Department to make resources available to enforce the provisions of the existing legislation?

There is a definite connection between the recession in which we find ourselves and the culture that dominates politics in this country, as well as the party that dominates politics in this country. If it were not for the unhealthy nexus between 30 or 40 major developers and the dominant party in this country, then we would not be in the depths of recession. People cried out for the Government to intervene in the cost of building land and to terminate the incentives that were there to drive the building industry. We continued the tax incentives to boost output in the construction industry at a time when we knew the bubble was going to burst and we were going to be left with too much property. There has since been a collapse in the revenues coming into the State and, as a result, the hole in the public finances is much larger than it would have been otherwise. That is partly because of the unhealthy nexus in the culture of Irish politics involving some of the leading developers, whereby the major party, Fianna Fáil, made decisions in the interests of financiers rather than voters.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill, which is finally before the House. It is ironic that a Fianna Fáil-led Government is introducing this Bill, given the long list of Deputies who have fallen foul of corruption charges. The Bill was drafted because of a damning report from the OECD. At every opportunity, Fianna Fáil has chosen to delay the introduction of anti-corruption legislation. A good example concerns the whistleblowers legislation in 1999. The Bill before us will effectively amend the 2001 legislation, providing for more anti-corruption laws. Hopefully, it will bring Ireland into line with the convention on the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions.

I particularly welcome the section which allows whistleblowers some protection in reporting cases of corruption in Irish companies. It is essential that the Minister should have all parties on board for this legislation and all private and public sector business must be made fully aware of its implications and provisions. There is no point in placing legislation on the Statute Book if it is not going to be implemented.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to the ethics in public office legislation introduced by the rainbow coalition, but how many people will be prosecuted as a result of the legislation currently before us? It is incumbent on the Minister to report to the House on the workings of the legislation, including the number of prosecutions arising from it.

The Bill before the House will allow the Director of Public Prosecutions, in response to Garda investigations, to bring more prosecutions against companies and individuals who engage in corrupt foreign transactions. This places a big onus on An Garda Síochána and for that reason more resources must be forthcoming from the Government to allow the legislation to work.

The OECD report of March 2007 was most critical of the Government's attempts to deliver on its commitments under the convention on bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. We need to pull up our socks in this regard. The OECD report pointed to a number of areas in which we are falling down. The OECD was disappointed at the low attendance by key Departments and bodies, despite being invited to meet OECD officials on this matter. It gives a poor impression of Ireland when departmental bodies did not even have the courtesy to turn up to the OECD meetings. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed the OECD that no awareness campaigns on the convention had taken place for the private sector. How in God's name is legislation supposed to work if companies have not been informed or consulted? In drawing up this legislation, I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has consulted with all private and public sector companies.

The OECD was also critical of the absence of whistleblower protection for private and public sector employees. All these issues must be fully addressed in this legislation and there is no room for short-cuts in this respect.

I welcome the section of the Bill dealing with whistleblowers, which is not before time. Will the Minister now consider more favourably the introduction of a more comprehensive Bill concerning whistleblowers? Such legislation is badly needed.

Many of this Bill's provisions result from the recommendations of the OECD in its report last year. That report criticised the Government's failure to put in place adequate protection, both for public and private sector whistleblowers. This is interesting in light of the response by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the Morris tribunal's report last week, which was debated in the House. It has been well documented how the Minister and one of his backbenchers spent quite an amount of their speaking time attacking the performance of former Deputy Jim Higgins and the current Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Howlin. They tried to deal with an issue which at the time could potentially have been interpreted as one of corruption. In that instance, the Minister largely chose to ignore the substantial conclusion of the Morris tribunal, trying instead to muddy the waters once again by questioning the integrity of Members of this House. What message does that send out? Can we have faith that the Minister believes in this type of legislation, or is he merely going through the motions? The fact that he is not here to introduce the Bill, despite the order being in place to facilitate him, speaks volumes.

Exposing corruption is never easy. It is a lonely place for individuals trying to redress wrongs. They run the risk of ridicule and estrangement. The least one would expect is the acknowledgement and support of the State through legislation and attitude in the initial stages. The Minister is a figurehead regarding all these types of issues. If last week's performance is anything to go by, however, there must be an element of hypocrisy involved in bringing this legislation before the House.

We should consider the record of the main Government party in dealing with corruption over the years. It took Fianna Fáil a full 16 months to implement a mandatory code of ethics for public representatives following an assurance in 1998 that such a code would be introduced. At the time, that party did not comprehend that it was doing something wrong. It took 16 months for it to act on this fundamental legislation. Former Deputy Ray Burke whom the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern appointed to a very senior Cabinet position, received a large donation of money, the sum of £38,000. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, initially claimed he had carried out extensive inquires regarding the bona fides of Ray Burke but these inquiries were so casual and superficial that they were tantamount to a cover up. This is what has been going on in this country and what has been allowed to go on from the very top down, from a Taoiseach. This sends out a completely wrong message to every citizen and to every person in this State who does his or her job and pays taxes. This behaviour has been allowed to continue from the top down.

Mr. Tom Gilmartin handed over £50,000 to the former EU Commissioner, Pádraig Flynn in the late 1980s in order to secure planning permission and again with the knowledge of Bertie Ahern. The Government changed its line on five separate occasions, just like in the case of the medical card debacle last week when the Government changed its tune. In the case of Mr. Gilmartin, they stated that no one in Government knew the man. Second, the then Taoiseach said it would be entirely wrong to comment. Third, he said he had only one brief meeting with Mr. Gilmartin. Fourth, he then found records of two or more meetings but said he could not recollect them. Finally, he admitted there might after all have been telephone conversations with Mr. Gilmartin and mention of money to Mr. Flynn may have been made but he could not remember.

The long line of Fianna Fáil people in and out of the tribunals down through the years is an indictment and these matters must be addressed by society. We must ensure that people in public office live up to high standards. This is the very reason this legislation is not before time and it is welcomed by Fine Gael.

The purpose of this Bill is to extend the categories of persons to whom the 2001 Act applies, extending the extra-territorial application of the 2001 Act and creating the protection for whistleblowers. The whistleblowers provision included in the Bill will allow employees of companies who wish to report corrupt actions and offer them protection from any sanction from their employers and this is welcome. Fine Gael notes that it is a welcome, though very late acceptance by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, of the need for whistleblower legislation. He might now bring forward a more thorough Act on the subject in the coming months.

I refer to the recommendations of the 2006 annual report of the Standards in Public Office Commission. The report included a chapter on recommendations for legislative change to improve the oversight of standards in Irish politics. The commission pointed out that it had made many of these recommendations previously on anad hoc basis but that none of them had been given consideration by the Government. The commission had made specific recommendations that could have been included in the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill 2007 but these were ignored. These included a clear standard of acceptable behaviour, the power to initiate inquiry and standards in State bodies. All these issues need to be addressed by Government.

The country is currently facing a recession, principally because Fianna Fáil-led Governments have based all their budgets on a housing bubble that could not last. Major developers have done well out of this but the ordinary person has not. It was remarked to me recently that in many parts of Ireland the Celtic tiger was no more than a castrated cat when it visited the west and I agree with that sentiment. Areas such as west and east Clare have not seen high employment figures. Another focus is needed other than the culture of nod and wink politics and the paper bag. The Government just looks away and does not try to address the problem. This comes from the top down and it is stomach-churning. This Bill is the sort of legislation that is needed. We need to see leadership from the top down, from the new Taoiseach down. It is most important that we as the body politic, as elected public representatives of the country, as Members of Dáil Éireann, stand up and be honest and up-front with people. We must be anti-corruption at every crossroads. For that reason I support this legislation.

Enough damage has been done to politics down through the years. If nothing else, we are sending out a clear message that maybe finally, Fianna Fáil has learned a lesson from the past, that corruption is not good for the country and is not good for the image of the country. Unfortunately, what happened in the past has tarred all politicians with the same brush. I support the provisions of this Bill and its passage through the House.

Debate adjourned.