Standing Orders: Motion

I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the following amendments be made to the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business:

(a) Replacement of Chairman of the Inquiry Committee

In Standing Order 90, the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (3):

'(4) Where the Chairman of a Committee which is conducting a Part 2 inquiry ceases to be a member of that Committee, the Dáil shall, by Resolution, appoint a Chairman from amongst the remaining Committee members.';

(b) Perception of bias

By the adoption of the following additional Standing Orders:

'Perception of bias – responsibility of member

97A. (1) If a member is a member of a Committee which is conducting or which is to conduct a Part 2 inquiry, or is appointed to a Committee which is conducting or which is to conduct a Part 2 inquiry, and that member is aware of anything in his or her own behalf which might lead to a perception of bias arising in a reasonable person in relation to that member's participation in that inquiry, then that member shall recuse himself or herself from participating in that inquiry.

(2) A member may apply to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for an opinion as to whether a perception of bias might arise in a reasonable person in relation to that member's participation in a Part 2 inquiry. The opinion sought shall result in a motion in relation to whether that member shall be a member of the inquiry Committee, in accordance with Standing Order 97C(4).

(3) In these Standing Orders, where reference is made to a perception of bias which might arise in a reasonable person, this means a perception of bias which might arise in relation to—

(a) a member's connection or dealings with any matter the subject of a Part 2 inquiry, where that connection or those dealings might lead to a perception of bias in a reasonable person;

(b) a member's utterances on the matter or matters the subject of the inquiry; or

(c) any other relevant circumstances.

Removal from inquiry Committee in relation to perception of bias

97B. Where a member has recused himself or herself from a Part 2 inquiry, on the grounds that a perception of bias might arise in a reasonable person in relation to that member's participation in the inquiry, the Dáil shall resolve, as soon as is practicable, that the member be removed from the inquiry Committee.

Procedures re. perception of bias

97C. (1)(a) Any person may make a submission to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges claiming that a perception of bias might arise in a reasonable person in relation to a member appointed to take part in a Part 2 inquiry. Such submission shall be in writing and shall include evidence in support of the claim.

Provided that where the submission does not fulfil these conditions, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall inform the person of such, and afford them the opportunity to make the submission in the correct manner.

(b) The Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall, as soon as is practicable, consider the submission under paragraph (a), and give the member in question the opportunity to make a submission to the Committee in defence of his or her position, in such form as the Committee sees fit.

(2)(a) A member who seeks an opinion under Standing Order 97A(2) on whether a perception of bias might arise in a reasonable person in relation to that member's participation in a Part 2 inquiry, shall make the request to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in writing, with a reason or reasons why the opinion is being sought.

(b) The Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall, as soon as is practicable, consider the opinionsought under paragraph (a).

(3) Where the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has considered either a submission under paragraph (1), or an opinion sought under paragraph (2), it shall, as soon as is practicable, and if the member in question has not recused himself or herself from the Part 2 inquiry, make a report in relation to the participation of the member in the Part 2 inquiry, with a recommendation that, on balance—

(a) a perception of bias might arise in a reasonable person in relation to the member, or

(b) a perception of bias might not arise in a reasonable person in relation to the member.

(4) As soon as is practicable after its adoption of a report under paragraph (3), the Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall lay such report before the Dáil, and shall nominate one of its members to table a motion, as soon as is practicable, which—

(a) takes note of the recommendation in the report, and

(b) proposes that either—

(i) the member in question be confirmed as a member of the inquiry Committee, or

(ii) the member in question be removed from the inquiry Committee.

(5) The Dáil shall consider the motion under paragraph (4) as soon as is practicable.';

(c) Committee on Procedure and Privileges

In Standing Order 99—

(a) the insertion of the following subparagraphs after paragraph (1)(c):

'(d) receive a relevant proposal from a Committee which proposes to conduct a Part 2 inquiry,

(e) from time to time consider and issue such guidelines as it considers appropriate in relation to—

(i) Part 2 inquiries, and

(ii) other Committee business where a power to send for persons, papers and records has been conferred,

in accordance with sections 19 and 79 of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013, and

(f) as part of its responsibility for overseeing procedure in Committees, consider matters relating to perception of bias in respect of a Part 2 inquiry, for the purpose of preserving the integrity of the Part 2 inquiry as it is being conducted by the inquiry Committee.',

(b) the insertion of the following subparagraph after paragraph (2)(e):

'(f) power to give consent in writing to the giving of a direction or directions in relation to persons, papers and records for Committee business, other than Part 2 inquiries.',

and

(c) the deletion of paragraph (4);

and

(d) Part 2 inquiries

By the adoption of the following additional Standing Orders:

'Part 2 inquiries

107A. (1) The Dáil shall approve the conducting of Part 2 inquiries in accordance with these Standing Orders.

(2) A Committee which proposes to conduct a Part 2 inquiry shall make a relevant proposal in that regard, under Standing Order 107B, to a Committee designated by the Dáil under these Standing Orders to receive such proposals.

(3) The Committee designated to receive relevant proposals shall cause those proposals to be evaluated and shall make a relevant report on those relevant proposals.

(4) The terms of reference for a Part 2 inquiry must be approved by the Dáil, in accordance with Standing Order 107E, and no Terms of Reference Resolution shall be passed, or be declined to be passed, by the Dáil, prior to the consideration of the report prepared under paragraph (3).

(5) The publication of final or interim reports of a Committee conducting a Part 2 inquiry shall be approved by the Dáil in accordance with Standing Order 107G.

CPP to receive notice of relevant proposal

107B. (1) The Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall be the designated Committee under Standing Order 107A(2) to receive notice of a relevant proposal from any Committee which proposes to conduct a Part 2 inquiry.

(2) The Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall from time to time devise and lay before the Dáil rules and procedures relating to evaluation of relevant proposals, including rules and procedures relating to any consultation on and method of assessment of relevant proposals.

(3) For the purposes of these Standing Orders, except where otherwise indicated, “Part 2 inquiry" means an inquiry under Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013.

(4) For the purposes of these Standing Orders, except where otherwise indicated, interim and final reports in relation to Part 2 inquiries shall mean interim and final reports under sections 33(1) and 34(1) of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013.

Relevant proposal

107C. A relevant proposal under Standing Order 107A(2) shall address or contain, insofar as is practicable—

(a) the type of Part 2 inquiry proposed pursuant to sections 7 to 11, inclusive, of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013;

(b) the matter or matters the subject of the proposed inquiry, to specify, as far as is practicable, the conduct, events, activities, circumstances, systems, practices or procedures to be inquired into, including—

(i) the dates on which, or the periods during which, the conduct or events occurred, the activities were undertaken, the circumstances arose, or the systems, practices or procedures were in operation,

(ii) the location or area where the conduct or events occurred, the activities were undertaken, the circumstances arose, or the systems, practices or procedures were in operation, and

(iii) the persons to whom that conduct or those events, activities or circumstances relate, or whose activities, systems, practices or procedures are to be inquired into;

(c) whether the matter or matters relate to a function of the Dáil;

(d) the reason the matter or matters ought to be the subject of a Part 2 inquiry, rather than being examined through other forms of parliamentary investigation;

(e) in relation to the Committee proposing to conduct the inquiry—

(i) the reason that it, further to its existing orders of reference, considers that it ought to conduct the inquiry, or

(ii) the changes, if any, to its existing orders of reference, which are, in its opinion, necessary for it to conduct the inquiry;

(f) the anticipated time schedule for the proposed inquiry, including whether it is proposed to conduct the proposed inquiry in a single period or in phases;

(g) the changes, if any, to statute law, which are, in the opinion of the Committee proposing to conduct the inquiry, necessary to conduct the inquiry;

(h) a draft Terms of Reference Resolution, which shall state, inter alia, whether the Committee proposing to conduct the inquiry, in conducting it—

(i) proposes to make findings of fact, including findings of fact that may impugn the good name of a person (depending on the type of inquiry proposed), or in relation to relevant misbehaviour,

(ii) proposes to make recommendations arising from—

(I) its findings of fact, or

(II) the findings of fact made by another Committee in conducting another Part 2 inquiry if the terms of reference for that other Part 2 inquiry expressly state that its findings of fact may be used in other Part 2 inquiries,

(iii) proposes that its findings of fact, if any, may be used by another Committee in conducting another Part 2 inquiry,

(iv) has or is to have the power to send for persons, papers or records;

and

(i) such other matters in relation to the proposed inquiry as the Committee on Procedure and Privileges considers appropriate.

CPP consideration of relevant proposal

107D. When considering a relevant proposal made pursuant to Standing Orders 107A(2) and 107C, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall consider—

(a) whether a proposed Part 2 inquiry should be conducted;

(b) if it should not be conducted, whether an alternative course of action should be considered;

(c) if the inquiry should be conducted—

(i) the Committee by which it should be conducted;

(ii) the manner, under sections 7 to 11, inclusive, of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013, in which it should be conducted; and

(iii) the draft Terms of Reference Resolution for the proposed inquiry;

and

(d) such other matters in relation to the proposed inquiry as the Committee on Procedure and Privileges considers appropriate.

Relevant report and Terms of Reference Resolution

107E. (1) The Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall cause to be prepared a relevant report under Standing Order 107A(3) on any relevant proposals it receives for a Part 2 inquiry and shall, as soon as is practicable after its adoption of the relevant report, lay the relevant report before the Dáil, and a member nominated by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges shall table a motion to consider the relevant report and the recommendations contained therein.

(2) The relevant report shall make recommendations in relation to the matters contained in Standing Order 107D, and may include the draft Terms of Reference Resolution in relation to the relevant proposal, with any amendments thereto which are considered appropriate by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, for consideration by the Dáil.

(3) The Dáil shall consider the relevant report and the recommendations therein and shall neither pass nor decline to pass a Terms of Reference Resolution under Standing Order 107A(4) in relation to the relevant proposal until such consideration has been given.

Subsequent inquiry

107F. If a Committee conducting a Part 2 inquiry wishes to conduct a consequential inquiry not covered by the Terms of Reference Resolution passed by the Dáil, it shall give further notice in writing of an additional relevant proposal to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to which additional relevant proposal the provisions of Standing Orders 107A to 107E, inclusive, shall apply.

Part 2 inquiry reports

107G. Notwithstanding the generality of Standing Orders 85 and 86, where a Committee conducting a Part 2 inquiry makes an interim or final report, the report shall first be sent to the Clerk of the Dáil, who shall as soon as is practicable arrange for its circulation to members. Where members have been circulated with such a report by the Clerk of the Dáil, the Dáil may, where the report is an interim report, subsequently order that the report be laid before the Dáil and made public, and shall, where the report is a final report, order that the report be laid before the Dáil and made public.

Duty of member to uphold integrity of inquiry

107H. It shall be a general duty of a member to uphold the integrity of a Part 2 inquiry, including maintaining the confidentiality of deliberations and documents relating to the inquiry.'."

Under the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013, certain new Standing Orders are required to provide the framework for an Oireachtas inquiry to be established, to operate and to report. These Standing Orders have been drafted in accordance with requirements of the Act. Their legal context has been considered in detail and they have been discussed and approved by members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, chaired by the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Barrett. The Standing Orders are before the Dáil for approval and, once in place, a framework will exist for future Oireachtas inquiries to be established.

Enhancing the role and powers of the Oireachtas committees is at the heart of the Government's reform agenda. The Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquires, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013 and the Standing Orders before the House are part of that. Since taking office less than three years ago, the Government has established a new Oireachtas committee structure, encouraging more public involvement in law making by introducing the pre-legislative stage at committee and giving committees additional roles in the budget process and with a post-enactment review of legislation.

The Standing Orders before the House make provisions in four areas, namely, the replacement of a chair of an inquiry committee, bias in regard to the subject matter of an inquiry, expanded terms of reference of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and a gateway mechanism which includes provisions on the consideration of inquiry reports.

The first change is to Standing Order 90. This provides that where the chair of an inquiry committee is to be replaced, the Houses of the Oireachtas will appoint the chair. Under the normal circumstances, the replacement of an Oireachtas committee chair would be an election at the committee, but this new Standing Order is required under section 21(7) of the Act. The next change requires two new Standing Orders 97A and 97B which relate to the concept of objective bias. Addressing the issue of bias is vital not only to the functioning and fairness of an Oireachtas inquiry but also to how that inquiry is perceived by those involved in an inquiry and by the wider public. The test of bias is set out in the Act, namely, where the perception of bias might arise in a reasonable person in regard to any connection, dealing or utterance on the part of the relevant member of in any other relevant circumstances.

The CPP, as the appropriate committee under the Act, can consider any issue of bias and make recommendations to the Dáil on whether bias exists. It is a matter for the Dáil to remove any Member from the inquiry if bias exists.

The changes to Standing Orders will expand the remit of the CPP in line with the provisions of the Act. The CPP will have responsibility for evaluating inquiry proposals and making recommendations on them to the House. The House will establish any Oireachtas inquiry and, after it is finalised, order publication of the report. The CPP will act as an oversight committee when an inquiry is being undertaken, including by regulating issues of bias, approving compellability requests and providing guidelines on the conduct of inquiries and other committee business where compellability is involved. Guidelines for the operation of Oireachtas inquiries are currently being prepared and will come before the CPP in the coming days for discussion.

The proposed Standing Orders 107A and 107G outline how the gateway system will work. It will have three stages: first, any committee proposing to conduct an inquiry will make a proposal to the CPP; second, the CPP will consider the proposal and make a recommendation by report to the Dáil; and third, that report must be considered before the terms of reference of any inquiry are agreed by the Dáil. I do not doubt that an Oireachtas banking inquiry will be the first test of this new system. Such an inquiry must not have an impact on cases before the courts. Instead, it must focus on issues surrounding the economic collapse that have never been fully explored and establish the facts. Any banking inquiry will need to be split into a number of modules on the basis of very strict terms of reference.

Those who made the decisions which led to the economic collapse must come before the elected representatives of the people of Ireland. It is important for the people to hear directly from those who made the decisions which brought about the economic collapse about why they acted as they did. Any banking inquiry carried out by the Oireachtas will be established under the new structure. The impact of these changes is wider than that one inquiry. The Act and these Standing Orders will be available to facilitate the establishment of an inquiry by any Oireachtas committee, once approved by the CPP and by the Dáil. Irish parliamentarians from across the political divide will have an opportunity to work together, regardless of political affiliation, as part of an Oireachtas inquiry and on behalf of the Irish people. This is the next step in the ongoing process of political reform, which may take decades and is designed to rebuild the public's shattered confidence in our political structures.

The Irish people deserve to know what happened in the Irish banking system in the run-up to the economic crisis and before the introduction of the disastrous 2008 blanket bank guarantee.

Since this Government took office in March 2011, when we were left to clean up the mess of 14 years of Fianna Fáil economic mismanagement, we have been committed to ensuring the Irish people get the benefit of a full and comprehensive inquiry. It is vital to understand exactly what happened and to learn from the mistakes that were made. Many issues surrounding the economic collapse have never been fully explored. We need to establish the facts of what happened. Over recent weeks, there has been a great deal of misinformation regarding the proposed banking inquiry, the timing of its establishment and its composition. Some Deputies on the Opposition side of the House who claim to want a banking inquiry appear hostile to every step forward the Government is taking to achieve this aim.

As Members are aware, a Bill to amend the Constitution and provide for the establishment of an Oireachtas inquiry system was published in the summer of 2011, not long after this Government came into office. A referendum was held in late October of the same year, but was defeated. Naturally, the defeat of the referendum resulted in some delays in establishing an inquiry. The Government had to assess the best way forward for an inquiry within our constitutional framework. In spring 2013, my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, published the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013. He noted at the time that the legislative proposals were drafted in close consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and external counsel. This was done to ensure the proposed new inquiry system would fully respect the constitutional parameters on parliamentary inquiries that were set down by the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara case. This important Bill was debated in the Oireachtas and passed in late June last year.

The Taoiseach announced in the Dáil last September that a banking inquiry would be held under the new Act. Since then, Oireachtas officials have prepared the necessary new Standing Orders of the House that are before us. These Standing Orders will facilitate the holding of a parliamentary inquiry. I would like to express my appreciation to them for the work they have completed. Under the 2013 Act, new Standing Orders are required to complete the framework for the establishment of parliamentary inquiries. These new Standing Orders, in effect, create the parliamentary system for establishing an inquiry. They give the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, the additional powers required under the Act to assess proposals and terms of reference, appoint the committee and deal with allegations of bias. A number of guidelines for the operation of parliamentary inquiries are also being established and will come before the CPP for consultation shortly.

Once this framework is in place, it will be up to each Oireachtas committee to submit a proposal to the CPP to hold an inquiry. The CPP will have the power to receive submissions from committees, provide guidelines to committees on the conduct of inquiries, give compellability consent and report to the Dáil. The Dáil will consider that report before it votes on any terms of reference for an inquiry. Importantly, the new Standing Orders also set out how allegations of bias, or the perception of bias, can be dealt with. The CPP will be able to consider any issue of bias and report to the Dáil on the matter. As colleagues said over the weekend, we have to be sensible and practical about this issue. Many public representatives have commented on the Irish banking system and its role in the economic crisis. We must be aware of the danger of bias, or the perception of bias, on the part of Members who have made comments on or allegations against specific individuals who are to appear before the inquiry. This will be an all-party balanced committee. Nobody wants politics to be played with such an important issue.

The CPP, which is an all-party committee, is playing a significant role in the establishment of the new inquiry system. In addition, the new Standing Orders lay out procedures for the replacement of the chair of the inquiry should he or she resign. If this occurs, the decision on the replacement chair will be made by the full Dáil rather than by the members of the committee. The timing of the new banking inquiry has been queried. The timetable and sequence of events that I have just outlined is perfectly clear. There is no big conspiracy theory here. If the proposed referendum had passed in October 2011, this banking inquiry would have been established over a year ago. Snide references to the timing of the banking inquiry and the upcoming local and European elections are ridiculous.

Methinks the Deputy doth protest too much.

No former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach or Minister, and no Green Party or Progressive Democrats politician, will be before the inquiry before the elections in May.

What about the Opposition of the time?

The 2013 Act does not allow for any inquiry findings to be passed onto the Garda. They can be given to the Dáil only. The Dáil can act on such findings by preventing repeat mistakes. It is clear that if the 2011 referendum had passed, Oireachtas inquiries would have had more powers. The failure of that referendum means that inquiries must be more restricted. We have reformed the Oireachtas committee system. The quality of the work being undertaken by Dáil committees is clear for all to see. The aim of the Government in establishing a banking inquiry has always been to find out what happened, how it happened and why decisions were made. It is about making the full facts available for the Irish people. It is about understanding what happened and making sure it never happens again. Indeed, we all know the personalities involved - those who have retired and those who are still in the Dáil. It is not and has never been about personalities. My party and I believe it is vitally important that the Irish people hear directly from those who made the decisions that nearly brought about the economic collapse of the country. It is only right that everyone, including former taoisigh, Ministers, bankers, regulators, civil servants and auditors-----

What about the current Taoiseach?

-----is called to account for his or her actions and his or her role in the terrible economic crisis of the past few years, which has had such a terrible impact on so many Irish people.

The Deputy obviously does not want to be on it.

It is clear that Deputy Stagg wants to exclude himself from any form of Oireachtas banking inquiry that is to be established. I would like to be constructive in this debate. As someone who opposed the 2011 referendum, I strongly believe there must be a genuine separation of powers. The courts, as set up under the Constitution, are for good reason completely separate from the Oireachtas, which should conduct its own business. If we are genuinely concerned about getting to the truth of the matter regarding the banking crisis, the bank guarantee and what has followed since that time, as the Government seems to be, we could use an existing statute - the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 - for a full investigation into the issues. It has been quite clear from the outset that politics is what this is all about.

There is no point coming into this Chamber and pretending it is about anything else. We need to be cast-iron sure in that regard.

Not only were some people in this Chamber hostile to the Government's proposals, but the people were hostile to its proposals and they rejected them in 2011 on the basis of thus far and no further. They affirmed that powers should remain separate. Regardless of whether it is a banking inquiry or an inquiry into any other matter, the people have already expressed their views. The motion before us is to circumvent their views. It is to try to establish some form of inquiry by amending Standing Orders in the pretence that it will be non-political.

I remind Deputy Stagg that I have been a Member for 21 years. I have yet to come into this Chamber when it was not political. I expect it to be everything because it is a political Chamber. We have an adversarial democracy. Regardless of whether it is people on this side of the House, the other side of the House or more importantly people with nothing to do with this who could be called before inquiries in the time ahead, I make a certain prediction that we will be back and forth to the Four Courts time and again because people's good names will be taken prior to any findings. Last week, the Committee of Public Accounts was undermined by some of its own members pirouetting before microphones in an attempt at one-upmanship.

Is this a genuine attempt to establish inquiries in the Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into matters of public interest? The Government could argue that it is. The people were asked to allow us to amend the Constitution to establish inquiries and they correctly rejected it because separation of powers is critical.

Objective bias is one issue and Deputy Stagg reinforced the view that the CPP will frequently need to make decisions on objective bias. The Chief Whip stated that the CPP would decide on the issue of objective bias and on the membership of the committees, and then it will refer it to the Parliament, as if this Parliament were not subservient to Government. Is the Chief Whip living in a fantasy world?

The Deputy's party Whip has agreed to this.

I am just making points I believe will have major repercussions in times ahead.

The Deputy should tell his party Whip.

The Government has a majority in Parliament. Will it apply the Whip in deciding membership?

That is democracy.

Will there be a full Whip system in place? The key issue is whether there can be objective analysis of a prospective committee member's interests or of whether he or she has expressed biased opinions in a previous time. We can see how these issues can sometimes play out in the case of jury selection in courts. However, we must be honest about what we are trying to achieve in this Chamber. I have seen nothing yet in the efforts of the Government to try to get to the truth in any matter that it is genuinely interested in trying to unearth what happened or perhaps what did not happen because Deputy Stagg and his colleagues already have a preordained view regardless of what they might say. Most people in the Chamber have a preordained view or have expressed views that would be considered objectively biased.

We need to be very conscious of the emphatic decision of the people in the autumn of 2011. Our track record has not been good in this case. At the time of the Abbeylara judgment, the Ministers, Deputies Howlin and Shatter, left much to be desired in their commentary as responsible members of a committee. A former Member is before the courts taking a case against the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. As that High Court case has not played out yet, we are very much operating in a vacuum. If this is to be a genuine effort, let it be the case. However, as I said in 2011, I believe we are going down a route that the people do not want us to take. We are certainly going down a route that the Constitution does not permit. More importantly, many people will be in the Four Courts trying to vindicate their good name prior to ever appearing before an investigation committee, be that an investigation into banking, Irish Water or any other matter.

It is a very interesting debate and if we had got it off the ground some months ago we might be further down the track of the banking inquiry. I understand the reasons behind it. The Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions was established to have these debates and schedule them over the period of its existence. The referendum saw off that aspect of that committee, which was established on the same kind of basis as the Committee of Public Accounts. It was intended that it would not have a Whip imposed and that it would deal with issues as they arose and deal with facts. The people in their wisdom disagreed with the proposal and we have to accept the outcome of that. I do not believe we properly debated or defended the proposals for the Houses of the Oireachtas to have those investigative powers. We all made mistakes in that debate. Some people used it for party political purposes, which was regrettable, and it sidelined the Dáil and parliamentarians.

Why should parliamentarians in this Parliament be more shackled than parliamentarians in other jurisdictions? We need only look across the water at the investigations in the British House of Commons in recent times. I am not saying that is the be-all and end-all and the United States also has a system. How have they managed to deal with the desire for parliamentarians to investigate and do the work for which they have been elected? I believe we will struggle with this. I also believe it will be difficult to deal with the perception of bias, but we must do so. It is our duty to try to ensure we have some mechanism allowing the Houses of the Oireachtas to establish an inquiry to make findings of fact - not to allocate blame or impose punishment or sanctions. It would be strange if we could not sit down and request witnesses to attend and for us to make a finding on the basis of the facts that they present. If witnesses are not willing to appear, it is possible to make a finding on that basis, once they have been given the opportunity to have their say.

I welcome the move by the Houses of the Oireachtas towards a banking inquiry or any other inquiry that will use this mechanism. I sat on the on the CPP and attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence going back to the Dáil's attempts to get a committee together to deal with the case of Judge Brian Curtin. We had to try to find Members who had not said anything about Judge Curtin and we found them, believe it or not. However, in this case, given the passage of time and the collapse of the economy based on a series of events around the banking crisis, it would be very difficult to find Deputies who have not spoken about the banking crisis, including who caused it and who did not. If they have not spoken on it at this stage, I do not believe they are doing their job and I do not believe they are doing their constituents a service. In addition, every political party represented in this House has made a comment and we are associated with those comments. However, that should not prevent us from sitting on a committee of inquiry. We have a view and everybody in the country has a view. It would be almost impossible to find a jury if it were necessary to put a jury together.

That does not mean that one will not set aside one's views and listen to facts as they are presented. I have studied history. Often I would approach a set of facts with a preconceived idea. Part of a historian’s training is to go back and consider the facts. They either confirm where one came from or totally change one’s view of life. We are big and open enough to do that.

That is what will be asked of us if this or any inquiry is set up. We need to be very careful to defend the rights of parliamentarians to have a view, even if they sit on a committee. The problem arises if one’s view is so rigid that one is not willing to listen to the facts as presented. Such an inquiry would be a good thing for democracy in Ireland.

People would like to see an inquiry into the banks and to see the main players in the crisis brought into a public arena and questioned. From that point of view, I welcome the idea that this House be involved in attempting to do that. That is part of what we are here for and what democracy is. It involves opening issues of public concern to public scrutiny, for questions to be asked from all points of view and for the public to make its judgment. There is, however, an insoluble problem, and it is the reason for the defeat of the Oireachtas inquiry referendum: such a committee is not capable of making findings of fact. Anybody who knows what the Oireachtas committees are like knows that is the case. How the hell can a political committee made up of different political perspectives, with all the inevitable political manoeuvring and competition that goes on at these committees, seriously come to a finding of fact on the banking crisis when we know that there will be different perspectives, judgments and so on? I am not even sure it is possible to have what one could meaningfully describe as an objective, definitive analysis of the banking crisis. What the Government could do is put the main players up in front of the public, ask them all the questions that people can think of from all the different perspectives and let the public make its judgment. The proceedings can be summarised in a report which people can study and analyse but the Government cannot come up with a definitive position on it.

I understand why Fianna Fáil is set against the inquiry. It is afraid that it will be a chance to bash Fianna Fáil.

That is objective bias. The Deputy should be careful.

The real problem is the question of bias and trying to define it.

In his opening remarks Deputy Stagg spoke of the reckless mismanagement of the economy by Fianna Fáil. He followed up by saying we need an objective inquiry. I agree with him that the reckless mismanagement of the economy by Fianna Fáil was a huge contributory factor to the crisis. He has prejudiced himself.

The Deputy need not worry. I do not want to be on the banking inquiry.

We are putting Deputies Kelleher and Cowen on it.

The Government will have a vote on it.

The idea that we can find anybody who will consider this objectively and who does not have a prejudice is nonsense.

All the people in Fianna Fail are talking about it. I never opened my mouth about it.

If I say that Deputy Stagg was solely and singularly responsible for the entire banking crisis, that I blame him for absolutely everything, no matter what he tells me, no matter what evidence I hear, and hold to the view that it was all Deputy Stagg’s fault, one could call that bias. If I happen to say I think it was Deputy Stagg’s fault but I am interested in hearing the evidence to see whether it was his fault that is not bias, that is opinion. Everybody has an opinion. I am deeply worried by the question of who will decide who is biased and who will exclude them.

The Government will.

The Government will. That is not acceptable.

The Deputy will.

Let us face the fact that everybody has an opinion, and perspective. No such opinion or perspective should be excluded.

I will bring the Deputy into a dark room.

The fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, has a wry smile on his face tells its own story. He wants to set this thing up in such a way that it works to the political advantage of the Government. That is the reality. Let us not pretend otherwise.

This business of excluding people on the basis of supposed bias has to be taken out of the proposal; otherwise, I cannot accept it. I want the inquiry to take place.

I do not really understand why we have a different system for choosing the chairperson from the one we normally use. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform is the appropriate committee to inquire into banking. That is what it does. If it puts forward a proposal to do so and we consider it acceptable that the committee examines areas connected with finance and banking all the time, why the hell do we have to have a special procedure? In this case it may turn out to be the same person, which is sort of immaterial. I do not quite understand why there is a different procedure except that I smell a certain political rat at work as people try to manipulate things.

It is important to remind ourselves that we were all elected in 2011 on the issues of the economy, jobs, banking and reform of the political system. That was the mandate from the people: “Go in there, do your best and reform the whole system, in particular the Dáil.” It is also important to have real reform, not to rush decisions and to have Standing Orders that are fair, balanced, accountable and transparent. We must not play politics with any Standing Orders or inquiries. The people want the truth and the facts. They do not want political spin or point-scoring. The purpose of the inquiry is to access the truth and facts and learn lessons for the future of this country. If we do that we will make the Dáil relevant and will follow up by having good and effective reform. The shenanigans about the Committee of Public Accounts, PAC, yesterday and today show us that we need to be very vigilant on this issue. Silencing dissenting voices, such as that of my good friend and colleague, Deputy Shane Ross, and the whistleblowers, should never be an option in this debate.

I have a solution for the many views presented in this debate today. I would be in favour of an independent inquiry and having an independent financial expert, possibly somebody with a financial and banking background but also an international judge, to chair this inquiry. This person could perhaps come from abroad.

Some of my colleagues have spoken about a commission of investigation. At the start of the peace process in Northern Ireland, George Mitchell was brought in, as was General John de Chastelain, who dealt with the arms. They were brought in because they were independent, objective and very professional, and by God did they deliver. We should consider having an external, independent person come in to give us an objective, definitive analysis. That is what the Irish people want and demand. I strongly support that position.

In respect of this motion, the defeat of the Oireachtas inquiry referendum and the Abbeylara judgment mean that the inquiries legislation is somewhat restricted. A committee cannot make findings of fact against a third party but it can make findings against the officeholder. The Standing Orders provide for five different types of inquiry and the draft document on these runs to 12 pages. There is a technical amendment on page 3 to the effect that the Dáil, not the committee, appoints the chairperson.

For example, if the chair has to be replaced for any reason, then it will be the Dáil which will have responsibility for replacing the chair.

Pages 4, 5 and 6 outline the first of the two substantive Standing Orders, with this first Standing Order dealing with the issue of bias. If there is a perception of bias from someone on the committee or the chair, including if someone perceives themselves to be biased, then the committee must seek the opinion of the CPP, which will then consider the matter and make recommendations to the Dáil. However, as my colleagues have said, while there is an issue of bias, everybody has had a view on the banking crisis. In fact, if any Deputy had been in the House for the past couple of years and did not have a view, I would be very worried about them. If the perception of bias comes from a third party, then that third party must make a submission to the CPP, which will then consider the issue and make a recommendation to the Dáil.

Page 7 contains a technical amendment which is designed to beef up the powers of the CPP, including providing the CPP with the power of compellability to particular committees that are making inquiries. It gives the CPP the power to issue guidelines and it provides it with a new role to deal with perceptions of bias. In regard to bias, it is important to note that "any utterances", whether in Chamber or the media and so on, will be considered to represent bias. As I said, the vast majority of Deputies and Senators have all expressed some view, and the bias issue is dealt with very strongly.

Pages 8, 9 and 10 contain the key Standing Order. If a committee wants to run an inquiry, it must submit a proposal. This Standing Order sets out the guidelines for what this proposal should contain, including the type of inquiry and the relevant dates, persons, organisations and so on. The CPP will then consider the detailed proposal and lay a motion before the Dáil, which will make a decision whether or not to give approval for the inquiry to proceed.

In conclusion, I ask the Government to consider the whole idea of having an independent person carry out this inquiry.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the changes to Standing Orders in regard to the creation of the banking inquiry. The "perception of bias" test, as part of these Standing Orders, is a welcome innovation in how we do our business in the Dáil and the wider Oireachtas. The onus of this test is on the actual appointed member of the committee to excuse himself or herself in the event of the perception of bias, which will certainly test the honour of many of our Members.

Fianna Fáil tells us that the banking inquiry is an election ploy on the part of the Government in order to remind the general public of the role that party had in arriving at the worst financial crisis ever in modern history. In September 2012, the Central Bank Governor, Professor Patrick Honohan, said that an inquiry was not necessary and that any information relevant to his brief that could be covered by any potential Oireachtas inquiry is known to him and has already been released. However, I believe it is the Taoiseach's words which should ring the loudest in the minds of all of the Members who will participate and have the task of running this inquiry, when he said: "The objective should be to determine, without fear or favour, and with dispassion and integrity, all of the...facts...that led to the collapse of the banking sector". If the members of this inquiry act truthfully to this objective, this House can and will bring credibility to its work and pride to our Parliament, a pride that has been lacking, quite frankly, for many decades. Indeed, as Deputy Kelleher said, this should be the absolute standard to which all committees, not just the banking inquiry, should do their business. From what I can glean, the general public are sick to death of grandstanding by Deputies, which does absolutely nothing to change or improve public policy or to advance the public interest, which should be the core of everything we do in this House.

The media and the legal system are already lining up to scoff at the idea that those who have a democratic mandate from the people they serve have the intellectual capacity, or the principled desire, to fulfil the genuine objective of finding facts rather than creating headlines. This is a real opportunity to prove those naysayers wrong and to restore some confidence in the political system. Therefore, whether or not Fianna Fáil will be damaged by an inquiry into events that occurred surrounding its time in office should not be a consideration for Members of this House.

With the greatest respect to the Governor of the Central Bank, his own view that all information has been revealed equally serves as no justification not to hold a banking inquiry. The reality is that we still do not know many of the facts that led to the collapse of the banking sector, for example, the dissenting voices on the night of the guarantee, board members' understanding and knowledge of property risk exposure or how the bonus culture incentivised reckless lending. These are three major subjects that have yet to be addressed in public or understood fully. The impact of bonuses, and understanding the damage they did, is more important now than ever, particularly when we read today that AIB has privately discussed with the Department of Finance the return of bonuses in all but name. In phraseology that George Orwell would be proud of, the news agency Bloomberg reported that AIB were considering the return of so-called "executive incentives", in other words, a return to the bonus culture that many of us believe contributed to the banking crisis.

Let us have a full and frank inquiry to understand these facts before we walk blindly back into the same flawed decisions that brought this country to its knees. I genuinely hope the Members of the Oireachtas fulfil this mandate and serve the entire nation, not vested interests, narrow political point-scoring and posturing.

I thank the Members opposite for their varying contributions. It is horrifying to think that one party objected and is distancing itself from what we are bringing about here in changing the Standing Orders. Deputy Kelleher could not even say that he welcomed this banking inquiry. It is not too often that I praise Deputy Finian McGrath but I have to say he made an excellent contribution with regard to finding out the truth and the facts of exactly what happened in the past, as well as learning for the future. Deputy Kelleher could not even bring himself to say that. Perhaps he was hiding something that no one else in this House is aware of, but what we are doing here is-----

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, with all due respect-----

Is the Deputy raising a point of order?

I am. I indicated at no time that we were opposing this. I said at the outset that I was highlighting the difficulties that I see with this particular inquiry, not just in the context of banking but across all issues with regard to any committee.

Thank you, Deputy. That is very clear.

The import of the Chief Whip's snide remarks in this House has done no justice to this debate from the word "go".

Thank you, Deputy Kelleher. I call the Minister of State to conclude.

Deputy Kelleher should listen back to his contribution.

I listen back to him every day of the week.

He spoke about democracy. We are in a democratic Parliament. Nonetheless, every time we enter the Dáil, we are entering a political Chamber.

That is correct.

We want to separate politics from this committee.

He is not making a very good start.

Order, please. The Minister of State, without interruption.

Deputy Creighton rightly quoted what the Taoiseach said when he was announcing the setting up of the banking inquiry. This is an opportunity to showcase the committee system. What we are doing here is changing Standing Orders to give this committee the powers and the opportunity to showcase what we can do as a Dáil, as a Parliament and as elected representatives.

What the general public is looking for is the truth regarding what happened in the past, be it political or policy decisions. This is about learning for the future to make sure we do not make the same mistakes again. The Oireachtas banking inquiry will no doubt be the first test of what we are changing here today. This is about findings of fact. It is not about proving somebody guilty. We have our own courts system under our Constitution and as an Oireachtas, we respect that. What this committee is being set up to do is produce findings of fact - what happened, where it happened, how it happened, who made the decisions and why those decisions were made - and to make sure those decisions are never repeated.

There is general agreement within the Chamber that Members of Parliament through the committee system should have an inquiry and play a major role in finding out what happened. The passing of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013 last July was a positive step in that it gave direction. The Dáil's approval of these Standing Orders will move the matter forward to the next stage for the Seanad to approve these Standing Orders in respect of the CPP and the necessary guidelines. This Government has been very proactive about building this inquiry going back to when we held the referendum in autumn 2011. To say this is some political stunt-----

I did not say that it was a political stunt.

I just mentioned it.

The Deputy should go back and read what he read into the record of the House. We gave the people an opportunity in a referendum in 2011 to start this banking inquiry. Unfortunately, we did not get that referendum over the line. We had to reflect on what happened. We brought the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill forward last year, the Taoiseach announced the banking inquiry in December and we are now changing Standing Orders. This is an opportunity for the committee system to showcase what the Houses of the Oireachtas can do. People are crying out for reform and I believe this is the beginning of that reform.

Why did you shut down the Committee of Public Accounts? There has been interference with that committee on a regular basis. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has interfered with it with regard to the docklands. There is continuous interference with the committee.

We are concluding.

Deputy Kelleher has never interfered in anything, which is why we are where we are. I commend the motion regarding changes to Standing Orders to the House.

Question put and declared carried.