I was speaking on this last night in the context of the referendum held last year. It asked the public to give more powers to Oireachtas committees and the public said "No" for a very good reason. It was not picked up by the media at the time or anyone else that many on the Independent benches spoke against it and voted against it with good reason. I have no faith in tribunals and their cost. It was mentioned during Leaders' Questions and the Order of Business. There was disgraceful and shocking plundering of our national assets in the amount they cost, with no prosecutions at the end. It was a pure waste of time. We need a different mechanism to hold inquiries and to hold people to account. We must be careful. I could not sit on banking inquiry committees because I have been too vocal. I was so shocked by what happened with our banks and how they got away with it. No one has been brought before the courts or charged and there has been no proper or meaningful hearing into what happened. The dogs in the street know what happened. The establishment, the last Government and this Government do not want to know what happened. They insist on making the people pay through misery, misfortune, tax, grief, trauma and shattering their dreams of having houses, educating their children, trying to make a life for themselves, paying their dues, rearing their families and living life to the full.
We met a group of pensioners from Permanent TSB, with Deputy John Halligan, who had taken retirement in good faith. They signed documents and contracts that are not worth the paper they were written on. There have been cuts of up to 58% and they say the Minister is imposing the cuts. They have planned their retirements with their families but now they cannot live. In case the Ceann Comhairle says I am straying from the Bill, I am putting in context what I want to say.
The principal themes of the Bill are that there will be five types of inquiries, fair procedures and fair play but that is not what is happening. We saw what happened with costs and expenses. Last night, I referred to what the former Senator Mark McAleese did for little money, €11,000. He produced an excellent report and it received unanimous acclaim for doing what he set out to do within time or shortly outside the time. I have worries about compellability, privilege, immunity and involvement of the High Court. When it goes down the quays, it gets lost in a logjam and it becomes mighty expensive. There is no end to the costs.
Inquiries under sections 8, 9 and 10 relate to officeholders or people directly accountable to the Dáil under the Constitution. The Oireachtas has the power to remove the President, the Comptroller and Auditor General or judges for serious misconduct. The Bill provides that, if this were to occur, in accordance with the Constitution the mechanism of a parliamentary inquiry, as provided for under the Bill, would be employed. No clear processes for such removal currently exist. I welcome that because our Judiciary has served us well. The Uachtarán and iar-Uachtarán have served us well. Our current Uachtarán serves us very well and is making some very right soundings if he is listened to as he should be.
We all remember the Abbeylara inquiry, which was found to have contravened constitutional principles regarding processes. One should hear both sides without bias. The Bill provides a wide range of measures to ensure the inquiries are conducted according to fair procedures. I heard the British inquiry into Google and I was interested in it because it affects this country. I was interested in the manner of questioning, the evasion of answers and the words used by the chairperson of the committee. It is in a different House. I am not a standard bearer for the former Senator, Minister of State and Deputy, Ivor Callely, but I think we rushed to judgment in that committee. He did not get fair process and he was proved right in the courts. I may be corrected on that but I think I am right.
Since the last Government, there has been a change in the committees. I was a member of three committees in the last Dáil and I enjoyed them. However, these committees are too big and unwieldy and there is a massive Government majority. In the previous Dáil, there was a report into the Lost at Sea fishing tragedies. There was coercion from the Government party and I was put under pressure even though I was without the Whip. It was still being waved around the room and I was encouraged to vote a certain way. I have direct experience of committees being dictated to by the Government of the day. I have personal experience of it, as do all Members if they are honest. It is very difficult for committees to investigate themselves. It is similar to the situation of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, the Garda Commissioner and the investigation into the controversy over penalty points. It is a case of the gardaí investigating the gardaí and it does not sit right. I could not investigate Deputy Healy Rae and he would not want to investigate me or our peers. There must be transparency. That is why I totally oppose the abolition of the Seanad. It should be reformed. A creative Bill has been proposed by Senator Quinn and Deputy Ross and others. We need that second House to oversee and to marshal the wisdom in it. It needs a broader electorate, elected by the people.
I hate going back to it but Deputy Buttimer was here last night and made reference to the proceedings in the Joint Committee on Health and Children from Friday to Tuesday and last January. The inquiry was a sham in its setup, the witnesses, the witnesses that were not brought in and the way it was conducted. I mean no disrespect to the Chairman but it was farcical. I have sent out press statements to that effect and said it in the committee. The Minister for Health came before us last Friday and I thought he and his three officials would be there for a two-hour session. He read a 12 minute script and disappeared. There were no questions. The Minister of State turned up on Tuesday evening but I did not attend because I was in this House. I did not mind missing it but he came in to tell us what was happening.
The Chairman issued a closing statement saying there had been fair and balanced reporting, appraisal, discussion and engagement and respect for all comments made by all of the guests who had appeared before the committee. I thank the guests for their attendance. I cannot thank the ones who did not appear before the committee because they were not invited, although they were willing to attend. Women hurt by abortion should have appeared before the committee, but they could not tell their story. It was not wanted. However, the Chairman then spoke on Newstalk radio station yesterday morning and said the Government was moving ahead with the legislation. He totally contradicted his closing statement. He said the Bill was moving ahead and would be law before the summer. That makes me wonder.
Many people attended the hearings and many made written submissions. However, the timeline for written submissions was far too short. In January it was still the Christmas season and the notice was not in the newspapers for long enough. It was rushed with indecent haste. That was a perfect example of a delicate and difficult issue, which has been facing us for 30 years. I accept it is a very difficult issue, on which I have my opinions and I am entitled to have them. I respect the opinions of other Members of the House. We are all elected in the same way and must serve the public which is very conflicted on this issue. The people who appeared before the committee were experts in gynaecology, psychology, medicine and so forth, but those who have been affected and traumatised by what happened to them were not allowed to appear before it. We just closed off that view.
Another group due to come here today holds the opposite view. I will not get to meet them, but they are people who have lost babies through miscarriage and so forth. They wanted to appear before the committee, but they must go to the AV room today. That is not right. Why is there a rush? We would not mind sitting for two weeks in August, if necessary. There is no big rush. After all, the Taoiseach promised that this issue would not be introduced under his watch. If we are to have proper committees, we should respect the ones we already have. There was an opportunity in that case to demonstrate how effective they could be.
The attendance at that committee was tremendous. It sat crazy hours, until 8.30 p.m. on the Friday, Monday and Tuesday. Again, that was too much, too fast. One could not take it all in. I can only speak for myself, but I have limited capacity and I am not an expert. There was too much information thrown at the committee, too much to comprehend in just one weekend. Again, why was there a rush? The Constitutional Convention is doing its work and this Bill was being drafted to be ready to be put before the House this week. I am sure the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, and the powers-that-be knew this. We should have been cognisant of being watched and that it would be telling testimony when discussing the Bill.
There are lessons to be learned and I do not have all of the answers. I welcome the Bill, as an effort, but it has many shortcomings. We have to be cognisant of the courts, but we must also bear in mind that this is the Oireachtas which passes legislation and it is not compelled by any court to change or dance to its tune. That has been proved here time and again, most recently in the Supreme Court judgment last November in the middle of the referendum campaign. Five of the judges issued a unanimous opinion, with very harsh words about how the Government behaved in that referendum campaign and how it had misappropriated €1.1 million of the €3 million the Oireachtas had voted the previous March to run the referendum. We have an independent Referendum Commission that was established to do a job and while I might not agree with everything it does, it should be let do it. Why should the Government have taken more than one third of the money and spent it on advertisements and booklets which it had to withdraw? There has been no debate in the House or in any committee about this.
When it suited the Government to return to a 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court, it did so and gave it as a reason for the legislation, but the judgment in November was the most recent one. In addition, that judgment was not clear and unanimous, as I understand it, and no psychiatric reports were given to the court on Miss X. Contrast this with the lack of respect for what the Supreme Court had ruled in November. When that judgment was made, the Minister for Justice and Equality was interviewed by Sean O'Rourke and constantly referred back to the fact that the High Court had said it was okay - I challenged him about this on the Six One News - and had dismissed the challenge. The Supreme Court had upheld the challenge, but the Minister, a practising lawyer who knows more about the courts than I do, kept referring to the other decision. We have ignored it.
I made reference last night to the reform of the Companies Acts, which is badly needed and has been in gestation for 20 years. However, the Bill has 1,442 pages. How could anybody comprehend it, including a business person who is struggling with a small farm or a small shop? Big business will be able to hire experts to read and examine it. In addition, one must pay €100 for it. I could buy ten of Deputy Shane Ross's bestsellers for that and get better reading because I could read them in modules. However, one could not find anything in that Bill. I am not castigating the people who drafted it, but it is too much. It has to be condensed. Members could not get a copy because we were told it was too expensive to print it. One would have blurred vision in reading it on screen; therefore, I did not read all of it. As a small businessman, I would like to do so, but I could not comprehend it.
We have to get back to basics, act on our mandate and do what we are elected to do. We should have committees and processes that are accountable. I do not have all of the answers and look forward to the debate on this Bill. I hope amendments will be accepted. However, when the members of the Government were in opposition, they profoundly objected to the use of the guillotine for the four years that I sat on the other side of the House. Now, they are like a team on the last sprint leg of a relay race and have gone mad in their use of the guillotine. Everything is guillotined. I am told next week's schedule is colossal. The House will be sitting until 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. and will sit on Friday, with the threat that if it does not, we will be brought back in the week after the bank holiday weekend. Rushed Bills such as this and knee-jerk reactions do not make good law. Fair play is fine play in my book. However, I do not wish to be judge and jury of my peers. That is wrong. I, therefore, ask the Minister to look again at this, go back to the drawing board and perhaps look at the experience in other parliaments.