Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011: Second Stage

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

I wish to share my time with Deputy Niall Collins.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011 and to urge its acceptance by the House. This proposed legislation puts forward a structured, comprehensive and legally sound basis for transforming how politics is funded in our country and for making our democracy more transparent. This Bill, if accepted, will be a positive and historic new departure in how politics is conducted in Ireland. It will break the link between business and politics which has long been advocated from all sides of this House but, as yet, has gone undelivered.

All of us in public life recognise that the allegations of improper payments from businesses to politicians, which have flowed from the tribunals over the past decade, has done immense damage to the public perception of politics. It has a created a perception that big business can buy influence by financially supporting the election funds of parties or candidates. If we are to renew politics, we need to overturn this damaging impression. The reality is the only way we can conclusively do this is to ensure that campaign financing is not reliant on business or commercial interests.

The basic principle underpinning our proposals in this legislation is that elections should be funded only by people entitled to vote in them. Specifically, this Bill contains a commitment to the introduction of an effective ban on the receipt of direct donations given to political parties and candidates from businesses and corporations. This commitment is intended to deliver further openness and transparency in the funding of political parties and political activity in order to assure public confidence in the operation of the political system; to ensure the funding of political activity through smaller contributions from individuals, rather than larger contributions from businesses and corporations; and to improve the reputation of Ireland's democratic structures and electoral processes at an international level, which is very important in today's difficult and competitive economic climate.

As well as effectively ending corporate donations, our Bill will also implement key recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal relating to political funding and cut donation limits so that no large-scale individual donations are possible, meaning that no one can attempt to distort a campaign through deploying his or her own personal fortune. The Bill provides for an annual audit of all income from public or private sources paid to political parties and dramatically increases levels of transparency in political funding and expenditure.

I believe this Bill, if enacted, will put in place a fair and transparent system of regulation of political fund-raising and spending, which will begin the process of restoring confidence in our politics after a long and damaging run of controversies relating to political donations. I hope that this debate can be conducted in a constructive manner and free from point-scoring. We do not need the type of partisan debate which says Fianna Fáil had a tent in Galway and Fine Gael has one in Punchestown, while Labour coined in compulsory subs from the unions from many people who do not even support its party. These sorts of debates generate more heat than light and go to the root of why so many people are now apathetic to politics and politicians.

The debate on the Moriarty report was not a very positive occasion. The Government benches are filled with many new members elected on the basis of stirring commitments to change politics. In light of this, the complete absence of any form of self-reflection about what the report said about the last time their parties were in office was striking. That they spent most of their contributions on a report which dealt substantially about Fine Gael fund-raising and preferred to talk about Fianna Fáil was textbook old politics. If one cannot accept any criticism of one's leaders and parties how can one change anything? If we are honest with ourselves as public representatives, we should all accept that over the years, the fund-raising practices of all the main parties have done damage to politics. That is why today our debate must be about change and how we give effect to it.

For the record, I readily admit that in regard to my own party, there have been some unedifying and unacceptable abuses in regard to fund-raising and donations. I deeply regret that. I am determined that on my watch, as leader of Fianna Fáil, this will neither be tolerated nor possible. From the moment I took over as leader of my party, I made clear my intention to bring an end to corporate donations.

During the general election campaign I ensured that Fianna Fáil committed to the introduction of a Bill banning corporate donations within one month of the reconvening of a new Dáil and that we would seek all-party support for it. This is also a position that Fianna Fáil had taken in the previous Government and we had prepared a draft Bill, which we had intended to introduce in February, had an earlier than planned election not intervened.

On Monday, 11 April we published the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011 following through on our election commitment. In this respect, and in fairness it should be said, we are only following belatedly in the footsteps of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, who, to his credit, was the first political leader of one of the main parties to come out categorically against corporate donations. It was a brave stance and one in which he was ahead of his time. The position was reversed by the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, as one of his first acts when he became leader of Fine Gael. Since then, Fine Gael has engaged in significant corporate fund-raising and the Labour Party, too, has not been slow in accepting corporate donations.

Passing this Bill will create a new level playing pitch for everyone in Irish politics where corporate donations no longer impinge on our political life. This is now within our grasp.

The Fine Gael Party in its famous — or infamous — five point election plan committed to banning corporate donations, it must be said belatedly following years of vigorous corporate donation fund-raising. The Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, on behalf of the Labour Party, has made a similar public pronouncement. It is worth emphasising that because of these factors, this Bill should not be contentious, unless this House is going to revert once again to the same old charade of politics as usual.

We all agree that corporate donations should go, so the message from these benches is to get on with it. We all agree, so why delay? The only conceivable reason the Government will have for voting down this Bill tomorrow night is that we, on this side of the House, have introduced it. It is to be hoped that politics in this country is ready to move on from this stale and cynical approach.

The current stated position of all of the main parties in this House is that corporate donations should be banned. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour have all given real and concrete commitments to this effect, as did other parties and Independents on this side of the House. Each of these parties campaigned on getting rid of corporate donations during the last election. As recently as 11 April this year, the Taoiseach told Midwest Radio that banning corporate donations is a priority for his Government. This Bill will specifically test that commitment. It gives everyone the opportunity to deliver on their election promises and to walk the walk on banning corporate donations.

This Bill can and should be accepted by the Government. Especially given that the Government has said in the past that it supports all of the measures in our Bill, we expect it to let it proceed to committee. To do otherwise brings the Government's credibility into question.

After ten weeks in office, it is surprising that the Government has yet to put a single new piece of legislation before the Dáil or to publish a policy White Paper. The contrast with the first ten weeks of the new British Government is dramatic. It is about time the Dáil started enacting changes promised to the electorate rather than just talking about them. It is clear there are no principles in this Bill that the Government parties oppose, or at least were publicly opposed to at election time. If we in this House are being straight up about our commitment finally to consign corporate donations to history, there is no need to delay further. Stalling only creates further doubt about the willingness of politicians to reform and to change the way we do politics. It does this House no service and it erodes further confidence. Specifically, the Dáil should be seen to act decisively and without delay on the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal on how the regulation of political funding is organised. Hand-wringing and foot-dragging on these recommendations are not good enough. Earlier the Taoiseach made a rather vague and superficial intervention on the recommendations. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, is also on the record as expressing doubt about them. Will he clarify if there is a commitment on the Government's part to implement all the recommendations made in the Moriarty tribunal report on political fund-raising and corporate donations?

The public is right to be cynical if the body politic cannot get its act together to implement the recommendations in a reasonable timeframe. On 29 March the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the Government would act definitively and decisively on the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal, with Departments to report back in four weeks on how they should be implemented. When the Government promised action on the report's findings within one month, we took this in good faith. However, that deadline has passed by almost two weeks and, having heard nothing further but silence emanating from the Government benches, we are now bringing forward our own initiatives. The Government has missed its own self-imposed deadline for action on Mr. Justice Moriarty's recommendations. With legislation, most of which was initiated by the previous Government, piling up, Fine Gael and the Labour Party may be tempted to quietly put this issue on the backburner. That is not good enough and Fianna Fáil will not be complicit in letting the Government off the hook. The issues at stake are too important.

The Government has committed to introducing a similar Bill to Fianna Fáil's. However, we see no reason to postpone action indefinitely by waiting for its publication. The fastest way of addressing these crucial issues which go to the core of the conduct and the credibility of politics is to pass the Fianna Fáil Bill and allow it to proceed to Committee Stage. Should there be a need for technical amendments, they could be considered and deliberated upon on Committee Stage. Our objective is to ensure corporate donations would effectively be banned before the summer recess and that a formal constitutional ban would take effect before the end of the year. While the issues involved are not complex, the measures we are proposing are based on the clear legal advice that a formal ban on corporate donations could be unconstitutional, advice the Government would also have received.

The most significant part of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011 is that it would introduce a restriction on corporate donations from companies, trade unions, societies and building societies to political parties and politicians, requiring the disclosure of any donation in excess of €100. This would amount effectively to a ban. This approach has been taken because of legal advice that a complete ban would be unconstitutional. We are separately publishing a Bill for a referendum on corporate donations which could take place this year. Accordingly, section 5 of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011 states it is not possible to prohibit the making of donations by companies, trade unions, societies and building societies without a constitutional amendment since to do so would infringe their constitutional right to freedom of expression. Our constitutional amendment would allow for a more comprehensive ban on corporate donations by ensuring only citizens in the State who have the right to vote in any election or referendum would be entitled to make political donations to organisations or people involved in political campaigning. Our proposal excludes those only entitled to vote for candidates seeking election to the university seats in the Seanad. To ensure no added significant cost to the taxpayer, we are committed to proposing that the referendum be held on the same day as the Presidential election later this year. To ensure this timeframe can be met, this morning I introduced the Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill which will be published and distributed later this week.

The Government seems to have accepted that a complete ban on corporate donations would be unconstitutional since it also talks about holding a referendum to ban such donations. We urge it to follow our lead on the matter. While it is not possible to introduce an outright ban on corporate donations until a referendum on the matter is held later in the year, the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011 proposes to bring greater transparency to the way in which such donations are made, while also making it significantly more difficult for them to be made. Section 5 provides that all corporate donations over €100 would have to be declared within 14 days, authorised by a general meeting and registered with the Standards in Public Offices Commission, SIPO. It would also ensure any donation by a company or trade union exceeding €100 in value would be difficult to make and extremely transparent. First, the company would have to apply to the SIPO to be registered as a "donating company" or a "donating trade union". It would have to provide it with full details of the organisation, membership and shareholding of the company and have secured support for the donation through a vote of its members or at a general meeting. If a donation was subsequently made which could not exceed €2,500 to a political party, the Bill requires that any donation in excess of €100 in value would have to be published in the company's accounts.

Section 5 would also introduce a new and welcome provision into electoral law, based on the recommendations contained in chapter 62.12.vii of Mr. Justice Moriarty's report. A company would be required to publish in its accounts details of any government contracts entered into or that it intended to enter into at the time of the making of the donation where the contracts exceed €1,000 in value. This provision is designed to ensure transparency. This builds on another important Moriarty tribunal recommendation, namely, that a donor should be obliged to identify any relevant financial, commercial or other interests if donations exceed a certain threshold. This would include identifying any government contracts or involvement in procurement processes. This requirement is not simply limited to the company but also includes its directors, shadow directors or significant shareholders. Section 6 would ensure failure to comply with these requirements would be a criminal offence, punishable on summary conviction by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding €5,000.

The Bill provides for a major reduction in both the levels at which donations to political parties, third parties and candidates must be disclosed, as well as a reduction in the maximum allowable donations. As well as drawing on Mr. Justice Moriarty's recommendations, the Bill draws upon recommendations made both by the Council of Europe and the SIPO. In 2009 the Council of Europe group of states against corruption, of which Ireland is a member, undertook an evaluation study of Ireland's political system, specifically examining the issue of party funding. The report makes a series of recommendations to enhance transparency and improve controls in the funding of political activity in Ireland. They include a recommendation that all registered political parties should prepare independently audited accounts that would be made public in a timely and accessible way. It is also recommended that consideration be given to lowering the current disclosure threshold to an appropriate level, although a precise figure is not specified. These recommendations from the Council of Europe are covered in the Bill. By passing it, we can do our reputation some good. The Government should be cognisant of this in its deliberations on the Bill.

Several issues addressed in the Council of Europe group's report were also the subject of recommendations by the SIPO when it addressed the issue of disclosure thresholds: "If the intention of the legislation is to provide for transparency and openness in relation to party funding and expenditure, then it is not achieving this aim". In regard to these and other recommendations, key changes contained in the Bill include reducing the maximum allowable individual donations to political parties and third parties from €6,348 to €2,500, with the level at which these must be publicly declared to fall from €5,078 to €1,000. It would reduce the maximum allowable donation to a candidate from €2,539 to €1,000 in any one year, with the level at which these must be publicly declared falling from €634 to €500.

The Bill would introduce an amendment to section 23A of the Electoral Act 1997, based on one of the recommendations in the Moriarty tribunal report on political funding which identified a problem where one donor made a series of donations all under the declarable threshold. The amendment would provide that where a donor made a donation in the same year to two or more persons of the same party, these would be treated as one donation to a political party or third party, ensuring no more than €2,500 could be donated in total per annum by a donor.

Another key Moriarty tribunal recommendation stated political donations should be disclosed in a reasonable timeframe following an election. Accordingly, the Bill would require the publication of donation statements within 25 days of polling, as opposed to the current arrangement of 58 days for unsuccessful candidates and until 31 March of the following year for successful candidates.

This Bill provides for SIPO to audit the accounts of political parties each year, with the income and expenditure account, balance sheet and donations statement to be published. A further recommendation by Mr. Justice Moriarty was that SIPO shall publish a record of all donations received by a political party, which shall include the size and amount of all donations and whether the identity of the donor is publishable or not. This will ensure that all income of political parties is disclosed to SIPO. This will also apply to Independent candidates.

I believe that the measures as set out in this Bill are necessary, appropriate and desirable. They will put in place a strong foundation for a political system in Ireland that is, in Mr. Justice Moriarty's words, "not subject to the invisible or disguised influence of powerful individuals or entities" as well as ensuring a new "measure of transparency and openness to scrutiny [which] is essential". I want to conclude by reading the following insightful and wise words into the record of the House:

All over the world, it is recognised that financial support from business to politicians is perceived by the public to have one purpose [namely] the securing of commercial advantage. Claims that such donations are made from disinterested motives are simply not believed. As the lurid tribunal scandals play out before our eyes, one thing is clear. We cannot restore politics until the perceived link between political contributions and public policy is broken.

These words were spoken by the current Minister for Finance in 2001. I sincerely urge the Government to accept this Bill and to help us to finally begin to restore politics and to break the perception of a link between political contributions and public policy.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to tonight's debate on this important issue. It is fair to say that as political practitioners we all know our fair share about fund-raising. It is important the debate this evening and tomorrow evening is held in a constructive manner. We must impress upon the wider public at every available opportunity that politics and the practice of politics and funding of political parties is necessary. Political parties and campaigns do not run on fresh air. However, we must in this regard try to achieve a balance which will reinstate confidence in the profession of politics which has, during the past number of years, taken a severe denting. We all partake from time to time in exercises with the various third level institutions and in other forms of research. Often the focus of questionnaires circulated to us by the institutions and other researchers focus on the standing of politicians, politics and political parties. We need to ensure a collective approach on this issue within the House.

I have been a Member of this House since 2007. I believe too often a partisan approach is taken on issues common to all of us. With the exception of the Independents, all Members of this House are members of political parties of one shade or another. As I said earlier, it is fact of life that political parties must fund-raise. If we are to have active and interactive politics the profession must be put on a sustainable footing, while ensuring the public remains confident everything is being done in a proper manner.

Deputy Martin in proposing the Second Stage reading of this Bill referred to the Moriarty tribunal. It behoves all of us in this House to take seriously Mr. Justice Moriarty's recommendations. The Moriarty tribunal sat for many years, culminating in the recently published report which was debated at length in this House a few weeks ago. Given the number of years for which the tribunal sat, the detail of what was investigated and how the tribunal went about its business in following the money trail, we must take seriously Mr. Justice Moriarty's recommendations. Whether through the Bill before us or by way of other legislation, these recommendations must be implemented. The wider public expects that. There has been fair criticism of the tribunals in terms of the length of time taken to come to their recommendations. However, cost and time aside, it behoves all of us to act.

There has been too much populism and political point scoring in this House down through the years in regard to the Galway tent, Punchestown or, in respect of the Labour Party, trade union alignment. There is in place legislation which provides for the accounting and recording of moneys of particular events. The fact is that all political parties and candidates engage in fund-raising exercises and activities. However, we must ensure a common approach in terms of how we go about this, which is seen to be, and is, above board and must do so in a fair and balanced manner. In this regard, we need to consider broadening the base of political financial support. The recent Obama campaign included the targeting of a large number of people to donate one or two dollars, thus allowing people to take ownership of their political parties for a small fee, which is a good way to get involved. It is better for parties to do this rather than being seen to be aligned to big business.

All political parties have operated various fund-raising mechanisms down through the years, regardless of whether one believed them to be right or wrong. Aligned to whatever legislation is introduced must be a code of practice. I do not wish to engage in political point scoring but I recall a friend of mine who is a Fianna Fáil councillor in business in the southern half of the country receiving a letter from a fund-raiser in the Labour Party, who is now a Minister. It was a cold calling letter sent to him because he was on a register of business directories. Is it right that my party or any other can spray correspondence in all directions seeking support because they may, according to opinion polls, be the next parties in Government?

Constitutional issues arise and as such we will have to hold a referendum to provide for a complete ban on corporate donations. It will be important that a commonsense approach is taken to this matter. In the absence of a referendum and anything that cannot be legislated for, all political parties should consider signing up to a code of practice. This idea could be first discussed by the party Whips.

The Bill seeks greater involvement of SIPO relating to corporate donations, which I support. The notion of companies who intend donating having to apply to go on a register of potential donors for political purposes is a good idea. Too often, there has been hard evidence and anecdotal evidence that companies donate to individuals and political parties to gain competitive advantage. From that point of view, I support the Bill. I welcome its timely publication and ask that the Government parties take cognisance of it and expedite it. We are at a crossroads in this country. We have moved on from the election and this is a new start for everybody, including the Government. The people rightly want us to take whatever measures are within our ability to promote and re-instill confidence in the political system. I believe that is paramount.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá faoin ábhar fíor-thábhachtach seo. I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this issue.

I am disappointed the Government cannot accept the Second Stage of this Bill. If it did accept the Bill, it would have six months to replace it with a Government Bill. This would put a time limit on the Government's efforts. Much work has been done already on this Bill, much of it during the term of the previous Government. Contrary to constant media reports, there was no difficulty in the Fianna Fáil Party with dealing with this issue. We agreed it had to be dealt with, but we had to deal with some legal issues which have been well outlined today.

Laws should not be there to trip people up. We have all read historical accounts of how the innocent were caught and the guilty got away because the law was so complex that ordinary people did not understand it. It is time we simplified and codified this legislation in a new way. Even the fact that the monetary limits are in odd amounts, because they were set in the days of the Irish pound, needs to be dealt with.

I have always had a slight reservation about banning corporate donations completely. This is because of something that happened once, totally innocently. An event was being organised locally with a subscription of €100. That is not a huge amount of money in any person's language. I happened to notice that one of the cheques was in the name of an individual. The person had a private business and, obviously, wrote the cheque on the company account, because "Teo." was written after the individual's name. It would take a fairly sharp person to realise that it was, technically, a corporate, and not a private, donation. That is the kind of tripping up of an innocent action that we must avoid.

My preoccupation was never with whether a donation came from a corporate or private source but with the amount of money involved. The Bill makes very good steps in that regard. For example, it proposes reducing the total amount one can give to a party to €2,500 and the amount above which one would have to publish to €1,000. The maximum donation from an individual would be €1,000 and the amount above which one would have to publish would be €500. These are modest amounts of money and are realistic. No matter how little a party receives, it must account for it in its donation statement. Therefore, this is a step in the right direction. It is balanced, as it must be.

On the other hand, we all go to party meetings. Someone might pay a membership fee of €5 or put €20 in the bucket at a church gate collection. When Fine Gael recently had their national collection, Fianna Fáil people coming out the church would not pass the Fine Gael collectors without putting a few euro in the bucket. I often saw Fine Gael people putting money in our bucket, because they respected people's involvement in politics and were mature about what was going on. The idea that one would have to declare every euro donated, which seems to be the demand in the media, is unrealistic. The idea that someone who throws a fiver into a bucket is likely to hugely influence the political system is bizarre.

Therefore, we need limits under which a declaration is not required. What we propose is reasonable. I would have no problem declaring every donation. I do not take political donations. The last €50 euro went into my political donations statement account five years ago. That is my decision. It is how I operate. On the other hand, I have, quite legitimately, passed money on to the party that was given to me for the party. The limits we propose are operable and reasonable.

Another issue must be dealt with. The difficulty of multiple donations can arise, especially with people who have their own personality and a good number of companies. Such a person could try to circumvent the law by giving large sums of money to several parties, spend quite a bit of money keeping in with all sides and donate to the very limit. That type of multiple donation should be dealt with forthwith, and it is addressed in the Bill.

I would like to touch on the issue of the publication of the accounts of political parties. Our own party, for some reason I can never understand, traditionally has not published all its financial affairs. Whatever justification there might have been in times gone by, and I do not know what it was, it is not justifiable today. We live in a totally different atmosphere. The idea that all political parties would publish their accounts is reasonable and practical. I have one caveat, being practical about this issue. Most of us have a central party, and it should publish its accounts. We also have local branches. In my constituency there are 80 branches — we call them cumainn — eight comhairlí ceantair and a comhairle dáil cheantair. One must multiply that across the country. How could a party get down to every last fiver given to a local branch and get it all together in some super account? I do not know how good other parties are at getting their guys to fill in all the fivers donated at the AGM. We normally charge a fiver. In the midlands I know it is often more, because they are richer than we are in the west.

We are poor too.

We need to deal with this practical issue. I often ask our European colleagues to put some kind ofde minimis clause in legislation. It is easy to include a de minimis measure to deal with this small local issue, which in no way influences anything at a national level. We should ensure that is provided for.

We must consider the issue of referendums and interest groups. I have no problem fighting elections with professional politicians who are fighting by the same rules as myself. I have never spent big money because I believe the best way to win an election is through the hard slog of volunteer workers. There is no way of buying an election that matches getting a big team of committed people together and doing the work. On the other hand, it is wrong if campaigning groups, in referendums or otherwise, can spend huge sums of money from sources they never declare and fight very well-financed campaigns against professional politicians and parties who have been fighting with transparent and limited resources.

Things happened in the past that should not have happened. Tarring everyone with the same brush is wrong. Most politicians and parties have acted honestly and fairly. When people start pointing the finger at individuals, I am reminded on an Irish seanfhocal: an té atá thuas óltar deoch air; an té atá thíos buailtear cois air; an té atá saor chaithfeadh sé cloch. They toast him who is up; to him who is down they give a kick; and let him who is free throw a stone. The implication is clear. There are many ways, beyond money, of not playing fair in politics.

Money was wrongly used in the past. I will not point a finger but it may have been used to influence decisions. I never collected enough money to be influenced by anyone and no one ever came to me, in all my life as a Minister, and said I would have to do this or that because certain people had contributed. I do not know, and no one ever intimated to me, who gave money to my party. I never saw donations as influencing decisions. There is a possibility, however, that it could exercise influence. Perhaps it did, and we will leave to do so those who have been appointed to decide those things. If donating money influenced decisions, then it must be stopped. We must have limits that put influence off limits.

Let us not fool ourselves. Human beings are creative in how they get their way. At times, we are all prone to other kinds of political dishonesty that are equally wrong. There is the dishonesty of promising things we know we can never fulfil and of buying elections with promises. I have often said in Galway that if, at an election time, someone proposed to build a bridge from Connemara to America, there are very few politicians who would not promise to do it. They would say: "Fine, lads, whatever you want me to sign up for." They would know they would renege on the promise afterwards because it was not possible to do what was promised. Let us be honest about it — that is corrupting of politics. We have had elections where promises were made when it was known at the time by the people who made them that they could never be fulfilled.

I wish to raise a final issue which came to my attention when, along with my colleagues, I decided not to take the ministerial severance pay. I made an inquiry as to whether I could donate some of the money I was foregoing to the party. I was told by the authority that if I gave more than €5,000, it would be a political donation, although it was a legitimate sum to which I was entitled from the State and which I wanted to pass on to the party of which I am a member and a public representative. That response was fair enough, so I decided to leave the money in total to the State as it was the simplest thing to do.

However, I have heard politicians in this House boast that they only take the average industrial wage, and I understand those people have the full amount of their wages put through the books of the Houses. Somebody needs to explain to me how they manage to make donations I could not make.

It is a good point.

If people are boasting they are doing something, we should know how they are doing it. I would have loved to give that kind of money to Fianna Fáil, which could badly do with it at present. However, I was told that while I could take the money myself and pay tax on it, if I donated more than €6,350 a year, it was a political donation over the limit and I was not allowed to do it. I could spend it on myself but I could not give it to the party.

At the outset, I acknowledge that the Bill contains some good and welcome proposals and I would not take issue with a number of the points made by Deputy Ó Cuív. However, in many respects the Bill is too limited and narrowly focused. It also contains a number of flaws that would make some of its intended provisions unworkable. The Government has a more ambitious programme for the reform of political funding arrangements and we will, therefore, be opposing this Bill.

I am somewhat surprised by the speed at which this Bill has been brought forward. Notwithstanding what Deputy Ó Cuív said, there was ample opportunity for the previous Administration not only to publish a Bill, as Fianna Fáil has now done, but to have it enacted and implemented. Clearly, this did not happen during the lifetime of the previous Administration.

However, rather than focusing on what should have been, I want to talk about what is going to be. I want to deal specifically with what the Government will do to radically overhaul politics and Government work. Our plans for reform are set out in the programme for Government, which we are already implementing.

Provision is made in the Government's legislation programme for the current Dáil term for the publication of an electoral (amendment) (political funding) Bill. This Bill will amend the Electoral Acts so as to implement political funding commitments set out in the programme for Government. Work is currently under way on its preparation and I expect draft legislation will be published in a matter of weeks.

On matters related to the reform of the funding and operation of politics, the programme for Government makes the following commitments. We will introduce spending limits for all elections, including presidential elections and constitutional referendums, including for a period in advance of scheduled local, European, general and presidential elections. We will significantly reduce the limits on political donations to political parties and candidates to €2,500 and €1,000, respectively, and require disclosure of all aggregate sums above €1,500 and €600, respectively. We will introduce the necessary legal and constitutional provisions to ban corporate donations to political parties. Our open government legislation will also establish an electoral commission to subsume functions of existing bodies and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Public funding for political parties will be tied to the level of participation by women as candidates achieved by those parties.

The Government is serious about changing the way politics is conducted. Although we have been in office for just over two months, tangible actions have already been taken. Last week, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, announced decisions taken by Government to deliver real and tangible political reforms in regard to other commitments outlined in the programme for Government. These decisions include changing the terms of reference of the constituency commission to facilitate a reduction in the number of TDs. A constituency commission is due to be established upon the publication of the 2011 census preliminary results, which are due in June. That commission will report within three months of the publication of final census results in 2012.

It also includes the reduction of the presidential election spending limit from €1.3 million to €750,000 and a reduction in the amount that candidates can be reimbursed for expenses from €260,000 to €200,000. This demonstrates the Government's commitment to show restraint in all aspects of spending involving public life and our belief that we need to start at the very top. In all walks of life, we have to do more with less, and that applies to political parties and politicians as much, if not more, than anyone else.

The Government has also decided that Dáil by-elections should be held within six months of a vacancy occurring. Democracy and the holding of elections are a right. They should not be regarded as an inconvenience to be avoided and it should not be in the gift of the Government of the day to decide if and when by-elections are held. Separate legislation is currently being prepared to give effect to these changes, which follow other reforms already introduced by the Government including the removal of the automatic entitlement to ministerial cars and drivers, the cutting of the pay of the Taoiseach, Ministers and Ministers of State, and the removal of severance pay for Ministers. We are a Government in a hurry and we have a lot to do. However, we also want to do things right and to implement legislation that will work.

I will now address some of the measures contained in the Bill. Provision is made to place restrictions on corporate donations from companies, trade unions, societies and building societies. However, there are a number of other corporate structures that have not been included. For example, no provision is made for donations made by partnerships, unincorporated bodies, trusts, sole traders and non-governmental organisations. As it stands, the Bill before us would allow a number of corporate-type bodies to continue to give political donations, while restricting others. In its present form, the Bill would not work in practice as it does not address all donors who are not individuals.

The Bill provides for a reduction in the level of donations that may be accepted by political parties from €6,348 to €2,500, and by candidates and elected members from €2,539 to €1,000. The Bill provides for the level at which donations must be declared to be reduced from €5,078 to €1,000 for political parties and from €654 to €500 for candidates and elected members.

The provisions contained within the Fianna Fáil Bill represent a change from what was being proposed by that party during the recent general election, with greater reductions now being advocated. In fact, three separate positions have been adopted by the party opposite since the beginning of this year. There was the position taken when in government, then the position taken during the general election campaign and, now, the position has been modified again in the Bill before us. Each change of policy has been an advance on the previous position, and it would be churlish not to welcome this. However, I am of the view that the programme for Government and our own plans for legislative change on political funding are more comprehensive, better thought through and will be more effective in providing the improvements that the people of Ireland want to see.

The Bill before us would require the publication of donation statements within 25 days of polling by unsuccessful candidates and by 31 March of the following year for successful candidates. This change purports to address a recommendation in the Moriarty tribunal report for information on donations to be made available in real time. However, the measure put forward would not appear to provide any demonstrable improvement on current arrangements.

The Fianna Fáil Bill provides that the Standards in Public Office Commission would audit the accounts of political parties each year, with the income and expenditure account, balance sheet and donations statement being published. This provision does not appear to have sufficient regard to existing arrangements that are in place for reporting by political parties to the Standards in Public Office Commission. Currently, political parties are required to submit audited financial statements in respect of State funding received under the Electoral Acts and through the party leader's allowance. On the one hand, we would still have parties continuing to prepare these audited statements that the Standards in Public Office Commission would examine, while on the other hand the Standards in Public Office Commission would also be carrying out a further separate audit. I am not dismissing the proposal put forward, but clearly we need to avoid duplication and overlap and we need to target the resources of the Standards in Public Office Commission in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

Fianna Fáil has stated it will extend the supervision of the Standards in Public Office Commission to independent expenditures in referendums. The Government agrees that change is needed in the regulation of spending and donations at referendums, as outlined by Deputy Ó Cuív. Particular problems have previously been identified in regard to the regulation of spending and the sources of income of groups campaigning at referendums. I refer in particular to a report prepared in March 2009 by the Standards in Public Office Commission on the operation of provisions applying to third parties at the first referendum on the Lisbon treaty in 2008. Third parties are typically campaign groups and are defined under section 22(2)(aa) of the Electoral Act 1997 as a person other than a registered political party or a candidate at an election which accepts a donation exceeding €126.97 in value.

Referendum campaigns involve decisions on matters that have significant and far-reaching implications for the country. It is important that citizens know how much money is being spent by campaign groups and from where they get their money. However, the actual provision in the Fianna Fáil Bill amounted to a relatively minor amendment in the definition of what constitutes a third party, and a referendum would appear to be wholly insufficient to achieve anything of substance. It will take much more than inserting a few lines into the Electoral Acts to bring about effective reform in this area.

The explanatory memorandum published with the Bill states that it seeks to apply equivalent obligations in regard to financial transparency to Independent or non-party candidates as apply to political parties. It is doubtful whether the measures in the Bill would have this effect. The provisions in the relevant section of the Bill appear to relate more to third parties than Independent candidates. In short, although the stated intention of the Fianna Fáil legislation in this area appears to be clear, the measures to achieve the policy objectives do not appear to match up. The same point can be made, specifically in regard to this measure, but also more generally in regard to the Bill as a whole.

In making these observations and criticisms of the Bill, I acknowledge the work done in its introduction and acknowledge the understanding on the part of Fianna Fáil that more needs to be done to the Bill in any event to amend it and make it workable in practice. The press release issued by Fianna Fáil when it published this Bill on 11 April states: "We believe that the Government should support this Bill and allow it to go forward to Committee where amendments can be made". However, this Bill is too incomplete and not sufficiently comprehensive and for that reason the Government cannot support it.

An important context for the Government in the introduction of its legislation to reform political funding is the recent report on the tribunal into payments to politicians and related matters, more commonly referred to as the Moriarty tribunal report. The private Members' Bill before the House purports to address recommendations made in the tribunal report albeit in a relatively limited and selective manner that lacks co-ordination. It is important to re-cap on what is actually in the Moriarty tribunal report. In line with its terms of reference, the tribunal put forward observations on the subject of political funding and its report makes 12 specific recommendations in this area. In paragraph 62.07 it is acknowledged that considerable advances have been made in the governance of political donations since the matters into which the tribunal has inquired arose. The report mentions the Electoral Act 1997 introduced by the Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left Government, the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 and the legislation which established the Standards in Public Office Commission but under current regulations the large-scale donations that were the subject of the tribunal's inquiries could not now be accepted. The maximum donation that can now accepted by a political party is €6,348, while the maximum that can be accepted by a politician or candidate is €2,539. The programme for Government commits to reducing these amounts to €2,500 and €1,000 respectively.

The Moriarty tribunal recommendations represent a substantial contribution to consideration of policy in this area. They are made in a report that lays bare the failings in the system that existed at the time. Although rules and regulations have been changed since the 1990s, some of the failings identified still prevail. The potential continues to exist for undue influence to arise from the corporate funding of politics, to the detriment of the wider public good. In addition to the potential for corruption, the perception that there is some form of mutually beneficial relationship between politics and business can have a corrosive impact on public trust. This is based on the view that the corporate funding of politics contributes to a public belief that those who pay can exert inappropriate influence in the formation of policy.

Therefore, the recommendations in the tribunal report are timely, as the Government is embarking on a major programme of legislative reform to improve governance and Government. Every recommendation is being considered in the preparation of this legislation. The programme for Government already commits to making radical changes to how politics is funded and operated here. On the most crucial issue in this area, the programme for Government goes beyond what the Moriarty report was in a position to recommend. The report states:

It may be observed in passing that, ultimately, the only cast iron guarantee against corruption and abuses in the political system, and against the risk of distortions in the democratic process that may arise from the private funding of political parties and political representatives, would be to provide for a complete ban on private funding and, as in some other European countries, to fund political parties entirely from the public purse.

The desirability and feasibility of such a general ban, having regard also to any constitutional law issues that might arise and to the national financial exigencies, is pre-eminently a matter for the Oireachtas and for public debate and consideration, and falls outside the remit of this Tribunal, whose focus under its terms of reference is on political funding from undisclosed sources.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to address corporate donations, to substantially reduce the level of donations that can be accepted and to reduce significantly the level at which donations must be disclosed. It may also be noted that the recommendations and views put forward in the tribunal report have some similarity with recommendations made by other bodies.

Ireland is a member of the Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption, GRECO. In 2009, this body undertook an evaluation study of Ireland's political system, specifically examining the issue of party funding. Among the recommendations made was that all registered political parties should prepare independently audited accounts that would be made public in a timely and accessible way. It also recommended that consideration be given to lowering the current disclosure threshold for political donations. This report recommended the extension of the election spending control period, pointing out that expenditure outside of this period is not disclosed. Stronger investigative powers for the Standards in Public Office Commission are also advocated. Similar recommendations have been made by the Standards in Public Office Commission. Over the years, the commission has raised a number of concerns about the effectiveness of certain aspects of political funding legislation and has put forward specific recommendations for change. The commission's 2009 annual report, published in July 2010, is a case in point. Chapter Three of the report deals with the commission's responsibilities under the Electoral Acts. The report notes on page 32, that,"while the current system of regulation of political funding has some strong features, there are other fundamental measures which are yet to be developed". The same annual report also summarises the most significant proposals from previous reports of the commission in an appendix, along with updates on any progress which may have taken place in the meantime.

It is clear from the extensive and detailed range of recommendations made by the Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption, the Standards in Public Office Commission and, more recently, the Moriarty tribunal, that there is no shortage of analysis on the shortcomings in Ireland's arrangements for the funding of politics. The one thing that has been lacking is a willingness to act. That may have been the case before but is so no longer.

The Moriarty tribunal was set up at a time when politics and political parties were predominantly funded from private sources. It is important to acknowledge the extent to which the taxpayers and citizens have taken on much of this burden in the interim. Considerable State resources are now committed to supporting the operation of our political system. There are three direct sources of public funding. Qualifying political parties can receive funding under section 18(1) of the Electoral Act 1997, whose provisions were introduced in 2001. To qualify, a political party must be included on the register of political parties and must have obtained at least 2% of the first preference vote at the preceding Dáil general election. Based on the most recently available information, the total funding dispersed through this source in 2009 was €5,438,385. This funding is used for the general conduct and management of a party's affairs, and cannot be used for electoral purposes. Each qualifying political party must submit an annual statement of expenditure of this funding and an auditor's report to the Standards in Public Office Commission.

The party leaders' allowance provides for the payment of an annual allowance to the parliamentary leaders of a qualified political party in respect of expenses arising from the parliamentary activities of their party, including research. To qualify, a party must have at least one member in the Dáil or Seanad. An allowance is paid to the party leader in respect of each member of the Dáil and Seanad. The combined total received by all party leaders through this source in 2009 was €8,164,879. Provision for these payments is made in the Oireachtas Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act 2001. Each party leader must submit an annual statement of expenditure of this funding and an auditor's report to the Standards in Public Office Commission.

The Electoral Act 1997 provides for the reimbursement of election expenses to qualifying candidates who achieve one quarter of the quota at a Dáil, European Parliament or presidential election. The maximum amounts that can be reimbursed to a candidate are €8,700 for a Dáil election and €38,092 for a European election.

In the 2007 Dáil general election, some 304 candidates qualified for reimbursement payments and this amounted to €2,368,013 in total. In the 2009 European Parliament elections, a total of 26 candidates qualified for reimbursement payments and amounted to €981,860 in total. Up to now the maximum reimbursement in a presidential election was €260,000. This is to be reduced to €200,000 for the 2011 presidential election.

Apart from direct sources of funding there are indirect supports. Candidates at a Dáil, European or presidential election are entitled to send one item of post free of charge to each elector. The total cost of this provision in the 2009 European elections was €10,980,518, which was paid from the Exchequer to An Post. There were further costs totalling €540,669 in respect of the two Dáil by-elections held on the same day. The estimated cost of the facility for the 2011 Dáil general election is €8.4 million. Other indirect supports include free air time for party political broadcasts.

The State pays for much of the administrative apparatus of political parties through the funding mechanisms I have described. When discussing legislation to reform the funding of politics, we are predominantly discussing how parties and candidates fund their election campaigns and contributions made to pay for the running of election campaigns. This is why it is so important that political funding is more open and transparent with regulatory measures in which the people can have confidence.

The Moriarty tribunal recommendations that I have already described in some detail have as their main focus the funding of politics and political parties. This was in line with the tribunal's terms of reference.

Another crucial aspect in the funding of politics forms part of the Government's plans. This was referred to already by Deputy Ó Cuív and concerns spending at elections and referendums. The programme for Government contains a commitment to have spending limits for all elections and constitutional referendums, including for a period in advance of scheduled local, European, general and presidential elections. Given the proximity of the presidential election, the Government has moved to reduce the spending limit from €1.3 million to €750,000. The legislation for this is being prepared. Spending limits apply at Dáil, European Parliament, local authority and presidential elections. At each election a candidate must submit a statement of election expenses and statutory declaration and must stay within the spending limits or potentially face prosecution. However, as I have already noted, no equivalent spending limit applies at a constitutional referendum or a requirement to submit a declaration of expenditure by those involved in a referendum campaign.

At the moment the spending limits in force apply only to the period immediately leading up to an election. At the recent general election, the spending period commenced on the date of dissolution of the Dáil, which was 1 February 2011. The election was held on 25 February 2011, candidates had to declare their election spending during that 25-day period and it had to be under the legal spending limit. Ordinarily, spending on election materials used before 1 February would not count when calculating a candidate's election spending. A similar provision applies in respect of elections to the European Parliament in which the spending period commences on the date the order appointing polling day is made. A spending period of 38 days applied at the 2009 European elections. At local elections a spending period of between 50 and 60 days applies.

Concerns have been expressed that spending by candidates and parties before the election period is not captured under the current arrangements. I noted earlier that this point has been raised by the Council of Europe's Group of States Against Corruption. The Standards in Public Office Commission has also highlighted this as an issue which should be addressed, as has the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in an election-monitoring visit to Ireland in 2007. As the commitments contained in the programme for Government make clear, the current arrangements that apply to spending at elections and referendums must be improved and we are committed to this.

I have outlined some of the key decisions on political reform that the Government has already taken. The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill is being drafted for implementation during the current Dáil session. There will be no delay or foot-dragging. As the Government's legislation programme states, the Bill will "amend the terms of reference for a constituency commission to provide for a report on Dáil constituencies to be made based on a reduced number of TDs in Dáil Éireann". It will also reduce the spending limits for presidential elections and legislate for the holding of Dáil by-elections within six months. Separately, the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 is to be published during the current Dáil session. As I have noted, the Bill will amend the Electoral Acts to implement political funding commitments set out in the programme for Government. The electoral commission Bill is also on the Government's legislation programme and is to be enacted during the lifetime of this Dáil.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an electoral commission to subsume functions of existing bodies and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. This is another part of the Government's wider commitment to a radical overhaul of the way Irish politics and government work. An electoral commission will be an important element in a reformed and revitalised electoral system. In developing proposals for the establishment of an electoral commission, the Government is aware that there is extensive knowledge and expertise in electoral matters on all sides of the House. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution, which published a report on the electoral system in July 2010, stated that it strongly supported the establishment of an independent electoral commission. Those of us on this side of the House look forward to the continued input of Members in the implementation of the programme for Government commitment to establish such a body. It is noteworthy that during the recent general election campaign all the major political parties put forward policy proposals to set up an electoral commission. While there is broad agreement on the principle that an electoral commission should be established, setting up this new structure will be a major body of work and it needs to be done right. Issues forconsideration include international best practice, the commission's structure and functions, to whom it should report, its relationship with other bodies currently involved in electoral administration and the approach to be followed in respect of the extensive legislation that will be required.

In addition to determining what areas of responsibility the electoral commission will have, we must consider practical matters such as its operational structure, staffing arrangements, budget, reporting arrangements and performance indicators. We have no wish to end up duplicating tasks currently performed elsewhere. The new electoral commission will have to be effective in the performance of its tasks and must be cost efficient. It should improve accountability and enhance the efficiency of elections. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is giving consideration to how the necessary measures to establish an electoral commission can be advanced.

The Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill is a useful contribution to the national debate taking place on the role of politics and how it is supported and funded. It would appear to address some of recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal, albeit in a relatively uncoordinated fashion. Similar provisions to those contained in the programme for Government have been included, especially in respect of reducing the donation limits and the thresholds for their declaration. The provisions for dealing with third parties at referendums are relatively limited and in their present form are unlikely to have a significant positive effect.

The principal measure in the Bill dealing with restricting corporate donations also appears not to have been fully thought through. Loopholes would allow several corporate-type bodies to continue to make political donations. Overall, the Bill lacks vision, credibility and detail. In many ways, this sums up the difference of approach between the Government and the political party opposite.

The Government's proposed approach is a good deal more comprehensive and considered. It offers a joined-up approach to reform and addresses the following — how our political institutions work, or, in many cases, how they do not work to their full potential; political funding and election spending; and the reform of electoral administration. In bringing forward draft legislation on political funding, which we intend to publish shortly, we will also have regard to recommendations made by other individuals and bodies, including the recommendations made in the Moriarty tribunal report. Our legislation will match the expectations of the people for action with legislation and policy measures that will work. It will make the system more open and transparent for the voter. Accordingly, on behalf of the Government I oppose the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Bill. At a time when the profession of politics has been besmirched by the corrupt and greedy actions of the few, it is imperative that the House moves immediately to restore confidence in the political system. Dealing with the issue of political donations is but a small step, albeit an important one, in restoring this confidence. During the past 14 years, Sinn Féin has called for legislation on corporate donations. During these 14 years, the previous Administration led by Fianna Fáil failed to respond in a positive way to those calls.

In some ways this should not come as a surprise. For the last 14 years Fianna Fáil was the party with its hand on the wheel of power, its ability to court large businesses was unrivalled and its lack of morals to do so was never in question. The Galway tent did a roaring trade, the whip arounds in Manchester were fruitful and the golf classics were plentiful.

How times have changed. After being run out of office by the people, Fianna Fáil went into a period of reflection and like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, the party has had a revelation. Of course, the fact Fianna Fáil is no longer in power and its ability to attract and court big business having diminished has more to do with this recent conversion to the Sinn Féin way of thinking on corporate donations than any sense of redemption. There will be people at home laughing to themselves at the idea of Fianna Fáil tabling this legislation when they consider the previous leaders of the party, such as Bertie Ahern and Charles Haughey. We all know what happened on their watch and the allegations of payments, mysterious amounts of sterling won on the horses and briefcases full of cash. How many of the Fianna Fáil Deputies proposing this legislation tonight knew of those goings-on and what did they do while they were Fianna Fáil members in that period? From where I am standing, they have no sense of the meaning of the word hypocrisy.

Bertie Ahern presided over a decade of Government, a Government in which the current leader of Fianna Fáil was a senior member, which saw a deepening inequality in our society and the squandering of our economic prosperity. Now Fianna Fáil has the brass neck to preach to us about credibility in politics. One has to ask why Fianna Fáil even picked this issue to debate when we consider that recent reports from the Standards in Public Office Commission repeatedly tell us the party received no donations.

According to these reports Fianna Fáil is not alone in this respect. The 2005 SIPO annual report stated that Fine Gael and the now defunct Progressive Democrats received no donations whatsoever in the course of the previous two years and that the Labour Party did not receive any donations in that year either. The 2006 SIPO annual report states that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael received no donations that year. Are we seriously expected to believe that the Christian Solidarity Party received more in political donations than Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael put together in 2006? It is preposterous and everyone listening to this debate will be chuckling at the idea.

Even more recent SIPO annual reports, such as the 2009 report, state that neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael received any donations over the limit set for disclosure. As a party, Sinn Féin has consistently been the only party to make accounts fully available to the public. We have nothing to hide in regard to where we receive our funding and how we spend it, despite accusation thrown across the House about how we raise funds for political campaigns. The challenge I set other parties in this Chamber is to do the same and not hide behind legislation that allows political parties to hide significant donations from the public.

Political parties should be obliged to publish annual financial statements. The failure to do so in the past has led to international observers viewing Ireland as suffering from high levels of what is termed "legal corruption". Previous reports from Transparency International were correct in its assertions that patronage and personal relationships have influenced political decisions and policy in Ireland. This has been to the detriment not only to Ireland's international reputation but also at a cost to Irish society.

This scourge on Irish politics and society as a whole is underpinned by Fianna Fáil's 1980s golden circle culture. Under Fianna Fáil, the last Government undermined our economy, fattened the bank accounts of big bankers and greedy developers and left critical public services such as education, transport and health under-funded and in disarray. We hear that every day in this House from the Government that has now taken the reins of power. The current Government, however, was no different when it came to developers, bankers and fattened bank accounts. We know this only too well from previous tribunal reports.

In the Six Counties, political parties are required under law to provide a full income and expenditure annual financial statement to the Electoral Commission. Sinn Féin commends this requirement and believes a similar practice should be in place in this State. Like all organisations a political party needs an income in order to cover its expenditures. The public understands that raising funds and donations are part and parcel of generating that income. Public doubt starts to creep in when political parties are not open and transparent about their financial affairs.

The issue of donations to political parties is part of a broader issue of corruption that has been endemic in Irish political life. The recent Moriarty tribunal was a stark reminder of the cosy relationship between political parties and big business. There are still unanswered questions about the Lowry affair. Why was that debacle let happen in the first place? How can we create a system where this cannot happen again? How can we create a system that will not let big business influence political decisions?

Deputy Martin has already quoted the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, who in 2001 said:

All over the world, it is recognised that financial support from business to politicians is perceived by the public to have one purpose [namely] the securing of commercial advantage. Claims that such donations are made from disinterested motives are simply not believed. As the lurid tribunal scandals play out before our eyes, one thing is clear. We cannot restore politics until the perceived link between political contributions and public policy is broken.

It is rare that I will agree with anything that the Minister for Finance has to say but he was correct on that point.

In 1997, the massive level of corporate donations to political parties emerged when a box of files that contained information on donors was, supposedly inadvertently, thrown in a skip outside the now defunct Progressive Democrats' head office during a spring clean. After the publication of the contents of that box of files by a Sunday newspaper, we got an insight into the level of political donations from big business to political parties and those of which the Progressive Democrats were in receipt. It is a pity that the cleaners in the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil head offices were not as enthusiastic in their cleaning efforts. It is one box of files l would like to see.

In the last general election campaign, buzz words were bandied about like confetti — words such as job creation, change and political reform. This came from all sides, including the current Government parties. The time for buzz words has passed and the time for legislation has arrived. The citizens of this State need to be assured that the State's decision-making process is transparent, structured and disciplined. Anything less is not good enough. These structures need to inspire confidence. We need to restore confidence in our political system because if not, all of us fail. Members of all parties on all sides of the House will be tarred with the same brush so it is incumbent on all of us to work together to bring about the changes required to inspire confidence in the political system again.

I welcome the comments by the Taoiseach during the recent debate on the Moriarty tribunal report when he said this Government will move to ban corporate donations. I welcome this Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill as a step in the right direction. However, it is very difficult to take it seriously when its author is the Fianna Fáil Party. Nevertheless, the Bill will be debated and considered by the House and we will vote on the motion tomorrow night. Regardless of the outcome of that vote, there is more work to be done. If we do not do the work in this 31st Dáil, then we will all suffer, not only as Deputies and political parties, but society as a whole. It is incumbent on all Members of the House to get this right.

I will share time with two other Deputies who will speak tomorrow night.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill. I listened to the contribution from Deputy Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil. He spoke about this opportunity to walk the walk regarding reform of the system of donations to political parties. Other speakers have alluded to the fact that after 14 years in Government and having lost an election, the Fianna Fáil leader now decides to walk the walk and put forward these proposals. He also stated that this Bill is an opportunity to consign corporate donations to history and to end the culture of corporate donations once and for all but I do not agree. It is obvious that in the past year or two, the level of donations to Fianna Fáil has dried up and this can be seen by the level of debt the party holds in the aftermath of the general election. It is probable that in the same period the level of donations coming into Fine Gael and the Labour Party has gone through the roof and has reached an historical high. It is very interesting to hear the previous speaker quoting from the annual reports of the Standards in Public Office Commission in which, amazingly, even in 2009, neither party managed to declare any donations, when even the dogs in the street knew that money was coming in. However, they did not feel free to declare any of it.

This Bill is probably a cynical exercise by Fianna Fáil to put forward this amendment to ensure the Government will vote it down tomorrow night and Fianna Fáil will gain a bit of the moral high ground for a day or two before the Government publishes its own proposals.

I listened to the Minister outlining the Fine Gael proposals in the programme for Government which also limit corporate donations. The Minister stated that current legislation prevents what used to happen in the past when large cash donations were given to party members who were able to hide them. The current legislation limits the amount of donations and imposes an obligation to report them. However, the Standards in Public Office Commission report shows it is obvious they are not being reported.

We are all in agreement that ending corporate donations is the way forward. This could be done with a Bill containing a single section declaring that no donation of any kind from an individual, a company, a co-op or a trust, could exceed €100. This would satisfy the requirements once and for all and effectively ban corporate donations. There would be no requirement for a referendum because anyone could donate up to €100 to a political party. No donation higher than this amount could be accepted and this would have the effect of banning corporate donations. Such a Bill would pass without difficulty as all sides of the House would accept it and it would achieve the desired goal of every political party to end corporate donations. There is no need for the Government to go through the rigmarole of detailed legislation because I suggest that a simple amendment to this Bill would achieve one step along the road and it could then proceed with the other changes as outlined in the programme for Government. There would be no need for a constitutional referendum, nor would the constitutional rights of any individual wishing to contribute to the political system be endangered.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 8.25 p.m. and resumed at 8.30 p.m.