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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 27 Nov 2012

Vol. 784 No. 2

Topical Issue Debate

Schools Building Projects Status

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue for debate. As the Minister of State is probably aware, this issue is pertinent and has come to our attention again in the past week. In my constituency, a new long-awaited school building project was interrupted last week when some subcontractors, desperate for some sort of resolution to their problems, went into a school in Kilfinane in County Limerick and tried to remove material from the school. The issue of whether they were right or wrong to do that is an issue for another forum.

The situation has caused significant distress among the school community, the parents, teachers, management and pupils, who have been waiting on this new building for a long time. The situation has also created a momentum with regard to dealing with the issue of subcontractors. These people entered into contracts in good faith to provide building services for State sponsored buildings.

They have been left high and dry on more than one occasion. Indeed, the provision of the school in Kilfinane, County Limerick, has been delayed before. The people have had a previous false dawn.

The stimulus package that was recently announced by the State allows for up to 80,000 new school places to be provided. I know from reading the Official Report that this is not the first time the House has considered the issue of subcontractors being left high and dry after working on schools or other public facilities like council houses and State buildings. I am aware that the Construction Contracts Bill 2010 is about to be considered on Committee Stage.

I suggest that the Department of Education and Skills could set out provisions to be applied during the tendering process. For example, it would be simple to require a bank account to be opened for the sole purpose of the project at hand. That would enable us to ensure that cheques and moneys from the Department of Education and Skills or the school's board of management - it depends on whether it is a devolved grant - are lodged into the bank account of the project in question. The only invoices that should be drawn on that bank account are those relating to the project. The problem at the moment is that contractors are getting paid by the State for work being done by subcontractors. The contractors are using that money to pay for other work that has already been done and that other people are waiting to be paid for.

There are no winners in this instance. The subcontractors did not want to do what they had to do. The parents did not want to do what they had to do. At the end of the day, there is a community in the middle of this. When due diligence is being attached to the awarding of these contracts by the Department of Education and Skills or by local boards of management, there needs to be a greater level of input from quantity surveyors to ensure the race to the bottom, whereby a contractor submits a price which we know in our hearts and souls is below the cost at which the project can be delivered, is not successful. It is also hugely important for consideration to be given to anecdotal evidence of the history of these companies. I am familiar with cases - for example, in the south east of the country - in which contractors have left subcontractors high and dry and local authorities are making retention payments in the full knowledge that the subcontractors have not been paid. The State has an obligation to intervene in such cases. I appreciate that the Construction Contracts Bill 2010 is ready to be debated on Committee Stage. There are things we can do in the short term to ensure subcontractors and, ultimately, school communities are protected.

I am responding to the Deputy on behalf of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Quinn. I will convey the suggestions made by the Deputy to the Minister.

The Deputy will be aware of the context in which decisions on meeting the accommodation needs of schools must be considered over the coming years. Total enrolment is expected to grow by approximately 70,000 students between now and 2018. This equates to more than 45,000 students at primary level and 25,000 students at post-primary level. Second level enrolment is expected to continue to increase until at least 2024. The five-year programme that was announced last spring by the Minister, Deputy Quinn, will provide more than 100,000 permanent school places, of which over 80,000 will be new school places. The rest of the places will be provided by means of the replacement of temporary or unsatisfactory accommodation.

Although the Department of Education and Skills is the primary funding agency, it is generally not the contracting authority on school building projects and therefore has no legal authority to intervene in legally binding contracts involving third parties. A school building project is a complex arrangement of contractual relationships between the client, the main contractor, specialist subcontractors, domestic subcontractors, suppliers of materials and suppliers of plant etc. In general, all subcontractors employed on school building projects are employed directly by the main contractor or indirectly by the main contractor through other subcontractors. It is a matter for all subcontractors to agree terms, conditions and payment schedules with main contractors as their direct employers. As contracting authorities such as schools and VECs have no control over the subcontracts entered into by main contractors, they hold no information relating to those subcontracts. As such, no responsibility or power rests with them to resolve contractual issues relating to those subcontractors.

With regard to the recent cases highlighted in the media, the Minister for Education and Skills is satisfied that all moneys due to be paid under the terms of the main contract on each project have been paid to the main contractor. If an allegation of non-compliance with pay and conditions of employment arises, the allegation should be reported to the appropriate statutory dispute investigation and resolution mechanisms provided by the State. The main statutory agency charged with this function is the National Employment Rights Authority, which has the remit, resources, experience and statutory powers to investigate and resolve these matters in the most efficient and impartial manner. If serious breaches are alleged, it is possible to refer the matter directly to the Labour Court.

The main aim of the Construction Contracts Bill 2010 is to address the issue of non-payment to construction sector contractors, subcontractors and subcontractors of subcontractors who have completed work to the required standard on construction projects. As currently drafted, the Bill seeks to address these issues by providing statutory arrangements for payments under construction contracts, including interim payments, thereby reducing a payee's exposure to non-payment. It also proposes to introduce a new mechanism for the swift resolution of payment disputes through a process of adjudication. I assure the Deputy and the House that departmental officials will continue to liaise with the school authorities and are monitoring progress on these projects.

The Minister of State said in her reply that "the Minister for Education and Skills is satisfied that all moneys due to be paid under the terms of the main contract on each project have been paid to the main contractor". I suppose that is the problem. I think the Department of Education and Skills should be required to retain the final payment until it has sought and received certification from the subcontractors that they are happy for that payment to be made to the main contractor. This could be done very easily. I do not think the final 30% or 40% of contract moneys should be paid to the main contractor until all of the subcontractors have signed off on it in this way. I do not doubt that the Department is committed to this approach. If the problem in Kilfinane is replicated all over the country, there will be no winners. This is a particular problem for children and teachers.

I accept the Minister of State's assertion that the Department "has no legal authority to intervene in legally binding contracts". However, I remind the House that the Department has a role in the formulation of those contracts. As I have said, the race to the bottom means that the Department is not prepared to consider the previous history of these companies. There are characters in the wild west that I would not compare to some of those involved in these companies. The people in question have no interest in providing a decent level of service. They are trying to undermine everybody else as part of the race to the bottom.

I urge the Government to introduce a system whereby 20% or 30% of the final payment is retained pending a certification process to be invoked by the Department. The last tranche of finance should not be paid until the Department is satisfied that genuine subcontractors - plumbers and electricians, etc. - have been paid. In his initial statement, the Minister said that these school projects would stimulate local economies. The local economy in south and east Limerick has been left absolutely devastated by this difficulty, which is being dragged into the public arena for a second time. The Minister of State knows the areas in question. I am sure she knows some of the people concerned. Neither the subcontractors nor the parents wanted to do what they had to do. In the middle of the whole thing is a contractor who has just walked off. The whole thing stinks to high heavens. We need to make sure it does not happen again. As a way of going forward, I have suggested that we provide for a process of certification, with a suitable amount being retained.

I am familiar with the situation in Kilfinane. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, wants to do everything he possibly can in this area. As the Deputy knows, and as I said in my main response, the Department is not generally the contracting authority. There are legal restrictions in that regard. The Deputy has made some specific suggestions to be considered while we wait for progress to be made with the Construction Contracts Bill 2010 before it is passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I will convey them to the Minister. I know he will want to do everything he possibly can.

Tenant Purchase Scheme Applications

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this topic to be raised. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to deal with it. She will be aware that I raised this issue at an Oireachtas joint committee meeting some weeks ago. I mentioned that people in local authority houses had just a few weeks left to submit applications under the tenant purchase scheme. The Minister of State should give those people more time to buy out their houses. The 1995 tenant purchase scheme has enabled 10,000 families to purchase their own houses over the past ten years.

I understand the number has fallen but people are still very interested in this scheme.

It is important to point out there was up to a 30% discount under the 1995 scheme and up to a 45% discount under the 2011 scheme, which had certain attractions. A new scheme will be introduced in the new year but it will contain changes in that it will not refer to the length of tenure in houses, as in the current system, but rather the discounts will relate to family income. That is a little vague and perhaps the Minister of State will provide more information.

The Minister of State will need to bring in new legislation next year if these changes are to come about. There is talk of an incremental purchase scheme which will incentivise families to remain in the community following the purchase, and I make the point that this is equally true of the present scheme. The Minister of State is to extend the terms of the new scheme to all housing authority stock. Will she consider extending the terms to, for example, the voluntary housing sector, given many in that sector have applied to purchase houses although that is not available at present? Perhaps a new scheme will be considered in this area. I hope the Minister of State will address these issues, namely, the extension of the present scheme and when the legislation will be introduced.

It now appears tenants should apply both under the current scheme and also when the incremental purchase scheme is announced and published in legislation. What is very clear is that information should be made available to those who want to avail of this opportunity. If the date is not being extended, people will want to know they now have only one month to apply under the old scheme.

I thank Deputy Kitt for raising this important issue, in which he has previously expressed an interest in the committee. I want to set out the Government's position. The 1995 tenant purchase scheme, as it is commonly known, has been a major success, enabling more than 32,000 local authority tenants to purchase their homes. However, take-up on the scheme has dwindled in recent years and there were only 195 purchases across all housing authorities in 2010. The time is right to look at other tenant purchase options.

In this context, in June 2010 my Department requested housing authorities to notify all eligible tenants of the decision to wind down the 1995 scheme over two years and replace it with a new tenant purchase scheme along incremental purchase lines. I decided in June of this year to extend the closing date for applying to purchase under the scheme and I have recently signed regulations prescribing 31 December 2012 as the last day for applying to purchase and 31 December 2013 as the last day for selling houses under the scheme. That gives one year in which the applications can be processed. By the closing date, tenants will have had two and a half years to decide whether they wish to apply to purchase under the existing scheme or to await the new replacement scheme.

The Government is committed to retaining an option for local authority tenants, who are in a position to do so, to purchase their homes. My Department is currently developing the heads of a housing Bill which will provide, among other things, for a new purchase scheme for tenants of existing local authority houses. I intend to seek Government approval for the drafting of the Bill as soon as possible so enactment can proceed without delay.

The new scheme will be based on the incremental purchase model, involving sales price discounts for tenants related to household income, and a corresponding local authority charge on the property that will dwindle away over a period unless the house is resold or the tenant purchaser fails to comply with certain conditions of the sale. These provisions are in line with the terms of two tenant purchase schemes introduced in recent years, one for designated new local authority houses and one for local authority tenants of apartments. I look forward to introducing the new scheme as quickly as possible after the existing scheme ends in December 2013.

We have signalled for quite some time that the scheme is coming to an end. People have until the end of the year to apply but there is then a full year for processing, which gives a significant amount of time. In addition, as Deputy Kitt suggested, we will be bringing forward legislation next year in regard to a new scheme.

I welcome the fact legislation is to be introduced. I make the point that this information should be given as much publicity as possible and I would like to hear further details from the Minister of State on the new scheme.

The bottom line is that local authorities do not have the funding to maintain their housing stock. In the past loans were available from local authorities but they are now very difficult to access in regard to the purchase of houses. There are some good schemes through credit unions and other financial institutions whereby loans could be given, and I hope those financial institutions will provide the money for people who want to purchase their houses.

I do not believe the Minister of State answered my query on the voluntary housing sector. There are people in such houses who feel they should have the same opportunity as tenants of local authority houses to buy out their houses. I hope that will be considered.

I agree with the Deputy that we need to give as much public information as possible. We certainly sought to do that and I put out a press statement in this regard. I hope the Deputy's raising of the issue today will give further information. I would encourage all public representatives to inform their constituents that the scheme is coming to an end. If people are interested, they should apply before the end of the year. Given that the length of time somebody has been in a local authority house is much more weighted in the old scheme than it will be in the new scheme, it is important people who have been in a house for a long time are aware the scheme is coming to an end.

With regard to the voluntary sector, at this stage I do not have any definite information but I will certainly come back to the Deputy when we have formulated particular proposals on that. Obviously, once we start drafting the legislation, we will have a lot more definite information with regard to the new scheme.

Defence Forces Reserve Review

I raised my concerns around the so-called value for money review of the Reserve Defence Force and its role with the Minister, Deputy Shatter, a number of weeks ago during defence questions. I appealed to him to have another look at the submission made by the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, RDFRA, back in 2010 and the innovative proposals within that before a final decision would be made. I am outraged to learn the representatives of the Reserve Defence Force were given just hours to prepare a response to this 110 page document, although they had been assured they would have at least a week to make a response. As a result, they have not endorsed the report or the recommendations.

What is to happen? Essentially, the Government is going to halve the budget for the Reserve Defence Force and halve the numbers within it. As the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, knows, rural parishes throughout the State will lose their outposts, which are being centralised to a number of locations and main camps. There has been an awful lot of pride in these organisations over the years.

They are the umbilical link between the Permanent Defence Force and the communities they represent. It is not just about St. Patrick's Day parades. They are involved in fund-raising and other initiatives. Most important, they help young people to establish a civic and patriotic connection with the country. It is a huge tragedy that the Minister has decided to agree to a so-called value for money report that saves €11 million.

I will outline to the Minister of State how €11 million could be saved based on Sinn Féin's budget proposals. The Government would save €11 million if it cut payments to political appointees to State boards by 25%, cut the salaries of Ministers to €100,000 per annum and cut the salaries of Deputies to €75,000. The Government has a choice. It could halve the resource of the Reserve Defence Force, take away the connection with local communities across the State, and radically deplete the mostly civic and voluntary service that gives considerable value for money - despite the recommendations in the report - or it could cut the pay of political appointees, Ministers and Deputies. It is all about choices and that is what the Minister has chosen to do. That is a disgraceful way to treat the representatives of the Reserve Defence Force. They were only given hours to look over the report and it was published without giving them any chance to give feedback in response to the recommendations of the report. It was a serious mistake not to take on board their ideas in terms of the final outcome of the report. What is the response of the Minister?

I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the reorganisation of the Reserve Defence Force. That is a key element of the response to the findings and recommendations of a value for money, VFM, review of the Reserve Defence Force, which was recently completed and published. The value for money review was undertaken by a steering committee with an independent chair. The steering committee comprised representatives from the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The steering committee concluded that the current Reserve organisation required radical reform. The review found that the current effective strength of the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve at 4,500 personnel is less than half that of the 9,692 personnel for which the organisational structures were designed. The Permanent Defence Force, PDF, support framework, was designed for a Reserve of 9,692 and the retention of existing numbers of full-time PDF personnel assigned to Reserve duties was both inefficient and no longer sustainable within a PDF strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel.

In addition, there were significant issues with regard to the uptake of training in the Reserve over the period of the review. In 2011 less than half of the effective strength of 4,554 participated in seven days paid and unpaid training. The details for other years are outlined in the review. The central recommendation from the VFM steering committee is for the retention of the Reserve with 4,000 personnel spread countrywide to be based in barracks and in 16 other locations. That requires the consolidation of existing Reserve units throughout the country into a smaller number of full strength units. The retention of all locations was not a viable or sustainable option.

I accepted the steering committee's recommendations and directed that proposals for new organisational structures be prepared, taking account of the VFM report and the major reorganisation of the PDF. The Chief of Staff and Secretary General submitted an agreed report which set out detailed reorganisation proposals, including unit structures and the location of Reserve units. The Minister accepted the proposals.

A new "single force" concept will see PDF units having Reserve components, rather than a parallel Reserve as at present. Reserve units within barracks will be supported by their parent PDF unit and the 16 units outside of PDF installations will be supported by dedicated full-time PDF personnel. This concept offers significant potential advantages in terms of training and development of the Reserve. The initiative of locating Reserve officers within the Defence Forces management structure will likewise underpin the future Reserve.

These steps create a viable structure while addressing the inefficiency caused by having too many widely dispersed and under-strength units. Direct expenditure on the Reserve will reduce from €22 million in 2012 to €11 million in 2013. The cut in the number of PDF support staff accounts for the bulk of the reduction, while the money available for training activity by the Reserve is being maintained. In order to ensure sufficient paid training for a strength level of 4,000 personnel, gratuities will be withdrawn and the budget redirected to increase the overall number of paid training man-days. Modest savings will accrue over time from a reduction in Reserve property but is not the key driver of the reforms.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn will appreciate that the smaller number of full-sized units, outside of PDF installations, must cover the entire country. Among other considerations, the selection of locations for these units sought to ensure continued opportunities for people throughout the country to serve in the Reserve. These changes to the current Reserve organisation are in response to a compelling case for reform and will dovetail with the significant changes that are occurring in the PDF organisational structures. They are intended to ensure a better Reserve and enhance overarching defence capabilities. The service of all members of the Reserve is very much appreciated by Government and I hope that all personnel will continue to serve within the new organisation.

The Minister of State stated "the service of all members of the Reserve is very much appreciated". That is not really the case because if he appreciated the service of all members of the Reserve Defence Force he would have adequately consulted with them and given them a chance to have a real input into the so-called value for money report and he would have provided them with a chance to examine the submissions that they made in 2010 and compare them to the findings of the report. The so-called value for money report took 33 months to complete. The representatives of Reserve Defence Force members were given a 90-minute presentation literally hours before the report was published. That is no way to treat people who serve on the ground in communities.

The number of cadres in the Permanent Defence Force has been reduced dramatically and members are being reallocated to various other posts as we speak. I urge the Minister of State to examine the practical reallocation of personnel in terms of where they reside, the previous location of their base of operations and where they are asked to go. Issues in those regards must be examined.

I am a Deputy for Donegal North-East. The Inishowen Peninsula, which has a population of 40,000, has lost its base which is being centralised. I will focus on one geographic location. I could give more examples but this is the area I know best. If one limits their training capacity then young people from the north Inishowen Peninsula will not be able to participate in training opportunities during the week. That is where one gets the statistics on the number of Reserve personnel that are unable to participate.

I urge the Minister of State to re-engage with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association and to listen to its feedback and concerns. As we speak, the Reserve Defence Force is engaged in consultation across the State in its brigades and that will feed in centrally and will come to the attention of the Minister. I have no doubt it will bring many issues to the attention of the Minister which he has not considered. A grave mistake has been made in haste after such a long process in an attempt to publish the report and go for the headline figure of halving the budget. The mistake that has been made is that disrespect has been shown to those who serve us and the organisation representing them and we must see whether we can change some of the decisions and address the concerns of members of the Reserve Defence Force. I appeal to the Minister of State to address the issue.

I do not believe that disrespect was shown to the members of the Reserve Defence Force. They are very much aware of the value for money review that was being carried out, as the Deputy stated, for some time. They patiently awaited the publication of the review.

This was brought to Cabinet last Tuesday and was passed. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, brought the memo forward and Reserve personnel and their representatives were consulted after the decision of Cabinet. One does not put the cart before the horse. The memo was first passed at Cabinet and the Reserve members were then briefed on the outcome of the value for money review.

The Deputy is not giving a chance to either that review or the report on how the new Reserve will proceed. The Reserve will now be stronger than it was. I understand people do not like change but unfortunately we do not have the same budget we had in previous years to maintain the service and the cadre we have. I assure the Deputy that every member who is being moved will be accommodated in every way possible to the best of the Defence Forces' capabilities. I know people do not like being moved and I sympathise with them but unfortunately we are not in the same position we were some years ago.

The Deputy stated the issue was about choices. Every decision made in this House is about choices, as we all know. What I cannot understand is that the Deputy can come down here and criticise every cutback while his party is in government in the North, carrying out the very same cutbacks in the same areas.

It is very different.

That is happening. The Deputy can snigger but it is unbelievable that he can come down here and be a totally different representative from his colleagues in the North who have to take some tough decisions.

With all due respect, that is nonsense. It is a Tory Government which is responsible.

I outlined the savings made. I assure the Deputy that the Government very much appreciates the work of the Reserve and will continue to do so. We will accommodate all members of the cadre who have to change location and I have no doubt the Defence Forces will do so, to the best of their abilities.

Again, I offer apologies to Deputy Mac Lochlainn, whom we almost overlooked. Deputies Michael Creed, John Paul Phelan and Finian McGrath have two minutes each.

Commission of Inquiry

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office. I thank the Minister of State for being present to reply to the debate but am disappointed that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, did not see fit to attend this particular debate, given its significance.

On 8 July 1985, Fr. Niall Molloy was murdered. To date nobody has been brought to justice for that murder. There is a view, which I believe is sustained by the facts, that the cover up of that murder was aided and abetted by an omerta-style collusion between the most powerful forces in the State - the senior political establishment, the Judiciary, the Catholic Church, senior medical personnel and the Garda. For that reason alone, it is imperative that the Minister accede to the request being made by me and Deputies John Paul Phelan and Finian McGrath that an independent commission of inquiry be established. The Minister may well reply that the case is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Garda cold case unit. The family has communicated with the Garda Commissioner to indicate its members no longer have confidence in that inquiry. The level of mismanagement of this case by gardaí sustains their case and it is imperative that the Minister should now act on the issue.

There is an enormous amount of information in the public arena at this stage about mysterious fires in coroners' offices, files being stolen from the Garda and deals done to retrieve those files, but we have no answers. Gardaí investigating gardaí - which in effect is what the cold case unit is doing - is not an appropriate way to proceed. It is very difficult in two minutes to do justice to the degree of mismanagement and the miscarriage of justice inherent in this case, but I urge the Minister to act. He is familiar with the facts; I have written to him on the issue. I urge him to accede to the family's request for an independent commission of inquiry.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for choosing this motion for the Topical Issue debate. I reiterate what Deputy Creed stated. I have examined this case for a number of years, ever since it came back into the public domain. Our system of criminal justice is based on fundamental principles of fair procedures but such procedures are a two-way street. There must be fair principles for both those accused and those who are the victims of crime. In this case, the family of Fr. Molloy have been seeking justice for almost 28 years.

Fr. Molloy was murdered in July 1985. A series of events occurred, both on that day and in the time since, which were really extraordinary. I am not one who is taken by conspiracy theories but all evidence as presented seems to suggest clearly that more than merely freak events are in question. There was some level of collusion and cover-up by very powerful influences in our society. There was the failure of gardaí on the day in question to retain vital evidence, failure to identify blood and fingerprints at the scene, and inconsistencies identified in the statements given by people to gardaí after the event. There was the declaration afterwards that the judge in the trial had been very familiar with the suspect in the case. Garda files were stolen from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a fire in the coroner's office destroyed files and there was a burglary at Fr. Molloy's house two weeks before he was murdered. There were attempts by the accused to cash in an insurance policy on Fr. Molloy's life. There was the alleged involvement of very serious figures associated with crime in this country in the past 30 years. All these factors present an unanswerable case for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into this event soon as possible, in order that justice for Fr. Molloy and his family may be finally achieved.

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise the serious and urgent matter of the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy in 1985, along with the serious allegations of a cover up about which many people have serious concerns.

I have particular respect for the great and brave work done by Gemma O'Doherty, a journalist with the Irish Independent, William Maher, nephew of Fr. Niall, and the entire family, who want the truth and justice for their relative. We need to get to the truth of this matter. The citizens of this State deserve the facts. They also deserve high standards of professionalism and objectivity from the Garda, the courts, the State and their politicians. That is what this debate is about. My main concerns are based on the evidence. For more than 27 years disquieting allegations have surrounded the murder, the initial Garda investigation and the subsequent trial.

My concerns are these. Fr. Niall Molloy, who died in Clara, County Offaly, on 8 July 1985, died as a result of a series of fatal blows to the head. The original investigation team committed errors of negligence and incompetence. There was a failure to retain vital evidence found at the murder scene. There was a broken watch which would have determined the time of the killing. There was a failure to identify blood and fingerprints at the scene, and a failure to interview important witnesses. There were glaring inconsistencies in the Garda statements at the inquest. The judge knew the accused. The Garda file was stolen from the DPP's office by the well-known criminal, the "General", Martin Cahill, in 1987. Why was Fr. Niall Molloy left to die over five hours?

These are just a few of my concerns. These serious questions must be answered and any cover up exposed to ensure that the citizens of this State have trust in our justice system. I urge the Minister to commence a commission of investigation because these are serious allegations. We need answers on behalf of the citizens of this State and for the family of Fr. Niall Molloy.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is unable to be present as a result of business in which he is involved elsewhere in the Houses.

The Minister is fully aware of the concerns that have been expressed concerning the death of Fr. Niall Molloy and he sympathises greatly with the Molloy family. I am sure Deputies will join me in expressing sympathy to other families whose loved ones were also killed and where the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. The Minister has previously set out for this House the background to the Fr. Molloy case and the most recent developments with regard to the Garda examination of the issues raised by Fr. Molloy's family and others, particularly Ms Gemma O'Doherty, who writes for the Irish Independent.

On foot of the concerns raised, the Garda Commissioner arranged for a detective superintendent to meet Ms O'Doherty, as well as members of the Molloy family. The purpose of this was to facilitate an assessment of whether there was any evidence which was not available to the original investigation team and if further investigation was required in this case. Shortly after his appointment, the Minister inquired into the steps being taken by An Garda Síochána and was advised of the position. He has at all times emphasised the importance of all relevant matters being thoroughly examined and investigated. The position is that this examination remains ongoing. The Garda authorities have indicated that during the course of the examination additional information has been provided to the investigating officers and that this identifies further lines of inquiry which have had to be followed up. The Garda Commissioner has assured the Minister that each and every one of these lines of inquiry is being or will be pursued. The Minister also understands that the officers carrying out the examination are continuing to keep Fr. Molloy's family members updated on progress.

The Minister is well aware of the many issues of concern which have been raised in the public domain in respect of the circumstances surrounding Fr. Molloy's death and the context in which some form of inquiry has been considered desirable. However, what needs to be considered, first and foremost, at present is that the matters at the heart of the Garda examination relate to potential criminal liability and, in that context, possible charges. The best form of justice for the Fr. Molloy's family would be for anyone who has any criminal liability in respect of his tragic death to be brought to account through facing charges. In the Minister's view, it would be deeply inappropriate to do anything which could prejudice the possibility of that happening. It is also of crucial importance that the Garda receive the fullest co-operation from any individual who can provide any information of relevance to the inquires being conducted.

In any case where criminal behaviour is suspected, it is only through a Garda investigation, and where evidence of criminal wrongdoing is available - through the submission of a file by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions - that persons can be brought fully to account before the courts. A commission or judicial investigation or journalistic inquiries cannot do this nor can any other type of review, no matter how thorough or independent. Whatever questions there may be about the original investigation, people should not prejudge the outcome of the current Garda examination. In the Minister's opinion, that examination must be allowed to proceed unhindered and he has been assured by the Garda Commissioner that all relevant evidence, wherever it may lead, will be fully pursued. The House will appreciate that, ultimately, a criminal prosecution has to be based on hard evidence, not rumour, speculation or conjecture. The Garda examination has not been completed and, accordingly, any media or other reports of its findings are, of their nature, speculative.

In making these points, I wish to make clear that the Minister's commitment to reviewing the situation when he receives a final report from the Garda Commissioner remains firmly in place. Against that background, I hope the House can accept that we all share the desire to see justice done to the greatest extent possible in this case. The Minister has tried to set out why, in the first instance, the best chance to achieve this lies with allowing the current Garda examination to proceed.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply he provided on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Shatter. I am, however, disappointed with the content of that reply. An element of the ongoing investigation is based on a principle that has been long discredited, namely, gardaí investigating gardaí. I accept that there is a broader remit and that gardaí are also investigating - if they are not doing so, they should be - members of the Judiciary, senior members of the political establishment, members of the medical profession and representatives of the church. All of those to whom I refer had a hand in this tragedy and the denial of justice relating to it. I would like the Minister for Justice and Equality to provide an indication as to how long he is prepared to wait for the cold case unit to conclude its inquiry into this matter.

I wish to ask a specific question in respect of the files which were stolen from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and which were subsequently retrieved by the Garda. What knowledge does the Minister for Justice and Equality have of the deal done between the State and John Traynor in the context of charges being dropped? Were the Garda detectives who visited Traynor in prison in the UK investigated by the cold case unit? These are specific questions which are of interest to anybody who has an interest in justice and truth, not just in this case but also in the context of the wider institutions of the State. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality refer the dimension of this investigation which relates to gardaí investigating gardaí to the Garda Ombudsman Commission, which can make a report to the DPP in respect of such matters?

I agree with the Minister of State's reply in so far as the best result for Fr. Molloy's family would be to see his killer or killers convicted of the offence committed in July 1985. However, I fully agree with Deputy Creed that the delay in this case is just extraordinary. There is an old saying that "justice delayed is justice denied". Justice has been delayed to an extraordinary extent in this case. Legitimate concerns have been raised by the Molloy family with regard to the initial investigation and the subsequent trial. They are exasperated that two years after the serious crime review unit - or cold case unit - was asked to investigate this matter, there does not appear to have been much, if any, progress made.

I completely agree with the Minister of State that the most positive outcome would be the conviction of those responsible. However, this inquiry cannot be allowed to go on into the future without a result being obtained. The least Fr. Molloy's family deserve is to be given some reassurance and an indication of how long the investigation is expected to continue and a timeframe as to when a report will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I strongly agree with my colleagues, Deputies Creed and John Paul Phelan. I am furious with regard to the reaction of the Minister for Justice and Equality. This is a major case which has implications for many important individuals within the establishment in this State. People need to wake up to the reality of the allegations that have been made in respect of this matter. I may have missed it but did the Minister of State indicate that gardaí met Ms Gemma O'Doherty regarding this case? If not, are they going to meet her? I have heard some of the tapes relating to some of the people connected with this case. The words that come to mind in respect of those individuals are "credible" and "genuine".

Some gardaí have major concerns with regard to what happened in this case. The Minister of State referred to hard evidence and rumour. Deputies Creed, John Paul Phelan and I do not operate on the basis of rumour; we seek hard evidence. In that context, we were impressed by the evidence with which we were presented. There is a need for a commission of investigation because major establishment figures are connected with this case. There is a whiff of a major cover-up in respect of this matter.

On foot of concerns raised, the Garda Commissioner arranged for a detective superintendent to meet with Ms O'Doherty and family members. Following his appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister inquired into the actions being taken by the Garda Síochána in this matter and he was advised of the position. The Minister took a personal interest in this case. I do not have the answers to some of the specific questions asked by Deputy Creed and Deputy John Paul Phelan as to the length of time allowed for this investigation. I will relay the concerns expressed by the Deputies to the Minister.

Deputy John Paul Phelan stressed that fair procedure is the foundation of any justice system and I agree with him. The Deputies are concerned that issues were not dealt with appropriately. I will convey their concerns to the Minister. The three Deputies referred to inconsistencies and allegations of a cover-up in the investigation of the case. I assure the Deputies that all the concerns raised by them will be brought to the attention of the Minister. The Minister has asked me to emphasise that he is very conscious of the distress of the relatives of Fr. Molloy. However, the position remains that the outcome of the Garda examination must be awaited before the matter is considered further.

The Minister and the Garda authorities are aware of the need to deal with this matter as expeditiously and fully as possible. They will update the family on the progress. If the Garda Síochána discovers any evidence which could lead to a criminal prosecution, a file will be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Upon receipt of the final report from the Commissioner, the Minister will be in a position to properly consider the matter further.