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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 19 Jul 2012

Vol. 773 No. 3

Government Response to Mahon Tribunal Recommendations: Statements

If it is acceptable to the House, I propose to share time with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

In common with my Government and party colleagues, I have strongly welcomed the publication of the Mahon tribunal's final report. I wish to take this opportunity to outline the role my Department played in respect of the overall response paper being published today.

The Mahon tribunal's final report and its findings of endemic corruption of Irish political life call for a comprehensive and forceful response. This can be achieved through reform of the various systems for prevention of corruption in the Irish political system in the first instance. It can also be achieved by overhauling this country's administrative, regulatory, law enforcement and judicial systems. I am, therefore, committed to the delivery of the ambitious commitments relating to political reform which are outlined in the programme for Government. The unifying theme running through these initiatives relates to securing greater openness and transparency and enhanced accountability and thereby ensuring more effective public governance. As I have previously highlighted, these represent a comprehensive suite of significant measures that have the potential to bring about an important shift in the rules of the game for the political and administrative systems in this country.

My Department has responsibility for the implementation of a significant number of the recommendations contained in the Mahon tribunal's final report. These recommendations fall into the categories of conflicts of interest, lobbying, corruption and misuse of confidential information.

Policy proposals on lobbying regulation were published earlier this month and have been the subject of a recent successful public seminar involving key interests and experts. Lobbying is a positive force in our democracy. However, a comprehensive approach to the regulation of lobbying is required in order to shed greater light on the question of who engages in lobbying and for what purpose. We need to know more about how public policy and decision-making processes are shaped. Taking account of the issues raised in the consultation process, my Department is currently developing draft heads of a Bill in this area. When Government approval is obtained in respect of these, I intend to submit them to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform for its consideration. I aim to have this legislation enacted early next year.

The introduction of comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation is central to more effective management and early amelioration of risk, in both the public and private sectors. As Deputies will be aware, in well-run and risk-focused organisations, whistleblowing should be encouraged and promoted. The need for protection against reprisals is a safety net when the whistleblower, rather than the information he or she discloses, becomes the primary focus of the organisation's attention. Following their approval by the Government and with a view to informing the public debate on the matter I published the draft heads of the protected disclosures in the public interest Bill earlier this year. I have received, and am considering, a number of submissions from interested parties, including Transparency International, ICTU, IBEC, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and others. All have made submissions and offered observations and I anticipate that I will be in a position to introduce the Bill to the Dáil in the autumn session.

Beyond the registration of lobbyists and the introduction of whistleblower legislation, a large number of recommendations in the final report of the Mahon tribunal relate to conflicts of interest. The latter are characterised by the tribunal as the "root cause of corruption". Collectively, these recommendations point to the need for a fundamental review and extensive overhaul of the legislative framework relating to ethics. There is a consensus that the existing framework requires significant reform and modernisation. There are some very important policy issues to be grappled with in advancing this project but the basic objective must be to put in place a model that can play an appropriate role in embedding ethics as an integral part of the values, culture and behaviour of the Irish public service.

Given the watershed that is the Mahon tribunal report, I have decided to take this opportunity to engage in a full review of how the existing legislative framework for ethics can be reformed in order to develop a single, comprehensive and overarching framework that will be grounded on a clear and comprehensive set of principles. This considerable undertaking will cross all Departments and sectors and will compliment the work of my colleagues, the Ministers for Justice and Equality and the Environment, Community and Local Government, who will both be contributing to this debate. My Department will continue to work closely with officials from both Ministers' Departments. I remain committed to continuing to drive forward the Government's reform programme on behalf of, and in conjunction with, all of my colleagues in government, with a view to ensuring that ethical values are and will be seen to be fully addressed and reinforced in Irish public life.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to outline the Government's response to the Mahon tribunal's final report, which is being published today. Engaging in a debate on this topic is important because, at its core, is the issue of trust. Trust is essential to any democracy. It is what is vested in each public representative at the point of election and it is what is expected of them throughout their service to their electorate. When members of the public cast their vote for any one of us, what they are effectively saying is: "We trust you"; "We trust you to champion and support our interests"; and "We trust you to be straight, honest and honourable". They must have confidence and certainty that we will, at all times, represent their needs, not ours.

The people will always give out about politicians - that comes with the territory - but when they believe that politicians abuse the honour of representing them in order to feather their own nests, that goes far beyond mere criticism to a complete loss of trust in those elected and a loss of faith in the entire political system.

Do I understand that the Minister is sharing the time remaining in this slot with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter?

The Mahon tribunal report shows that this is exactly what happens when vested interests and self-serving influencing and decision-making undermine and corrupt the system. The trust vested in all politicians at both national or local levels was betrayed by some politicians. As a result of both the corrupt acts of a few individuals and the extensive evidence uncovered and published in the Mahon report, the credibility of our political system has been severely undermined and shaken. That betrayal has been condemned, and rightly so, on all sides of the House. The response to it can probably be summed up in two words, namely, never again.

This is an issue that is too important to be reduced to party politics. It is issue of patriotism, pride and trust. It is also an issue that goes to the heart of our democracy and our responsibility to the people of this nation. That puts an onus on all of us in this House and across all levels of elected government to reassure the people that the next scandal will not be allowed to happen. With the publication of the tribunal's findings and multi-stranded recommendations, we have - at one and the same time - an urgent duty and an opportunity to rebuild public confidence in the system. That means acting swiftly and decisively to ensure a fully accountable and transparent planning system in which there will be no scope for corrupt practices to subvert the checks and balances which are either already in place or in the process of being put in place.

The whole-of-Government response published today summarises actions on each of the 64 recommendations of the Mahon tribunal and reveals that 29 recommendations have already been or are in the process of being implemented, either partly or in full; 14 recommendations will be implemented by means of additional initiatives; and 18 recommendations remain under consideration and will be considered as policy and legislative changes are progressed in these areas during the remainder of the year. Of the 64 recommendations, only three are not proposed to be implemented. It is clear from today's response paper that many of the tribunal's recommendations are already being actioned through ongoing legislative reforms and commitments in the programme for Government. I include in this regard the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 in respect of which the House has just completed its deliberations. From my policy perspective, I have expedited the introduction of political donation reforms through the latter legislation.

The publication of the Government's response earlier today is an important step but it is only the beginning. I am of the view that our concerted actions across a range of areas and cutting across a number of Government Departments and agencies demonstrate that we are serious and committed to strengthening transparency and accountability in our planning, ethics and governance codes. Having learned from this experience and taken due account of previous systemic failures, it is now our collective duty as Ministers, public representatives and as responsible citizens to ensure that these occurrences remain a harsh, costly and painful reminder and a spur to set things right and to put in place the safeguards to ensure that such corruption never happens again. We must set down standards and introduce robust regulations not just to prevent future wrongdoing but also to prove to the citizens of this nation that its future will be shaped honestly and honourably; demonstrate that we take the public's trust and our responsibilities very seriously and illustrate that we will strive to restore the trust that has been lost.

The Mahon tribunal report exposed the insidious and corrupt behaviour of some in Irish public life, behaviour that has done inestimable damage to our economy, our environment, our international reputation and, perhaps most of all, to the trust of Irish people in officeholders and public officials. The tribunal made a series of recommendations for changes in the law on corruption and its prevention. I am glad to report to the House that I have already taken concrete steps in this regard not only to implement the tribunal's recommendations but to go beyond those recommendations in providing for anti-corruption legislation with innovative preventative and punitive measures. The particular measures I propose are outlined in the general scheme of the criminal justice (corruption) Bill, which I published on 20 June.

The tribunal also made recommendations concerning the application of enhanced customer due diligence measures to domestic politically exposed persons in the context of anti-money laundering controls. I propose to go further than the tribunal recommended and to apply such controls to members and senior managers of local authorities. The necessary changes to the general scheme of the criminal justice (money laundering and terrorist financing) (amendment) Bill will be brought to Government in the autumn.

A number of the recommendations of the tribunal relate to asset confiscation and forfeiture. As indicated in the tribunal report, the current provisions regulating the confiscation of proceeds of crime as set out in the Criminal Justice Act 1994 and the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996 and 2005 are already relatively robust. While existing measures under proceeds of crime legislation allow for the targeting of benefits derived from corrupt conduct, the tribunal's recommendations seek to further improve the overall effectiveness of the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act. The recommendations of the tribunal on asset confiscation will form part of a broader review that has already been undertaken with regard to both the proceeds of crime legislation and the Criminal Justice Act.

The Mahon tribunal report also made two recommendations on improving the conduct of future tribunals. The recommendations are already reflected in the text of the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005. I have arranged for its restoration to the Dáil Order Paper and the Bill will be dealt with on Report Stage.

The commitments given to progress work on the recommendations of the tribunal and the progress already been made on a significant number of the recommendations reaffirms the Government's commitment to change any perception that corrupt behaviour can ever again, in any shape or form, be tolerated in public office or that a blind eye might again be cast on such behaviour. No such behaviour should be tolerated in any circumstance.

We continue to deal with the legacy of past corrupt behaviour. Our criminal justice system will continue to play its part. While evidence given before the tribunal cannot be used itself as a basis for criminal prosecution, the evidence catalogues the behaviour of those involved and it will assist our law enforcement agencies in pursuing any appropriate matters. I assure the House that where the Garda Síochána has evidence of wrongdoing it will be fully pursued.

Finally, I can confirm to the House that the steps I have outlined, demonstrate my firm commitment, and that of this Government, to ensuring there is a robust, comprehensive and effective legislative framework and architecture underpinning the State's response to corruption in public office.

The Mahon tribunal was discussed at length in this House and all political parties gave responses to it in a comprehensive manner. The fact that some recommendations are being rolled out is timely. I would have liked if the response paper referred to by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, had been circulated to us in advance. I understand he had to leave to speak in the Seanad. The fact that a comprehensive suite of measures is being put in place is most welcome across Irish society. The detail of what unfolded from the Mahon tribunal disgusted the public and led to a complete undermining and erosion of the trust people had in politics and in some public representatives. A small number of public representatives brought the whole body of public representatives into disrepute. That is regrettable.

One of the recommendations advanced is legislation to implement a register of lobbyists. My party published a proposal on that a number of months ago and made a comprehensive submission to the public consultation process undertaken by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Recently, we partook in a public consultation seminar in Farmleigh, which was quite informative. That proved quite useful because it threw up difficult anomalies that must be squared before we can bring about an effective and transparent registration of lobbyists. For example, some legal houses are engaging in lobbying. There are concerns from some people in the legitimate lobbying industry that legal privilege will allow law firms to engage in lobbying without having to register. Some of the interesting discussions centred on cooling off periods, which referred to people exiting politics and going into private enterprise and engaging in lobbying. There is a debate about how long the cooling off period should be. I posed the reverse scenario where people who had been engaged in the art of lobbying entered the world of politics and find themselves quite close to decision-makers, whether working as special advisers or as officeholders.

As public representatives, we are lobbied every day. The vast majority is in the public interest and for the right reasons. There is not something necessarily wrong with it. There is a perception that it is part of the dark arts. Some people who are not well known and who are not household names have ease of access to the corridors of power and to decision-makers. That must be equalised and the system must be put on a level playing pitch so that everyone knows who people are talking to about public policy. Lobbyists who are former public representatives or personalities are household names. However, many lobbyists are former high-ranking civil and public servants and people who worked at the top levels in the back offices of political parties. They are not household names yet they have access. That must be equalised and it will make for fairer legislation in the long run.

Much has been made of conflicts of interest. There is a problem where there is a conflict of interest or where there is a perception of a conflict of interest. We await with interest how the Government response paper will deal with conflicts of interest.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government mentioned trust and the planning system. I agree with him on that point but we must remember that planning issues, irregularities and allegations of corruption and irregularities do not stop at the Red Cow roundabout. We discussed this in the House and outside it. There was disagreement in this Chamber on what should be done regarding the seven named local authorities in respect of which the former Minister, John Gormley, intended to establish investigations. If the Government is serious about implementing the recommendations in the Mahon tribunal report, there must be a broader and deeper examination of the allegations relating to those authorities. In the time since that debate took place we have heard about the situation in Waterford in respect of which my party called for an inquiry. We had the trial of Mr. Forsey and his conviction on a charge of corruption. It is beyond comprehension that members of Waterford County Council would proceed to make a decision on land zoning in the midst of a Garda investigation. That is a matter of great concern to the public.

Also of great concern is the situation in Wicklow. As I understand it, the elected public representatives from Wicklow County Council who sought a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, were told by him that they would have to deal with the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. If the Government is serious about cleaning up irregularities across local government - which the Minister is charged with doing - then there must be access to Government for local government representatives. It is not good enough that elected members of Wicklow County Council are being denied access to the persons in Government with special responsibility for planning matters throughout the State. There are several issues under contention in Wicklow, one of which reached a settlement in the High Court that will potentially expose the State for up to €60 million. I understand several investigation files have gone missing, including one referred to as the Ballybeg file.

It is not good enough for the Government to set out a plan of action on foot of the recommendations in the Mahon tribunal report while choosing to ignore all of the other zoning cases throughout the country which are similar and relevant but not mentioned specifically in the report. The refusal by the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to meet with elected public representatives from her own party is beyond belief. I am told that a complaint in this regard will be lodged in due course with the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO.

That is fine.

It is not fine, however, in the sense that the public interest is not being served.

A senior counsel is investigating this matter on behalf of the Department.

The Minister has indicated that he does not have the €50 million that will be-----

What does the Deputy expect me to do? I cannot interfere with the ongoing investigation.

Deputy Niall Collins, without interruption.

The Minister is on record as saying he does not have the money and will have to go to Government to get it. Will he undertake to meet formally with the councillors in Wicklow who have concerns in regard to this matter?

I am obliged to operate legally.

That is not good enough.

It is good enough for me, if not for the Deputy.

Does the Minister have approval for the €50 million which-----

I will have to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.

What does it mean if an undertaking has been given to the High Court that the money is in place in regard to this matter?

The Deputy is running out of time.

We are all running out of time.

It is not good enough to have statements on the Mahon tribunal report while ignoring the issues of grave concern that have emerged in recent weeks and months. In the case of the Waterford situation, the majority of councillors involved are from the Minister's party. Some are from my own party and we have no issue with that. We are happy to have the matter publicly investigated. The Minister, however, rubbished our call for a planning inquiry on the basis that there is no prima facie evidence for such.

There was a court case.

A case was taken to court in respect of corrupt activity by one individual. Incidentally, that individual did not have a vote on the zoning matter in question.

He was, however, convicted.

What about all of those who were involved in the zoning decision? The Minister is burying his head in the sand on these matters. We have had three Ministers discussing this matter in the House today. Unfortunately for the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, he is the one left carrying the can. He is banging the drum on behalf of his colleagues.

I am carrying the can for the Deputy's predecessors.

The Minister is banging the drum that his Government is addressing the recommendations in the Mahon tribunal report.

I am carrying the can for Fianna Fáil.

There are members of his party in local authorities up and down the country who should be investigated. In the case of the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, some of her own party members on Wicklow County Council have requested to meet with her and the Minister, Deputy Hogan, as the people with responsibility in this area, but their request was refused. What message does that send to the public? It is not good enough.

We are having statements, not a question and answer session. The Deputy's time is up.

I know it is not a question and answer session. However, the question must be raised. If we have a scenario where files within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government are going missing-----

Has the Deputy's party investigated the conduct of the five Fianna Fáil councillors in Waterford?

We are calling for a public investigation into these matters.

Has Fianna Fáil conducted an internal investigation into the activities of its members?

It is the Minister who refuses to initiate a public inquiry.

The Deputy's time is up.

I am about to conclude. As I said, a complaint will be lodged with SIPO in regard to the carry on in Wicklow. It is simply not good enough to have statements on the Mahon report while this type of activity is going on in local authorities throughout the country. It makes a farce of the debate.

We are discussing the Mahon tribunal report.

I have called Deputy Jonathan O'Brien.

There is a certain irony in watching Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael fighting it out to see which can stand tallest on the mountain of morality and claim to be the least corrupt in Irish politics. It is amusing.

The Deputy should avoid mentioning morality and Sinn Féin in the same sentence.

I would put the history of my party against that of the Minister's party any day of the week.

The Deputy is welcome to do so and see how he gets on.

The Minister should allow Deputy O'Brien to continue.

I agree with Deputy Niall Collins that dealing with the recommendations in the Mahon tribunal report does not absolve anybody of everything that happened up to that point. We certainly must, in the public interest, investigate all of the issues the Deputy has raised. My party will support any such investigation.

However, we are here today to discuss the recommendations set out in the report of the Mahon tribunal. We already spent several days after the publication of the report discussing its findings. There was some political point-scoring in that debate, which is inevitable when members of different parties are discussing such an important report. However, there was also a sense among Members of all parties and none that we had reached a crossroads in Irish politics. The general consensus was that the choice before us was either to take the Mahon tribunal report and, as was done with previous tribunal reports, put it on a shelf without implementing any of its recommendations, or we could look seriously at those recommendations with a view to implementing as many as possible.

If the Minister wants to have a conversation with Deputy Niall Collins, he should leave the Chamber. I will be more than happy to chat with the Acting Chairman and Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett in his absence. Is he interested in what we have to say?

I am listening.

He seems to be multitasking.

I have listened carefully to what the Deputy said. Unfortunately, he has not made much sense yet.

That is not very fair.

What my colleagues and I have to say makes a great deal more sense than much of what we hear from the Minister.

We have had statements from three Ministers today outlining the Government's response to the recommendations in the Mahon tribunal report. We certainly welcome some of the initiatives which have been undertaken. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, spoke about the register of lobbyists legislation, which will go to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. We spoke about the whistleblower legislation, the money laundering legislation and ethics in public life and what the Government proposes to do to improve the legislation. It is important that we do so, not only because it is badly needed but because politics has been damaged by what has been found by the Mahon tribunal. It is incumbent on all of us - those who are members of any political party and those who are not attached to a party - to ensure we never allow circumstances to exist in which people get involved in politics for the wrong reasons, not in the interest of the public good but because of self-interest and financial gain.

The Minister stated that three of the 64 recommendations would not be acted on. He did not say why that is the case and I would be interested in having a discussion on that at a later date. The Minister referred earlier to the electoral Bill and the inclusion of a number of recommendations in that legislation. The Minister for Justice and Equality has already done some work on the whistleblower legislation and there is further work to be done by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on that. The whole process of the publication of the heads of important legislation is constructive and allows us to obtain a wider opinion on Bills; it allows committees - be it the justice or finance committee - to invite interested parties to outline their opinions, which makes for better legislation.

In spite of our political differences with the Government parties, Sinn Féin will not be found wanting in its support for any legislation that cleans up politics and ensures that the type of behaviour uncovered in the Mahon tribunal never recurs. We are honoured to represent our constituents and I feel privileged to be in this Chamber and to have the ability to effect change. I find it difficult to believe that some people abuse that power. It has happened and it will happen again unless we put in place the necessary ethics and other legislation to ensure proper standards in public office. If we do not put that on the Statute Book, we too will be guilty of allowing such practices to occur in future.

I found it interesting that the Government chose to have this debate on its response to the Mahon tribunal at the last moment. I can only assume it is part of a fairly concerted strategy over the past couple of weeks to try to end this session of the Dáil on a positive note and give the public the sense that things are moving in the right direction, that the Government is delivering and doing well and that we are on the road towards a better future. Of course, we all hope that is the case, and that this is not just a communications and spin strategy and maybe an emergency response to the disastrous situation that faced the Government in terms of the massive opposition to the unjust household charge.

While there is a lot of self-congratulation about the response to the Mahon tribunal and the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill, which has just been passed, it is important not to be too triumphalist about all of this because the backdrop is an unprecedented period of corruption which culminated in the greatest economic crisis we have seen since the foundation of the State - a crisis which has left the majority of people in a very bad situation. More people are living in poverty than ever before in recent times, more people are homeless, more people are on housing lists, more people are unemployed and huge numbers are emigrating. That is the legacy of the period of corruption.

I heard some Deputies, in particular from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, refer to the corruption as something that existed among some Deputies. It is important to underline that this is not what Judge Mahon said. He said there was endemic corruption in Irish political life. That means it was rampant across Irish political life. It is worth saying, not as a point-scoring effort but as a simple statement of fact, that the two parties which dominated Irish political life and which Mahon described as endemically corrupt were Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. If Irish political life was endemically corrupt during the period leading to this disaster, then obviously that endemic corruption emanated primarily from those two parties, so a little bit of humility about that legacy and the consequences of the period of endemic corruption would be quite useful.

It is far too early to say whether this is a serious effort to clean up Irish politics and whether the measures contained in the Bill are more than just window dressing which has been forced on the Irish political establishment as a result of the disastrous crisis that now besets Irish society and the anger of the people at that rampant corruption. I do not think the signs are very good or that we have much to be proud of given that we spent €0.5 billion on a whole succession of tribunals and virtually nobody who was prominent in that period of endemic corruption has been put in jail or has had real justice served on him or her. In fact, most of the key players in both parties have walked away from political life with massive pensions, having presided over or been involved in that level of corruption. They are wealthy people and remain prominent in the higher echelons of Irish society. If Fine Gael was serious about leading by example, it would tell us who were the corporate and other wealthy donors who helped it amass a €3 million war chest prior to the last election so that we would know which individuals and corporate interests were influencing the political decisions which have, for example, left NAMA developers still being paid €100,000 or €200,000 to preside over NAMA assets and other such activities.

I am disappointed the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, have left the Chamber. I respect the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, but I-----

I have responsibility for planning.

I fully accept that and we spoke about that earlier. I am glad the Minister of State is here but they are the heavy hitters we are told about all the time. I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. Much was expected of the Mahon tribunal. However, it sat for an eternity, made millionaires out of many barristers and produced a huge final report that would take weeks to read. With the exception of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who is doing a decent job, the Ministers with responsibility for this matter are not making any real efforts to respond to the report. I do not trust the Ministers for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Justice and Equality, Deputies Hogan and Shatter, respectively. They live on a different planet from us mere mortals and are not interested in dealing with ordinary people. The cosy cartels continue to exist in the courts, politics and some levels of the Garda Síochána. What goes on every day in the Commercial and High Courts is sickening and outrageous. Members of the Judiciary - I will not refer to anyone by name in case the Acting Chairman is worried - may select cases. I receive a constant flow of people in my office who cannot secure justice or people to represent. Even solicitors are being bullied and threatened.

Not one banker, regulator or senior politician has been arraigned for what took place when this country was plundered, raped and brought to its knees. Ordinary citizens are being pilloried and criminalised for minor crimes for which I accept they should be punished. The rich and powerful get away with it, however. Fine Gael has tents, caravans and God knows what else for raising funds. Having promised to get rid of this type of fund raising, it has failed to do so. What we have instead is the Minister, "Big Phil the Enforcer", bulldozing through a household charge, which I will pay, a septic tank charge, which is completely wrong and discriminates against rural dwellers, and many other matters. He will not meet county councillors in Tipperary, not to speak of an independent and a Labour Party councillor in County Wicklow who are alleging corruption. He states the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, must meet them.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, tells us that debtors will only have to sell wedding rings which are worth more than €200,000. On which planet does he live? Where are these people who have wedding rings worth €200,000? How can the Ministers empathise, understand or send out a signal that they are interested in having transparent, open and honest Government? The corruption and big cartels continue and the Ministers will not engage or listen. As I stated this morning, the blueshirts are still in business and they want to make mere mortals lie down. They will not get away with it because it behoves all of us to stand up for ordinary people who have been wronged and treated as blackguards. It is the taxpayers who pay for the tribunals and must provide €50 million to meet the costs of a High Court case brought against Wicklow County Council. One cannot simply sign cheques for this, that and the other; full accountability and transparency are required. We were promised the bondholders would be burned and hellfire would not be hot enough for them, yet we are still on the same merry-go-round, with the same senior officials still in place and exercising their permanent grip on government.

While some decent members of the Government parties want to do their best, they are being thwarted by fellows who know how to talk to Michael Fingleton, how to get a soft, interest-only loan of €800,000 or €900,000 and how to get money at race meetings. They will condemn all those who challenge them or refuse to apologise for using unspeakable language to a lady in County Kerry. These people are not fit for Government or power. The Minister, Deputy Shatter-----

I ask the Deputy to calm down a little and speak to the issue, namely, the Mahon report.

I am speaking to the issue. Three Ministers made speeches about transparency, openness and ethics. The Minister would not accept a scrap metal Bill to prevent the plunder of houses every day of the week. He is now saying people should sell-----

May I have the Deputy's attention?

The matter before the House is statements on the Mahon tribunal.

I know that. We had three short statements made by Ministers who took the high moral ground.

I have given the Deputy considerable latitude as he has exceeded his speaking time.

The Ministers' contributions smacked of condescension.

I ask the Deputy to respect the Chair and stick to the issue of the Mahon tribunal.

I am referring to the statements made by three Ministers. I look forward to the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who has not yet spoken. We had three condescending statements which referred to what took place under Fianna Fáil Party Governments. This Government has carried on the very same practices and does not have an interest or any notion of changing it. They are not even trying to do so.

I regret that this debate is so short and has been scheduled for the tail end of this Dáil session. It is extremely important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The Mahon report may have inquired into issues in Dublin but the same circumstances applied throughout the country. When grounds emerged to investigate matters in a number of local authorities, the subsequent inquiries were conducted internally, which is wholly inappropriate and inadequate.

A number of the issues raised in the Mahon report are being addressed by way of legislation. One of the recommendations of the report was to establish a wholly accountable and democratically elected regional authority. Proposals such as this must also be implemented.

While I do not propose to equate inquiries into child abuse with planning inquiries, it is important to note that separate inquiries into clerical child sexual abuse found the same awful circumstances obtained in various locations. Precisely the same applies in respect of the planning system. The issues identified in the Mahon report did not stop at the Dublin boundaries.

We must examine the reasons the planning system is so developer centred and works on behalf of developers rather than communities. Unfinished ghost estates and mad decisions to zone flood plains and so forth are the product of this problem. If we are to restore public confidence in the planning system, we must have a thorough debate followed by radical reform. A short debate on the final afternoon of a long Dáil session is not sufficient. The Government must commit to providing time in the autumn to discuss this issue in a comprehensive manner and to introduce legislation governing the relationship between political funding and the political system.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. To respond to Deputy Catherine Murphy's point, there is no reason we cannot return to this issue. However, it was important to address it today before the House rises for the summer recess.

Today marks an important departure in a planning scandal that has bedevilled politics since 1997. In the intervening years, we have listened as a grotesque picture of corruption, avarice and greed emerged from Dublin Castle. In particular when Frank Dunlop eventually came clean about the swag of cash he used to undermine the planning system and peddle influence, our worst fears about what had occurred in Dublin County Council were confirmed, if not exceeded. The genuine rejection of that type of politics was given voice in this House when it held an extensive debate on the Mahon tribunal report some weeks ago. I accept the bona fides of Deputies from all parties on that matter.

Today is not the end of the Mahon tribunal saga but it represents a significant departure. The challenge for the House is not only to express its disgust at what has been proved to have happened in the past - this has been done - but to fashion a comprehensive response that demonstrates that the political system has learned from the tribunal process and is determined to change how politics is done at local and national level. The overriding goal must be to restore the trust of members of the public in their democratic institutions. The Government gave a commitment to embark on this path after the publication of the Mahon tribunal report. Today the whole of government response is laid out and I hope every citizen will take some time to consider the radical changes we are proposing through a course of action that addresses more than 60 of the Mahon report recommendations.

As the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, outlined, reform in a significant number of areas is already under way. In that regard, I note the passage, less than an hour ago, of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill and, in particular, the constructive manner in which all Deputies and Senators contributed to the debate on the legislation, as a result of which a better Bill will go to the President.

Foremost in my mind are the tribunal's recommendations on planning. I am committed to introducing comprehensive reform of the planning system in response to the Mahon report. There is a particular onus on me, as the Minister of State with responsibility for planning, to restore public trust in our planning system and this is a duty I intend to honour. I have already introduced reform in the planning area. The practice of developers promoting local area plans has been eliminated, for example, but I intend to introduce further reform.

One of the most fundamental recommendations in the tribunal report relates to the establishment of a planning regulator and I am determined to see this recommendation implemented. The establishment of a regulator brings with it serious issues of accountability and democratic control, which must be fully analysed if we are to get this important reform right. Much deliberation has been carried out by my Department to find out how this might be implemented. Important questions have to be addressed. Will there be a role for An Bord Pleanála, the Ombudsman or a completely new independent office? If the Minister is entirely removed from the process, how do we balance the democratic mandate of elected councillors against a powerful technocratic office? What are the limits of the regulator's powers vis-à-vis the planning process and elected members? Is the regulator’s decision final? If the office is to reside in an existing body such as An Bord Pleanála, how will that affect the other functions of the board? Is there an inherent tension between making decisions on forward planning, development plans and local area plans and making decisions on individual planning cases? These are important questions about democracy, accountability and transparency.

I intend to introduce a comprehensive plan for an independent planning regulator. It is important not only that we address this crucial issue but that we do it right. With that in mind, I will consult the elected Members of the Oireachtas before I decide on a mechanism for delivering on this recommendation. I will take account of the points raised by Opposition Deputies. When the Dáil reconvenes I intend to submit a paper to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht which will set out the various options and, with the agreement of the committee, I will attend a meeting to hear members' views. I believe that is an appropriate way to utilise the procedures of the Dáil. It is in marked contrast to the approach taken by Deputies Mattie McGrath and Niall Collins, who persisted in their usual tactic of innuendo and half-truth.

I have initiated the process of appointing an independent planner with regard to the reviews to which Deputy Catherine Murphy referred. I hope to be in a position to make the appointment in the autumn, as I had indicated following the review carried out within the Department.

Planning is essential for coherent, sustainable and healthy communities. We are united in the view that what happened the past can never occur again, but our vision for planning must go beyond that. By placing the values of community, sustainability and the common good at the heart of our planning system we can fashion a mechanism that delivers a thriving Ireland for the decades ahead. That is my vision for planning and it is one that I intend to deliver.