That, pursuant to Standing Order 99(1)(a), the Committee on Procedure and Privileges recommends that the following additional Standing Order be adopted as a Standing Order of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business until further notice in the 31st Dáil:
Privilege: failure to comply with professional secrecy provisions in respect of confidential information provided under the Central Bank Act 1942.
‘107I. (1) Where confidential information has been provided pursuant to section 33AK(5)(ahb) of the Central Bank Act 1942 a member shall not make an utterance during the course of proceedings which constitutes a failure to comply with the provisions of professional secrecy referred to in sections 33AK(6) and (6A) of the aforementioned Act. Where a member makes such an utterance during the course of proceedings it may prima facie be an abuse of privilege, subject to the provisions of this Standing Order.
(2) If, during the course of proceedings, it appears to the Ceann Comhairle that a member has made an utterance as described in paragraph (1), he or she shall refer the matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges: Provided always that the Ceann Comhairle may also at any time thereafter, on his or her own volition, refer any such matter to the Committee.
(3) At any other time and at the earliest opportunity, but not later than two weeks after an utterance as described in paragraph (1) is made, any person may make a submission in writing to the Ceann Comhairle claiming that—
(a) the information disclosed was provided under section 33AK(5)(ahb), and
(b) the utterance by the member in question constituted a failure by him or her to comply with the provisions of professional secrecy as set out in section 33AK(6) and (6A) of the Central Bank Act 1942.
If the Ceann Comhairle is satisfied that—
(a) the submission is so obviously trivial, frivolous, vexatious or offensive in character as to make it inappropriate that further action be taken or that it be considered by the Committee, or
(b) it is not practicable for the Committee to consider the submission under this Standing Order,
the Ceann Comhairle may decide that no action shall be taken in respect of the submission.
In any other case the Ceann Comhairle shall refer the submission to the Committee.
(4) Where a matter or submission is referred to the Committee and is considered under this Standing Order, the Committee may invite the member who made the utterance and any other person as the Committee may deem appropriate to give evidence orally or in writing to the Committee.
(5) The Committee shall have discretion to publish a matter or submission referred to it under this Standing Order or its proceedings in relation to such matter or submission, and may lay minutes of its proceedings and all or part of such matter or submission before the Dáil.
(6) In relation to any matter or submission referred to it under this Standing Order, the Committee may decide and adopt a report to the effect that—
(a) no abuse of privilege has occurred and it shall recommend that no further action be taken by the Dáil in relation to the matter or submission; or
(b) an abuse of privilege has occurred, and it shall recommend that one or more of the following actions be taken:
(i) the member in question be discharged from the Joint Committee that is conducting the Part 2 inquiry;
(ii) the member in question be suspended from the service of the Dáil, and that suspension may continue until, but shall not surpass, the eighth day on which the Dáil shall sit after the date on which a motion under paragraph (8) is agreed;
(iii) the member in question be censured.
(7) Any decision taken by the Committee under paragraph (6) of this Standing Order shall require the support of three-quarters of the members present and voting.
(8) As soon as is practicable after its adoption of a report under paragraph (6), 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 recommendations and decisions in the report, and/or
(b) proposes one or more of the actions under paragraph (6)(b) be taken.
(9) The Dáil shall consider the motion under paragraph (8) as soon as is practicable.
(10) Notwithstanding the provisions of this Standing Order (save the provisions of paragraph (6), which shall continue to apply), the Committee, following consideration of a matter or submission under this Standing Order, may make such recommendations as appear to it to be appropriate.
(11) For the purposes of this Standing Order
- “Committee” shall mean either the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges or a sub-Committee thereof;
“proceedings” shall mean parliamentary proceedings of the Dáil, a Standing, Select or Special Committee or a sub-Committee thereof.’
Today's motion is a result of this House passing the Central Bank (Amendment) Act 2015 earlier this year. This legislation was introduced at the request of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis. It allows that committee to have access to certain confidential banking information held by the Central Bank and is considered vital to that committee being able to conduct the inquiry successfully.
I want to highlight the positive work to date of the committee, under the chairmanship of Deputy Ciarán Lynch, and the efforts of all the members of that committee, from across the political divide, to fulfil the obligations put on them by the terms of reference passed by the Dáil and the Seanad last year. The members of the committee have put their political differences aside to work together to investigate the banking crisis. It is very positive that public representatives elected as Fine Gael, Labour Party, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Socialist Party or Independent Deputies or Senators are working together to uncover how the banking crisis and the economic crash and collapse that followed came about to ensure that, as a nation, we avoid the mistakes of the past. It shows to a wider audience what many of us in this House already know, that in committees the people elected to this Oireachtas work together in the interest of good government. While Oireachtas committees may not always get the media coverage their work rate deserves, they often show the better side of politics - hard work with less playing to the cameras and political point scoring. I hope that, as Members of the Dáil, we can follow the example of the members of the banking inquiry and not let party politics get in the way of the positive work being carried out by this committee. I hope that all Members of this House will support this motion before us.
This motion and the Central Bank (Amendment) Act 2015 address an issue identified early in the process by the committee. In May 2014, the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis was established by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The committee was tasked with developing a relevant proposal for an inquiry into the reasons Ireland experienced a banking crisis. The committee, assisted by an expert group, developed and submitted a relevant proposal to the Dáil and Seanad Committees on Procedure and Privileges. On 26 November 2014, the committee was formally empowered to conduct an inquiry under Part 2 of the 2013 Act. The scope of the inquiry is broken down into two phases - the context phase and the nexus phase. The context phase is for the purpose of information gathering. This will inform the nexus phase, which will focus on three broad elements: banking systems and practices, regulatory and supervisory systems and practices, and crisis management systems and policy responses. In its relevant proposal, the committee identified that section 33AK of the Central Bank Act 1942 prohibited listed categories of persons within the Central Bank from disclosing certain confidential information. The committee felt that this provision may prove problematic for the inquiry when it seeks information which may be vital to its work. Having taken legal advice on this point, the committee was of the view that it was necessary to amend section 33AK in conjunction with necessary amendments to the Standing Orders of the Dáil and Seanad.
When considering the committee's relevant proposal, the Committees on Procedure and Privileges unanimously agreed that necessary amendments to the Act should be prioritised. The Central Bank (Amendment) Act 2015 and the amendments to the Standing Orders are the response to these requests. The new Act allows the Central Bank to disclose confidential information to the banking inquiry under certain circumstances. Such documents have professional secrecy obligations attached which everyone to whom they are disclosed must observe. The legal penalties attaching to others for breach of these professional secrecy obligations cannot be imposed on Members for anything they may say in the course of Dáil or committee proceedings.
To address this, the proposed new Standing Order puts in place a system where the Committee on Procedure and Privileges can examine, under fair procedures, any apparent breaches of the professional secrecy obligations by Members. Where such a breach has occurred, the CPP may recommend that the Member be discharged from the inquiry committee, which may be necessary owing to the potential legal implications of such disclosure, that the Member be suspended from the service of the House for a period of up to eight sitting days, and that the Member be censured. Such penalties are in line with existing penalties for disorder but the ultimate decision with respect to these penalties rests with the House.
Together, the Act and the Standing Orders provide a gateway. This gateway will, under the Act, allow confidential information to be provided by the Central Bank to the banking inquiry in the knowledge that, under the Standing Orders, sanctions exist for any Member who fails to comply with the provisions of professional secrecy as set out in the EU instruments. The goal of the Central Bank (Amendment) Act 2015 and these new Standing Orders is to address a concern raised by the members of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis and allows the members of the committee to continue to carry out the very positive and constructive work they are doing on behalf of the Oireachtas and the people.