Before statements commence, I wish to make a brief announcement. As my predecessors have ruled in similar circumstances, while the Chair fully acknowledges that the House is about to embark on a discussion of a tribunal of inquiry report which criticises named individuals who are very much in the public domain, I ask Members to be mindful when making their contributions to take into account as far as is reasonably possible the long-standing convention of this House, namely, that Members should avoid criticising or making charges against a person outside the House as he or she is defenceless against accusations made under privilege. Standing Order 59 offers some protections and safeguards to persons in this regard. However, these are limited. It remains the case that serious allegations should not be made under privilege.
Mahon Tribunal Report: Statements
The report of the Mahon tribunal is a chronicle of betrayal, ignominy and disgrace for the individuals it names and condemns, for the system of planning in Dublin that was foully corrupted and for the Fianna Fáil Party, which more than any other party housed those who have been found to be corrupt and wanting. The tribunal took a long time and cost a lot of money, but it has got to the truth in a way that no other investigation into planning corruption has ever done. The truth has been expensive to obtain, but as we survey the damage to our economy and our society, it is clear that not having the truth has been far more costly.
The reports of the Mahon tribunal - previously the Flood tribunal - have far exceeded what many thought possible when the tribunal was established. They set out clearly how the planning process in Dublin in the 1980s and 1990s was undermined and corrupted by a number of developers who sought to enrich themselves and by a number of councillors who were prepared to accept bribes. It provides another insight into the culture of corruption that existed for decades at the highest level of Fianna Fáil, in particular. I wish to express my appreciation to the members of the tribunal - Judges Mahon, Faherty and Keyes and, previously, Mr. Justice Feargus Flood - for the work they have done and the reports they have produced.
Several people, including journalists like Joe MacAnthony, Frank McDonald and Mark Brennock, raised questions about planning in Dublin over the years. However, it was always extremely difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to prove anything without a formal inquiry. In 1990, shortly after I was elected to this House, I called in the House for an inquiry into planning and rezoning in Dublin. Like several other members of the then Dublin County Council, I was concerned about what seemed to be happening at council meetings, and about the way in which so many rezoning decisions were being taken.
Based on what we now know, it was hardly surprising that no inquiry was conceded. I raised the issue in 1990 and put parliamentary questions to the then Minister for the Environment, Mr. Pádraig Flynn. He transferred them to the then Minister for Justice, Mr. Ray Burke. They both served under Mr. Charles Haughey, the then Taoiseach, and in a Government with Mr. Albert Reynolds as Minister for Finance and Mr. Bertie Ahern as Minister for Labour. Needless to say, no inquiry was granted.
Even when a tribunal was finally established, it was by no means certain that it would be able to get at the truth. Over the following 15 years, the tribunal was met by a wall of obstruction and obfuscation. There were many people who did not want the inquiry to succeed. Many of them took cases in the courts that delayed the work of the inquiry for very long periods. When it looked to be getting to the truth about Mr. Ahern, for example, it was subjected to a series of attacks by Fianna Fáil Ministers, which attacks are rightly the subject of severe criticism in the report. In the face of this obstruction, and in spite of these attacks, the tribunal has now concluded its work. Its final report is little short of devastating.
This was not a report about individual councillors taking bribes. What this report finds is that there was systematic corruption in the planning system in Dublin. Further, it makes adverse findings against elected representatives at the time in question at every level of elected office, from county councillor to Taoiseach. Councillors, Senators, Deputies, Ministers, two taoisigh and a member of the European Commission are referred to. This is not, as some are still trying to suggest, just a few rotten apples. All three individuals who led Fianna Fáil from 1979 until May 2008, all of whom held the office of Taoiseach, have now been the subject of adverse findings by tribunals, including the beef and Moriarty tribunals and now the Mahon tribunal.
While there are politicians from other parties against whom adverse findings have been made, the evidence shows that the problem was overwhelmingly a Fianna Fáil problem. The report does not make adverse findings against any current member of the Labour Party, as was widely reported on RTE last week. It made an adverse finding against one individual who was previously a member of the Labour Party, who was elected a councillor in 1991 and who was expelled from the party in 1993 when it was considered he was not acting in accordance with the standards the Labour Party expected of him. It did not require a tribunal and 15 years for Labour to take action against him.
The report shows that simple truths cannot be hidden in complicated and elaborate excuses. We do ourselves no service by reducing complexity to excessive simplifications. The report finds that there was corruption at every level in Irish political life. It does not state every politician is corrupt. The report condemns several politicians but it commends others.
There were some who sought to imply that my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, had questions to answer. He answered all questions and his actions were commended by the tribunal. I note also the part played by my colleague the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, who sought to expose wrongdoing and who was threatened with legal action for doing so.
It has been said and it is true that there are many honourable and decent people in Fianna Fáil who have been let down by the actions of their leaders. They feel reduced by the findings of this report but they are not the victims here. The victims are the people who live in poorly planned communities. The victims are those who have lost their jobs, who are in negative equity and who are picking up the tab for the destruction of our economy.
There is a direct connection between the corruption unearthed by the tribunal and the fact that our economy has been brought to the edge of collapse. The property bubble was a product of the toxic triangle between Fianna Fáil, the banks and property developers. There was a culture, at the highest levels of society, whereby individuals sought to make extraordinary fortunes on property development, and some politicians were determined to have their share. The question for Fianna Fáil is why it took so long for anyone to act.
It is important to place the report of the tribunal in its proper historical context. The seeds of this problem date back much further than the events investigated by the Mahon tribunal. The problem in Fianna Fáil dates from the transition that took place in the early 1960s, when the revolutionary generation within that party gave way to a new leadership. History shows that in the first two ministerial offices to which he was appointed, Mr. Haughey replaced Mr. Oscar Traynor as Minister for Justice and then Mr. Patrick Smith as Minister for Agriculture. Both men were veterans of the War of Independence and Civil War. Mr. Haughey, by contrast, was the leading light of a new generation, remarkable for its association with Taca, a body devoted to raising funds for Fianna Fáil – a forerunner of the Galway tent.
It is not unknown for post-colonial societies to experience problems of corruption when the idealism of the revolutionary era begins to wane, and when governments are faced with the challenges of economic development. As a new State begins to take an active role in economic development, it is common enough to find that opportunities arise for officeholders to enrich themselves dishonesty.
It is only fair to say that, during the 1980s in particular, there were many in Fianna Fáil who opposed Mr. Haughey and sought to remove him as leader. Some even left the party as a result. It is also fair to say that many who supported Mr. Haughey did so out of genuine political motivations, particularly in respect of his views on Northern Ireland. It is all the more disappointing, then, that so little was learned when problems came to light again under Mr. Ahern.
The report of the tribunal refers to the standard of proof that it applies, which is a civil standard. Its findings are based on a balance of probability. Other bodies, including the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda, have their own well-established standards and procedures, which they will now apply. The Criminal Assets Bureau has a particular role to play since the legislation governing it requires those being investigated to demonstrate that the source of their income is legitimate, not the other way around. There is also, however, a political standard of proof; it is a higher standard, one that failed to be applied both when Ministers attacked the tribunal itself and when they continued to support Mr. Ahern as Taoiseach.
The evidence that Mr. Ahern gave to the tribunal was manifestly inadequate. It was manifestly clear that he was unable to account for substantial amounts of money that he received. His explanations were little short of bizarre. That was obvious to anyone who read or listened to his evidence. There was a widespread view during the period in question that his evidence was not believable, something which the tribunal has now confirmed. It was clear for anyone to see that he was not co-operating with a sworn inquiry established by the Oireachtas. It was also clear, or should have been clear, that this placed him in an impossible position as Taoiseach. In those circumstances, others around Mr. Ahern had a duty to act and to uphold the political standard of which I spoke. In fact, their reaction was not to deal with the problem in front of them, but to attack the tribunal itself. As late as yesterday, Mr. Ahern continued to attack it, in the knowledge that the members of the tribunal cannot debate with him in public.
The Green Party, which was in office when Mr. Ahern was Taoiseach, looked the other way. The Green Party Ministers deliberately chose to ignore what was happening at the tribunal.
I can understand those who regard this report as yet another report on top of another tribunal after another inquiry, and those who, on examining what has happened in this country over the past five years, simply remark that no one - banker, developer or politician - has gone to jail. I do not blame anyone who is utterly frustrated by the slow pace at which investigations into the banking collapse have been proceeding. I share that frustration.
It is right that public representatives distance themselves from the administration of justice and that the law be and be seen to be impartial. However, it is surely right also that public representatives can express the frustration of the public over the fact that justice delayed is justice is denied.
For the past 12 months, the Government has been engaged in the task of restoring political, financial and economic stability and of bringing the Republic back from the edge of bankruptcy. There is more than one way to be bankrupt, however.
Our Republic stands not just on law and the Constitution, but on the trust and confidence that we repose in each other and in the institutions of the State. That trust has been badly damaged. However, it is not damaged beyond repair. No matter how great the temptation, despair is a luxury we cannot afford. Of those who want to write off politics and political life, I simply ask: what is the alternative? The alternative to democratic politics is to be seen in the repression, chaos and violence of places like Syria, Mali, Belarus and many other states. There is plenty of evidence in this report of individuals who betrayed the trust that was placed in them. There is also evidence of others who did everything they could to expose corruption and who are commended by the tribunal. The very fact the tribunal was set up is the result of action taken by citizens acting in the public interest.
The Government will work its way through the economic crisis. We will examine the recommendations of the tribunal and bring forward proposals for reform. We will involve the people directly in the work of a constitutional convention which will look at how the political system can be reformed and the Republic can be renewed. We will bring forward laws to make it harder for this to happen again, laws which should have been enacted in a previous era.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has already sent the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the Garda Commissioner, as well as to the chairs of the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission, for their consideration and for whatever further investigative steps are considered appropriate. The Garda Commissioner has since referred the report to the Criminal Assets Bureau and has asked the bureau's head to lead the Garda examination of the report and any follow-up action. As the tribunal noted, it is estimated the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Revenue have between them already recovered over €51 million as a result of the work of the tribunal.
At its meeting today, the Government decided that all relevant Ministers should consider urgently the tribunal's recommendations and revert to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government as the co-ordinating Department by the end of April at the latest with proposed actions in response. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, will subsequently report back to the Government on our collective response to the tribunal's recommendations as early as possible in May.
Some of these recommendations are already in the course of implementation including legislative proposals on political funding, corruption, whistleblowers and the registration of lobbyists. In the long history of our people, each generation has been confronted by its own historic challenge. Ours is to rescue the economy, to restore hope and confidence in our country and to restore the trust that we should all have in our public institutions. It is our challenge to leave behind us a system of government - a Republic - that enjoys the respect and allegiance of all our people.
The report of the Mahon tribunal hopefully leaves behind an era of corruption that must never be repeated. It provides us with the recommendations and the guidance which will help us along the road not just to economic, but ethical recovery.
I welcome the final report of the Mahon tribunal. I supported its establishment in 1997 and I believe it has carried out important and valuable work and has been of significant public service. I have accepted the findings of every tribunal of inquiry which has reported during my membership of this House. I also accept the findings of Judge Mahon and his colleagues. This is a very important report that deserves a debate as serious as its contents. It raises issues relating to individuals but also to a wider political culture.
As is acknowledged in the report, the legislation regulating politics and politicians has been transformed since the events which it investigated but more action is required. Equally, there is no doubt there are still major concerns about planning procedures. The principal events dealt with in this report are over 20 years old. Irrespective of this, it is reasonable and fair for such practices to be exposed no matter how long ago they occurred. Each person honoured by the people with holding public office must be willing to be held to account for their action.
The basic challenge for this debate is to show that we understand the importance of what the Mahon report contains and what it says to us collectively and individually. Do we genuinely believe in accountability or is accountability just for the other guys? Are we willing to apply the same standards to comparable practices or will politics triumph over principle? Nothing will change if this is just another debate about finding new and more creative ways of kicking the other side while ignoring the implications for one's own. The public can see the difference between politicians just trying to exploit issues like this and those who have a serious interest in addressing what happened and ensuring it never happens again.
During this statement I will be making direct political points, as I am fully entitled to do particularly given the unequivocal evidence in both this report and that of Mr. Justice Moriarty. However, it is my intention to fully acknowledge the scale of the problem which was present in my party. I have no intention of seeking to avoid accountability for my party and those who held office as Fianna Fáil representatives. Equally, I have no intention of letting others away with deeply cynical tactics of ignoring the implications of this and other reports for their parties and their representatives.
The largest single point which comes from this report is the need for everyone in public life to not just talk about high standards but to be willing to act on them no matter what the personal inconvenience. It is a wide-ranging report which deals with the specific matter of the corruption of planning in Dublin, as well as the broader facts of the behaviour of specific individuals and fund-raising by national parties. I will address each of these in turn, as well as some other points including the comment in the introduction concerning statements by former Ministers. During last year's Moriarty debate a succession of Ministers came to the House and chose to cherry-pick the more convenient parts of the report for comment. I will not follow their example.
It is important to remember first the context in which the tribunal was established in 1997. While it was a direct response to revelation about payments to Ray Burke, it was actually part of a decade-long build-up of concern about issues relating to money and politics. It was explicitly seen as going in tandem with the Moriarty tribunal. Problems with planning in Dublin had indeed been clear for several years. My former colleague, Michael Smith, was the first Minister to try to do something about it. He publicly attacked the councillors of County Dublin and said that, under them, planning had become a "devalued currency". He acted as strongly as he could within the law as it was, as did his successor, the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin.
Michael Smith split up Dublin County Council in large part because of the habit of councillors of pushing through controversial rezoning for parts of the county with which they had no connection. It was clear that councillors across areas and parties frequently co-ordinated such votes to allow councillors vote in accordance with their local voters' views but still get the motion passed.
Michael Smith also began the drafting of legislation for limiting political donations and regulating them via a strong national body before he left office in late 1994. It is not clear why the rising concern about what had happened in the early 1990s did not lead to any serious investigation during either the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government or the Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left Government. Equally, it should not have taken the actions of private citizens in offering a reward for information before this House would act.
The tribunal's report confirms the picture which was laid out in Mr. Justice Flood's earlier report. Planning in Dublin at this time was rotten to the core. There was a systematic subversion of the planning process by some councillors willing to seek and accept payments in return for pushing through rezoning which they would otherwise have opposed. This was, in turn, a systematic subversion of the democratic system and a betrayal of the people of County Dublin. The report shows how the promoters of rezoning were deeply networked in the council, having a level of influence over the decisions of many Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors which was far worse than was anticipated when the tribunal was established.
The brazenness of some of this corruption was startling. Liam Lawlor and Tom Hand effectively appear to have sought to shake down people approaching the council with major proposals. Both are deceased, but it has been clearly documented that they received large amounts in corrupt ways. The behaviour of many in the Fianna Fáil group was infamous and their legacy remains. In the 1991 local elections, the public rightly reacted against their behaviour by throwing out many of them. They built up a level of distrust that has been difficult to overcome for the good people who stood in subsequent years. It has been 21 years since Fianna Fáil controlled any of the councils in County Dublin.
It is right that councillors be held to account if they engage in corrupt practices. Ray Burke, Liam Cosgrave, Liam Lawlor and others have been through the courts. Other cases are following. As was evident from one of the cases that followed the McCracken report, we must be careful in what we state about individuals. We have privilege, but we can still cause cases to collapse by being prejudicial.
The evidence uncovered by the tribunal and independently available to the Director of Public Prosecutions is more than sufficient for a number of people to face serious charges. I hope these charges will be progressed urgently.
Perhaps the most important question in terms of the planning element of the report is whether this situation could recur. There is no longer any doubt about the boundaries between personal and political finances. Many of the explanations offered to the Mahon tribunal have been firmly dealt with in legislation. What is considerably less clear is whether the planning process has been cleaned up. Planning decisions by councillors and councils continue to have the prospect of delivering significant gains to private individuals and to reward lobbying.
The most recent development planning processes gave widespread cause for concern, so much so that the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, recommended to the then Government the establishment of independent expert and low-cost investigations into planning decisions by six councils. No credible explanation has been given by anyone in the Government as to why it was decided to close down those investigations in favour of administrative reviews. Those reviews were done before the investigations were established. About what is the Government concerned? If it is sincere in its response to the Mahon report, it will reinstate the independent planning investigations. It should also introduce proposals on implementing the recommendations of Judge Mahon and his colleagues. Planning has been devalued for so long that there is an unanswerable case for an independent regulator.
Last week, I announced the action to be taken by Fianna Fáil against a series of people in respect of whom the most serious findings were made. There is more to be considered in the report, which has been referred to our rules and procedures committee for a fuller analysis. That committee will make recommendations to our ard comhairle and, unlike other parties, we will make them public.
Although the tribunal was established specifically to inquire into Dublin planning matters, it was empowered to follow different threads as they emerged. The Supreme Court and others stated it was not focused enough, but the matters outlined in the report deserved to be exposed.
The report states that Pádraig Flynn corruptly sought a donation intended for Fianna Fáil and took it for himself. This finding is even more serious, as it involved a Minister taking money in his office from a person who was promoting a project that might have gone before that Minister. Mr. Flynn had his opportunity to be heard by the tribunal. It received evidence from many sources and reached a conclusion. I accept that conclusion and believe it should be followed up in the appropriate way by the appropriate authorities. The £50,000 payment should be received by the State through general proceedings against Mr. Flynn. In no shape or form was it an appropriate payment.
There is no excuse for the failure to confront Mr. Flynn with this allegation at the time. There is no doubt it formed part of a political culture that ignored or dismissed allegations of corruption rather than properly investigated them. This wider point is made by the Mahon tribunal's report and the accepted evidence that the then leader of Fine Gael refused to take any action when informed that one of his representatives had sought a bribe of £250,000. The tribunal heard that his entire response was to comment, "neither Fine Gael nor the world is populated by angels". In the tribunal, he waited until 2007 before acknowledging that he had been told about Councillor Hand's bribe request.
There is no doubt there was a high tolerance of unacceptable behaviour and that it aided and abetted the practices exposed by the tribunal. The tough laws introduced since 1997 by successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments have changed this behaviour. There are regular referrals to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, and none of the excuses used by those offering and receiving corrupt payments is possible.
A substantial part of the Mahon tribunal's report addresses its attempt to discover the source of significant amounts of money held in accounts directly or indirectly under the control of the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. The tribunal has not made a finding of corruption against him, but what it has stated is, nonetheless, extremely serious. The tribunal could not define the source of the funding it identified because he did not disclose from where it came. It was certainly the case that he had a difficult personal situation at the time, but this is not enough to excuse or explain what was revealed.
The tribunal reviewed his personal and constituency accounts from before and after he stepped down as Taoiseach. At no stage under privilege of the tribunal or elsewhere has any person made any allegation about any corrupt act by Bertie Ahern during any of his three Governments. This is no excuse, but the findings against him by the tribunal are serious enough without people trying to invent others or extend them so they can make partisan points.
No politician elected to this House in the past 20 years could have achieved what Bertie Ahern did in the peace process. While others followed their personal or party agendas in the negotiations, he worked doggedly to bring them along so that they also became peace makers. This achievement is real and enduring, but it cannot absolve him.
In last Friday's edition of the Evening Herald, Fine Gael sources were quite open in saying that their strategy in response to Mahon was to try to inflict as much political damage as possible arising from the report’s publication. Part of this has been to promote the idea that everyone must have known and refused to say anything. The line was taken up with enthusiasm in many quarters. It is a strategy that is as cynical as it is flawed. It took a judicial inquiry with large powers and an unlimited budget to get the information and draw it together. Nothing was alleged by the Opposition about Bertie Ahern during debates on the original or amended terms of reference for the tribunal.
Of those who were around him in the 1991-94 period, if anyone outside of a small few knew about this money, he or she kept very quiet. In Colm Keena's book on Bertie Ahern, he asked one of only two people still in this House who served in government with him at the time if he had had any idea at all that Bertie Ahern was receiving large amounts of cash. Bertie Ahern's former ministerial colleague replied that he had had no idea and was "shocked" by what has emerged. I believed the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, when he stated he had noticed nothing, the reason being that the activity was hidden. The same applied for the rest of Bertie Ahern's colleagues.
Last year, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, correctly told the House that no one had the right to imply guilt by association because he and others had worked closely with a former colleague exposed in a tribunal. The question for him and for the Government Deputies who are ready to deliver their attacks is whether they are willing to apply the same standards to themselves that they demand be applied to others.
The tribunal report makes a serious point regarding a particular instance of fund-raising by Fianna Fáil Ministers. It is stated that the donor felt pressurised to give a donation and that the fact of making a donation from someone who might seek Government support for projects was an abuse of office. The tribunal does not state that any action was sought or received specifically because of this donation, but it does state that it should never have been sought. This matter did not receive a great deal of attention during the tribunal and I am conscious the tribunal accepted that Albert Reynolds was not in a position to have this criticism put to him.
There is no question now that such fund-raising was wrong even though it was legal. If we all accept that Governments using their position to increase donations is wrong, I presume Deputies will take the time to note how Mr. Justice Moriarty pointed to exactly the same issue in his report. This needs to be explained, given the number of Government Deputies who continue to refuse to acknowledge the clear facts. Mr. Justice Moriarty showed how there was a pattern of donations to Fine Gael by bidders for the second mobile telephone licence, which began shortly after the party entered government. Regarding Esat, he laid out how 15 donations were made to the party in the run up to the awarding of the licence. One of the many aspects of the Moriarty report that has been ignored is the finding that only the first of these donations was unsolicited. When asked about why he had agreed to give money to Fine Gael even though Esat was financially strapped, Denis O'Brien Senior's reply was "because Fine Gael asked for it".
In regard to the $50,000 New York donation which Fine Gael chose to hide from Mr. Justice Moriarty for four years until the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, insisted that it be revealed, the report is equally clear. In paragraph 41.47 Denis O'Brien said Fine Gael asked for the donation and further that he felt that Fine Gael should not have asked for it. The then Taoiseach and three serving Ministers received donations in their constituencies which were solicited from Esat. Other money was put into the form of bank drafts as part of a successful effort to ensure that the origins of the donations were known to the officeholders but not to the wider public. This is what led to the well known correspondence to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. To remind Deputies, it states:
Please find enclosed a draft for the Golf on 16th.
I understand Denis has requested that there are no references made to his contribution at the event.
Best of luck on the day.
I'll give you a call soon.
The golf mentioned in this letter was a corporate fund-raising event in the K Club which has continued uninterrupted since that day. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Creighton, said that the event is no different from the Galway tent, which was stopped four years ago. As the report states in paragraph 6.30, the entire episode most likely started on 7 February 1995 when a Fine Gael Deputy employed by Esat as a consultant introduced Michael Lowry to Denis O'Brien at a meeting in Fine Gael headquarters in Mount Street. The effort by Fine Gael to whitewash Moriarty's findings from history is deeply cynical and the support it is receiving in this from the Labour Party is striking.
The fund-raising which the Mahon report chronicles was wrong. However, it is simply not possible to look at the facts of fund-raising under another government and view what Mahon reveals as unique. This is a more serious point about the political system. It has raised many questions which should be answered. Are we willing to clean out the stables when it comes to historical cases of abuse in political fund-raising? Are we willing to expose wrongdoing without fear or favour? There has yet to be a full inquiry into all political fund-raising at that time.
If there is a need for a further more detailed examination of the decade before regulations and limits were introduced, I have no problem supporting it and promising full co-operation. I hope other parties would be willing to do the same. The broadcaster, Vincent Browne, has failed to get an explanation as to how Fine Gael raised millions of pounds during 1995 to erase large debts. Given its newfound attitude towards historical accountability, the party should take this opportunity to finally answer.
The Tánaiste will surely agree that the funding of his former party was less than transparent given the involvement in counterfeiting of the party's in-house printing company as well as the continued racketeering of the Official IRA, or Group B as it was then known. If he believes in accountability, is it not time this was investigated rather than continuing to insist on double standards?
Sinn Féin's embrace of double standards on this issue is particularly brazen. Lest anyone forget, during the period examined by the Mahon Tribunal, Sinn Féin's movement killed over 200 people, knee capped and exiled many more and ran this island's largest racketeering, kidnapping and bank robbing network. Its position has been a consistent one of refusing to expose its members to the law without an advance assurance that there will be no accountability.
Studies show that Ireland's current system for controlling political finances is very tough in international terms. New measures are making it tougher, even if they do not go as far as the measures we introduced but which were voted down by the Government last year. We believe there should be a stronger ban on corporate donations and that the matter should be made crystal clear via the Constitution.
In the introduction to the report the Mahon tribunal states its belief that comments made about it by former Ministers amounted to an attempt to collapse the inquiry in a vital investigation. This is not a finding but it has played a central part in the Government's public relations strategy. Within minutes it had supplied its representatives with instructions to emphasise this and say that it was a finding against me and other colleagues. Unlike the partisan attacks, I take the comments of the tribunal seriously. Unfortunately, this is a matter on which it heard no evidence, provided no detail and gave nobody an opportunity to be heard in response. It is not a finding of fact and the Government should stop pretending it is.
None of the quotes which have been produced by Government spin doctors come anywhere close to justifying the claim of such a conspiracy. For example, Dermot Ahern is being attacked for effectively quoting the now Chief Justice. Other comments fall well short of criticisms of the tribunal's work, which was widely spread.
Why did Deputy O'Dea apologise?
In over 3,200 pages there is no mention of Deputy O'Dea and the only mention of former Deputy Roche is his signature on revised terms of reference.
I do not accept that Ministers had no right to criticise the workings of the tribunal. There is a difference between legitimate criticism and trying to collapse it. It was not a Minister but a judge of the Supreme Court who used words like "grotesque" and "nothing less than appalling" to describe the cost and duration of the tribunal.
While I am happy with how the report deals with a donation I received at the tribunal, a wild and unfounded accusation was made against me. The allegation was later withdrawn and the accuser apologised. However, the accusation was left hanging for days and I criticised the tribunal for allowing that to happen. Given that my criticism is now a core part of Fine Gael's attack strategy, I hope its Deputies will take the time to reflect on the fact that the party made exactly the same criticism of the Mahon tribunal for a similar occurrence. On 4 July 2006 Fine Gael issued a press release attacking the tribunal for the "outrage and disgrace" of letting an untrue allegation be made without being challenged. Fine Gael was right in this criticism and I was right in mine.
Fine Gael backbenchers who are enjoying this particular spot on the moral high ground should reflect on the fact that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, threatened to close down the Moriarty tribunal, in which he was a key witness, if he became a Minister. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, actually introduced a resolution to collapse the Smithwick tribunal.
I accept the report and welcome the work of the Mahon tribunal. However, it is not immune from legitimate criticism and others have no right to announce that they know who is being criticised in a comment where no one is named and which is not a finding of fact.
During the Moriarty debate last year, the Government parties followed a strategy of deliberately seeking to minimise the significance of the report. They claimed it was all about one rogue Minister and ignored all inconvenient evidence. To this day the Government has not said if it agrees with the findings. That is an extraordinary situation. On the Mahon report it has taken the opposite approach, by demanding agreement not only with the findings, but also to their claims of what the findings are.
The Mahon report is a serious indictment of many people who held office at every level of public life. It involves individual cases of corrupt and inappropriate behaviour. Equally, it shows there was a fundamental question about even the legal funding of politics.
I accept the findings against members of my party and we will continue to work to address these findings. What I will not accept is hypocrisy and double standards. I will not accept the right of the parties who control this House to be selective in the evidence they point to when speaking about past abuses or to demand accountability for others while refusing legitimate questions about their own party's record.
In the past 12 months no Fine Gael Minister has acknowledged that it was wrong to seek and accept major donations from a company which was competing for the largest commercial licence ever awarded by the State. The Taoiseach has lectured at length about standards but has repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about whether it was correct to seek and accept these donations. In the debate last year he ignored a series of questions by me and Deputy Catherine Murphy about serious matters.
Last week's events in the USA are only a reflection of the government's indifference to and dismissal of the Moriarty report. With other reports the Government rightly demands accountability and contrition but for Moriarty, when the question is about its own conduct, it says legislative plans are enough. Nobody on the Government benches can be found to issue even a word of criticism of what happened under Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Deputy Broughan is the only Member in either party to stand up and criticise the targeted fund-raising around that second mobile telephone licence. As the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, pointed out yesterday, many are uncomfortable with the behaviour of the Government but nobody is willing to do anything about it.
Since Moriarty was published I am not aware of any serious effort to question the Taoiseach or Ministers about whether they thought their fund-raising was appropriate. Questions about relations with Mr. O'Brien have been belated and limited. While the Government's efforts to minimise Moriarty are clearly political, the reluctance of some of our media to follow it up in any sustained way is more disturbing. It is not possible to argue it received the sort of attention the seriousness of its findings requires. More striking has been the lack of any concerted defence of those journalists who are being targeted through legal action. My party does not have many friends in the media in recent times-----
What about the Irish Independent?
-----but it is an outrage that journalists and commentators should be targeted for being forthright in talking about the findings of Mr. Justice Moriarty. If we are now entering a new era in this country where the standards and level of scrutiny being applied to public affairs depends on how a story aligns with the interests of media owners we are actually going backwards. The Mahon report is so serious particularly because it makes a point about systematic abuses. This is a large and challenging issue which goes to the core of public disillusionment towards politics and the failure to fully grasp it and to be inconsistent about accountability do not help rebuild trust.
My party has correctly been held to account for the behaviour of individuals in abusing public office. We are acting on the findings and support the recommendations. I am conscious that people have heard similar sentiments from my party in the past. My message to them is simple: we understand the scale of the challenge we face in rebuilding trust, but there is no task I take more seriously.
Bhí an fiosrúchán seo dírithe ar chaimiléireacht a cheapadh go raibh ag dul ar aghaidh sa phróiseas pleanála - sa chás seo, ceapadh go raibh íocaíochtaí á ndéanamh le polaiteoirí. The tribunal's conclusions and its criticism of the political elite in this State are damning. It stated:
...corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of Government from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated.
However, these words of accusation and condemnation only touch on one aspect of the institutionalised sleaze and corruption that was rife in this State. It was not just political life that was corrupt, so too was the business elite. Together they formed golden circles of self-interest dedicated to preserving their wealth, privilege and power. This corruption did not begin just 20 years ago when the beef tribunal began its deliberations or later with the McCracken tribunal or the Flood-Mahon tribunal. Institutionalised corruption and gombeenism were part and parcel of British colonial rule on this island and these practices survived and thrived in the post-colonial period. Liam Mellows warned of this in the Treaty debates when he said: " Men will get into positions, men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed, or will not take a step that will mean removal in case of failure." Mellows was right. Ní hamháin go raibh an ceart aige, ach bhí fís difriúil aige de Phoblacht agus rialú ina mbeadh an saoránach mar chroílár tógáil Stát nua.
Politicians, churchmen and business people got into positions of power and abused that power in their self-interests and not in the interests of citizens. Partition created not one but two conservative states on this island ruled by two conservative elites. The closed, narrow, post-Civil War society that emerged out of partition in this part of the island was characterised by economic failure, emigration, backwardness on social issues, inequality and the failure to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens. Those who built this State also turned their backs on the people of the North. They turned their backs on the ideals of independence and of a genuine Republic, and on the rights of citizens enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation. As it evolved the political elite in this State was increasingly in hock to the Catholic hierarchy. For decades the system here abdicated responsibility for the care of children and single women and allowed a regime in institutions that abused, criminalised and terrified those who found themselves locked in those places.
The political establishment and the business elite which emerged in the aftermath of partition - the senior civil servants, the bankers, the judges, big business, and the politicians of Cumann na nGaedhael, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and the Ulster Unionist Party in the North created systems that entrenched their own privilege. Systemic corruption bred a culture of corruption. It was part of the way we were. Corruption, backhanders and brown envelopes became acceptable - a normal way of winning political favour, of rezoning land for profit, and of buying votes and influence. Cronyism became endemic. Whom one knew was more important than ability, fairness or what was right. The "golden circles" of big business, speculators, bankers, financiers and developers, allied to a corrupt political elite, grew rich on the exploitation of others. Léiríonn an tuairisc seo do dhaoine an santachas a bhí i réim ag éilít áirithe sa sochaí seo, a rinne creachadh ar ár maoin, as ar íoc an mórlach, le toradh turraingeach.
Family dynasties, party connections and donations to political campaigns all entrenched this corruption. This was made easier by the concentration of political power in the hands of a few. Weak and ineffective legal checks and balances, little oversight and light-fingered enforcement of laws to challenge corruption, made dishonesty and corruption easy and acceptable. The arrogance of the "golden circles" has seen powerful individuals consider themselves above the rules that apply to ordinary citizens. That double standard was graphically demonstrated in the famous television broadcast by the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, who told citizens to tighten their belts, while he lived the highlife at the taxpayers' expense.
Ní raibh an nasc cosy seo idir pholaiteoirí agus fir ghnó, baincéirí agus tógáilaithe i bhFianna Fáil amháin. This was not limited to just Fianna Fáil. In a classic example of the double standards that have applied in the political culture, in 1993 the former Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Garret FitzGerald, had debts of almost £200,000, which he owed to AIB and Ansbacher, written off. Sin é with no explanation. How many ordinary citizens, many now in negative equity and struggling to survive, will have the balance of their loans written off by AIB?
New rules and laws need to be put into place to end corrupt practices. Too many of our citizens live each day with the consequences of corruption. There are the many home owners in mortgage distress because some politicians chose to facilitate developers and bankers, and pursued an economic strategy which brought the State to its knees. There are the growing numbers of elderly citizens who do not know if they will have a public nursing bed when and if they need it. Thousands of patients languish on hospital trolleys because successive governments have failed to invest in public health services, choosing instead to promote privatisation. There is the rub. If a government decides to privatise a public health service, that is the start of the process of corrupting the service. If health is run for profit instead of as a right of a citizen, that is where the corruption starts and that is where the corruption is currently ongoing.
What of citizens living in sprawling unfinished housing estates with no shops? Gabh mo leithscéal a Mhicheál-----
Gabh mo leithscéal.
-----you might learn something.
The Deputy should not be so arrogant.
I am not being arrogant.
Allow Deputy Adams to continue.
What of citizens living in sprawling unfinished housing estates with no shops, youth facilities, playing fields, amenities or places for elderly people to gather? Each one of us comes across those in our constituencies.
While Judge Mahon has revealed that politicians from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour took bribes from developers perverting the planning process for profit, the upper echelons of Fianna Fáil in particular stand indicted. While the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Martin, outlines his position - I do not envy him that task - will he take action against those who sought to thwart the Mahon tribunal by embarking on what the tribunal called a "sustained and virulent attack" against it? Will he take action against those current Fianna Fáil Deputies who questioned not only the legality of the tribunal, but also the integrity of its members?
The Mahon report demands firm measures by this Government to deal with corruption and citizens are demanding resolute action. If we are to end corruption, and ensure transparency and accountability, more needs to be done to restore public confidence and to clean up politics. For example, one suggestion is the introduction of legislation that would allow impeachment or removal from the Dáil or Seanad of any Member involved in corruption, deliberate misuse of public money or fraud. Furthermore, it is obvious that former politicians found guilty of corruption should have their public pensions taken from them. This is particularly true when it comes to former Ministers or taoisigh who enjoy excessive annual pension pay-outs. The DPP needs to conduct a full and prompt investigation into the findings of the Mahon report working with the Garda to bring charges of corruption to the courts as soon as possible.
It is quite possible that none of what has been revealed would have come to light were it not for the role of whistleblowers such as James Gogarty and Tom Gilmartin. Such whistleblowers are key to exposing and preventing corruption. It is imperative that legislation is brought forward to protect whistleblowers. Sinn Féin and I welcome the publication of the draft heads of the new whistleblower legislation by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. If citizens are to regain confidence in the political system, the Government must implement the recommendations of Judge Mahon. There are no excuses and there can be no fudging. Cronyism and privilege must be ended.
The Mahon tribunal investigated corruption in Dublin but we cannot imagine for one moment that it was all confined to the Pale and that it did not occur elsewhere in the State. I note that an internal review of planning decisions by several local authorities is under way but not yet completed. The previous Minister with responsibility for local government, John Gormley, announced an independent investigation into six local authorities involved in controversial planning decisions. However, one of the first acts of the current Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, was to abandon plans for independent investigations. He dismissed them as mostly spurious. This includes an investigation into a relief road in Carlow, in the Minister's constituency, first highlighted in 2008 which led to a compensation case costing a total of €11 million. The public must have confidence that every decision taken is above reproach. The internal investigation must be completed and its findings must be made public.
The Mahon report and its indictment of the political system is a far cry from the ethos and high standards demonstrated by those whose bravery, courage and self-sacrifice we will commemorate and celebrate in 12 days time or by those who founded Fianna Fáil. The Republic they fought and died for at Easter 1916 and in subsequent generations is encapsulated in the words of the Proclamation of 1916. For those who abandoned and corrupted its objectives, the Proclamation is no more than a piece of paper to which they occasionally pay lip-service. However, it is a great deal more than that. The Proclamation is a charter of liberty, freedom and rights as important a charter as anywhere else in the modern world. The Republic it envisages guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens. The Proclamation contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally and not to exploit, abuse or steal from them. It contains a promise to every Irish man, woman and child that they can share in the dignity of humankind and of this wonderful island that we live in.
Our party, other parties and other representatives here are for a new, genuine Republic, one fit for the 21st century. We are for a Republic across the entire island where orange and green unite, one based on citizenship and citizens' rights. We are for a Republic that is accessible, responsive and inclusive to the needs of citizens and which upholds civil and human rights. This Republic must include rural Ireland and the protection of our uniquely rural way of life. It must ensure that Gaeltacht communities thrive and that the Irish language has the support required to flourish as a spoken language. Such a Republic must reach out and embrace our Unionist brothers and sisters. It must represent a new Ireland built on positive change, equality and partnership. It must be a Republic that is people-centred, owned by and responsible to the people rather than to elites.
The people deserve more than what we have at present. We deserve to be free of division, injustice and corruption. Wealth must be invested creatively and fairly. Poverty must become a thing of the past. This is my belief and I imagine others share it. We should not allow the revelations of corruption and graft to put us off building this new Ireland and this new Republic. The resources to build it exist even at this time of great adversity.
This is no pipe dream, aisling or some notional idea. It is a real, achievable goal. In Easter 1993, almost 20 years ago, John Hume and I issued our first joint statement. We stated that the most pressing issue facing the people of Ireland and Britain was the question of lasting peace and how it could be achieved. We identified as our primary objective reaching agreement on a peaceful and democratic accord for all on this island. John Hume was vilified and his vision was attacked by all sides in the Chamber, by all parties here. However, five years later the Good Friday Agreement was achieved. Therefore, nothing is impossible. A vision of a different Ireland is needed as is the political will to make it occur. It can be done.
The Mahon tribunal confirms what many people in the country had suspected for a long time, that is to say, a rotten political culture has dominated the State for the best part of three decades. It is not only about the Mahon tribunal, what it shows about the endemic corruption of the planning process and the fact that councillors from the main political parties were open for bribes by bagman working on behalf of developers, but it builds on the knowledge we sorely accumulated dating back to the beef tribunal and the other tribunals that have taken place since then. They show that the entire political culture of the State has been absolutely corrupted to a rotten state over a period of at least 30 years.
The Tánaiste might suggest that not all apples in the barrel were rotten. However, such is the extent of the corruption highlighted in the Mahon tribunal and the other tribunals and attendant reports that it is clear not that all apples in the barrel were rotten but that the barrel itself was rotten. The report of the tribunal makes clear that the political culture was absolutely rotten. Corruption, bribery, sleaze and greed were endemic in the political culture of the State for the past 30 years. Both of the major political parties which have dominated the State since its foundation are implicated to a considerable degree.
The legacy of this rotten political culture has been devastating for tens of thousands of families and citizens throughout the country during these years. One consequence, about which I hold particularly strong and angry views, relates to the issue of housing. One impact of the corruption of the planning process and the fact that so many councillors and politicians were in the pockets of developers was that the provision of social housing for the citizens who needed it essentially ground to a halt during this period while developers were allowed to run amok because they had politicians on the payroll. Private development driven purely by the profit and greed and greased by corruption was the order of the day. Consequently, even while we went through the greatest building boom in the history of the State, we ended up with more people on social housing lists than at any time previously. This is one particular sore point for me and, I suspect, for other Deputies. Tens of thousands of families witnessed apartment blocks and estates popping up everywhere. These developments made fortunes for the developers involved while many families were left rotting on housing lists for years and years. The privatisation of the housing market linked to this corruption had this social consequence for tens of thousands of families in the State. However, it is a great deal worse than that.
This rotten political culture has contributed directly to the economic catastrophe that has been visited on this State with all its horrendous consequences, such as mass unemployment, mass emigration and the devastation of our public services through austerity and cuts. This culture began with a cabal of developers and politicians corrupting the area of planning, for profit. This rotten cancer of corruption then spread into the financial system. One led to the other and a loop of corruption was set up between the political authorities, the greed-driven developers and the financial and banking system of the State. When this became apparent, it was institutionalised rather than punished. How did we deal with the discovery that the wealthy in this country were salting away money in offshore accounts, that politicians, including a Taoiseach, were being paid and corrupted by corporate interests and that the wealthy did not pay tax? First, we gave amnesties to reward them for the fact they did not pay tax. We then reduced their taxes. The answer to the fact that the rich did not want to pay tax was to ensure there were no taxes or only negligible taxes on them, with the consequence of the deficit problem we now have.
The Government castigates this side of the House and tells us we do not understand that the State has a big deficit problem. Why do we have that big problem? It is because the Government, primarily Fianna Fáil, but now the current Government which is doing nothing about the situation, reduced taxes on the wealthy. The Government has not reversed the decisions taken, because it agrees with them. It was also involved in previous Governments that gave tax amnesties to the wealthy who had been evading taxes. Will the Government do anything about it now? Will it raise the taxes of the rich? No, it will not. It does not believe in doing that. It does not believe in taxing the wealthy and that is why we have a deficit and that is the reason our public services are in pieces.
Fianna Fáil was at the heart of this rotten political culture. To be honest, I do not understand why Fianna Fail does not just shut up shop. It should disband, because this is not just about a few individuals. The record is appalling. It shows a culture of corruption from top to bottom of what was the biggest political party in the State, one which dominated the political life of this country over the past 30 years. It says it all that three taoisigh have been implicated in the findings of corruption spelt out in the Mahon report and in previous reports. Charles Haughey received £1 million over a three-year period from Ben Dunne which was paid into Ansbacher accounts. Some £5,000 a week was paid to him by Ben Dunne, who was rewarded with the fact that the trust status of Dunnes Stores, providing tax concessions, was never seriously addressed by the Government of the day. The consequence was that if that was the culture in which the leader of the party was involved and promoted, he was sending down the signal to the rest of the organisation that corruption was the way to do politics. It is spelt out clearly in the Mahon report that it does not just look at individual instances of corruption, but that this was the culture that existed.
Almost certainly, what is in the Mahon report is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the corruption that existed. Albert Reynolds knew about Tom Gilmartin's donations to Pádraig Flynn, but he did nothing whatsoever about them. Then, the denials by Bertie Ahern about the money he received, or claims to have been given in dig outs, were farcical. The Mahon tribunal rubbishes the claims regarding the €165,000 as fictional and fantastical explanations. There was also the fact that a former Minister for Finance, Ray Burke, is known to have taken tens of thousands from builders. I was asked by the people of Rossport and those involved in campaigning against the Shell pipeline to ask questions about his part in that. It is known that Ray Burke was involved in corruption and in accepting corrupt payments. He was also, coincidentally, the Minister who set up an unprecedented tax and licensing regime in the context of the exploration and development of our natural resources. Effectively, our gas and oil resources are given away to private companies when they are found. Again, there is no indication the current Government will do anything about this. We do not know the exact chain of events or whether there is a connection. However, when we know a Minister for Finance received corrupt payments at around the same period when he set up a tax and licensing regime which effectively gives away our natural resources to private multinational companies, we must ask serious questions. There was also the Galway tent. Also, Pádraig Flynn, the former Minister for the Environment, asked a developer for €50,000.
I do not know why the members of Fianna Fáil are not hanging their heads in shame. The current leader of Fianna Fáil also has serious questions to answer. I do not know the truth of the matter, but Fintan O'Toole raised some interesting questions in his article this week. We certainly know that the current leader of Fianna Fáil was around when all of this was going on. He was a Minister in the Government and did not speak out against it. Many of the Fianna Fáil Party who are still in this House were around and did not speak out against the corruption. They defended their party and held the party line rather than condemn the rotten culture of corruption that existed. Given the devastating consequences this has had for society, it is beyond me how Fianna Fáil can put itself forward with any credibility as a political opposition.
If Fianna Fáil has questions to answer, so too does Fine Gael. The issue of Denis O'Brien is at the heart of some of the questions Fine Gael must answer. I would like to hear Fine Gael's answer on this issue, because we have not heard it. The Moriarty tribunal stated clearly that in the context of the granting of the second mobile telephone licence in this State, inappropriate payments were made by Denis O'Brien to a Fine Gael Minister, resulting in Denis O'Brien making an enormous fortune and becoming a multibillionaire. At the same time, Denis O'Brien was making political contributions to Fine Gael. He was then seen standing beside the Taoiseach in the Stock Exchange at the St. Patrick's Day festivities. Clearly, he is still a friend of Fine Gael. He was also invited to the global economic forum in Dublin Castle. How can this happen when these questions remain to be answered?
It has been clearly stated by Moriarty that these were inappropriate payments in the context of the granting of that licence. I find it beyond belief that Fine Gael has nothing to say about that or refuses to answer how it raised €3 million and who were the political donors that helped Fine Gael raise the €3 million war chest to win the last election. Will Fine Gael publish the list of its donors?
The Deputy should buy a ticket because it was a draw.
A ticket to the golf classics. We know some of the people who won the golf classics: Johnny Ronan-----
St. Michael's school-----
-----from Treasury Holdings-----
I advise the Deputy he is inviting debate unnecessarily.
We know people from CRH, EBS and JP McManus are the sort of people who were at the Fine Gael golf classics. If the Minister and his party are serious about all this talk of transparency, will he publish the list of Fine Gael's corporate donors prior to the last election? The fact the Minister, Deputy Hogan, plays golf with Mr. Arthur French-----
What is wrong with that?
-----who raises money, contributes to Fine Gael election funds and now appears as an adviser for Covanta promoting the Covanta incinerator development - if that is not part of the sleazy culture, the murky culture, the unhealthy relationship between big business and politics, I do not know what is.
I remind the Deputy again that the Ceann Comhairle at the outset pointed out that where possible, Members should avoid the naming of persons outside the House who are not in a position to defend themselves for whatever reason.
The Deputy is spraying stuff around.
I am just asking the questions and the Members opposite know well that these questions are there.
The Deputy will be burning dock leaves at the way he is going.
The Minister is not answering a simple question. Will he name the corporate donors to Fine Gael prior to the last general election which allowed it to build a war chest of €3 million?
We got nothing.
The Deputy should buy a ticket.
We do not believe the Minister. He was playing golf with them and making big money. The donations required to play in these games were such that they certainly were not ordinary working people who were on these golf courses-----
The Deputy is the only one here from St. Michael's school. He never did a day's work in his life. He has a silver spoon.
The current Taoiseach was the one who removed the ban on corporate political donations in the run-up to the last general election and who is now waxing lyrical about the need for political reform, transparency and all the rest.
Fine Gael has very serious questions to answer. People may want to know if there will be real action from this Government on the good recommendations made in the Mahon report about dealing with this endemic culture of corruption and sleaze. The Mahon report stated that if money and politics are insufficiently regulated, money can have a corrupting influence and lead to distortions in the democratic process. The report stated that bribes may be made in the guise of political donations and large donations may in themselves exert a corrupting influence. In other words, big money, in and of itself, from wealthy people and from corporations, in and of itself, may exert a corrupting influence. Everything that has happened in this country and all the corruption which has been revealed shows this to be the case and there can be no doubt that there is a connection. In the current climate of economic crisis where the response of this Government and the previous Government and indeed one might argue governments right across Europe to an economic crisis that is caused by greed, speculation and the drive for profit of corporate and financial elites, is to protect those corporate and financial elites, the same people who make the big donations to political parties, whether in this State or in another state, and to unload the cost of that economic crisis onto the backs of working people, the vulnerable, the poor, pensioners, young people and our public services. There is obviously a connection between those two things. The only way to deal with this is by rooting out and dismantling that rotten connection between big money, corporate influence and politics. All substantial political donations should be transparent.
There is legislation before the House.
Let us see the legislation and let the Government follow through.
It is before the House.
No anonymous cash donations.
Was the Deputy missing last week? He must have been protesting somewhere.
I am talking about serious limits on electoral spending, full disclosure of the origin of donations and severe limits on the amounts individuals or corporations may donate to political parties. Those disclosures should be made before elections or in the period of the election so political parties disclose where the money to finance their election manifestos comes from. This would allow people to have full knowledge of what they are voting for and whom the political parties represent when they put themselves forward in elections.
Those are measures which would go some way towards dealing with the endemic culture of political corruption that has blighted this society and this State. In my view and following from what the Mahon report states, there will always be a substantial degree of corruption of the political process where there are gross inequalities in wealth in society in the first place. If, as is the case, 5% of the population in this country owns more than 40% of the wealth, it is inevitable that they will use that wealth to corrupt the political process. It is the inequality in the distribution of wealth, the lack of social and economic equality in our society, which inevitably corrupts the political process. Therefore, part of dealing with the culture of political corruption is to achieve a more equal society, to have things like wealth taxation and progressive taxation which redistributes the wealth in our society in a fair way-----
Is the Deputy paying the household charge?
-----something that this Government, just like the previous Government, resolutely sets its face against.
The Deputy is against everything.
I am for wealth taxes and I keep asking for some wealth taxes. The reply is that it is too difficult to organise. It is no problem to harass people on social welfare and brutal austerity measures can be imposed on working people and the poor. They are harassed by letters which warn their bank accounts will be inspected and asking questions as to who lives in the house. These are invasive means testing procedures imposed on people on social welfare-----
Does the Deputy condone fraud?
-----but because it is too complicated, we cannot look at where the wealth rests in our society. The fact is that it is possible but the Government does not want to do it. The political establishment is representing those interests and protects them at every turn. How the Government has responded to the economic crisis is just the latest episode of that. It is always the same; it is always the poor. The crisis in the 1980s was presided over by Haughey when he was telling the people to tighten their belts and to make sacrifices and that everyone had to pull together but he was busy helping his friends salt away their money in offshore accounts and he was being paid with money from big business going into Ansbacher accounts.
We are getting the same story now. Ordinary people have to suffer. It is they who have to tighten their belts and take the impact of austerity in order that we protect at all costs the financial and corporate elites, the billionaires and the multimillionaires who were still swanning around at the global economic forum organised by the Government, advising us on how to deal with the economic crisis. That symbolises it all. I wonder what the Minister is going to do about it but I have very little confidence he will do anything.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate in the House this evening on the analysis, findings and recommendations of the fifth and final report of the Mahon tribunal. However, it gives me no pleasure to have before us a report with findings of the kind we have all been digesting over the last few days.
It is important that the Dáil, as the primary democratically elected forum in the State, provides the necessary time to consider a report of such profound significance for the fundamentals of politics and public life in Ireland. It is for that reason the Government was determined to ensure that this week's normal Dáil business time would be devoted to a debate on the report, ensuring that Members from all sides have the opportunity to have their initial reactions to the report placed on the record of the House.
The publication of the report last week has brought to finality a process that began in November 1997, when the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments was established in response to serious public concern in respect of allegations of corruption relating to the planning process, in particular insofar as this related to the Dublin area. In the intervening years, the tribunal has held over 900 public sitting days, has called over 400 witnesses to appear before it, and has gathered more than 60,000 pages of evidence and 76,000 pages of correspondence.
The final report has been a long time coming - perhaps far longer and at greater cost than anyone would have imagined or expected at the outset. Nevertheless, if there were any doubts as to the value and importance of the tribunal's work, those doubts were comprehensively countered last Thursday. For that reason, I wish to pay tribute to judges Fergus Flood, Alan Mahon, Mary Faherty and Gerald Keys for presiding over many years of hearings and investigations and presenting the comprehensive final report we now have before us.
I refer to some of the main findings of the tribunal. The final report is voluminous, running to more than 3,250 pages, and it will take some time to fully digest its findings and recommendations. However, the summary findings and recommendations - in Chapters 17 and 18, in particular - tell us that last Thursday was a dark day, not only for those individuals on whom its findings reflect so poorly, but also for a system that failed to prevent, detect or respond adequately to what the report describes as:
Corruption in Irish political life [which] was both endemic and systemic [and which] affected every level of Government from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated.
The tribunal meticulously and methodically carried out its work over the course of the last 15 years. As the report states:
Tribunals must possess both political and financial independence and enjoy public trust and confidence. Attempts to illegitimately undermine that independence or erode that trust and confidence are nothing less than attempts to undermine the inquiry being undertaken by the relevant Tribunal, and in so doing frustrate the will of the Oireachtas .
Perhaps one of the most serious aspects of the inquiry is the fact that the judges have stated in their report that they came under "sustained and virulent attacks" from senior Ministers of the last Government at a critical stage of their investigations, and that this overt interference questioned, inter alia, the legality of its inquiries, as well as the integrity of its members.
The report's findings merit full consideration by all the relevant organs of the State. In that context, following initial consideration of the report over the course of the day of its publication, I considered it essential to bring it to the immediate attention of the relevant authorities. On Thursday evening last, therefore, I wrote to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the chair of the Revenue Commissioners, and the chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission. In doing so, my purpose was to refer the report to them for their consideration and for such investigation or further steps as they may consider appropriate, given the content of the report and the issues of public importance it raises. It will, of course, be a matter solely and exclusively for these various organs of State to decide on what action, if any, to take on foot of the report. I have full confidence they will arrange for the report to be considered carefully. I understand that the Garda Commissioner has already referred the report to the Criminal Assets Bureau for urgent attention and a co-ordinated response across the Garda organisation.
In addition to the grave findings of fact, the report also sets out a series of policy recommendations for consideration to help ensure that similar situations do not arise again in the future. These 64 recommendations relate to a range of policy areas, including planning, conflicts of interest, political finance and lobbying, bribery, corruption in office, money laundering, the misuse of confidential information and asset recovery and confiscation. Although it is not possible for me or my Government colleagues to respond in a comprehensive or definitive fashion to the 64 recommendations at this early stage, I can assure the House that the report is already being given full and urgent consideration without delay. This morning the report was the subject of an initial consideration by the Cabinet on foot of which all relevant Ministers have been asked to consider as a matter of urgency the report's recommendations that fall within their respective remits. This initial consideration is to be completed by the end of April so that the Government can collectively come back to the issue again in May, with a view to considering how best to respond to the tribunal's recommendations.
Without pre-empting the analysis my Government colleagues and I will be undertaking, a preliminary examination of the 64 recommendations suggests that some at least are already being addressed through, for example, reforms of the tribunals of inquiry legislation and new legislative proposals in regard to political funding, corruption, whistleblowers and the registration of lobbyists. The progress which this Government has made in these areas in its first year in office, in advance of last week's publication of the tribunal's final report, demonstrates our seriousness about reform and our determination to minimise a repetition of some of the occurrences on which the tribunal has made findings.
I leave it to my ministerial colleagues to elaborate on their specific areas of responsibility referred to in the tribunal recommendations as part of their contributions to this debate. For my part, I wish to outline some of the major reforms I am already progressing which should help to minimise the scope for a recurrence of the behaviour and practices that are brought to light in the tribunal report.
On the matter of political donations, as Deputies will be aware, I am currently leading the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011 through the House, and am pleased to note that a number of specific recommendations of the tribunal are already being addressed in that legislation. Under the Bill, the books of political parties will be opened up to public scrutiny. I am proposing that the maximum amount that can be accepted as a political donation will be more than halved. I also want to see greater openness, with significant reductions in the thresholds for the public declaration of political donations. Other measures in the Bill provide for greater transparency by both donors and those in receipt of political donations.
Building on the relevant commitments in the programme for Government, this Bill goes further than any previous legislation in asserting the right of the people to know how their political system and political parties are funded. The Bill is informed by an understanding that excessive and secretive corporate funding of politics is corrosive to democracy and to public trust in politics. Therefore, the Bill aims to see the development of a system of political funding based on a large number of small donations from citizens rather than a small number of large donations from corporate bodies. As part of the analysis now underway, my Department is reviewing the report's recommendations in regard to electoral matters with a view to facilitating early Government consideration of the need to bring forward amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage, where appropriate.
Another issue that has come under close scrutiny in the tribunal report is the ethics framework. My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who has previously highlighted the importance of ensuring that the legislative framework in respect of ethics is robust, modernised and relevant in today's world, will now examine both this tribunal's report and that of the Moriarty tribunal within the Government's overall political reform agenda. Within my own area of responsibility, the ethical performance of both elected Members and officials in local authorities is a key consideration. The Local Government Act 2001 introduced a comprehensive ethics framework for all those involved in the local government service. This framework imposed a duty on all to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest. A national code of conduct for Members issued in 2004 and a similar code applies to staff. The aim of these codes is to set out the standards and principles of conduct and integrity for local authority employees and councillors, to inform the public of the conduct it is entitled to expect and to uphold public confidence.
I will examine the tribunal report's recommendations closely in the context of the existing ethics framework to ensure that we take whatever further steps are necessary to restore and underpin confidence and transparency in the local government system, to ensure that the highest standards are adhered to, and to provide protection to the vast majority of Members and staff who behave with probity and integrity. Planning is clearly an issue that pervades the tribunal's work and analysis and I welcome the systemic transformation of the planning system in recent years that has, albeit belatedly, shifted from being developer-led to a more evidence-based and vertically integrated system. This reforming work is continuing and I will leave it to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to outline the changes already made and those that are planned. One can never eliminate the possibility of corruption in any system because, ultimately, a degree of trust must be placed in persons who operate those systems. This applies to the planning system as much as to any other. What one can control are the checks and balances, including public transparency in decision-making, to ensure any inappropriate actions or influence brought to bear on decisions can be identified and addressed. With my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, I am determined to make it a policy priority of my Department that the planning system continues to evolve into a more evidence-based regime so the scope for incorrect zoning decisions is eliminated as far as possible.
Ill-informed commentators have claimed local authority inquiries were stopped by me, a claim repeated by the leader of Fianna Fáil and the leader of Sinn Féin. It is shameful and lazy of people not to research the topic better because that is not the case.
The inquiries are continuing in the Department and will be completed within the next few weeks with a view to establishing whether external inquiries are required. Under this Government, the cases concerned are being considered as a matter of urgency. One of last decisions made by my predecessor was to establish independent inquiries into six local authorities but he left office seven months later without having commenced any of them. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, will issue a public statement on the matter at the appropriate time and will include details of any further action considered necessary.
Deputy Boyd Barrett usually talks at length about innuendo and he challenges people's names in this House, which I find disgraceful. To make the wild allegation Deputy Boyd Barrett made about possible interference by me or anyone else in a contract or process is a new low in politics in this House. I challenge Deputy Boyd Barrett to speak on these matters outside the House rather than abusing privilege in this House.
The cost of the tribunal over its 15 years to date - some €110 million - and the future costs in dealing with claims for third-party costs have been the subject of considerable and understandable concern. A number of measures have been taken to reduce the cost of the tribunal, including reducing fees paid in respect of professional services, including legal services, by the tribunal and scaling back the tribunal's legal and administrative staff following the completion of public hearings. Not enough was done at the time to reduce costs. The tribunal has produced its final report and I expect its operating costs, as well as its requirements for legal representation, should be further significantly reduced and put under scrutiny.
That said, substantial third-party costs, covering the period 2003-08, will be ruled upon by the tribunal's presiding judge in the coming months. Estimates of the potential additional costs involved range from the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2008 estimate of between €84 million and €104 million or the tribunal's estimate of between €117 million and €147 million. Without intruding into matters that are correctly the preserve of the tribunal itself, the Government will take all steps it can to ensure the future costs to the taxpayer are minimised. In this context, I will shortly write to the tribunal's presiding judge, Mr. Justice Mahon, seeking an indication of the likely timing for processing any remaining third-party cost applications and, taking account of the pressures on the public finances generally, to contribute to the process of considering how the tribunal's administrative costs can be reduced during this final phase of its work.
I also welcome the decision by this Government to establish a dedicated unit to deal with third-party costs arising from both the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals. The unit will be located in the State Claims Agency, which under the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act already manages personal injury and property damage claims against the State. Through its legal costs accounting expertise, it should help to minimise the levels of third-party costs remunerated.
However, it should be remembered that the tribunal's work has not entirely been without monetary benefit to the State. For example, the Revenue Commissioners have recovered almost €33 million attributable to the work of the tribunal in tax settlements with certain developers. In addition, there are ongoing, previously initiated investigations involving the Criminal Assets Bureau about which I will not comment further at this stage. I am hopeful that further examination of the final report by those bodies may yield further revenue to the State, to offset at least partially the administrative and legal costs associated with this expensive tribunal.
In conclusion, for everyone in this House and all others who have an interest in the openness and transparency of our democratic process, the final report of the Mahon tribunal makes findings and recommendations of the most profound kind. I hope Members will take the opportunity of the debate in the House over the next few days to record their appreciation of the work of the tribunal. With all that has been invested in the tribunal to date, it is crucial the report is considered carefully and acted on speedily and comprehensively. Having already referred the report to other organs of the State last week, they must be left independently to do their work on following up on what has happened in the past. We cannot change history but we can try to ensure that history does not repeat itself. To that end, the Government has embarked on an urgent and active consideration of the tribunal's recommendations so we take the necessary steps to ensure that what has been set out in the tribunal report can never happen again and to work towards restoring public confidence in our political system, which is essential to the health of our democracy.
I propose to share time with Deputy Michael McGrath. As Deputy Micheál Martin said, the report of the Mahon tribunal is of the utmost seriousness for all who care about public life in Ireland. The report has wide implications for all political parties in the House. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking only Fianna Fáil was involved in this culture in the 1980s and early 1990s. The report states that "corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic...its existence was widely known and widely tolerated". There is no doubt members of Fianna Fáil were involved but so too were members of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. People in glasshouses should not throw stones during this important and wide-ranging debate.
Notwithstanding the past, it is important to let the public know that what happened over 20 years ago cannot and should not be allowed to happen again. Over 12 items of legislation have been introduced over the past two decades, all by Fianna Fáil-led Governments. These Governments also introduced the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, in 2001, which supervises the disclosure of interests and tax compliance. In addition, Fianna Fáil introduced the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001, which includes strong and clear punishments for those involved in corruption.
Political donations have been successfully regulated by SIPO. Fianna Fáil published two Bills last year to eliminate all political donations but both were voted down by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in government. Ireland has one of the toughest regimes. We need only look at the Conservative Party in the UK, where one MP is in trouble for asking for £250,000 for access to the prime Minister. That aside, political donations in the UK are at the much higher limit of £50,000 compared to the upper limit of €6,348 in Ireland. This sum will fall to €2,500 after the new Bill is signed into law.
The Mahon report examines planning matters prior to 1992, which is 20 years ago. At that time there was no legislation covering political donations. The culture of politics was totally different. I am not in any way tolerating this behaviour but the behaviour should be put in context so we can have an honest debate. In the past 21 years, the number of Fianna Fáil councillors has been dramatically reduced through democracy. I condemn the corrupt actions listed in the findings of the Mahon report. There is no doubt members of Fianna Fáil, including a former leader, betrayed the privilege and responsibility of holding office. All members of Fianna Fáil are angry and disappointed with the findings. These people are active in their communities and respect politics for the right reasons. I am also angry and disappointed at the findings in the report about Fianna Fáil members.