The next speaker is Deputy Michael D'Arcy who has 20 minutes.
Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).
I was not aware I had 20 minutes but I will see how it goes. It is good to see the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, here in one piece following her ordeal with the pensioners last week.
When I started looking up information on this Bill I came across the following quote from a Roman historian by the name of Tacitus which I thought was relevant: "In a state where corruption abounds, laws must be very numerous". In the context of this legislation the laws were not numerous and we have very little option but to extend them in line with many other countries and with the OECD.
Previous speakers have referred to contact with the OECD and Government bodies and agencies when it became clear there were deficiencies evident within the previous legislation dating back to 1906 and the 2001 Acts. Deputy Rabbitte dealt with them in much greater detail.
There has been significant corruption within this State. It gives me no pleasure to say so. I always see myself as somebody who tries to be positive and it is not always easy to be positive in dealing with matters when people were so very much off-side.
Within our State, in comparison to other jurisdictions, nobody seems to ever go to prison for any version of corruption or white-collar crime. That is because we have always had the nod and wink mentality which perhaps dates back to the period when we were being ruled by another nation and we were quite happy for that to continue. Now that we have been ruling ourselves for the best part of 100 years, on every occasion that corruption occurs, and on every occasion that it is allowed continue, we are only fooling ourselves and we are only doing ourselves or, more often than not, the State out of income that could be used for significant State funding rather than borrowing, which looks likely to be the natural course of action for the next number of years.
It is important to look at what happened in the United States. Anybody who was around in the early part of this decade will be aware of what happened within Enron, which was one of the Fortune 500 companies in the US. Enron staff made up its balance sheets as they went along. They created new accounting practices and did so just to keep the share price up. When they hoped it would stay up when it was obvious it would not, they created more new instruments to pretend that the company was doing well and was stable and steady, but it was not. In the meantime, directors and those people who knew what was going on within the corporation sold out. It was a pyramid house of cards that could only possibly fall down, and fall down it did.
However, the difference is that the people who perpetrated that fraud upon the corporate body and upon the investors were imprisoned. My point is one may draw a contrast between here, where we do not imprison people for such matters, and the US where they do. In the United States there were congressional hearings and those who perpetrated that act were brought to justice.
More recently, in the case of banking in the United States, there have been a number of investment banks, particularly the Wall Street investment banks, which have found the going very tough. This is because of practices which, while I would not call completely corrupt, were very irresponsible. They eventually leached their way down to the lending institutions within the United States banking sector, which gave out loans to those who could not possibly repay them and those who should never have got any sort of loan whatsoever.
This has a great deal to do with this Bill because we do not prosecute white collar crime. We have brought in a number of agencies to oversee such matters but, in truth, nothing at all has happened. In Ireland, there has not been a single criminal conviction for white collar crime or tax evasion. Deputy Rabbitte spoke about the DIRT inquiry bringing in over €1 billion in lost revenue and penalties from people from within this State and that it cost only €1 million to proceed with the inquiry from within the jurisdiction of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Later I will touch upon some of what has happened with some of the Members within the House and which has been particularly disappointing.
The whistleblower section of this Bill can only be welcomed. Somebody from within the financial sector made a valid point to me, that 90% of embezzlement is found not by internal auditors but when somebody eventually gets the gumption to say, "Hold on a second, that is not on. That is illegal. What you are doing is incorrect". In the past we did not have the benefit of the immunity that an employee can use as a defence if he or she has acted in good faith. If the person acts in good faith and believes what he or she is saying, the immunity issue must be considered. We — by which I mean the business community of which I am a part — pay significant sums to have accounts done for our sole traders or to have internal auditors, whether within the banking sector or corporate bodies, but they do not find such matters because more often than not the embezzlers are more capable of hiding them than the internal auditors are capable of finding them. Whisleblowing is a matter to which this legislation will give protection.
I want to touch upon how one defines corruption. It has often been stated that corruption will flourish when good men do nothing. There is not a truer statement. For far too long within this State we have had people within many different sectors who have been getting away with incorrect practices. When these practices are brought to the attention of the people in charge, whether it be a State body or an agency, we do not take the correct course of action. If, to expand upon that, somebody within a Department, a school or one of the Government agencies is acting incorrectly and it is a matter for the management to take deal with that person, there is practically no sanction. The ultimate sanction of course is for the person to lose his or her job, but the truth is that does not happen in this State. Practically nobody, if he or she is acting incorrectly, loses his or her job. The best example of this is found within some schools. Given that most schools are managed by a board of management and patrons, the Department is able to use a hands-off approach by saying it is a matter for the board of management or the patron to deal with. The truth is it is the Department which pays the wages and it should be able to move in.
What would happen, however? A deal would be struck so the person could retire early or would be able to move away or resign but do so with an unblemished record. The truth is that far too often the State or those operating on its behalf do not take the correct action, which is that the person should be removed from his or her position and the record should be very clear as to what happened. That is a difficult thing to say and perhaps it is difficult to achieve. It would require a removal from theentente position that exists between unions, management and the State. Until such time as we get around to dealing with this type of issue, corruption will continue to flourish because far too often good men do nothing.
This legislation expands the definition of a bribe. I remember once speaking to a man who worked in a builders providers' yard. We were discussing the definition of a bribe and he told me that if he helps someone to load a tonne of cement onto a truck, and that person gives him a few euro, that is a tip. However, if he is given €50, it is no longer a tip but a bribe, and the person who gives it would want a few extra bags of cement thrown in for free. I thought this was about as good an analogy as one could give to define a bribe.
It is good that the Bill provides that the definition of a bribe will be that it is an "advantage". An advantage can be expanded into many areas that may not have a monetary value. That advantage can be knowledge, such as knowledge which allows a person to win a tender contract that will in time give a pecuniary advantage. While the corruption may be that the information is passed from one person to another and on to a corporate body, that body may benefit significantly from the information or the knowledge. This measure can only be welcomed.
I wish to refer to an issue that is quite raw in this House. Great work has been done over the decades and generations by so many people within this Chamber and by those who have left this Chamber. Deputy Carey's father was a Deputy, as was my father and the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey's. Unfortunately, some people sullied the reputation of the very large majority who become Members of the House to protect the vulnerable and serve people who are in need of protection. Those who have sullied the reputation of the House have done a disservice to those of us who are here to serve the people. It is unfortunate but it has happened. This Bill will deal with some of the possible future activities. There are significant penalties under the 2001 Act but further penalties are introduced under this Bill, which must be welcomed.
I touched on the DIRT inquiry. One of the things I found bordering on the ridiculous was that a member of the committee investigating the offshore funds, former Deputy Foley, had an Ansbacher account. It was the most ridiculous thing most people had heard.
We have done well in terms of attracting foreign direct investment over the years. We have brought in significant funds to set up businesses in the State. The countries with which we are in competition and which have taken much good business away from us have proven to be better than us in this regard, although that business was won by competition so the best of luck to them. With the OECD drive to ensure this legislation is passed, we have to accept that those other countries seem to have better practices than ours in regard to corruption. Switzerland has shown a remarkable ability to attract foreign direct investment, one of the main reasons for which is that it charges a 0% corporation tax. Some of the Scandinavian countries have also done exceptionally well, again, because they seem to have a better position with regard to the prevention of corruption.
Deputy Rabbitte spoke about the reason the body politic must be seen to operate on behalf of the State without that body politic being compromised in any way. While in times of affluence members of the public are not that interested and tend to be more interested in where they will go on holiday or how they can spend funds — what I would describe as the good stuff — we are now in a different economic climate and they are more interested in politics and much of what goes on in this Chamber suddenly becomes relevant.
For example, I recently spoke with the brother of a friend's wife, who told me he was shocked to find he was watching the news and not "The Simpsons" — it should not be that shocking. While I was not aware "The Simpsons" was on television at the same time as the news, all of a sudden what is happening in this Chamber is seen to have a bearing on the public whereas in the past this was not the case.
My final point concerns the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern's, performance last week in regard to the Morris tribunal. I am glad the Minister is present in the House because I am satisfied to say this directly to him rather than say it when he is not present. His performance was nothing short of a shambles and a disgrace. I know Deputy Brendan Howlin for 25 years although I do not know former Deputy Jim Higgins so well. What they brought forward were allegations and they acted in good faith, which is relevant to this Bill. While the tribunal statement suggested they should have investigated further and perhaps they should have done, they did not have the resources to do so — the Morris tribunal ran for years, after all. The Minister chose to blacken the name of two good men, which was reprehensible.
I am glad the Minister is here while I say this. I am not someone who would say it behind his back. Life is a learning process and we all learn. Deputy Dermot Ahern is a senior Minister and I am a junior Member of this Parliament. I hope the Minister has learned that last week he did a particular disservice to the entire House, not just to a former and sitting Member.
I will respond to what the Deputy stated and to what I understand Deputy Rabbitte stated earlier. I apologise for not being here but I had another appointment. I do not in any way regret what I stated last week and as I said at the time, it would have been a dereliction of duty if I did not refer to a substantial part of the report on how this interacts with whistleblowing issues. I said no more or no less than what was in the report.
The more I listen to some of the comments made by the Opposition, the more the term "shooting the messenger" comes to mind. We gave a job to Mr. Justice Morris to investigate not only the allegations made in Donegal but also how these allegations came about particularly in the context of a number of people who did not or could not have had a voice, such as Assistant Garda Commissioner Carty.
Deputy Rabbitte raised my involvement in the Ray Burke affair. I was asked by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to ask a question as to whether a Mr. Joseph Murphy gave money to Ray Burke. I received an answer and relayed it. I did no more and no less than what I was asked to do. In the context of trying to link it with the Morris tribunal report last week, which clearly criticised two Members of this House, Mr. Justice Flood issued a report into my rather peripheral involvement in that sorry episode and vindicated it.
I do not think the Minister's boss said it was a peripheral involvement.
I can criticise and make the point with regard to the Morris tribunal.
I ask Deputy Charles Flanagan to allow the Minister to speak.
I challenge Deputy Flanagan to examine the conclusions of Mr. Justice Flood in his report on the issue. He clearly and totally vindicated any involvement I had with regard to any inquiry I made.
I acknowledge this is amending legislation. It is intended primarily to comply with international commitments. It is peripheral to many of the matters which the Deputies raised. Its main purpose is to strengthen the law on corruption and ensure fuller compliance with the OECD convention on bribery for foreign public officials in international business transactions. As I stated, it is helpful in progressing the ratification of the UN convention against corruption.
This Bill is not designed to deal with the issue of domestic corruption, to which most of the Deputies referred. In this jurisdiction we already have modern and effective anti-corruption legislation such as the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001, both of which are further amended by this Bill. We also have the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001.
Deputies Rabbitte and Joe Carey raised the question of the number of convictions during recent years. With regard to corruption related offences in the Republic, the statistics I have to hand with regard to convictions for offences including fraud, embezzlement and corruption are that in 2004 there were 26, in 2005 there were nine and in 2006 there were six.
Recently, the Law Reform Commission restated the body of anti-corruption statutes. Therefore, we will have an opportunity to consider the question of possible consolidation of all of this legislation in the future and we must decide further on this. Furthermore, Ireland has ratified a range of international instruments on the issue of corruption and this is the context in which the Bill is presented to the House. Ireland is also party to a significant number of important international agreements on corruption.
The provision in the Bill to protect for whistleblowers is important. It provides protection against liability for damages, penalisation by an employer of persons who report in good faith an opinion that an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Acts has been or is committed. The OECD was of the view that such a provision should be included in the Bill and the Government readily agreed. This type of protection is not new in Irish law. A similar provision is contained in the Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008 and a provision to regulate for similar protection is contained in the Garda Síochána Act 2005. We work closely with the OECD on compliance with this important convention and we will continue to do so.
To return to the issues raised by Deputies Joe Carey and Charles Flanagan, the most recent visit of the OECD, which happened at our invitation, was a number of months ago and meetings took place with a wide variety of groups including Departments, lawyers, NGOs, trade unions and many representatives from the private sector. The OECD stated it was satisfied with the meetings it had and I assure Deputies that the report will be published soon.
With regard to the points made by Deputy Charles Flanagan, we understand that matters have greatly improved since the 2007 report and that this will be confirmed in the OECD report. Information dissemination initiatives are being organised by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in conjunction with the private sector. A website has been created by my Department in this respect. The interagency senior officials compliance committee has been established and is in operation. The OECD has expressed great satisfaction with its establishment and has asked that it be kept in operation when this legislation has been enacted and I can give this undertaking.
Deputies Charles Flanagan and Rabbitte stated there is a deficit of legislation in this area. I do not accept this and I have already instanced the extensive body of legislation, particularly dealing with the domestic scene. This Bill is an addition to the existing prevention of corruption legislation which I outlined earlier.
A number of recent measures taken at our own initiative include the creation of the website to which I referred and the senior officials compliance committee. The Government will continue to review all legislative and resource requirements needed to combat corruption at all levels. The globalisation of financial services and business generally has meant the international dimension to the issue of corruption has become more complicated and is likely to continue to do so. This is why we must continue to work closely with bodies such as the OECD, the United Nations, the EU and the Council of Europe to meet these challenges. The passing of the Bill will play a significant part in this process and I thank the Deputies for their constructive comments.