Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005: Second Stage (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on Tuesday, 20 November 2007:
That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
Dáil Éireann having regard to the fact that existing Tribunals of Inquiry established by the Oireachtas have not completed the entirety of their work, declines the second reading of the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005.
—(Deputy Charles Flanagan.)

The explanatory memorandum states:

The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate and reform:

the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921;

the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 1979;

the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 1997;

the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 1998;

the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1998;

the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 2002;

the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 2004;

It must have been tough going in 1998 if two Act were required. This list is indicative that something is wrong in society. From time to time, questions have been raised about whether various matters are proceeding in accordance with good practice and due diligence. While I do not argue that the current regime is complicit in this matter, during my time as a Member of the Oireachtas various issues have been raised which could and should have been addressed in the House by way of Question Time, parliamentary inquiry, for which provision is made, or one of a number of other methodologies available to Members. We did not have the wherewithal or commitment to take this course of action and opted instead for a cumbersome and expensive procedure of inquiry.

In general, those who have been critical of the inquiry system have not criticised the inquiries per se but have focused on their cost and the endless nature of the process. Members of the public also ask the reasons inquiries take so long and cannot be brought to a conclusion much earlier. I fully realise that the tribunals of inquiry must have due regard for the rights of the persons who come before them, the various procedures laid down and their terms of reference.

The inquiries established thus far, including the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments and the Morris tribunal, have shed light on indiscretions which have taken place at various levels. I was astonished during the recent debate on the report of the Morris tribunal that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform chose to lambaste a serving Deputy and former Deputy. His intervention in this matter was unprecedented in my experience in the House and I have been a Deputy for longer than he has. The manner of the Minister's departure from procedure and practice was scandalous.

He did nothing more than cite the report.

When I discuss the report in a moment Deputy Byrne, as a new Member, would do well to listen.

Remarks must be addressed through the Chair.

I have done so. This is a simple matter. The Minister should have addressed himself to the reasons the Morris tribunal was established. Why was the Government reluctant to allow an inquiry to be held? Deputies should remember the extensive debate we had in the House on the necessity of establishing an inquiry into the events subsequently inquired into by the Morris tribunal. The issues which caused the House to establish the tribunal were obvious and members of the public had been concerned about them for a long time.

What did the Minister do in his contribution to the recent debate? He did not apologise to the victims or beg the forgiveness of the House for the long delay but instead attacked a Member of the Oireachtas and a former Deputy on the basis that the issue was raised in the tribunal's report. I am surprised that Deputy Byrne, who is a legal practitioner, cited this as a reason for the Minister's intervention. Members of the Judiciary know well that they have no function in ordering how the House should conduct its business because they are specifically and explicitly precluded from in any way interfering with the process of the House. While the Oireachtas is precluded by the Constitution from interfering in the judicial process, over the years, it has become the practice for Members to deviate from this stipulation from time to time by commenting on the courts, often in a less than positive manner. The fact that the Executive has the power to hire and the Oireachtas the power to fire should not be lost on those who wish to make comment.

In recent times, the courts and some members of the Judiciary have seen fit to curtail the activities of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the manner in which we attend to our business. They have no authority in this area and any intrusion should be stoutly resisted in the Houses. The only persons who have control over procedure and privilege in the Houses are the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil and Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. Any intrusion must be resisted, resented and contested because it is an interference in the rights of Members of Parliament to raise issues as they see fit, a right which has nothing to do with the courts.

While Members have from time to time commented on the Judiciary, as elected public representatives we have a duty to raise public issues without deference to anyone inside or outside the House. If we respond to the queries raised by members of the public, that is our function. I emphasise that under the separation of powers laid down in the Constitution, the courts have no function in telling Members of the Oireachtas what we should do. We are coming to a stage where we may have to have a referendum. I know the Government does not like referendums, based on recent experiences. We may well need to have a referendum to decide who deals with what, and when. The interpretation of the Constitution is entirely a matter for the courts. Far be it from me to attempt to lecture my learned colleagues on the opposite side of the House, but I reserve the right, nonetheless — and I have read a small bit of it as well.

Will the Deputy please speak through the Chair?

I always speak through the Chair. I sometimes look away, however, so as not to sound personal.

I thank the Deputy.

The Minister fed information to a backbencher who was not even in the House when that particular tribunal——

That is a scurrilous allegation.

It is not. The information was fed by Government or by the Minister, by some means or other, to a rookie Member of the House, who was not here when the tribunal of inquiry was set up and knew nothing about it — and tended to judge the manner and methodology used by Members of the House in the pursuit of their business. I am amazed nothing has happened as a result of that. It was an appalling attack by a Minister, for whatever purpose he saw fit to do it, whereby he pointed a finger at two Members of the Oireachtas who were pursuing their business as public representatives, as they were well entitled to do at any time. I thought the Minister would have told the House he was very very sorry for the circumstances in which this particular tribunal of inquiry had to be set up.

I had already dealt with Mr. Justice Morris before the Minister of State came into the Chamber. I have explained that Mr. Justice Morris, respected member of the Bench that he is, has no authority whatsoever to tell Members of this House how they should do their business. That is a matter for him and he is prevented from so doing by the Constitution, as the Minister of State well knows.

He is entitled——

He is not entitled to do anything of the sort.

He is when he is empowered by the Oireachtas. The Deputy actually voted for this.

I am sorry, but the Minister of State had better read it again. The powers——

The Deputy does not like the answers.

——that the Oireachtas devolved are contained in the tribunal's terms of reference. Anything that relates to the constitutional position of the Judiciary, the courts and the House remains the same. They are not set aside. No attempt has been made to set them aside, nor can there be.

He is allowed——

It is as simple as this, but if the Minister of State wants to go down that road, I shall be happy to entertain him. However, I would not go too far if I were he. Suffice to say that serious problems arose in policing in Donegal to which that tribunal refers. Any attempt by a Member of the House to try to justify and cover this up by making an attack on the Members of the Opposition is appalling and the Minister should either apologise publicly to the people he offended or consider his position.

I do not believe there is any requirement on him to apologise. I am quite good at doing that and I do not believe the Minister, my senior colleague, should.

Will the Minister of State please allow Deputy Durkan to continue?

The knowledge the Minister of State has as regards these issues is obviously much superior to mine. However, I should not venture down that road.

I believe the Deputy is attracting some attention from the Government benches.

I always did. I must emphasise that I was a Member of this House during all those proceedings. I listened and learned as I watched the daily occurrences. I saw and heard, as did the Acting Chairman, as all the allegations were being made. I saw that innocent members of the public were imprisoned for something they had nothing to do with. The Minister did not see fit to comment on that at all, and neither did he see any reason to apologise to the House. What is going on over there? I cannot understand what they are talking about — and incidentally——

What is the Deputy referring to?

——--why is he interrupting? The Minister of State is in the business of interrupting. He will have an opportunity to speak.

I am just inquiring.

If he wants to elucidate further on the Minister's previous outburst in the House, then he can do so.

In fairness to the Minister of State, the Deputy is encouraging him, but perhaps I shall ask him to desist somewhat.

Far be it from me to encourage the Minister of State. He is very good at encouraging himself, on any occasion that he gets overly exuberant. In the event, I shall do my utmost, with the good help of the Acting Chairman, to curtail his activities.

Proceed Deputy.

I shall reiterate the points I have already made. The Minister's attitude was outrageous. He completely failed and I do not know why he raised that issue. He could not have raised the issue on behalf of the gardaí throughout the country who are doing their duty. They certainly did not ask him to raise the issue. Perhaps some innocent people were accused, but then many other innocent people were accused of doing things they had no hand, act or part in at the same tribunal of inquiry. It behoved the chairman of that particular tribunal to deal with the injustices that had been done to all those and keep his reservations about certain Members of the Oireachtas to himself.

Does the Deputy not believe we should be self-critical as regards how we conduct ourselves? It is no harm for us to criticise ourselves from time to time.

That applies to the chairman of the tribunal as well.

Yes, but we should take that on board.

The Minister of State keeps interrupting me and the last time I heard from him was when he was snoring during a radio interview——

Now, Deputy, please.

He is a constituency colleague of the Acting Chairman, as well, and I realise special allowances have to be made in those circumstances, but he should not be ——

I am delighted——

——allowed too much latitude, or else——

The Deputy is lucky I am not snoring through his contribution.

——I could imitate him and start interrupting him, too.

The Chair will be very impartial and I shall treat the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, in the same fair manner as anyone else. Please proceed.

The Acting Chairman will be very impartial. I am quite sure that is the case.

We have a multiplicity of tribunals of inquiry that have cost multifarious millions of euro. While they had to be set up in the first place by the Houses of the Oireachtas, and they have done a good job, however ponderously, if it had been possible to ventilate these issues in the Parliament, there would have been no necessity for them in the first place.

I am not going to criticise members of the legal profession for becoming involved in something for which they were extraordinarily well paid. There will be another Bill before the House to deal with that matter in the not too distant future. However, I want to express the opinion brought to my attention by the general public, to the effect that in some cases it would appear the procedures are long drawn out, self-serving, ponderous and as a result extraordinarily expensive. In those circumstances a reluctance develops towards setting up tribunals and that is where this legislation has come from — because Ministers have expressed concern as regards why tribunals of inquiry should happen. The reason is that something is wrong that the public is concerned about which has to be addressed. As a result, this is what we have.

Incidentally, there was a parliamentary inquiry, which was overturned by the courts, to which I have not referred.

However, as a Member of this Parliament, I found that a very strange situation. I know that people's reputations have to be protected, and what proceeds——

That is quite true and do not forget that this happens in the courts as well. One can be libelled in the courts, but nobody cares a peg and it makes no difference. I can go into court and in the course of giving evidence make all types of allegations, for which I will not be held responsible or made accountable. I am afraid extraordinary regulations, curtailments and restrictions are placed on Members of Parliament when they set out to go about doing something for which there is provision under the law as well. A very experienced deviation took place whereby a tribunal in course in the Oireachtas was set aside by the courts. The jury should still be out on that decision. It was a dangerous thing to do. The whole question of any interference in the process and procedures of the Oireachtas is not a matter for the courts. The courts have no function in the matter and the sooner they recognise that, the better. It may suit Government for the reverse to be the case and it may suit it to go to the courts and argue these cases, but it is not in the interest of democracy.

It was the Garda, not the Government, that challenged that particular committee's work, but it was the courts that set it aside.

It was the courts that made the decision although the Oireachtas set up the inquiry within the Houses of the Oireachtas. I was involved in the DIRT inquiry and at that time there was significant debate as to whether the Houses of the Oireachtas had the right or ability to carry out an inquiry. They had, and they did it. There were legal questions raised at the time, but some of us were of the view that we had the legal authority to conduct an inquiry within the Houses of the Oireachtas.

It would save taxpayers significant amounts of money if parliamentary inquiries, for which there is already provision, could be undertaken within the House. It is not true to say that they would be biased, because both Government and Opposition would be equally represented on such inquiries. That would be a requirement. In such cases, no accusations of political bias, good, bad or indifferent, could be made because of the make-up of the inquiry. Taxpayers could be saved significant expense if many of the issues that have arisen and been dealt with by tribunals of inquiry were referred instead to the Houses of the Oireachtas to be examined under the terms of previous sworn inquiries and using the compellability of witnesses legislation — which is already approved by the Houses — to ensure that people who do not wish to come before an inquiry are compelled to do so. This is something we should consider.

The cost of the DIRT inquiry was in the region of €900,000 and the net benefit to the Exchequer was approximately €1.4 billion. The inquiry took approximately three to four months to complete its work. Most of the inquiries we are talking about now have taken years. Members have come and gone in the House in the length of time these inquiries have taken.

Thankfully, not Deputy Durkan.

Nor the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, who is still here and as vibrant as ever.

We were spared. The almighty looks kindly on us.

There are questions to be answered about inquiries. The terms of reference and how the inquiry will take place must be set out clearly. The length of time for an inquiry and the expected cost must also be borne in mind. There is a need for a report to be provided within a reasonable time; I am aware this is provided for in the legislation. We must also recognise the need for a separation between the functions of the courts and of Parliament. We should also place greater reliance on parliamentary inquiry, which is already available within the ambit of the Oireachtas and which would cost far less than the big boys we have had previously.

Some people have raised a question as to what a bunch of red or brown necks elected to the Oireachtas would know about inquiries and how they could be expected to conduct them. There is only one way for people to find out.

There are thick necks in here, but I am not sure about red or brown necks.

They found out by what happened in the past. In my view, this is the one thing we should have learned from the past ten or 12 years. We should learn well from those years.

I must comment on the remarks made about new Deputies speaking in the Dáil. There was criticism of my colleague for coming into the House and welcoming and quoting from a report of a tribunal. If a colleague came in and criticised the tribunal's report or said it was wrong, that would be a matter of concern or disrespect. Young Deputies like myself are entitled to come in and speak. We are elected, like all other Deputies.

Young Deputies should not disrespect older Deputies either.

I suffered a similar fate last week when a member of the Fine Gael Party asked what I would know because I was only a wet week in the House. It is disgraceful that this is the attitude among senior Fine Gael Deputies. It is important to make the point that all Members are elected for the term of the Dáil and, please God, if they run again they will be re-elected. They are all entitled to speak and make their views known.

We never said they were not entitled to speak.

Perhaps we will get Deputy Durkan a slot on Ireland AM at some stage.

That is something to which I do not aspire at all.

I started my apprenticeship as a solicitor in January 1999, which coincided, almost to the day, with the setting up of what was then called the Flood tribunal. The first matter I had to deal with in the office was to photocopy discovery for the Flood tribunal for a number of clients — clients who were cleared and who made a positive contribution to the tribunal. That was my first experience of tribunals and I felt they were a waste of money in terms of the thousands of documents that had to be photocopied in discovery not just by us, but also by the tribunals, to be handed out to everybody. We saw in the latter stages of the tribunal documents relating to certain witnesses appearing in some newspapers at the weekend, in advance of them coming before the tribunal, which was damaging to the system.

I am glad this Bill is before the House. It is late in that many of the tribunals are coming to an end or have closed. However, every time the Government tried to introduce the Bill previously, it was accused of trying to shut down or stop the tribunals. There was major debate in the House on that and on the effect we would have on the tribunals by introducing the legislation, completely ignoring the fact that the legislation derives from the Law Reform Commission and the need for reform. I am unsure whether the current legislation was the last Act of the British Parliament here or the first Act of the Dáil after Independence. Regardless, it is that old and is no longer suitable.

We must change the process and ensure inquiries are more cost effective. I agree with Deputy Durkan on the issue of costs and tribunals. Some unqualified legal personnel were paid at half the rate of junior counsel in some of the tribunals, a massive fee to pay someone with no particular qualifications. That is outrageous. Barristers working on the tribunals made an absolute fortune just examining discovery. They are known in the trade as "discovery donkeys".

Professionals always make money out of it.

Discovery is what they were doing and they were paid a fortune for it. It is time that stopped. This legislation will go part of the way to stop it. The legal profession, barristers in particular, have a sin to answer for with regard to the expenses charged. It is very well to criticise it now, but while the tribunal was ongoing the Opposition had a full-time spokesman who digested tribunal transcripts each day and was ready to comment on them in detail each night on radio. The Opposition took great advantage and was delighted with the unspecified allegations being thrown around in the tribunal, allegations that had not been decided on.

Of course, the Government would never indulge in that.

Deputy Durkan complains about the ability of people to go into court, throw around allegations and libel people without consequence. They can do so, but they can also do it at tribunals. People comment on tribunals. Members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party have commented on such allegations before any decision was taken.

That is correct. Members of Fianna Fáil did so too.

Deputy Durkan should allow the Member to speak.

We adopted the correct decision, to wait until the tribunal reported, as indeed did some of Deputy Durkan's colleagues. One is criticised for standing up for what is described as the wrong thing, but it was the correct thing to do.

There was a good chance it might never have been reported if people did not comment.

We must respect the work of tribunals. We might have difficulties with them, but the Oireachtas sets them up. We must accept what they say, regardless of whether we like it. Sometimes we do not like what they say. Perhaps we will not like the conclusions of the Mahon or Flood tribunals, or perhaps the Opposition will not like them. However, we must accept what the judges say. Members on this side of the House have consistently said that we will accept the findings of the Mahon tribunal and we look forward to the publication of its report. All sides of the House will welcome that an end has come to the ridiculous costs associated with the tribunal, although the bills will probably have to paid over the next two years. These costs will have a significant impact on the public funds. Some of the barristers employed at the tribunal have worked diligently.

The poor old barristers also have to make a living.

It appears that they live well.

However, we have never heard about many others who were also paid significant legal fees. Some conducted background investigations but others merely reviewed discovery, which is time consuming work that could have been done at a much lower cost.

This Bill is being brought before the House on foot of recommendations by the Law Reform Commission, which produced a detailed report on the current operation and proposed a number of reforms. Tribunals have been a regular feature of Irish political life since the foundation of the State and have caused several Governments to fall.

Locke's Distillery.

They investigate policy issues, accidents and major disasters, allegations of corruption and the deaths of individuals where the organs of the State were involved, all of which are matters of significant public concern.

In contrast to the lengthy proceedings of, for example, the Flood tribunal, the inquiries conducted in America in 2001 on the dotcom bubble and the collapse of Arthur Anderson and other companies were completed within months. Clearly a superior system is in place in the United States. The huge level of corruption that took place within these companies was dealt with and forgotten about long ago and the individuals and firms concerned have moved on. Irish-based employees of the companies were not implicated in these wrongdoings. Unlike the dotcom inquiry, we are still awaiting a report on issues that have taken place many years ago.

Tribunals have not thus far been able to determine civil or criminal liability. They make findings of fact and if the DPP and the Garda want to pursue the matter further, they have to start their investigations from scratch. This is not adequate.

Tribunals of inquiry owe their immediate origins to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 but the Law Reform Commission traces the concept to a committee of the House of Commons which sat in 1667, or 23 years before the chaos caused to County Meath by the Battle of the Boyne.

It still causes chaos.

The committee was established to inquire into how King Charles II and his Ministers spent the taxes voted to them by the Parliament. That system, which we still utilise, is out of date and no longer works.

Irish tribunals of inquiry were established to investigate the deaths of individuals in Garda custody, the accident off Whiddy Island, the Stardust tragedy and the Kerry babies case. I spent my teenage years watching news reports on the beef tribunal.

We also remember it in this House.

While I was trying to study for the junior certificate, significant confusion arose in that regard.

It even brought down a Government.

I recently read Seán Duignan's book,One Spin on the Merry-Go-Round. Recent media reports on the relations among coalition parties are mild compared to the statements made to the press in those days. The parties now in coalition generally avoid making statements about each other.

I would not pursue that line of argument. One never knows what is coming down the road.

The Green Party was making statements last week.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh is very peaceful these days. He is not interrogating people any longer.

Deputy Thomas Byrne is entitled to make his contribution but he should not invite interruptions.

I spent my very enjoyable college years in Trinity College, Dublin, where one of my predecessors in the law faculty and the Fianna Fáil cumann was the Minister of State's brother. We spent much of our time studying High Court and Supreme Court cases which were brought as a result of issues arising in tribunals, such as Cabinet confidentiality. Not only do these tribunals have an impact on the witnesses they call, but they also influence the wider society. They have a particular effect on law students who have to study their judgments. As a young solicitor, I spent many days observing the Flood tribunal on behalf of clients but those days are over. I have now given up my career, and hopefully not temporarily or until the next election.

The functions of tribunals of inquiry include investigating events and learning from what happened. The Law Reform Commission suggests they also provide a catharsis or therapeutic exposure. That may be the case in respect of tragedies but I am not sure that the Mahon tribunal will be described as cathartic when it eventually reports.

Tribunals are established to provide reassurance. I hope the report of the Mahon tribunal will reassure people that we are trying to play our roles honestly and without fear or favour. The politicians who came before the tribunal also worked hard for their constituents and people should have confidence that their elected representatives will do the right thing without being beholden to special interests. Tribunals can also establish accountability, blame and retribution.

The Law Reform Commission suggests that political considerations form part of the functions of a tribunal and that Governments establish them for political reasons, although I am not sure I agree. The commission argues that by establishing a tribunal, Governments can be seen to be doing something.

The Deputy would know about that.

It is an expensive pastime.

Opposition Deputies may blame us now for causing the expense of the tribunals but if we did not establish them, we would be accused of hiding evidence.

The cost must be addressed.

The former Taoiseach, John Bruton, started them.

My party has established tribunals and co-operated with them. Those who were unfortunate enough to appear as witnesses, which thank God I never had to do, played their parts properly, as I am sure the tribunal will find.

Tribunals were established under the 1921 Act to investigate matters of urgent public importance. There is no doubt that the issues referred to the Mahon tribunal were important but people began to wonder about it when its inquiries veered away from its terms of reference. However, we cannot criticise the tribunal for doing its job.

The failure until now to deal with the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 is largely due to Opposition attacks. When we first introduced the Bill, newspaper headlines accused us of attempting to shut down the tribunals. This was a misleading accusation which is no longer being made. The legislation is now welcomed as an attempt to reform the procedures of tribunals. The Bill provides a modern framework which will govern all aspects of a tribunal from its establishment by the Oireachtas to the publication of its report. It will require the chairman of a tribunal to conduct the inquiry in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

Researchers for tribunals do not need to be paid hundreds of euro per day to read documents. The tribunals should employ college interns who would do this work for free. The United States Supreme Court employs interns who are certainly not paid several hundred dollars per day. The researchers are in effect photocopying documents or checking them for legal privilege. Given that only a tiny percentage of these documents will in fact be legally privileged, it is outrageous that people are paid several hundred euro per day to check them. When I worked, I did this. I was a discovery donkey when I was a solicitor's apprentice.

Deputy Byrne was paid well for it.

I was not paid well for it but the firm had to charge the client a certain amount of money, which may revert to the Exchequer if the tribunal decides to award costs. I do not know in that case because I had left the firm by then. If a good senior counsel charges a lot, that is one thing but anyone would do basic meagre work that anyone with a few brain cells could do. There would be thousands of applications for that job if it was advertised because it is money for jam. If researchers are needed, there should be a public advertisement for people who have some qualification that allows them to study documents for legal privilege. One does not need a first class degree in law or significant legal qualifications to do that job. This has disturbed me in terms of how these things have operated over the years.

What sort of person do we need to read and photocopy documents for legal privilege? It is not necessarily a lawyer. Junior and senior counsel can advise if there are any problems and I assume they play a role in any case. They could work with clerks or administrative staff, who could be paid a good wage. I am not suggesting people should work for nothing unless they are college students who seek experience. I suggested this to the Law Reform Commission when it came before the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. I suggested starting a system of internship where the commission would look for the best and the brightest from our law schools to use the resources they have for free doing summer work. Although it has some informal arrangement, I was surprised the Law Reform Commission did not have such a system set up. The tribunals could do this too, especially for the voluminous discovery work.

The main features of the Bill provide for the process of establishing, suspending and dissolving a tribunal, which sometimes must be done. It is not always the case that we are trying to shut down a tribunal. Sometimes one does not want it to continue because of the concern at the direction it is taking. Many of us were concerned at the direction of the Mahon tribunal. We let it go on but some expressed the view that it should be stopped. That did not happen and we await the report.

There is clarification with regard to granting legal representation, which always causes problems. Anyone called as a witness, some of whom would never have dreamt they would have any role in a discussion on planning in Dublin, must appear and be questioned. They are worried and need legal counsel and assistance. It is important that this is clarified at the start and that they know the financial position. In the US, people associated with the Clintons in the 1990s were almost bankrupt due to the legal costs of various investigations. I would not like to see that happening here. The Bill will hopefully make changes.

Much depends on the judge in charge of tribunals. I am not sure if there is a requirement that the chairman of a tribunal be a judge. It should not have to be a High Court or Circuit Court judge who runs a tribunal. There are plenty of people who may not be legally qualified but who could be advised by senior counsel and junior counsel for the tribunal on how to operate. Maybe we should look for people with an arbitration or mediation background who could see how these matters can be resolved without the inquisitorial manner used up to now.

I welcome this Bill. Let us get it passed and let us hope that it is a long time before we establish any more tribunals.

Is iad na príomh pointí a cuireadh trasna an fáth, go bhfuil mé ag cur i gcoinne An Bille um Binsí Fiosrúcháin. It is interesting to listen to Deputy Byrne discussing whether he was a donkey. I will leave that to someone else to discuss. He referred to costs. Is he suggesting legal secretaries should be on the minimum wage, carrying out work that is important? Given the advent of scanners and the like, which should be used more, material can be put on a disk and people can peruse it on a computer.

This legislation is welcome because we need new legislation to govern the work of tribunals. Existing legislation dates to 1921 and it is clear that spiralling legal costs and the refusal of witnesses to co-operate with tribunals must be addressed. There is much in this Bill that I would love to welcome but, as currently drafted, we will oppose this Bill.

We were not the ones who delayed this Bill, as suggested by Deputy Byrne. The reason this Bill has sat in the background since 2002 is to save the former Taoiseach's blushes while he was before the tribunal and so that he would not be seen to introduce a Bill that would ensure the process of tribunal investigations would be stifled. That is the reason for the delay. I would prefer this Bill to be withdrawn and the points I make addressed before a Bill is put to the House.

We are concerned that the proposed legislation could be used by future Governments to stop inquiries from delivering the truth to the public and the families of victims of collusion. The Bill, as currently drafted, is very similar to the Britain's Inquiries Act, which is widely viewed as having been constructed to act as a barrier to a full public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane. The president-elect of the US, Barack Obama, has supported this. Passing this Bill would jeopardise the ability of any future tribunal to uncover the truths surrounding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the murders of Seamus Ludlow, Councillor Eddie Fullerton, Martin Doherty and many others that must be addressed in full public view. It would undermine the cases of those in the Six Counties seeking inquiries into State collusion.

The British Government could point to this legislation in this jurisdiction to justify its own legislation. This Government signed an all-party demand for a full inquiry by the British authorities into the murder of Pat Finucane not so long ago. This Bill would greatly undermine that demand. The British could point to the restrictions under this new legislation to justify the Bill introduced to prevent a full inquiry into the Pat Finucane murder. British Irish Rights Watch says that its fear is that if the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill is passed, it would seriously undermine the Irish Government's support for the Finucane family and other families who deserve a proper public inquiry. Governments here and in Britain, past and present, have colluded in deep cover-ups, masking the truth and compounding the suffering of victims and their relatives. Recovering the truth is essential if the suffering is to be lessened.

Not so long ago, we organised a conference in Dublin on collusion in this State. Representatives of the families spoke at that event, which was well-attended. Speakers included those from Justice for the Forgotten and the Pat Finucane Centre, the Relatives for Justice and the families of Seamus Ludlow, Councillor Eddie Fullerton, Martin Doherty and Pat Finucane. I pay tribute to them for their courageous and enduring efforts to uncover the truth and achieve some justice for their loved ones. The Bill before us would effectively give the Government power over whether to establish an inquiry at all, its members and, crucially, its terms of reference. It would also give the Government the power to suspend or dissolve a tribunal for unlimited reasons and to prevent the publication of a tribunal's report. This is unacceptable and will not instil any confidence among the public or, more crucially, among those who have been specifically affected and who are seeking the full truth of the events the tribunal was set up to address.

I want to put on record some of our specific concerns. Section 34(7) allows the Government, acting on the opinion of a responsible, or perhaps irresponsible, Minister to direct that the report of a specified part of it not be published for a specified period or until the Government otherwise directs where such publication would not be in the interest of State security or in the interest of the State's relations with other states or international organisations.

Debate adjourned.