I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill. It is opportune that today marks the publication of the Mahon tribunal report because it impinges directly on the provisions and culture of the Bill. In 1997 the Mahon tribunal, originally the Flood tribunal, commenced its business of inquiring into the planning history of 726 acres of land in north Dublin. Its terms of reference were extended a number of times, between 1998 and 2004. Today, after fourteen and a half years and at a cost of several hundred million euro, we have its final report. Its recommendations impinge directly on this legislation which deals with electoral expenditure, donations and contributions.
The tribunal has found that corruption affected every level of political life and that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern failed to truthfully explain the source of money. It has rejected his evidence of dig-outs. It has also found that the former European Commissioner, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, wrongly and corruptly sought donations from Mr. Tom Gilmartin, that the late Mr. Liam Lawlor accepted inappropriate and corrupt payments from Arlington plc and that Mr. Owen O'Callaghan paid €1.8 million to Mr. Frank Dunlop over ten years.
The report states that corruption affected every level of Irish political life and was allowed to continue unabated. It also draws attention to the various attacks on the tribunal by Ministers in an attempt to undermine the tribunal and to deflect it from its business. The recommendations and findings of the tribunal are far reaching and they must be taken into account in this legislation. In the wake of the report I call on serving politicians who were members of the Cabinet under the former Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, to resign and retire from public life. The report's recommendations are a devastating indictment of the conduct of political affairs in this country over a long period. Those who served in high office in those Cabinets and who are still in public life should resign and retire from public life immediately.
The Bill must be withdrawn following the report's publication and, at a minimum, redrafted on the basis of the tribunal's recommendations. I would go further than that. I will elaborate on the matter in due course. The Bill must be withdrawn and cognisance must be taken of the tribunal report's recommendations in the redrafting of the legislation.
It is important to put on record some of the general details outlined in the report about corruption in general. The report outlines that:
Corruption, in particular political corruption, is a deeply corrosive and destructive force. While frequently perceived as a victimless crime, in reality its victims are too many to be identified individually. Political corruption diverts political resources to the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many. It undermines social equality and perpetuates unfairness. Corruption in public office is a fundamental breach of public trust and inherently incompatible with the democratic nature of the State.
Those are strong words from the tribunal. The report continues: "Although the tribunal recognises that corruption is most obviously a failing of individual morality, it believes that it is also a problem of systemic failure." In other words, the operation of the political system and of public life gives rise to a culture and a ground for corruption and dishonesty. The report further states: "The tribunal is concerned that existing conflicts of interests measures do not sufficiently identify or otherwise regulate certain types of conflict of interest." The tribunal makes it clear that the conduct of affairs in this country in recent years is, in effect, a web of dishonesty and corruption. That must be tackled.
Some of the recommendations which directly impinge on the Bill are important. They deal with such issues as donations and expenditure. It is important to read some of the report's recommendations on donations and expenditure with which the legislation deals. The recommendations must be taken into account as a minimum in redrafting the legislation.
On donations, the tribunal indicates at chapter 18, 1.37 that:
There are several difficulties with the way the political finance Acts define the term "donation", namely, as "any contribution given for political purposes". In particular, whether or not a contribution is a political donation is dependent on the reasons the contribution was made rather than on the use to which it is put. Moreover, several types of contributions fall within this definition including, for example, commercial loans. The tribunal is therefore recommending that the definition of the term "donation" be amended in both the political finance Acts [such as this] so as to define a donation as "any contribution given, used or received for political purposes".
The report outlines in chapter 18, 1.41 that:
The political finance Acts limit the amount of money which an individual politician, a political party, or a third party may accept from an individual donor. The tribunal is concerned that the existing limits are too high and note that this concern is also reflected in the 2011 Bill, which lowers those limits to €2,500 in the case of donations to a political party, "accounting unit", and "third party" and to €1,000 in the case of donations to an individual electoral candidate or elected representative. While the tribunal welcomes this proposal, it notes that at the moment, there is nothing to prevent an individual donor from giving a donation to each member of a political party and the party itself. This could amount to a significant amount of money capable of giving rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. Consequently, the tribunal is recommending that an overall limit be placed on the amount which an individual may give to a political party and electoral candidates or elected representatives who are members of that party.
The report continues in the same vein in a number of areas on donations and the minimum amount of donations. In chapter 18, 1.43 the report deals with the question of expenditure between elections:
The tribunal is of the view that the existing expenditure rules suffer from a number of deficiencies from an anti-corruption perspective. First, they only cover expenditure during the electoral period. As there are no restrictions on expenditure outside that period, they do nothing to reduce the incentive to accept corrupt funding in respect of that expenditure. Secondly, few candidates meet the expenditure limits, which suggests that they are too high and therefore ineffective. Thirdly, those limits do not apply to expenditure by third parties which may serve to undermine the limits applicable to electoral candidates. Finally, they do not apply to Seanad elections [to which the tribunal says they should].
The tribunal refers specifically to the Bill in a number of areas. While the report welcomes some elements of the Bill it suggests that much more must be done. The report must be taken into account in redrafting the legislation. However, we must go further than that. Political parties must be funded through the public purse and donations must be prohibited.
Donations should be prohibited because the web between big business and politics has let the country down over the past number of years. The only way to ensure that corrupt payments are not made is to ban these payments completely and to fund political parties from the public purse. It had been said that would cost considerable amounts of money but, as we all will be aware, there are significant amounts of money being paid to political parties and individuals as we speak. It would cost no more than the existing funding to fund political parties properly in the future and to ensure the area of donations is prohibited. If one looks, for instance, at the party leader's allowance for the 12-month period since the Government took office, and this would be reflective of any year, the income from the leader's allowance was as follows: Fine Gael, €2.076 million; the Labour Party, €1.37 million; Fianna Fáil, €1.23 million; Independent TDs, €617,000; Sinn Féin, €944,000; the Socialist Party, €143,000; and People Before Profit, €143,000. As we speak, there is a total of €6.24 million of funding to political parties. The political system and political parties could be properly funded through the public purse at no additional cost over an above what is being provided by way of funding to those parties and individuals as we speak. That is what should be done because it would stop the question of corruption in future. As I stated, I hope this Bill will be withdrawn or at least redrafted on the basis of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal report. I would prefer that the parties would be funded through the public purse at no additional expense.
Before I finish, I want to move on to the question of gender quotas. Certainly, it is a welcome step in the right direction but, in truth, a minimal enough step affecting general elections only. A number of Members have already made the point that the quotas do not deal with the question of local government elections, but maybe the Minister will abolish nearly all the local authorities and feels there is not any need for quotas in that area. If we are introducing quotas at national level, then they should also be introduced at local level. Many Oireachtas Members come through the local authority system and the introduction of these quotas should be done both at national and local level.
It is unacceptable and unsustainable that one would have a situation where only 25% or 15% of 166 TDs are female when females make up more than 50% of the population. There are wider issues as well. Quotas, of themselves, will not fully address the situation in which we find ourselves. Other Members referred to the Oireachtas committee report that drew attention to a number of areas. Child care and candidate selections are two significant issues. In particular, child care is a significant issue for women candidates who have children. Of course, the less than family-friendly hours worked in this House and in the Seanad do nothing to ensure that there is a proper level of representation of women in the Oireachtas.
The culture of the political system is another area which needs to be addressed. There needs to be a general audit of all provisions on a gender basis. No doubt political parties should ensure that their Front Bench or, if they are in government, Cabinet would have the necessary representation of both genders. Certainly, women have not had such proper representation in the past.
These gender quotas, of themselves, will not solve that problem. There is a wider problem. As I stated, attention was drawn to that by the committee, which reported it involved cash, child care, confidence, culture and candidate selection. The provision is a start, but I would like to see the provision extended to local authority elections as well.
No doubt there should be a general audit in this area of Government, where it appoints members to commissions, committees or public bodies of any kind, and even in the representation of females in RTE where there is a public broadcasting authority, and the representation of women on programmes in that broadcasting authority is an issue as well.
I certainly welcome these quotas. I hope they will improve the situation significantly. It has happened in other countries. Hopefully, it will happen here as well, but it needs to be addressed in a much more fundamental way.