Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. It has been heralded as being able to facilitate a bank inquiry by a committee of the Houses and to inquire into the banking collapse which took place over five years ago. While it might be necessary and useful to inquire into what happened in the lead up to the banking collapse, I wonder what value it would have. Everybody knows about what happened and the outcome. Most people know what needs to be done in the future. I do not know whether an inquiry would arrive at a solution.

A lot of what happened during the banking collapse and the bank guarantee was a result of the subservience of politicians to senior bankers in giving them everything they want. I do not know whether an inquiry would improve that situation. We need politicians who are willing to stand up to bankers as easily as they stand up to people on social welfare and those dependent on the State for income and support. That would go a long way to making sure that we did not again have the type of collapse we had in the past.

There is a need for the Oireachtas to be able to inquire into issues of public importance. From that point of view, a legislative basis is required, in particular in regard to the Abbeylara judgment. I hope the Bill will provide a sufficient basis to allow inquiries to take place in order that Oireachtas committees can inquire into matters of important public concern in a timely way, which is vitally important.

While we have not had the basis to inquire into the banking system, five years on it is not worth investigating. Oireachtas committees should be able to respond in a timely way to matters of serious public concern by establishing inquiries to get to their root causes and offer scope for recommendations to strengthen the system in order to ensure the same issues cannot recur.

I have a number of specific concerns about the legislation. Section 12 provides that the establishment of an inquiry will require the approval of the Dáil. One of the reasons that several of my Independent colleagues and I were opposed to the 2011 referendum was the potential we had identified in that proposal for political abuse of an inquiry system. The referendum was subsequently rejected by the people. The requirement for approval by the Dáil in the Bill before us suggests the Government is seeking to retain control over Oireachtas inquiries. That is not a good sign in terms of the effectiveness of an inquiry system to be established under the legislation. Serious consideration should be given on Committee Stage to allowing for a system whereby a smaller number of Dáil Members could approve an inquiry. In Germany, for example, one quarter of the Members of the Bundestag can authorise an inquiry. There must be scope for a majority of the Opposition or a minority of all Members of the House to be able to vote to have an inquiry established. That is very important in terms of ensuring the Government is held to account and preventing the inquiries system from being entirely under the control of the Government of the day.

Other speakers have referred to the Whip system in the context of these proposals. A provision whereby the Whip would not apply in votes on Oireachtas inquiries would go some way towards ensuring we had an effective system. A requirement, for instance, that one third of Deputies must approve an inquiry would still, under the current make-up of the House, require a number of Government Members to vote in favour. That would only work in practice if the Whip was not applied. Otherwise, there is unlikely to be any inquiry into controversial matters which may cause discomfort for the Government. One of the types of inquiry provided for in the Bill will see Oireachtas committees inquiring into the actions of officeholders. The only officeholders in this House are on the Government side. We must have a system that allows inquiries to get past the first hurdle - the approval of Dáil Éireann for their establishment. I hope this issue will be given careful consideration on Committee Stage.

Another concern I have regarding the legislation relates to the issue of bias. This is an issue that will probably be tested in the courts very soon after the enactment of the Bill and there may, in fact, be no way of getting around it. When one considers what bias actually means, particularly in the context of the banking inquiry which the Bill is intended to facilitate, it is clear that there is nobody in this House who could not be accused of being biased. Practically everybody has spoken about what went wrong and laid the blame at the feet of bankers and the Government politicians of the day. How then could any of us satisfy a charge of bias in respect of an inquiry into events in the banking system? It is difficult to see how that problem can be overcome in the legislation. I envisage that as soon as the banking inquiry is established, assuming it is the first inquiry set up under the legislation, there will be a trip to the High Court to decide the issue of bias. It is something that will have to be tested in order that precedents are established. That is probably an inevitable outcome of the legislation and something we will have to live with and work through. The courts will have to make a decision and set a precedent on issues such as bias and how inquiries can be conducted without impinging on people's good name. These issues will be decided outside the House. In fairness, it is probably not possible for them to be decided entirely within the legislation.

An issue of particular concern to me in the context of these proposals arises partly from my experience as Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Dáil Éireann. Specifically, there does not seem to be any provision in the Bill to allow for an Oireachtas committee actively to investigate the circumstances of an issue into which it wishes to inquire. What I mean by investigate is the capacity, for example, to appoint an investigative officer whose role will be to gather evidence and present it in a format the committee can use in conducting its inquiries. This is something we have come up against on numerous occasions at the select committee where complaints are made about specific actions taken by particular Members. The committee is made up of four or five Deputies who, although they have some expertise, do not have sufficient to tease out the issues involved and test the evidence presented by the complainant. All we can do is write to the person making the complaint requesting him or her to furnish us with further information and evidence on the matter and write to the subject of the complaint asking him or her to do the same. We do not really have a way of testing whether what one side or the other is saying is correct, other than what our own intuition might indicate.

By contrast, the Standards in Public Office Commission has the capacity, under the relevant legislation, to appoint investigative officers and actively investigate a complaint. The investigative officer will gather evidence and present it to the commission. It could be argued that it is the role of the Oireachtas committee, as envisaged in the Bill, to gather evidence and investigate it. The reality, however, is that a committee must have the means to do so. That aspect is lacking in the legislation and should be revisited on Committee Stage. I cannot see these inquiries being very effective if committees do not have the power to appoint an investigative officer. I intend to bring forward amendments in this regard which would ensure committees would have the power to gather and interpret evidence in such a way that they would have a real chance of being effective in their work.

This legislation is necessary to ensure committees can work effectively in investigating matters of public interest. There will be a period following its enactment when the legislation will be tested in the courts, which will feed into the operation of the investigations system thereafter. It is a necessary evil of these proposals and will cause frustrating delays in the initial stages. I hope the Minister will consider amending section 12 to remove the requirement that the establishment of any inquiry will require the approval of a majority of Dáil Members. I ask him also to examine the powers committees will have to gather evidence and to consider affording them the capacity to appoint an investigative officer to aid them in their work.

I propose to share time with Deputies Anthony Lawlor and Simon Harris.

I very much welcome the Bill which establishes a comprehensive statutory framework for an Oireachtas inquiries system. We must be able to conduct inquiries consistent with the parameters set down by the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara case.

I regret that in a referendum a few years ago the people did not give the Oireachtas the right to inquire into such matters but that was their view and choice and I respect it. People at Fine Gael branch meetings, and I am sure Labour Party meetings too, members of Government and people on the street want us to inquire into the banking crisis. We need the tools and procedures to do this. We need to work together to find the facts of what has happened. As a politician I would be delighted, relieved and grateful if we did find exactly what happened that brought our country to economic ruin. Those facts must be put into the public domain and investigated. We must learn lessons. The inquiry should not damage any individual's character. Some politicians will use these occasions, not to find the facts or get at the truth or do the right thing but to do a bit of show-boating to show how great they are. An inquiry must be open, fair and balanced but the witnesses must be protected too. I am not very familiar with court proceedings but they are technical and costly and sometimes people find it very difficult to understand the legal jargon. Inquiries in this House would connect more closely with members of the public.

Provisions for inquiries relating to the conduct of a Member of the House in his capacity as a Member, into the removal of an officeholder such as a judge of the Supreme or High Courts and others, and to hold the Government, and any person who is liable to Dáil scrutiny by contract or statutory appointment, to account are welcome. This Government, of which I am part, must be held to account but this must happen in a fair and reasonable way. Maybe we should have an inquiry into what is happening in our country where there seems to be a race to the bottom. Numerous people use local radio stations, Twitter and local newspapers to make some of the most outrageous, scandalous and untruthful allegations about the Government and me. It would not be reasonable for me to bring another Member of this House to the High Court or bring an action against him or her. Everyone is entitled to his or her good name. I have seen my good name taken away by other Members willy-nilly in ways that have been shown to be untrue but I cannot do anything about it. The local media does not want to hear about it because that does not sell newspapers. Maybe this is the time to have an open debate. If somebody says something untrue at a public meeting maybe I should take action in the High Court, but I will not because I have enough to be doing. It would deflect from my work as a politician for my constituents, and as a member of Government, to get this country working again. As politicians we have no protection. Maybe some day I will do something about all that was said. I do not mind if the allegations are true. If they are true, that is fine. A lot of people are angry, and rightly so, and I am angry, but everybody who is in politics or public life, or any job, has his or her name, and the right to his or her good name should be protected. There are Members of this House who do not acknowledge that right and have behaved in a manner that is not fitting for elected officeholders.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It originates in the Abbeylara judgment in the Supreme Court in 2002. If there is criticism it should be levelled at the previous Administration which did nothing about this in the past ten years. The public was clamouring for the politicians to do something about that judgment. When I and others campaigned before the last election people asked us to be legislators and to inquire into events but sadly we could not do so because the Abbeylara judgment prevented an inquiry. The Oireachtas committee was trying to get to the truth of that event. A tribunal chaired by Mr. Justice Robert Barr took place after that and lasted four years. The Carthy family welcomed the report but the gardaí disapproved of it. I understand that the then Commissioner did not apologise publicly to the Carthy family.

The Oireachtas sub-committee to find a quick and truthful answer to what happened in Abbeylara and the Barr tribunal spent four years examining the event and reached the same conclusions as the committee would have reached. There have been many tribunals, including the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals. The Moriarty tribunal will cost approximately €100 million, the Mahon approximately €250 million. Who is winning? The tribunals are a scam for the legal profession. We are duty bound to inquire into events that might cause public concern. Everyone is talking about an inquiry into the banks but there are other incidents into which we as public representatives should be allowed to inquire. That is why I welcome this Bill. It is the first step. People say there may be cases brought against us in the High Court and so on but this is the first step towards giving us as elected representatives of the people the power to inquire into incidents of public concern. The cost involved in our inquiry would be lower than that of the tribunals.

At the time of the referendum public confidence in politicians was at an all-time low because the public had lost faith in politicians. The previous Administration must take responsibility for this. We are trying to ensure that what we put in place will give the public confidence that we are capable of conducting an inquiry in a proper and honest manner.

As I said earlier, people want us to be legislators and also inquire into issues of public concern. Will the Minister examine how these inquiries are conducted in other parliaments? The UK’s Inquiries Act 2005 has a similar set-up to this Bill but there are problems with it as the Finucane family will not participate in the inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. We need to take the positive elements out of this legislation, as well as the strong points out of the royal commission set-up in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and the congressional committee system in the US. The positive elements from other jurisdictions need to be brought into this legislation. We need to get this Bill passed as quickly as possible so that if the courts find flaws in it, we can amend the legislation promptly. We must ensure that we as legislators are allowed to inquire into issues of public concern.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013 and commend the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for introducing it to the House.

I share Deputy Lawlor’s evaluation of the background to this legislation. When we were canvassing in the last general election, public representatives and candidates from all parties and none found there was a great desire for answers, increased accountability and transparency, as well as for a Parliament that could get to the bottom of issues. We were asked time and again on doorsteps across Wicklow when were we going to investigate the banks and the bank guarantee. Then, as Deputy Lawlor said, we had a referendum on inquiries on which the people made their decision.

This new Bill comes back to put in place on a statutory and legislative footing a mechanism for the Parliament to have reporting inquiries in an efficient manner which can come up with an overview of various issues of the day. This is just one of three Bills that will play a part in increasing the transparency and accountability of this State, the others being the extension of the Freedom of Information Act and the whistleblowers legislation, which is badly needed.

I am a little cynical about the past tribunals of inquiry. I do not believe it was any mistake they were set up in the past. Perhaps they were set up by people who did not want answers to emerge in a quick or a timely fashion. Perhaps they were set up by people who did not want anyone held to account. After all the years and after all the hundreds of millions of euro spent on them, have we learned anything that we did not suspect before? Has anyone been held to account after the Mahon or Moriarty tribunals’ findings? That is the real frustration felt by people. After spending hundreds of millions of euro on tribunals, the only people who seemed to benefit were those in the legal profession.

This inquiries Bill has to be about ensuring that we, the elected representatives of the people, can represent our people and put the questions on the issues of the day in an inquiry type format.

The need for a banking inquiry is very real. There is much pub-chatter with people saying they know what went wrong with the banks and have we not had all these investigations already. The Committee of Public Accounts produced a comprehensive report outlining the framework it saw such an inquiry taking. More importantly, the report also set out the questions that remain unanswered or, if they have been answered, require further examination. Will the Minister give serious consideration to these questions in the establishment of any banking inquiry? Some of the issues the committee identified are:

What was the precise sequence of events in the period of weeks leading up to the guarantee?

To what extent was there an adequate evaluation of alternatives to the bank guarantee carried out by Government?

Was the guarantee the optimal policy choice given the alternatives available?

To what extent was the scope of the guarantee the optimal policy decision given the other options available to the Government?

What role, if any, was played by the Cabinet in the run up to the events of the [now infamous] night of 29 September 2008?

To what extent do written records exist of the events leading up to the guarantee, and the guarantee itself?

[Interestingly] Who were the external advisors (formal and informal) [both on the payroll and off the payroll who had the ear of the decision makers and the Government of the day] during the crisis management period and what were their roles?

Regarding the recapitalisation of the banks, the committee’s report asked the following questions:

To what extent was the recapitalisation of the banks the optimal policy option given the alternative policies available to the Government?

To what extent have the necessary personnel changes to the management and boards of our banks taken place to ensure an appropriate mix of people with different skills?

What caused the failures in corporate governance in Irish banks?

To what extent was the over-concentration of property-related loans deemed a risk factor by the banks?

Why did banks and other financial institutions deviate significantly from well-established credit policies?

The committee called for an inquiry to look at the role of the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, in the crisis. The report asked:

Why was the tone of enforcement so deferential?

Why did IFSRA fail to bring enforcement action in respect of breaches of regulation?

What was the nature of the information conveyed by IFSRA to the Minister and Department of Finance and [the] Central Bank about the bank lending?

The committee report stated an inquiry needed to examine the role of the Department of Finance in general:

...did the Department of Finance...play a...significant [enough] role in financial stability issues?

What...advice and analysis [was] prepared by the Department of Finance on fiscal and monetary effects of property incentives?

Did the Department of Finance prepare specific reports to Government on the problems in the banks and the potential impact on the economy?

What was the role of the Department of Finance in managing the [emerging] crisis?

The committee stated we need to look at the Oireachtas as a collective. Did it do enough or have enough ability to provide oversight and scrutinise the guarantee? Was the tone in here too deferential as well?

Very importantly, an inquiry needs to look at the role of external auditors in the crisis. I do not believe we have heard nearly enough on this issue. The report asked:

How does the fact that shareholder investment was virtually wiped out in all our banks equate with clear audit reports in the years from 2003 onwards?

To what extent did the work of the external auditors give comfort to the external regulators of banks in relation to banks' business models and lending practices? [Was the Financial Regulator assuming a clean bill of health from the auditors meant all was okay and not enough attention was applied?]

What were the management letters of auditors telling senior management in the years from 2003 onwards?

Were concerns relating to bank governance raised at any stage, especially in Anglo and Irish Nationwide?

Were audit contracts the subject of rotation or change at these financial institutions?

What role did behavioural factors (including [what is commonly referred to as] groupthink and the lack of acceptance of divergent views) play in the crisis?

No one can tell us the banking crisis is behind us, that we have examined all of the issues in full and that we have the reports we need. As we move forward as a nation, we still need to learn an awful lot from what happened over the past number of years. We are still paying a heavy price for it. I believe this legislation will provide the framework and the ability for this House, through whatever mechanisms the Government views appropriate, to have finally a real banking inquiry that can endeavour to answer some of those questions.

I thank the Technical Group for allowing me some of its speaking time to contribute on the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013. This is an important Bill in the context of what has happened over the years down at the Four Courts with the massive toll and burden put on our already struggling taxpayers when they had to pay massive sums of money for tribunals and investigations that at the end of the day yielded very little in return. There have to be better ways of dealing with our business. Of course, there must be oversight, as well as investigations into wrongdoing, but we have to use the structures already in place to our better advantage.

I sit on the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. I would like to take the opportunity to compliment all of the people who work on that committee, our excellent Chairman and our former and original Chairman who I was sorry to see have to step down over an internal party issue. He was a great Chairman and very workmanlike, as is our new Chairman. This committee is fulfilling a proper role. Using politicians for a purpose such as the committee’s is sensible because the politicians are there, they are being paid anyway and it is important we use systems and structures anyway and every way.

Mr. Justice Murray had an important viewpoint on this. He stated that he did not see any reason the Oireachtas could not conduct inquiries of the nature that it has for practical purposes traditionally done, including inquiries into matters concerning competency and efficiency in departmental or public administration as well as such matters as those concerning the proper or effective implementation of policy and to make findings accordingly. He further stated that if a particular officeholder such as the chief executive officer of a semi-State body is by virtue of his appointment, whether by statute or contract, answerable to the Houses of the Oireachtas, different considerations arise. He did not consider that the order proposed to be made by his court affected such a situation. The difficulty for current Oireachtas committees is knowing how far this limitation goes. Recommendations were made following the Abbeylara case, which was important.

The Bill is structured in Parts. I am also worried about bias. The Minister stated section 18 prevents a Member from sitting on a committee where a perception of bias might arise. Bias and conflicts of interest happen on a regular basis. For instance, last week I raised the issue of the protection of rural post offices in the House. One of the first things I thought I should say was that I am a postmaster of a small post office. If I was prohibited from speaking in the House about issues in which I might have a conflict of interest because of my other work or activities, that would be a major problem. County councillors face a similar issue. A Member who is a farmer could be accused if he was debating restructuring the single farm payment scheme of trying to look after himself, which would be grossly untrue. Perceptions of bias might arise 100 or 200 times a day because of the involvement of Members in other work and activities. I foresee great difficulties with the implementation of that section.

Deputy Mattie McGrath highlighted a problem with the recent hearings of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, to which I also took exception. I appreciate the work of the Chairman and I acknowledge the contribution of all those who attended to give evidence, but the Government parties were making it look as though the hearings were inclusive by inviting all these people but, at the same time, the hearings were rushed. Like Deputy Mattie McGrath, I have concerns about the people who were omitted or who were not invited to appear. There seemed to be a rush with the committee sitting between 9.30 a.m. and 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., with which I have no problem, but the committee should have allowed more evidence to be given by people representing other sections of society who wanted to air their concerns. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to do so.

I refer to reports. When the tribunals of inquiry published their reports, one would have wanted a lorry to take all the paperwork. What was gained by them, other than a number of people making a great deal of money at the taxpayer's expense? There was not so much as a sop at the end of it. Allegations were made but there was nothing at the end of it. I would welcome any Government proposal that would ensure such a scenario could not be repeated.

The people want to know how the banking crisis was allowed to happen, why future generations will be saddled with debt they did not incur and why young couples will be left struggling all the days of their lives. It is a great regret of mine that some young people will never have disposable income because every penny they take in will have to be accounted for and budgeted because of the enormous debts they have. They want to know how this was allowed to happen, how the banks were able to do what they did, how hundreds of billions of euro were given to property developers and how a small number of people ran the country into the ground. I do not take the blame from politicians. Where was the oversight and regulation? When I was starting out, if a person went to the bank manager looking for a few thousand pounds, he went with his cap in his hand and he was fortunate if he was given a small loan. We ended up in a position where bank managers were telling people who wanted €250,000 that they were better off to take €300,000 and go on a holiday or a buy a new car or make a few other purchases and roll it all into the mortgage. There was no regulation, oversight, control or thoughtfulness. Somebody has to explain to the public what happened and why it happened and people have to be held accountable for their actions. It was a massive race to the bottom. I would like an inquiry into that and I would like people to be held accountable. I do not want an inquiry that will compound the insult to people by incurring significant costs. Nobody wants that, including the Government parties, and it should not be the case.

I compliment former Senator, Martin McAleese, who showed what could be done on a modest budget. He published an excellent report, which was condensed, factual and well received by everybody, including those on whose behalf he was conducting it. They had, unfortunately, been subject to harsh conditions over many years. He did that work with a small group of people for a modest cost - approximately €12,000. That is the workmanlike, no nonsense way to do business. It shows that inquiries can be conducted for a modest cost.

I refer to the inquiries referendum in autumn 2011. The electorate endorsed the status quo, where the scope of any Oireachtas inquiry to make findings that would damage the reputation of any individual is strictly limited. The Government parties were side swiped by the electorate and they got a land because they did not see it coming. I saw it coming because I dealt with people every day who were saying they were against what the Government proposed. The best way to describe this was they did not trust the Government parties in what they wanted the electorate to allow them to do. We have to be careful and mindful that the people must have confidence in the systems that are put in place. This is related to ensuring due process for individual, which is vital, and having proper checks and balances in place.

A high profile case was referred to the Standards in Public Office Commission in the past few days. I look forward to due process in that case and to the commission's response. It could have major implications for the Government.

It is something many of us are eagerly awaiting. I am sure it will deal with that issue in a workman-like way and that it will not dilly-dally about it.
We talk about people having the right to their good names. I noted a Deputy had concerns about what had gone on in his case. I do not want to paint everybody with the same brush, because we have very respectable journalists, even in Dublin, who do good work, report things in an honest and factual way and who are intelligent, but we also have journalists who write for national and other newspapers for whom it is like a race to the bottom. They push the borders out all the time, whether in regard to a Minister, a Deputy or somebody else. Much of the time their targets are politicians. We have to take criticism if we deserve it but how do they honestly stand over calling people names and using bad language? It is a race to the bottom. It is like a test every day to see how far they will go and there is a clique of them at it. Somebody has to shout "Stop" because one cannot allow that type of behaviour. People are entitled to their good names.
We are extremely grateful to the electorate for giving us the opportunity to serve it. One of my proudest days was the day I was first elected to Kerry County Council, and I only barely got elected. The people entrusted me to work for them and, thankfully, they have kept me at it since then. I carry on my work in an ordinary way and, like every other politician, I do my very best every day but that does not mean certain sectors of the media can ridicule me and try to paint me out to be something I am not. If they print lies all of the time and if enough people read them, then that perception becomes a reality and they have won.
I do not know if the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, has been affected by the type of activity about which I am talking but many Members of this House have been. I, for one, will not accept it anymore. I set down a marker in recent months and tackled some of these situations. I am glad to report that local charities are quite happy with my engagement with these newspapers because they were the winners at the end of the day. I was very glad that the rubbish which was written benefited people in my community financially. I challenge the journalists who wrote about me in the past to write about me again and I will get more money for charities, which is proper order. If lies are written about other Members of this House and if they are ridiculed and made out to be something they are not, I strongly suggest they take on the newspapers because everyone is entitled to his or her good name and to get up in the morning and to do his or her work. If that work is representing people, it does not mean that one can be pilloried by somebody with a poison pen. Such people are out there and they think it is colourful and intelligent to use bad language and to make derogatory statements about people. What right does a person writing for a newspaper have to do such a thing?
Journalists may take a differing view but that is the world of politics and, thankfully, we live in a democracy. Fair comment and fair criticism are always welcome. I would be critical of many of the things the Minister of State's Government has done but I would not become personal towards the politicians proposing and supporting what is being introduced. I would disagree with the proposal but I would not go after the person promoting it.
Editors have to be fair. When they see what can happen, they will wake up to the fact that there is no room for gutter journalists and that there is nothing smart about somebody writing with a poison pen and trying to ridicule people because of where they come from. These people think they have a monopoly on being right. From what I have seen of many of them, they do not have a monopoly on intelligence. To think that their parents sent them to school and to university to write some of the rubbish they write.
Having said that, we have excellent journalists, many of whom attend this House on a daily basis. I will not embarrass them by praising them individually but they know who they are. We have great journalists in this House and around the country who are fair and write properly but we have the gutter journalists for whom there is no room in the Ireland of the future because using bad language and calling people names is the worst type of bullying but they have, unfortunately, been allowed to get away with it. I will not stand for it in the future and I strongly urge other politicians not to do so either and to show we will not be torn apart in a savage way by people who think they are so much better than everyone else. The arrogance of some of them is frightening.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing to speak about this as it is something I had to get off my chest. I will defend myself robustly in the future against the gutter journalists of this country. I will always accept fair criticism and deal with those people in a respectful way. It would be great if others would do the same. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his indulgence and I thank the Minister of State. I have made my feelings on this issue well known.

This is very interesting legislation which we will either get very right, and make a significant difference, or get wrong. It is really very different from how the Oireachtas works. It will be a great test of Government and of the courts because we are, to some degree, interfering with some of their functions. The operation of this legislation will be a very significant test for Members of the Oireachtas.

Many Deputies commented on the role of tribunals in the past. Tribunals are judicial inquiries and they can find fact against individuals and organisations because they are very much part of the courts. Reference was also made to the recent hearings of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the protection of life during pregnancy Bill 2013. Everybody said everyone should have his or her say in this regard but it is always about striking the right balance at committee hearings. Deputy Mattie McGrath sent out a press release saying some individuals were denied the right to appear before the committee. He supported a Government for quite some time which gave nobody the opportunity to have his or her say.

We are now dealing with an issue which is 21 years old. He has claimed that people have not been given the right to have their say, but he denied people that opportunity, in effect, when he was on the Government side of the House. I would say this Government has moved on quite dramatically by giving people an opportunity to air their views. The issue in question was discussed in January and a further three days of public hearings have just concluded. The legislation has not yet been introduced in the House. This is part of the reforms that have been actively promoted by the Government. We are being a bit more transparent and opening up the Dáil. I think we are going even further. There is a whole plan in play. People have not noticed some of the changes that have happened. They will notice them over time.

I became a Member of the Oireachtas in 2002. I would suggest that in that time, it was the last Government which made the most significant attempt to close down debate and deny the people the accountability and transparency they expect from the Oireachtas. This was done subtly, for example, by means of small changes to the freedom of information regime and the way people do business in the House. It was enough to make it more difficult to hold the Government to account in the way people expect. As we consider this legislation, we must be careful that these inquiries to not take on a quasi-judicial status. That is not what the purpose of this Bill should be. We are not the courts and we are not the Government - we are the Parliament. When we hold our inquiries, it will be important for those involved to see this as one of their functions as parliamentarians. Obviously, there will be a risk that people will slip into thinking they have a role as senior counsels or judges in these inquiries. That is not what we are about. As parliamentarians, we have a much broader remit than that of a judge or senior counsel in the workings of the courts.

This Bill is interesting because we have already asked the people of Ireland whether they trust politicians or the Oireachtas enough to allow them to carry out full inquiries into issues like the banking crisis. That proposition was rejected by the people. Basically, that means the people of Ireland do not trust politicians or the Oireachtas to carry out fair inquiries in the manner that was promoted. I think we should have looked for answers from the results of that referendum to help us to frame our approach to this legislation. When the referendum proposal was rejected by the people, there was clear concern that the people did not trust us. We should find out why the people showed such mistrust of us. Many Members of the House, including some of the members of the Government that is introducing this legislation, might not wholeheartedly agree with it. We have to reflect the concerns of the people when we are deciding how much power to give ourselves in this Oireachtas. We have to think not only about ourselves, but also about those who will follow us in the Oireachtas. We must ask how much power we would like to give to those who will be asked to ascertain the facts about issues that could have an affect on people's lives.

The greatest flaw in any decision to give powers to the Oireachtas is that too often, neither the citizens of this country nor the Members of the Oireachtas see us as true parliamentarians. The power in this country lies with the courts and with the Government. The Parliament also has many powers, but the Members of the Oireachtas tend to refrain from exercising them. We take our lead from the Government, or we are led by the Government. It has been no different since the foundation of the State. As I have pointed out, many of these powers were weakened by the actions of the last Government. We have allowed some of the powers of the Parliament to slip from our hands. There is a need for people to define themselves - to set out exactly what they are as parliamentarians. Being a true parliamentarian is not just about looking for free votes in the Chamber or deciding to lose the Whip by voting against a specific measure proposed by the Government. It is about the day-to-day work of the Oireachtas. I suppose that should and could be done in a more consensual manner. We will need to change the adversarial approach that unfortunately dominates politics and business in this country if we really want to make this legislation work. A more consensual approach will be needed in the event of a politically sensitive inquiry. We will have to work together to make it work properly for the people of this country.

If we are to be true parliamentarians, we will have to make a greater commitment to reading and critically analysing legislation, reports that are published for the Oireachtas and by the Government and the actions of the Government. Honestly, I do not think that is done by many parliamentarians at present, or at least it is not often done well by most of us in these Houses. I am not condemning the Members of the House. I do not suggest that what I am speaking about is evidence of some kind of faulty trait on their part. I am suggesting that the harsh practicalities of working and getting elected to the Dáil mean that one is far more likely to get a return on work that has absolutely nothing to do with legislation, reports or the inquiries that will be carried out by this House. If we are make these inquiries work, and if there is to be a genuine return on the effort the Minister is making to get this legislation onto the Statute Book, we need to step up our game and to do the work of parliamentarians properly. We will have to change the way we work in the Dáil so that it is less confrontational and involves more critical analysis of the work we do. This is a fault of the way the House works. Backbenchers like me get very little opportunity to criticise any sort of Government policy without being seen as anti-Government. If I was to criticise aspects of health or education policy for any reason, I would be described as anti-Government. That is an indication of the failure of the way this Chamber and the committees work. The media will not consider what one says from the Opposition benches unless one is assassinating the character of a Minister or supporting some other agenda. It is not taken as seriously as it needs to be if we are to make this work.

As this Bill goes through and as people pay attention to it, we need to mature as parliamentarians. We should have confidence in our role and in our ability to make this legislation work. Some of the work that is being done in the committees gives me confidence that we have it within ourselves to do this sort of work well. It is up to the media to show the same interest in the good work that is being and could be done in the committees. The media should not be fixated on our expenses and on controversial issues like the abortion debate. Excellent work is being done at committee level every week. Those doing that work get no recognition from the media and the wider public, who do not see it as important. There is a need for us to educate the public on the difference parliamentarians can make in their lives. I believe the Oireachtas has changed in the past couple of years. The potential exists to add to the reforms that have already been carried out. It should be recognised that the committees need better resources to enable them to work. If the people of Ireland decide to abolish the Seanad, the committees will have to take on more responsibility for holding the Government to account. The Taoiseach and the members of the Government have already recognised that. The committees are being given a greater critical mass to make inquiries, to do their work and - to some degree - to offer a counterpoint to the role of the Government in running this country.

I know the Ceann Comhairle is very anxious to make this Chamber work in a more democratic manner and I believe he would like to see even more happen to make this Chamber more free-flowing and accountable to the people who elect us. We must move away from being an irrelevant talking shop, which we are to some degree, and become more of a Parliament.

In moving the legislation, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has a clear commitment to the sort of democratic process that needs to brought back into the Oireachtas. He wishes to make changes to the Freedom of Information Act and in regard to whistleblowers, and this and the other legislation the Minister has brought forward points to the experience this Chamber needs. We need to be given the opportunity to become a significant part of the democratic accountability of this nation, along with the courts and the Government. There is a serious need for Members of this Parliament to step up to the plate and make sure we do this work, and do it right.

Up to now, neither the Dáil nor the Seanad has worked to provide that counterbalance to Government. If we are to continue to move along the line as we are doing, for example, in regard to increased scrutiny of Government policy and budget plans, which I know the Minister would like the finance committee to do more of, we must not just scrutinise the Departments of Finance or the Taoiseach, for which we are responsible, but look at public expenditure across all Departments. However, the only way this will be possible is if additional resources are given to the finance committee to enable it to get information and to assimilate and understand the difficult processes that are part of the public finances. None of us is an expert in accountancy or economics, and in order for the committees to work, there is a need to beef them up in a manner which I believe is possible but which is not yet coming through.

The changes that have been put in place to date give the impression that there is an increase in democratic accountability in theory, but it will only work in practice when we have adequate resources. When we have those resources, I believe we will get the right attitude from Members of the Oireachtas to making the committees work in a true manner. The inquiries by the US Senate and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster have both been in the headlines recently in a way that references what is happening in this country in regard to our tax matters. We do not get that sort of publicity because our committees are not resourced to the same level as the committees making those inquiries in the US and UK. At the same time, even with those additional resources, they still got it wrong because it was not an issue of our corporate tax rate but very much about the bilateral taxation agreements that exist between many countries, including Ireland, and the US or UK. That is very much the cause of the disquiet that is exercising the minds of the US Senate and the Westminster Parliament.

That is the sort of approach we need for this Parliament. We need to beef up our committees and give them the necessary resources. What the Minister is doing here is providing a new legislative way of making an inquiry. However, it is very important we keep in mind that we are not the courts, we are not judges and we are not senior counsel. We are parliamentarians and, when we make our inquiries, we must try to be fair and unbiased towards the people we are dealing with. We must use such inquiries as a means of adding to our stock of information and to the improvement of the legislative roles we hold and the improvement of the legislation that exists, not to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past.

There is almost a need for a Cinderella clause to be put into the legislation to stop us from trying to use it to fulfil some sort of political goal, such as doing down someone from another political party or settling old scores. That is a very serious concern and one that existed when the referendum was put to the people, in that there was a fear there could be politically motivated inquiries that served no other purpose than to fulfil a short-term political goal on behalf of the Government. If we give genuine powers to the committees and decide to become genuine parliamentarians, we can prevent this sort of issue arising.

During the course of Committee Stage, I am sure we will have a lengthy discussion with the Minister on this issue. The Minister has brought in new measures in the legislation, such as qualified privilege for confidential communications from members of the public to Members of either House. There is a strong need to discuss this further with the Minister to ensure this privilege is not abused, for which there would be scope. There will also be a need to discuss further with the Minister how our terms of reference will work and how that will interact with the High Court, as well as what opportunities there will be for interested parties to file their own observations with the High Court before we could start an inquiry. I wonder whether this will become an issue. Section 92 makes provision for an application where a committee is of the opinion that a report could prejudice criminal proceedings, so there is a need for us to scope this out further with the Minister on Committee Stage. Section 97 allows for an appeal to the court where a direction from the committee could prejudice criminal proceedings which are pending or in progress. Again, we will need to scope this out with the Minister.

I presume the terms of reference will come from Government and, therefore, I presume there will be a significant role for the Attorney General, although I may be wrong on this. I would like the Minister to point out what sort of legal opinion would be available to the committee if it was to establish an inquiry of this sort, and whether there would be a role for the Attorney General to give us legal clarity as to what we could do.

Overall, this is another progressive piece of legislation from Government. It is following on with the concepts of accountability, transparency and responsibility to the people who elected us. It is up to us to step up to the plate, become real parliamentarians and make this legislation work. When I am in committee, I often find that those calling for meetings and inquiries, or demanding that we need to do this, that and everything else, are the ones who fail to turn up when we actually get witnesses before the committee. There will be a spotlight upon us in doing our job and it is important we face up to those responsibilities. I hope we will get the resources to do it properly.

After 18 months of procrastination on the Bill, I welcome that it is before the House. The referendum on granting more powers to the Oireachtas and compelling witnesses to come forward was lost in November 2011. This was unfortunate in that it would have advanced the timing of this legislation. At the time, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, carried out an investigation as to the reasons the referendum was lost. It appears people were genuinely confused and concerned at some of the proposals being brought forward. All of this was exacerbated by the legal profession, given several Attorneys General opposed it vigorously, and this certainly put an element of doubt in the minds of people.

Unfortunately, that was the chief reason for its failure. Anyway, we are where we are at this point. We are finally about to introduce the legislation which will at least give specific power to the Oireachtas to hold a sworn inquiry. Commencing an inquiry into the dubious bank guarantee which has so many unanswered questions is certainly not before time. The US, Iceland and the UK are countries where such sworn public inquiries have been held in the recent past. There was no dithering or undue delay in these countries about examining financial misdemeanours within their jurisdictions swiftly, fairly and competently.

There has been general bewilderment, dismay and annoyance among the general public about why these matters were not addressed more expeditiously. The alleged perpetrators who have contributed in no small way to bringing this country to its knees with the consequent loss of economic sovereignty have some very serious matters to clarify. It is an extreme case of belated action and the appetite and urgency of the public seem to have abated because in the meantime, citizens have taken the full brunt of the hardships of austerity and very harsh budgets over the past five years. In respect of rescuing reckless banks, it was a time where the nod and the wink was the order of the day and regulation and regulatory powers were soft or non-existent.

The scope of the Oireachtas inquiry that it is hoped will be facilitated through this Bill must be extended to involve the participation of witnesses from outside the State, particularly officials and personnel from the European Central Bank, ECB, whose knowledge and revelations regarding the events of 29 to 30 September 2008 will be crucial to the verification of the events. Perhaps a mechanism can be included in this Bill whereby it would be mandatory for the ECB to provide all relevant documentation pertaining to that era. The presence of the ECB managerial officials at an Oireachtas inquiry is also paramount. Then and only then will we be in a position to get the unvarnished facts regarding the events that led to the arrival of the troika on 20 November 2010.

Nearer to home, it is important that all files and other relevant information from the Department of Finance be accessible to the inquiry. This Bill must address any deficiencies in the legalities that may obstruct access to these vital documents. We have seen the recent debacle where John Moran, the Secretary General of the Department of Finance, refused to hand over 9,000 files on the collapse of the banks to the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts. This gives a very clear signal of non co-operation by an arm of the State to enable the elected legislators of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann to act on behalf of the citizens. This is an appalling situation, to put it mildly, and is certainly an affront to our democracy.

It should be possible within this Bill to make provision that in an Oireachtas inquiry into matters as important as this, issues covered by Cabinet confidentiality, which up to now have been protected, would be made available to such an inquiry. We should also address this matter retrospectively within the legislation for the sake of transparency. Where there is an exceptional inquiry, Cabinet confidentiality must be opened up.

I mentioned the ECB earlier. I believe the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance can jointly pursue on behalf of the Government and people of Ireland vital documentation relating to ECB dealings with Ireland during the banking crisis, the events leading up to the troika bailout and the recent liquidation of the IBRC. Relative to the size of our country and economy, the cost of €62 billion is by far the most expensive relative to GDP among the more developed world economies. So far, we have had some token examinations of the issues. The previous Government commissioned Klaus Regling and Max Watson to conduct a review of the macro-economic factors behind the banking collapse. There was a report into the failure of regulation by the governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan. Another such report was produced on the shortcomings of the Department of Finance. Another report was the Nyberg report, which was to be a very significant and in-depth report into the crisis and the banks themselves. Unfortunately, it did not meet its potential. Although it had the potential to be the most potent, Mr. Nyberg's report ended up being the most disappointing. Even at this stage, John Moran is withholding some vital documentation relating to the Nyberg report.

It is a long-standing convention that we do not name people outside the House. I ask the Deputy to bear that in mind. I do not want to be too fussy but that is the convention.

I understand but he is well away from us in Finland. It is very relevant because his name and all the names I have mentioned are very much involved in the whole debacle.

The Deputy can refer to documents but cannot name names.

I know. In respect of the sheer volume of work involved in the Nyberg report and the timeframe of six months, there was something in the region of over 1,500 documents per day on average to be perused and clinically and microscopically examined.

Disappointingly, the author of the Nyberg report said assigning the blame to a particular individual was not within his remit. He chose not to identify any individual, but he did identify organisations by name. However, he interviewed former bank chief executives such as Mr. Seanie FitzPatrick and Mr. Michael Fingleton. Without wishing to be over-dramatic, we are talking about two of the main culprits who are very identifiable and recognisable in this saga. What they said will probably never be revealed, unless and until such time as the documents are released to the National Archives in 2040, by which time the events will have been well buried in history. I hope we can resurrect matters, even at this late stage, to put things in order, hear proper explanations and go beneath the surface. What we know is merely the tip of the iceberg.

I ask the Minister of State to take that point into consideration. Perhaps a mechanism might be devised whereby these revelations and the compilation of facts by Mr. Nyberg can be revealed within the confines of this investigation by the Oireachtas inquiry. There may be a loophole, some means and way of getting at these facts in order to put them before the Oireachtas.

I refer to the Bills digest on the matter of Oireachtas inquiries. It states:

The power of parliament to hold inquiries into matters of great public concern exists in the vast majority of parliamentary democracies. The Joint Committee on the Constitution of the 30th Dáil, following consultation with legal and political experts, concluded that the Irish Parliament has much less power in this field of parliamentary inquiries than its international equivalents. In fact, the current case law indicates that the Houses of the Oireachtas do not, as a matter of constitutional law, have an inherent power to inquire into matters of public importance, beyond the remit of their functions as a legislative body, and in the case of Dáil Éireann, holding the government to account. In fact, one of the major findings of the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara case was that the Oireachtas had no inherent power to carry out inquiries of the kind it did in that case.

This statement is very revealing and gives even more urgency to the Government proceeding to put in place the proper provisions in this Bill.

The policy intent of the Bill is that in the light of the rejection of the constitutional amendment, the Government aims to provide a statutory framework for parliamentary inquiries within the existing constitutional framework as set down by the Abbeylara judgment. It follows a consultation process which aimed to establish the legislative underpinning required for Oireachtas inquiries and included pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Bill by the Joint Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform. A key difference between the inquiries provided for in the Bill and those envisaged in an attempt to deal with the issue via constitutional change is that this Bill does not provide the Oireachtas with the power to determine the appropriate balance between the public interest and the individual's right to a good name. We need to address all of these relevant matters in the interests of justice, truth and ethics. There is a job to be done by the elected Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I hope we will proceed with vigour and a sense of fairness and justice to give this and relevant matters their rightful hearing in the very near future.

I wish to share time with Deputies Seán Kyne and Eoghan Murphy.

I thank the previous contributor. I wonder how far we would have got without that poster "Kangaroo Court - No Thanks". There has been a delay in carrying out a proper inquiry. The result of the referendum was unfortunate and if it had been otherwise, we would be much further down the road. I do not think the Government has delayed bringing forward legislation.

I thank the Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and his staff for their work in the drafting of the Bill which is a key part of the broader reform agenda being driven by the Minister. The package of legislative change covers freedom of information, whistleblower legislation and the regulation of lobbying. I congratulate the work of the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. Transparency, ethics, justice, responsibility and efficient public services are the key goals to be achieved to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

The IFSC Clearing House Group attended the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform yesterday. The group was established in the early 1980s but is only now publishing the minutes of its meetings. The documentation and presentations associated with the sub-groups need to be published because they influence our law and public policy. This level of transparency is required and should be demanded by us on behalf of citizens. The intended framework for Oireachtas inquiries is detailed and must be carefully analysed by all Deputies. The manner in which we conduct our business and how we investigate matters of public policy have to be fair, efficient and democratic and not open to legal challenge.

I share the frustration of other Members that it is five years since the bank guarantee was given and three years since the EU-IMF bailout and that there has been a delay in establishing a banking inquiry. However, this delay is the result of the careful analysis which the Government has undertaken.

The Bill will not provide for the apportionment of blame. Those on the Opposition benches always want to blame somebody such as a particular Minister or an individual outside the House. The correct approach to be adopted under the Bill is to inquire into events, establish the facts and the failings of public policy to ensure these events are never repeated. We wish to ensure that whoever follows us in the future will never be able to move the country towards bankruptcy, as happened under the previous Government.

It will be decided whether an inquiry will be an inquire, record and report inquiry or a legislative inquiry. A balance between the two would be preferable.

I hope that when the Minister comes back, he will elaborate on just how that will develop.

The legal framework provided for in the Bill will ensure we will have a quick and robust inquiry with clear powers available to all Members. It is welcome that the right to establish an inquiry is vested exclusively in the Houses, which recognises their importance. If we look at what happened in the past 15 years, we will see that more and more powers were taken from the Houses and vested in the Executive. I recognise that the Bill vests power in the Oireachtas again. It is much easier to complain about problems than to recognise the powers set out, which are very important.

I recognise that the Ceann Comhairle was very ambitious about getting wider media coverage of committee work. The work he has done in allowing committee meetings to be broadcast by UPC has produced improved engagement and understanding by the public of what happens in committees. I have seen this in the contact members of the public have had with me. I make the point because when the Bill is passed, it will, rightly, be the subject of a great deal of coverage. Deputy Liam Twomey made a very important point, that we must resource the committees properly. More and more heads of Bills and reports are going before them and they must be strengthened and provided with research capacity and support services to work effectively. The public will recognise this. It is not about showboating and grandstanding; it is about being efficient and bringing forward effective legislation. The Bill is a sign that we can do this. I look forward to engaging on the legislation on Committee Stage. There is much more that I would like to say but time has run out.

A person's good name is protected under Article 40.3 of the Constitution which provides that the State, by its laws, shall protect as best it may from unjust attack the good name of every citizen. This provision was reaffirmed in the Abbeylara judgment. The referendum proposal put to the people in 2011 as defined by the Referendum Commission was that the Dáil and the Seanad would have the power, separately or together, to conduct an inquiry into any matter considered to be a matter of general public importance; that when conducting any such inquiry, either or both Houses would have the power to inquire into the conduct of any person and the power to make relevant findings about that person's conduct; and that the Dáil and the Seanad would have the power to determine the appropriate balance between the rights of people involved in any such inquiry and the requirements of the public interest. The referendum was rejected, perhaps on foot of concerns of a former Attorney General and the Law Society of Ireland who felt the wording had a potentially far-reaching effect on the constitutional right to procedural fairness. The will of the people must be respected and the Government wishes within the constitutional framework as decreed by the Abbeylara judgment to provide a statutory framework for parliamentary inquiries. The Bill does not provide the Oireachtas with the power to determine the appropriate balance between the public interest and an individual's right to a good name.

The Bill represents an important step in clarifying the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in investigating issues of public interest and provides statutory underpinning for five general types of inquiry. These are an inquiry limited to recording and reporting evidence, an inquiry related to legislative functions, an inquiry related to the removal of certain officeholders, an inquiry related to the conduct of Members of the Oireachtas and an inquiry into the conduct of a current officeholder, a senior civil servant or a chief executive officer of a public body who is liable under the terms of his or her contract to be held to account to Dáil Éireann.

Previous speakers, including Deputies Jerry Buttimer and Anthony Lawlor, have referred to parliaments in other countries and their powers to inquire. The US Senate conducts hearings on issues of public interest and is a powerful investigative body. The authority of the US Congress to investigate is an implied constitutional power, the significance of which was anticipated as far back as 1788 when James Madison urged "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men [...] you must first enable the Government to control the governed and in the next place oblige it to govern itself". While that language is somewhat archaic, Congress has exercised its investigative responsibilities since the earliest days of the republic and today congressional oversight enables House and Senate Members to serve as the eyes and ears of the American public. Many well known Senate inquiries have been held, including inquiries on the sinking of Titanic, Watergate, the Ku Klux Klan and the Iran-Contra scandal. Clearly, these were issues within the public interest. I would like to think that if similar issues arose here, it would be in the interests of the public that the Houses of the Oireachtas would have similar powers of inquiry.

In time, the people, through the media, will see hard questions being asked on foot of the powers set out in the Bill and an opportunity may be given to them to consider once again a constitutional amendment to give the Oireachtas the powers necessary for a fuller investigative role. That is not to dismiss the important role played by the Committee of Public Accounts, as we have seen in the past within the current constitutional framework in the matter of the DIRT inquiry. Prior to the DIRT inquiry, the then Attorney General, Mr. David Byrne, set out in advance the constitutional parameters for the participants. He stated that it was understood that findings of fact on the central issues could be made and sent in a report to the Dáil for debate, whereas findings on the responsibility of individuals had to be avoided as that was the work of the legal system where there were appropriate protections for a citizen's good name. A senior counsel was appointed to sit with the Chairman of the committee to provide legal direction. Clearly, the DIRT inquiry worked and we must provide clarity for future investigations as outlined in the Bill.

It is clear that people want to see politicians, senior civil servants and chief executives held to account. They want the people involved in the banking sector to be held to account also. They want a banking inquiry. When I canvassed during the referendum on powers of inquiry, it was clear that people did not trust politicians to differentiate between bankers and the little guy. They felt the little guy would be picked out by politicians equally for inquiry and they were concerned. It is worth noting in this regard the comments by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, yesterday. He said:

The main caveat to the scope for such Oireachtas inquiries is that the terms of reference of such inquiries cannot focus on the conduct of individuals, rather, they must relate, for example, to the systems, practices, procedures, policies and the implementation of policy, and the effectiveness of legislative and regulatory systems.

This is important, given the right to a good name as conferred on the individual by the Constitution. I look forward to the Bill progressing through the Oireachtas.

I congratulate the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. The referendum on the powers of inquiries failed in 2011, which, in one respect, was an incredible achievement by the people, given the near consensus politically in favour of making an amendment to the Constitution. Much of the commentary at the time was very much in favour of the amendment, but the people chose to do otherwise. Doing so in the face of such political consensus must be recognised as an achievement and it would be arrogant of Members to say the people got it wrong and that we should run the campaign again. It is more important to look at what the people decided and admit that we got it wrong. We can then debate whether the issue was one of timing or substance. Perhaps, it was a campaign issue. We got it wrong and the people said no to the proposed change to the Constitution.

Nevertheless, we have before us a Bill on the conduct of inquiries. It is perhaps the most significant Bill to reform the practices of the Oireachtas to be published in the past 15 years or more. It is incredibly important and should in no way be regarded as an attempt by politicians to sidestep the will of the people in the referendum. The Bill is complete and goes nowhere near the powers set out in the proposed amendment to the Constitution. It is important in the powers it provides for the Oireachtas and committees. It is also very important in the context of the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad which will take place in the next couple of months. If we are to remove the second Chamber, we must be absolutely certain that the remaining Chamber will be able to perform the tasks a parliament should be able to carry out in a democracy such as ours. It must be able to provide for the checks and balances and stand confidently and assert its opinions and use its judgment in the way a parliament should and to work with the government of the day. The Bill is very much part of ensuring this Chamber will be able to stand on its own, confidently and competently, should the Seanad be abolished. I will support the referendum when it is held.

This is not just about the Bill, it is also about the reform of the committee system, as many Members have said.

Recently, at a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting, I and other colleagues put forward different ideas on how to reform the committee system. We are conscious of the mandate every single Member was given in 2011 to fix the economy and also to reform society and the political structures in the country so that the mistakes of the past, which destroyed the economy, cannot happen again. That is our central mandate and at every step of the way we must ask whether we are doing enough, reforming enough and changing enough to make sure it cannot happen again. This Bill is part of that but more work needs to be done in the committee system to do that. The committees must be given more teeth and those serving on the committees must be given more teeth.

I refer to the use of the Whip system on every single issue in committees. An important issue was raised in respect of the Bill and the use of the Whip system. We discussed it at the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts and Deputy Donohoe made reference to it. Is it possible to whip members of the committee holding an inquiry such as this? Is it possible to whip members on the terms of reference for the inquiry, the findings made, the conclusion or how the business was to be conducted? I believe we could not because it would undermine the standing of the findings of the inquiry. When the first inquiry happens after the Bill is passed, it will lead to interesting challenges to the Whip system and will bring the use of the Whip in Irish politics front and centre.

Some are critical of the time it has taken us to bring the Bill to the House in the context of the banking inquiry because they want it to happen. The work done on the possibility of a banking inquiry in the Committee of Public Accounts sets out the amount of work that needs to be done. The significance of the legislation and what we are trying to do, bearing in mind what may happen with the Seanad and what people said in the referendum in 2011, means we must take our time in what we consider and how we take it through Committee Stage and make amendments. It will be an important change for this Dáil. It is ridiculous but there are those who say the Government may not want to hold a banking inquiry. The idea must be rejected at every turn. It is part of our mandate to discover what happened on the night in question, the preceding weeks and months, the following weeks and months and what was happening in the years building up to the collapse. We need to look at it to learn from it, understand it, improve our systems and move on through a form of catharsis for the country as a whole. That is why the Government wants to hold a banking inquiry as soon as possible, deal with the legislation and get it through and move to that stage. Much of the work of the Government has been to deal with legacies from the past, trying to correct mistakes or, where mistakes could not be corrected, trying to negate the impact of their outcome. The Government had to find the courage to do new things and this Bill, and the referendums, including the Seanad referendum, are examples.

The protection of life during pregnancy Bill is a new thing, as is the courage of the Government to deal with a legacy issue that was not dealt with before. The protection of life during pregnancy Bill, and how heads of the Bill were handled by the committee, pave the way for the kind of reforms we should see in every committee dealing with legislation. It is incredibly important. When I look at the debate on the protection of life during pregnancy Bill, I look at the substance of what is discussed and also how people are reflecting on how it is being discussed. It is returning some standing to politics, politicians and the practices we engage in in this House and its committee system. That is a good thing and we need to see more of it in our committees. We need to be more transparent in our work so people see us at our best and worst. People need to see us wrestling with these issues in public, consulting experts, taking our time and deliberating on important points for the country as a whole.

When I get the opportunity to speak, I continually say that passing legislation makes it the law of the land. Sometimes we are not certain how the legislation will be interpreted, unintended consequences on the enactment of legislation or how a situation may come about that was unintended. It happens all the time and we must reform and amend legislation. That is fine and is part of the parliamentary process. That is why is it is so important we take our time with these important matters.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys and Deputy Twomey referred to the extra resources needed for committees. If we want to have the kind of committees we see in the European Parliaments with successful committee systems, and if committees are to act as checks and balances to the Government, as the Seanad could have but never did, the committees will require extra resources. That involves extra people, extra money and extra facilities. We should not be shy about spending a small amount of money where it will bring about great reform and financial savings in the work Government does. Potentially, a committee that we will set up will prevent a future economic collapse or a particular problem with banking regulation. That is a money-saving in the long term.

I have not begun to get to the substance of what I wanted to speak about because I went off script. This Bill will lead to a banking inquiry. The Committee of Public Accounts did a substantial amount of work in preparing a preliminary report. I wanted to read parts of into the record because we never had the chance to debate the report properly. Six members sat on the sub-committee and put a lot of work into it, together with the officials. It is comprehensive and contains a roadmap for holding a banking inquiry. We never got to debate it in detail because we do not debate enough committee reports in the Dáil. One of the reforms we must make is to bring the work from individual committees to the Chamber so people who do not sit on committees can see the work others are doing and that the public as a whole can see it. The roadmap exists but I caution that the kind of banking inquiry we can have, given the powers conferred on us by the Constitution, will not be what people hoped for. However, it will still be incredibly important to have the principals of the day come before a public committee to take public questions in full transparency and openness. That will be an important moment for the country and I look forward to it. I congratulate the Minister on this Bill, which is perhaps the most progressive legislation in reforming the Dáil in the past decade or more. I am very proud the Government is doing this in conjunction with other efforts for reform.

I would love to be able to take to my feet and say the Bill will resolve all of the issues concerning the powers of committees. I wish it would, but I do not think it will. I will address the reasoning behind that and what we want to achieve. In committees, at the Committee of Public Accounts and publicly, I have said there is a clear and absolute need for an inquiry into the financial collapse that happened in the country. We need to set out a narrative that explains to people exactly what happened, how the system failed and how people in the banking sector, Government and the Civil Service acted or spoke about it in the lead-up to 2007 and 2008 and what happened after. Like many other people, I want to see that happen. Everyone who spoke in the House acknowledged it as the starting point. It is not that people are vindictive or want to go after an individual or banking organisation: they simply want to know.

It is incredible to think that, since 2008, we have had nothing but discussion, debate and noise on the issue while we watched the reaction of other Governments and countries to the banking issue. They could hold people and institutions to account and, in doing so, they presented their people with the narrative and a detailed explanation. It may not satisfy people and it may anger them all the more but it will set it in context so they can understand what the current Government is doing with the economy. They can judge it for good or bad but at least they will have something to contrast against by which they can explain matters.

With that in mind, I pursued the notion of a banking inquiry. Then we looked at the committees of the House to make it happen. How can we make the committees function?

The Committee of Public Accounts set out in its report of July 2012 - the Minister has a copy of it - the roadmap for such a banking inquiry. The committee tested it against legal opinion both inside and outside the House. It is not just a report concocted by Members. It was deliberated upon and debated at length. We took advice on it, including legal advice. We came up with a direct roadmap to a banking inquiry which, in the process, strengthens the committee system in the Oireachtas. I am disappointed that the system in the House does not allow a very important document such as this to be debated. Deputy Murphy has acknowledged that as well. In that debate we could possibly have arrived at solutions to problems that are faced by committees, not just the Committee of Public Accounts, and strengthen them in that process, before introducing this very complex legislation which will probably be challenged in some way or other by individuals or organisations.

What are the problems facing the committees? The Minister knows them well as he has been a Member of this House for a long time. The Minister refused to accept a Bill which sought to reform the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General by allowing the Comptroller and Auditor General to audit local government. There was another example of that this morning in the Committee of Public Accounts. Millions of euro are allocated by the Office of Public Works, OPW, to local authorities but only 5% of that allocation is being tested and audited. I am not satisfied with that. The Committee of Public Accounts, in the context of the Bill I introduced, is the proper authority to audit every cent of taxpayers' money that is spent by the Government, yet the Minister refused to accept that single reform.

There are other areas of reform highlighted by the Committee of Public Accounts. Let us say we proceed to hold a banking inquiry. If somebody decides not to attend the inquiry because they are being investigated by somebody else, they need not attend the inquiry. The Committee of Public Accounts encountered this last week. A witness was invited to attend the meeting arising from expenditure of €4.4 million in an unofficial account. He said he was being investigated by the Garda. If I relate that to the dioxin report, for example, the Garda investigation into an event that cost the State a fortune is still ongoing, so anybody being investigated need not necessarily appear before the Committee of Public Accounts. Consider our investigation of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. Again, this cost the State millions of euro. The last figure I read was €58 million but if one takes into account that the banks have now taken over those loans through the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, it is in the hundreds of millions. Witnesses were invited to attend, but only one responded. Could a simple legislative measure not be provided to insist on such witnesses turning up for a Committee of Public Accounts hearing?

This similarly applies to documents. If an individual states that the documents are for his or her personal use, we cannot touch them. That is absolutely incredible. We also had a situation where during the investigation into the Dublin Docklands Development Authority we discovered that under a previously unused Standing Order the Minister had stood down the investigation. We have quite correctly taken it up again. Despite all the problems we face and the lack of legislation and reform in this area, we will continue with the investigation.

In the recommendations in our report - we have yet to receive a response to the report - we set out, first, why there is an urgent need for the inquiry. We proceed to recommend that the Committee of Public Accounts should conduct the inquiry. Why the Minister has gone off in search of another committee is beyond me when there are other established committees in the House that are quite capable of conducting such an inquiry, should the Minister be willing to provide them with the appropriate powers and legislation that they might need to continue in the way set down by the report.

In the report we dealt with the bank guarantee. We suggested that a significant number of questions remain to be urgently answered regarding the available policy options and decision making processes used during the weeks around the guarantee. We suggest that the Committee of Public Accounts, without this legislation, could examine the role of the banks and ask about their responsibility in the crisis. From there it could proceed to the role and effectiveness of State institutions. This is all clearly set out in the document. The document acknowledges that we are working within the confines of the Constitution, the Abbeylara case and the In re Haughey case, all of which have an impact on how we conduct our business. The report comes down in favour of what the Minister has provided for in the legislation, the inquire, record and report model. There is less risk attached to it and there is an example of how it was used previously in the Wallace inquiry, which successfully set out the proceedings in that inquiry. We believe that is the way to proceed.

To assist any further banking inquiry, we are currently completing a bank stabilisation report which covers the period prior to 2008, links it with the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and brings it up to date. We have asked for the assistance of Mr. Elderfield in this regard and I suggest that the previous Secretary General of the Department, the civil servant in charge of banking and the previous Financial Regulator could be asked to come forward to assist with that report. No offence is meant to anybody. They would simply set out their memory of that time and capture for any future banking inquiry the information and detail of the time, which is absolutely necessary. It is now six years since it happened. Memories fail people, particular events are not recorded properly or there is only a sketchy memory of other events. To get over that, why not allow the Committee of Public Accounts to inquire, record and report? It would be a helpful measure for a future, comprehensive banking inquiry.

Why not release the documents held by the Department of Finance, without them being redacted? Why not examine under the Cabinet confidentiality rule the documents that might be released to assist the Committee of Public Accounts with its inquiry?

Does the Minister know whether the Department of Finance, for example, has inquired into what meetings were held, who attended them, their agenda and the papers circulated at them so any future inquiry will be able to rely on the bank of information gleaned? The information will be essential in the carrying out of an inquiry. Is any of this work being done by Departments or officials in preparation for what will have to be a banking inquiry in the interest of the citizens of this State who must stump up the cost of the financial collapse of the country? Is anything being done to deal with the anger over the fact that there is no inquiry into any of these matters? Could the Minister tell us, on Committee Stage or later, whether he has instructed the other Departments to collect relevant information? Will the information or correspondence within the Department that has already been spoken about by the whistleblowers be protected and made available? Has the Government taken steps to ensure this? Is all this activity happening now or must we wait for the passage of this Bill and for it to be tested in some way before we realise we should have taken action earlier?

The answer we get at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts suggests it would be too costly to hold an inquiry of the kind I desire. I do not accept that. We are dealing with billions of euro in taxpayers' money. We can blame whoever we like for the collapse politically but we are in the business of accountability and transparency. If, tomorrow morning, an ordinary citizen walked out of a store without paying for a bottle of milk, a large sliced pan or a pound of butter, or if he did not pay for services, he would be in court immediately. The cost to the State of the collapse is approximately €64 billion, yet we must go through this process in this House to get answers. That is simply not good enough.

As progress is made on this legislation, I would like to see officials instructed by the Government to gather the relevant papers, names and information such that they will be ready to be presented to the committee that will eventually carry out a comprehensive banking inquiry. This is what should be done in the context of the management and logistics of the system.

The Government has a very large majority. It promised reform and this Bill is part of it. I would love to see that reform being delivered. I sit in opposition on this side of the House. On the day that the current Government was formed, I expressed the hope that the promised reforms would materialise on the grounds that they would be good for the country, just as what is proposed in this legislation will be good if we can achieve it.

The committee system in the Houses needs to be examined in the context of this Bill. During the DIRT inquiry, there was co-operation from all concerned. Compellability was not tested, nor was anything else. Individuals came and made their contributions, and those who had to pay a penalty later paid that penalty, but the committee system in the Houses ground to a halt. The committee system, with all its flaws, is very important to the democratic process of this House. Alongside this legislation, there should be a plan to ensure the continuation of the work of all the committees. It should be explained how the committee system in the Houses will remain active at its current level and be strengthened in terms of the legislation and inquiry process. It should still be funded and capable of continuing its work should a banking inquiry be put in place. Thus, the consequence of this Bill will not be one that sees the committee system wound down for a period. The Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am Chairman, should be allowed to continue to hold its inquiries and carry out its work consequent to this legislation. That is important in terms of the democratic process in the Houses.

I hope this legislation will be passed and be successful. Everyone wants that. However, I would like the issues I have raised in regard to all committees, not just the Committee of Public Accounts, dealt with fairly and properly in respect of costs and the continuation of committees' work. That is crucial. I look forward to assisting our spokesperson, Deputy Seán Fleming, who made a positive contribution to the debate last night, on some of the amendments that are necessary. I thank the Minister for taking the time to listen.

I am sharing time with Deputy Seán Kenny.

I thank the Government for introducing this Bill. Regardless of the outcome of the inquiries referendum in 2011, and judging by the number of Deputies who have spoken on this matter in recent days, I believe there is a strong public and political appetite for the proposed powers to be enshrined in legislation so as to ensure public representatives in the Houses can hold to account those who spend public money and who are involved in governance. The public deserves an inquiry system that represents its interests, administered by the individuals it elects to represent it in the Oireachtas. It is not good enough to rely upon the media or legal system to carry out this function. Individuals in government are put on trial daily in the media. Although some brave and skilled investigations have been carried out by journalists over the years, it must be realised that the media comprise a commercial industry whose primary interest is to sell advertisements, newspapers, etc. The legal route, as we have seen with the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, is far too expensive, costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of euro. It is far too time-consuming and not fit for purpose.

Needless to say, the result of the Oireachtas inquiry referendum was a disappointment for many of us who came to this House after the election with an appetite for reform and to achieve accountability on behalf of the electorate. The general discourse on political reform at the time was focused strongly on changing how the national Parliament worked in a meaningful way and on issues of national importance rather than local agendas. The referendum was a lost opportunity for the Dáil to make a real impact on some of the cornerstone issues, such as the banking inquiry, in respect of which our constituents elected us to fight on their behalf.

There were a number of points made on the referendum and the criticism of the Government's attitude to the referendum. The Government set out to change the Constitution with the aim of holding to account those who brought down our banking system. It intended to do so behalf of our constituents, including those who were brought down by the system. A Government doing its job is not front-page news, however. Unfortunately, the referendum did not feature in many headlines and the "No" side set out to undermine the ability of elected Members of the Oireachtas to carry out the intended function.

There is a great deal of expertise and skill in the Houses of the Oireachtas and undermining its function is detrimental to the members of the public who elected us.

I pay particular compliment to the Chairmen of the various committees who have spoken yesterday and today. They do invaluable work on a daily basis in the House, which often goes completely unnoticed. The committee structure is where the vast majority of the work of the House is done, rather than in the Chamber.

The meaningful work that takes place in this building is not represented in the pantomime of this Chamber, but instead takes place in committee chambers. The committee structure best serves the national interest in the Dáil, often away from local political agendas, and is the most effective and functional aspect of the House which largely goes unreported and, often, unnoticed by the public. Deputies contribute to committees and examine issues of national importance such as legislation and public accounts, and the dedication and skill of the Members of this House are demonstrated every day through this structure.

On my earlier point on elections and political reform focusing on national issues, and at the risk of losing parish pump votes, undermining the function of Dáil Members or dumbing down the role of a Deputy would only guarantee a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fundamentally, the Government and legislators are people who decide where public money is best placed and it should be up to us to hold people to account if it is not used appropriately or outside the public interest.

In this regard I refer to section 10(2) of the Bill which outlines the power to inquire into the conduct of certain officeholders. This section outlines that a committee may record and report evidence and make findings of fact against those directly impugning the good name of a CEO of a public body which is subject to the scrutiny of the Committee of Public Accounts. However, it does not include commercial semi-States and organisations which receive less than 50% of gross receipts from public funds. Any organisation in receipt of funding from the taxpayer should be open and accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. I presume that will be the function of the committee that will be established as a result of the passing of this Bill. What is the point in dealing with a semi-State organisation which perhaps received 49% of its funding from the State, totalling €100 million, not being held to account? Such organisations should be held to account by the House. We should maximise the impact of this Bill on management and leadership in such organisations by holding them to account within the committee structure that will be set up.

This framework will only succeed if a committee can properly compel witnesses to attend. I understand legislative supports have been in place for committees which may wish to strengthen their ability to compel a witness, but in practice I am interested in how this has worked. For example, Homebond refused to come before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Deputy Broughan and I were particularly interested in that, given our involvement with pyrite in our constituencies. Homebond was established by statute and was heavily involved with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. A number of Deputies found it perverse that it was not compelled to come before the committee. There should be no opportunity, other than in exceptional circumstances, for any witness called to the House or its committee structure to refuse to answer.

In 2010, the Joint Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs investigated the banking crisis. Neither Sean FitzPatrick nor Ernst and Young agreed to come before it. They were not compelled to do so on the likelihood that the High Court would refuse to issue such an order because of the fear of prejudicing an ongoing investigation into Anglo Irish Bank. It is the policy of the Minister and Government to provide for an inquiry into the banking guarantee via this Bill. However, if this is still the case will the inquiry be limited to former Ministers? If that is the case, it may turn into an exercise in obfuscation.

I would also be interested in hearing the views of the Minister of State on using Ireland's relationship with friendly countries in which our citizens may live. Can we avail of their co-operation to extradite citizens, on suitable grounds, in order to compel witnesses living in other states?

This framework is a tool for Members of the Oireachtas to improve the service they provide to the public and hold those who spend public moneys to account, and is an extremely important function. As has been said on a number of occasions, this will be a resource-heavy facility and should only be required when absolutely necessary.

I wish to touch on points made by a number of Deputies, in particular Deputies Donohoe and Buttimer. There is an incredible wealth of expertise in this House which has been called upon over a number of years. People have proven themselves to be excellent inquisitors for the public good. I saw some photographs during the 2011 referendum campaign, where nameless but prominent first-term Deputies were pictured on the back of donkeys with the caption, "Do you want these jackeens inquiring into the public good?". My answer to that is "Yes", because they are the people's representatives and were put here for a reason. They were put here by the public to scrutinise the function of the House.

I endorse the sentiments of numerous Deputies in ensuring that whatever committee structure is set up as a result of the passing of this Bill has the teeth necessary to perform its functions in the best way possible. I look forward to the speedy passing of the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The purpose of the Bill is to establish a statutory framework for the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries within the current constitutional framework, as set down by the Supreme Court in the Maguire case, also known as the Abbeylara judgment.

The Minister, Deputy Howlin, strongly supports the objective of undertaking an effective and robust parliamentary banking inquiry. This Bill envisages a central role for the Oireachtas in initiating and conducting a parliamentary inquiry. The Bill contains extensive provisions on fair procedures and the conduct of members of committees to avoid any perception of bias. In addition, inquiries conducted under this statutory scheme will be governed by and subject to guidelines that may be issued by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The constitutional position is that it would not be permissible for the Oireachtas to legislate to create a power for the Houses of the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries that would have implications for the reputations of individuals, unless a specific constitutional authorisation for such a power can be identified. It is, however, constitutional for the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries which have no implications for the reputation of individuals and to hold forward-looking parliamentary inquiries which are geared towards policy and legislative issues.

The Dáil has an implicit constitutional power to conduct inquiries in order to hold the Government responsible, even if this affects the reputation of individuals, but it does not extend to investigating the activities of past Governments, provided that an inquiry is a bona fide attempt to operate within the constitutional constraints. It is not constitutionally problematic that inferences adverse to people's reputations may be drawn.

The Bill would provide legal certainty in this area and would provide the necessary framework for an inquiry operating under proper constitutional authority to carry out its functions. It would address all ancillary powers, procedures and the creation of offences necessary for the conduct of an inquiry. It would also balance the public interest in the investigation of matters of importance, with the protection of the constitutional right of an individual to his or her good name in a manner that would be robust and would withstand possible constitutional challenge.

Of the five separate types of inquiry that can be held under the Bill, I am particularly interested in inquiries related to a legislative function as this is where work of real benefit can be done. This is appropriate where information on past events is believed to be directly relevant to a forward-looking issue, such as the case for new legislation. An inquiry of this nature would have the potential to make findings of fact which could indirectly have an adverse reputational effect for an individual, but would not be permitted to make findings having direct adverse affect on the reputation of an individual.

The final decision on the holding of an inquiry under the Bill is subject to the endorsement of the Dáil and Seanad by way of a resolution.

Full compliance with the provisions regarding fair procedures is a requirement for any inquiry. That is essential, particularly where a person's good name could be adversely affected, even by inference, by the findings of an inquiry. Even where an inquiry has no scope to make findings that could have an adverse effect on the reputation of individuals, absolute procedural fairness must be observed. In addition, access to the courts will be unfettered in respect of all procedural aspects of the inquiry process and remains open at all times. In other words, if individuals feel the need to seek relief in the courts, that route is open to them.

The Bill includes extensive requirements to safeguard the constitutional rights of any person participating in an inquiry, including the right to challenge proceedings where an individual believes the conduct of the investigation is in breach of the Bill. Additional safeguards include the requirement to give advance notice of the evidence proposed to be given against an individual, the ability to cross-examine witnesses for the purpose of challenging an allegation, the capacity to furnish evidence to the inquiry to answer an allegation and the opportunity to argue one's case in closing submissions when the giving of evidence is completed. These provisions are further strengthened by the capacity for individuals to request that the committee direct specified persons to attend before it to give evidence or to direct the committee to send for specified documents.

This is complex and delicate legislation with serious constitutional implications in the area of civil rights and civil liberties. Given that those rights and liberties are of the most profound value in any democracy, we simply must get it right. I am confident that the Minister has got the balance right in terms of upholding the constitutional rights of individuals while also providing for a workable structure of effective inquiries. I support the proposals.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important legislation. The context for these proposals is the Abbeylara judgment and, as many speakers have observed, the rejection of the 30th amendment to the Constitution. It is important to acknowledge that the Abbeylara judgment imposed a requirement on the Government to put in place a statutory framework defining the role and scope of Oireachtas committees and inquiries. The defeat of the constitutional amendment does not discharge the Legislature from that obligation.

Reforming how the Oireachtas works is a key pillar of this Government's programme of work. Newer Deputies in particular will certainly have views on how the committee system might be improved. There is undoubtedly enormous potential within the committees, particularly in the context of a less adversarial approach in recent years. There is scope to achieve a great deal when the focus is not on point-scoring. The banking crisis provided a significant impetus in regard to this legislation, but it should not be allowed to dominate the debate. The procedures set out in the Bill will be available to all the Oireachtas committees to facilitate them in inquiring into a broad range of matters of public interest.

Several specific concerns in regard to the provisions have been raised in the course of the debate, and there is sure to be a vigorous engagement with the Minister on Committee Stage. An issue of concern to me relates to the question of how the Dáil functions. We all hope and expect that this Dáil will run for another three years. It is impossible to know, however, in any Dáil, whether the Government will run its full term or when an election might arise. Where a committee is undertaking an inquiry and the Dáil is subsequently dissolved in the course of that inquiry, is there any provision for its work to continue? Will all such inquiries fall by necessity, or could some provision be made in this regard in the legislation? In regard to inquiries into the conduct of Members, where Members who anticipate an adverse finding against them choose to resign their seat, would the inquiry fall at that point? I accept that all of these issues will be teased out on Committee Stage, but the Minister might comment on those two points.

Several speakers referred to the prospect that Government majorities will somehow negate or impinge on the functionality of these investigations. I reject that contention. Under the current committee system, Opposition Members are absolutely free and able to ask any questions they require. In fact, they are generally facilitated to do so by way of lengthy speaking times and priority in the order of speakers. The numerical breakdown of the Dáil will not give rise to significant monopolising by the Government of how these matters proceed. That has not happened in the past and I do not expect it to happen in the future.

It is clear that Oireachtas committees require enhanced powers to allow them to function more effectively. This is particularly important in a political context where we might potentially see the abolition of the Seanad. We are all aware of the ongoing discourse in Britain and the United States in regard to the types of activities in which companies that function within their areas are engaged here in Ireland. The Oireachtas is almost unique as a parliamentary democracy in having no capacity to conduct those types of inquiries. We must have the ability, as in Britain and the United States, to address issues of concern to the electorate in a real way.

Many of the speakers on the Opposition side have focused on what we will not be able to do under the new legislation. The reality, however, is that its provisions will ensure there is a great deal we can do. Reform can take place without necessarily having recourse to making statements of fact, which is a matter for the courts. Several speakers are of the view that these provisions will be tested at an early stage in the courts. That is to be welcomed. The sooner there is clarity from the courts, the sooner we can move to a process that is clearly understood by witnesses and Members alike and by the Judiciary. In too many instances, unfortunately, we have seen how difficult legislation that is required by a ruling of the Supreme Court is kicked down the road. The Minister is doing his job, as is the Minister for Health in an another area, in bringing forward the legislation we are required to produce.

I thank colleagues on all sides of the House for the informed and thoughtful range of contributions on a Bill that is of particular interest to Members of this House. As many speakers observed, the legislation will allow the House to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance in an effective and efficient manner within the well structured and well understood constitutional parameters laid down by the Supreme Court.

There are many legitimate inquiries the Oireachtas may conduct. The last speaker's contribution was interesting. We should not focus on the lack of powers, rather let us exercise the many powers we have to the maximum ability. A robust power of inquiry can play a very important role in ensuring lessons are learned from failures and that future legislation is influenced and guided by these lessons to the benefit of citizens and taxpayers. The approach represents the best assessment of my Department and the Government of what is constitutionally permissible based on the tenor of the Supreme Court judgment in the Abbeylara case. I had a direct involvement in that case as a member of the Oireachtas sub-committee and attended the hearings in the High Court and the Supreme Court.

The Bill places considerable responsibility on the Houses, a point missed by some Deputies. This is not confined to the Government. It empowers the Houses to take full command of these matters. It envisages a central role for the Oireachtas in initiating and conducting a parliamentary inquiry. It is for the House to determine the appropriate subject for an inquiry, the nature of that inquiry, the terms of reference and so on. Under the terms of the Bill, responsibility is assigned exclusively to the Houses of the Oireachtas to determine the requirements for a formal inquiry, the terms of reference, the appropriate committee to conduct the inquiry and its procedural and organisational aspects. Many of the detailed arrangements and procedures to be followed will be laid down in the rules and Standing Orders of the Houses.

I wish to comment on some of the observations made by Deputies during the course of the debate yesterday and today. We will have careful regard to everything that was said, particularly between now and Committee Stage. Several Deputies mentioned bias, wondering if it would be possible for the Houses to find Members to participate in a banking inquiry, given the statements of so many Members on the matter. Any assessment of whether there is a perception of bias will depend firmly on the circumstances of the individual case. It is for the Oireachtas to make the assessment of bias in the first instance. The matter could ultimately be determined by the courts by way of assessment of the view formed by a reasonable person. That is how it is expressed in the Bill and that is the objective - what would a reasonable person construct as bias in terms of, for example, the specific utterances of a member of an inquiry committee that are directly relevant to the specific matters that are the subject of the inquiry under its terms of reference or serious shortcomings in the procedural fairness with which an inquiry is being carried out. Members of the Oireachtas would be expected to have strong views and express them on a range of important matters, particularly of public policy, relevant to the Legislature, the people and their parliamentary role. The fact that members of an inquiry committee have formed a preliminary view of serious failures in the performance of particular organisations and sectors, for example, has been the subject of other reports. That would not disqualify them from participating in an inquiry, provided that it was not established with the objective of establishing individual misconduct relating to that failure. It seems that it would not be appropriate for members of an inquiry committee to make public comment immediately prior to or during the course of an inquiry on the matters under inquiry where its findings had the potential to impact adversely on the reputation of an individual.

Deputy Sean Fleming questioned the purpose of the Bill and wondered whether there was anything new in the legislation or if such matters could be regulated better or more readily under Standing Orders. The Bill represents an important step in the process of clarifying the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in securing accountability through the appropriate use of the inquiry mechanism. Other Deputies have since said that if one reads the Abbeylara judgment, the Supreme Court is of the view that we need to set these matters out in statute law. The Bill sets out the overall framework, but in so far as possible it respects the authority of the House or the Houses to define their own procedures under their rules and Standing Orders as is proper under Article 15.10° of the Constitution.

Deputy Sean Fleming also raised some issues about periodic or interim reports to ensure work done would not be wasted, a point also raised by Deputy Catherine Murphy. The Bill provides for this in section 31 which states the House may request interim reports in writing in accordance with its rules and Standing Orders. The Deputy also referred to the number of new committees to be established. It is not intended that there will be new committees, simply clearly defined roles that can be assigned to existing committees. There could be many roles for the same committee.

Deputy Sean Fleming referred to the exceptions provided for in section 68. These largely replicate, as I indicated they would, the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997. Cabinet confidentiality, for example, is protected by the Constitution. Certain exemptions are necessary to ensure the public interest is protected during the course of an inquiry. Even if such exemptions are not included in the Bill, one would expect any committee of inquiry to carefully consider whether the disclosure of certain documents or certain information would be prejudicial to the interests of the State in dealing with clearly difficult security issues or prejudicing criminal proceedings. These are matters to which an inquiry and its chairman would have to have regard.

Deputy Sean Fleming also mentioned former Members of the House, an issue on which other Members also touched. If this type of inquiry is to be undertaken in any instance, it will depend on the precise nature of the matter into which it will inquire. The focus of a section 9 inquiry is a Member of the House in his or her capacity as a Member. It may be that in certain circumstances another Part 2 inquiry, other than a section 9 inquiry, might be appropriate.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh and others said this legislation was being rushed. I am sure Deputies on all sides will appreciate the urgency attached to having this legislation enacted. I appreciate that it is a large Bill which was difficult to digest before Second Stage, but I hope the very significant pre-legislative scrutiny undertaken by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform since last November when the long heads of the Bill were published has enabled Deputies to give this matter a good degree of consideration.

I fully agree with Deputy Finian McGrath's comments on the damage done to politics by the actions of a minority of Members and former Members. I hope this legislation will assist in strengthening the effectiveness of the Oireachtas and enhancing trust in our political system. The Deputy referred to the commitment in the programme for Government to change the restrictions on the evidence of civil servants. Section 90 provides for this change.

Deputy Shane Ross wondered whether, as parliamentarians, we were the appropriate persons to conduct inquiries. Yes, we are. That is the nature of parliament everywhere. I do not know of any parliament that does not conduct inquiries and we are peculiar in being unable to do so, or incapable of doing so, in a robust fashion in this Parliament. I agree with Deputies Paschal Donohoe and Jerry Buttimer that this legislation provides an opportunity for us to change the political culture by giving the Oireachtas the tools to do its job effectively and trusting Members of the House to do that job.

Several Deputies mentioned the appropriate balance on committees. Section 16(2) provides that a committee of the House or the Houses may issue guidelines on the procedures for inquiries. Such guideline may include "to the extent practicable, achieving a balance between committee members as regards their respective political affiliations".

Deputy Catherine Murphy and others mentioned the Callely case before the Supreme Court. It would not be appropriate to delay the Bill to await that judgment, but we will, of course, have regard to the decision of the Supreme Court in due course.

Deputy Finian McGrath also talked about the importance of fair procedures. That is an extremely important issue. We have paid huge attention to ensuring fair procedures.

Deputy John McGuinness mentioned how effective the DIRT inquiry had been. He is right.

That inquiry was not resisted, witnesses came voluntarily, papers were produced and the scoping exercise had already been done by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It would be somewhat more fraught if witnesses were reluctant to come and we needed to exercise compellability to seek papers, documentation and to summon witnesses before a committee. That is why we need a robust framework. To do that, we need to ensure that fair procedures under the Constitution and natural justice are fully complied with.

Deputy Nolan believed some other speakers were misleading regarding the scope of the Bill. I welcome the clarity he brought on this matter to the debate. I echo his statements that this Bill fully conforms to the rules of fair procedures as set down in the Abbeylara judgment. That is why we have taken such care in the Bill’s crafting.

Deputy Dowds regretted the Oireachtas inquiries referendum was not passed. We must always have respect of the views of the people expressed but it would have been an advance for the Oireachtas if it had been passed. There was a message in the referendum result. In the subsequent analysis, we learned we need to win the trust of the people. If the people are going to give us powers, particularly to call in people and cross-examine them, we need to manifestly show we are capable of doing that without abusing them. We have seen instances where people were before committees and were bludgeoned, for want of a better word, by Members. That colours people’s perception on whether Members should be given power to summon people. We need to ensure that when we exercise the significant powers we already have, we do so in a fair way.

Deputy Dowds also spoke about the abolition of the Seanad, a point touched upon by several Deputies. Abolition of the Seanad is a position I came to after careful consideration in advance of the last election when I wrote a position paper for my party on the issue. I looked at second Chambers internationally and how they operated. Accordingly, I do not believe there is any case for one here. If we are to convince people to vote for the Seanad’s abolition and have a unicameral system, it will mean this Chamber must manifestly show it is capable of doing the people’s work in a fair way. That means rebalancing the relative powers between the Executive and Parliament. That means we must have better and stronger committee systems that are clearly resourced. As the Minister charged with resources, I have no illusions about this and I look forward to proposals coming in that regard from Members.

Deputy Pringle said the Bill contains no specific provision to permit a committee to appoint an investigator. In fact, there is nothing in the Bill that would prevent that. The procedure we had envisaged had the inquiries referendum been passed was to have a scoping committee of the House which would appoint a parliamentary investigator to scope out inquiries. There is nothing stopping a committee of the House under this legislation appointing such an investigator. If the issue to be examined is a particularly complex financial matter, it can appoint a financial expert. If the issue is medical, then it can appoint a medical expert.

The Minister has one minute to conclude.

I did not realise there was a time limit on reply.

It is not less than one minute.

So, there is no limit.

That is what I thought.

Deputy Lawlor talked about the costs associated with the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals and posited the view, one with which few would disagree, that they were very large and excessive. That is one of the reasons we need to have a cost-effective system of conducting inquiries. I believe the framework we are putting in place will do that.

Deputy Harris commented on several issues which I hope we will be able to tease out on Committee Stage in some detail.

Deputy Healy-Rae asked about the right of the people to get answers to important questions. That is what this legislation is about. Quite often what passes for debate or inquiry in the Dáil is rhetoric. All of us - I do not exclude myself - are very capable of grandstanding on issues. It is harder work on a committee to grind down to issues, trawl through facts and read documentation. That is the real work we have to set ourselves.

My constituency colleague, Deputy Twomey, made a thoughtful contribution to the Bill, for which I thank him. He raised the issue of the advice available to committees and the appropriate role of the Attorney General. The Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government and, therefore, would not be advising House committees. There is a parliamentary legal adviser, however, an area which may need to be strengthened as we bed down the inquiries system.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys raised the need for committees to be properly resourced, a matter I touched upon earlier.

Deputy Kyne spoke about the public demand to hold people to account. All Deputies interact every day with people. We know people have endured much in the past four years, by and large with a degree of stoicism and forbearance which has not been replicated in other countries, such as Greece and Cyprus, which have also gone through difficult times. There is a demand, however, from the Irish people that those who made disastrous decisions be held to account and an explanation given as to why these events occurred.

We have a separation of powers and a robust constitutional protection of individual citizens’ rights. That is all well and good until someone is on the wrong side of that and one wants to ensure one’s individual rights are fully exercised. It is a view held by many that the wheels of justice are grinding very slowly in these matters. These are in the hands of others, however. It is right and proper that we respect others to do that difficult task. As long as it is not an issue for lack of resources or another matter that we should respond to, we should let these matters be dealt with by the competent authorities. Accountability is what the people expect and demand.

Deputy Dara Murphy said the House must stand confidently to exercise its authority and powers in the absence of a Seanad, if the people decide to abolish it. That is a point I touched upon earlier.

Deputy McGuinness raised several points which we will deal with on Committee Stage. I thank him for his thoughtful contribution

Deputy Farrell asked if an inquiry will be limited only to former Ministers and about the nature of such an inquiry. The Government accepted my recommendation that it would be wrong for the Executive to be prescriptive in the drawing up of an inquiry’s terms of reference, what should be inquired into or who should do it. This is an enabling Bill that gives that responsibility back to Parliament. In advance of the vote on the inquiries referendum, I told the committee we expected to be in charge of inquiries and determining who should conduct them that this should not be a matter for the Government, but for Parliament reasserting itself.

When this legislation is enacted, there will be a responsibility on all parties and Members to reflect on this new measure because it will require new Standing Orders and rules of the House to be drawn up within 50 days. I hope Members will think about this in the interim, as we can tease out these matters on Committee Stage. However, there will be a responsibility on the Oireachtas to deal with this issue. I have dealt with the other issues raised by Deputy Murphy.

I reiterate that parliamentary inquiries under this legislation can be cost effective, efficient and resilient against legal challenges provided they are focused on the terms of reference and comply with the rules of fair procedure, which are set out. The Bill provides all the constitutional safeguards to protect the rights of individuals consistent with the result of the referendum and the view of the people and the proper rulings of the courts.

I thank all Members for a constructive, comprehensive and overarching debate. I look forward to debating these matters in a few weeks on Committee Stage and putting this framework in place in order that the real role of Parliament can march onwards.

Question put and agreed to.