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

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 12, line 40, after "device," to insert the following:

"including a record of phone calls to and from a landline or a mobile phone,".

I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on some of the amendments I have tabled. This amendment follows on from one we discussed on Committee Stage. I asked that cloud computing be included in the definition of "documents". I think I heard the Minister say that information in the cloud was going to be included.

I accepted all of this. On Committee Stage when introducing amendments the Minister stated he wanted to be sure to be sure. He used the Irish version of the phrase but I am not as conversant in Irish as he is, not being a teacher, and Irish was not well-taught in the midlands when I was going to school.

Amendment No. 1 is with regard to the definition of documents. The Bill mentions various discs and mechanical and electronic devices. I want to be sure to be sure we will include in the definition of records covered in the legislation records of telephone calls to and from a landline or a mobile telephone. Amendment No. 2 refers to transcripts of telephone calls to or from a landline or mobile telephone.

We have had further discussion on this matter in the Chamber with the Taoiseach, and the Minister for Finance indicated today he has either recently written to AIB and Bank of Ireland or intends to do so in the morning to ensure any records, tapes or other recordings of telephone calls which might be necessary for any future banking inquiry or to help get to the bottom of the financial situation in the banks over a period of time would be retained by them for such use. He feels this needs to be covered and I am reflecting this view in the amendments.

I want to be sure and very specific, particularly as last week there was so much discussion on the issue of telephone calls and taped telephone calls. We have read 25 minutes worth of the transcripts in the Irish Independent over the past ten days and apparently this is out of 250 hours of telephone calls. I am sure far more calls were recorded in the other banks and they would be equally as interesting. Perhaps transcripts of all telephone calls have not been made in some of these places, but I am sure it would not be proper corporate governance for institutions such as the Central Bank, the Office of the Financial Regulator, AIB, Bank of Ireland and other financial institutions not to record major telephone calls, as millions of euro can hang on what is said on a particular telephone call or on a person's recollection or understanding of it.

I will give a simple little example. Last year, I queried a VHI travel insurance payment as I felt I was charged on the double. I was told it was based on an instruction I had given the previous year but I disputed this. Two days later VHI in Kilkenny telephoned me back to tell me the recording of the call which had been made 12 months previously had been checked and it was not quite clear either way so I was given the benefit of the doubt.

I expect most sophisticated telephone exchange systems in Government Buildings, Government offices and AIB allow for automatic recording. I want to be absolutely sure all records, including telephone calls to landlines and mobiles lines, are specifically included in the definition. I know the Minister will state they are, but the legislation will allow for the establishment of Oireachtas inquiries. I will make a bigger point later on whether there can ever be a banking inquiry after the performance of the Taoiseach and other members of the Government in recent days, as the matter has been so politicised the House has shown itself to be inherently, individually and structurally biased and a banking inquiry could not properly take place without legal challenge by those being inquired into. It may have been possible up to now but it is no longer possible as a result of recent statements. However we do want to know about the other tapes in other institutions and ensure they are all protected.

I support these amendments. The need to ensure that records and transcripts of telephone calls between landlines and mobiles are made available to be used in any inquiry, whether a banking inquiry and whether an inquiry of this House, has been well rehearsed in the House in recent weeks, and highlighted very starkly for everybody. They would provide a complete record of the evidence which would be required for an Oireachtas inquiry to ensure we get the complete picture of what happened when crucial decisions were made.

It would be interesting to see recordings of the incorporeal Cabinet meetings which took place over the telephone on the fateful night when the bank guarantee was introduced, but I suppose they would be probably covered by Cabinet confidentiality. It might be possible to waive this confidentiality in the interests of hearing the full story of what happened with regard to the bank guarantee. If the calls were recorded this evidence should be available, in the interests of the committee and the people, to ensure the full story comes out. It should be included in the definitions and if the Minister states it is I ask him to outline exactly where so we can have clarity and so that in future no doubt will arise in this regard.

Deputy Fleming's amendment seeks to expand the definition of "document" in section 2 to ensure it includes recordings and transcripts of telephone calls. This is an expansion of his position on Committee Stage when he discussed allowing documents or recordings in the cloud to be captured. I understand why he would broaden his net with regard to the definition section on foot of recent events.

A broad definition of "document" was chosen for the Bill to ensure it encompassed a wide range of materials in written and electronic form. On foot of the new amendments tabled by Deputy Fleming I have rechecked to ensure this is absolutely robust, and this is the clear position. Transcripts of telephone calls would clearly be considered a "record or other written or printed material in any form (including in any electronic device)" as is provided for in the Bill. Regarding recordings of telephone calls, these are also covered by the definition of "document" in the Bill. The term "document" is defined in the Bill to include "a disc, tape or other mechanical or electronic device in which data other than visual images are embodied so as to be capable, with or without the aid of some other mechanical or electronic equipment, of being reproduced from the disc, tape or other device". The sound recordings of a telephone call are clearly covered by this aspect of the definition of document.

I am satisfied, and I have rechecked, the current definition of "document" is sufficiently broad to cover recordings and transcripts of telephone calls. Therefore, there is no need to broaden it, not even ar eagla na heagla or on the basis of wanting belt and braces. It is important we are clear legally on it and I have rechecked with the Parliamentary Counsel. Deputy Fleming and I are ad idem these should be captured and that they are important.

We will speak about any specific inquiry which might arise subsequently when we get into the meat of this, but what we are doing here is crafting legislation, as the Deputy knows, to cover every possible inquiry. Although the legislation is highly likely to be involved in establishing a banking inquiry in the first instance, it must be a general tool which will last the test of time to be the framework within which any inquiry of the various types constitutionally permitted, and which are listed in the legislation, can be carried out.

I can give the Deputy the reassurances he has asked for that all recordings of telephone calls, any data, and any electronic data on a disc, machine or stored externally in the cloud is fully covered and can be accessed for the purposes of an inquiry under the terms of the Bill.

I understand what the Minister has stated but I cannot accept it under the current circumstances because tapes and telephone calls are such a big issue. The Leveson inquiry which took place across the water is a good model for an inquiry and it was based on illegal telephone tapping. I am concerned the Minister's well-intentioned original definition might not have included some of the items captured by Leveson. To cut to the chase, I will press the amendment.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 July 2013.