Leaders' Questions

Last Thursday week, 29 May, Deputy Catherine Murphy gave the background to her reasons for believing an independent commission of inquiry should be established relating to transactions in IBRC since 2009. Deputy Murphy had sources, which she believed were reliable and robust, who told her that very low interest rates had been given to Mr. O'Brien. Within minutes of this being reported, the shutters came down on almost all media outlets, preventing them from reporting what Deputy Murphy had said even though it was something which was in the public interest and was covered by absolute privilege under Article 15 of the Constitution. The national broadcaster was silenced, as was TV3, the radio stations and most of the newsprint outlets. Not all were silenced because Broadsheet.ie and The Sunday Times printed the material, but others were effectively silenced by threats and intimidatory action to the effect that this material was the subject of a court injunction.

The Taoiseach was also silent. For the entire five-day period in which the media were silent, he was silent too. He did not criticise the media blackout or defend the right of a Member of this House to raise issues of public interest. She was called a "liar" and a "thief" during the public debate that ensued. The Taoiseach went into hiding and many people across the country could not understand why the Taoiseach of the country would not come forward to support Dáil privilege, unequivocally and in public.

Is it because Mr. Denis O'Brien was leading the legal challenge that he remained silent? Does the Taoiseach think Mr. O'Brien was right to do what he did, which is effectively to threaten legal action on media outlets to prevent them reporting what is said in this House? Is the Taoiseach scared of this individual? Was he afraid to confront the issue and the person? Why was he willing to remain silent and indifferent to attempts to stifle legitimate debate, to limit reporting of Dáil proceedings and not to respond to personal attacks against Dáil Deputies?

I had five public engagements on the Friday and the same on the Saturday and Sunday in other locations. The request made of me was to recall the Dáil. An injunction was granted by the High Court. A case was before the High Court. This House could have met on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and talked itself around in circles. It had no authority and no function in interfering with the court case. Had I made any comment, either side could have used those comments in the intervening period until the judge clarified the intent of the injunction he gave. I was very happy to see the judge clarify exactly that the rights and privileges of elected Members of this House were vindicated, as protected under the Constitution. For that reason, it was not appropriate to have the House recalled. In fact, if anything were to be recalled, it would be the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, because if Members of the House wish to apply sanctions to other Members, they do so internally. While the privilege is constitutional, it is not unlimited and people who do make statements in the House have a responsibility to exercise that privilege in a proper and appropriate fashion. For that reason this House had no function attempting to direct or influence in any way a Justice of the High Court, who clarified, beyond yea or nay, that Members of this House have constitutional protection for what they say here, and they have a duty to use that privilege responsibly.

I believe Deputy Murphy used that privilege responsibly. Judging from the Taoiseach's remarks, he does not. He seems to be siding with Mr. O'Brien on that argument. I did not ask the Taoiseach about the recalling of the Dáil. I asked him why he remained silent on fundamental principles that go to the heart of a functioning parliamentary democracy, namely, the right of media to report on utterances made in this House, and the right of Dáil Deputies to raise issues of legitimate public interest without being pilloried and called a liar and a thief. It is extremely sad that the Taoiseach could not at that time, as the leader of the country, come out publicly and say what was fundamentally correct and proper. For example, in the last few days, we have been treated to the Taoiseach's views on subjects as diverse as Sepp Blatter and bottle banks. With the greatest of respect, people are getting very fed up of this shallow, superficial politics.

(Interruptions).

Look in the mirror.

I put it to the Taoiseach-----

Look in the mirror.

I can remember four years ago when the Moriarty tribunal published its report. The Taoiseach ducked and dived on that occasion before he had to come in here and belatedly accept its findings. I do not know what it is.

A Deputy

Ask Averil Power.

The silence over the last week was unacceptable and unedifying. The Taoiseach's response to my question today was extraordinary. We did not need the judge to tell us we had absolute privilege under Article 15. It is extraordinary that the Taoiseach would come in and say that. The idea that both sides would use his arguments, somehow, in the ensuing court case, is bogus. He was opening hotels and pubs and doing whatever else on that Friday, while the rest of the country was debating this issue. The Taoiseach was deliberately absent, because when he wants to speak about something - whether it is a bottle bank, the launch of a football match, or whatever - he is there to do it. It is unacceptable that he remained so silent on an issue so fundamental to our parliamentary democracy. It was an absence of leadership on the Taoiseach's part.

It is not for Deputy Martin to put words in my mouth. He leads a party that was described in the past as being "slightly constitutional".

See what it says about the Taoiseach's party.

A Deputy

A leader with no followers.

A leader with no followers.

Besides opening the facility for hygiene and all the rest of it, the Deputy forgot to mention I also launched the national carers' strategy week and the absorption into Irish Rural Link of the structure for meals on wheels services around the country. These are matters that are as relevant to Deputy Martin as to anybody else.

The Taoiseach cut the respite care.

What about meals and deals?

If he thinks it is appropriate that these things not be commented on, then fair enough. It ill-behoves Deputy Martin to come in here speaking about leadership, because he did not do anything to further the cause of those who sought equality in marriage over the last month. In fact, the Yes Equality people-----

How did we make this jump?

(Interruptions).

-----had to put up the Fianna Fáil posters down the west while his party-----

The Taoiseach is the man who wanted to abolish the Seanad.

-----sneered and jeered at a Senator who was explaining the importance and the value of that vote.

I am the only party leader who debated the issue on the public airwaves. The Taoiseach did not. He refused to debate that too. He refused to go on the airwaves to debate.

When the Taoiseach is in a hole, he should stop digging.

Does the Taoiseach remember the time he pushed Ursula Halligan out of the way?

The Constitution is very clear about the privilege of Members elected to this House. It is unequivocal in its statement, which cannot be changed except by a referendum of the people. It was not for me to comment on the outcome of a court case-----

There was no court case-----

-----in which a Justice of the High Court was about to issue his clarification, which he did. In keeping with my views on this for many years, the judge clearly vindicated the rights of public representatives in this House and that what they say is under privilege-----

The Taoiseach did nothing to uphold it.

-----and that privilege should be used with responsibility. Deputy Martin's comments are not relevant. The situation that anybody could have taken comments from the Taoiseach about a court case pending either way-----

It was about a Dáil procedure, not about a court case.

It was very clear that the Constitution was not changed and cannot be changed except by the will of the people and by a vote of the people.

Why did the Taoiseach not come out and articulate that? Why did he not say that?

The right of every Member in this House, irrespective of who they represent, is clear in that Constitution.

If it were anyone other than Denis O'Brien, he would have said it.

It does not behove the Deputy to come in with that kind of comment here.

I call Deputy Adams.

The Deputy cannot talk.

Míle buíochas, a Cheann Comhairle-----

I do not think any of you were at the Moriarty Tribunal.

(Interruptions).

Would Deputy Durkan please take his seat?

The Deputy is on his feet. Please show him some respect.

(Interruptions).

It would not have been necessary to establish a commission of investigation into certain matters pertaining to transactions entered into by IBRC if the Government had properly answered questions here in the Dáil. I have been asking these questions for over three years now. I will repeat some of them today. In 2012, an Teachta Pearse Doherty and I submitted a range of parliamentary questions about IBRC. The responses were deliberately vague and obstructive. Some of these questions related to IBRC hiring Blackstone to advise it on the sale of assets. As the Taoiseach well knows, Blackstone is an American vulture capital group, which was seeking to buy IBRC's loan book. Anybody could see the obvious conflict of interest at the heart of this arrangement, but the Minister and the Taoiseach indicated in their responses that they had no difficulties with any of this. The Taoiseach also refused to answer questions about the fees being paid to these advisers, as did the Minister. In November 2011, the Taoiseach met the head of Blackstone, Stephen Schwarzman, and his associate, Gerry Murphy. During this period, the Government appointed chair of NAMA's advisory board actually sought to appoint Gerry Murphy to this board. Again, the conflicts of interest are startling. This appointment was abandoned after Sinn Féin's parliamentary questions drew attention to the matter, but we still did not get answers to the questions we raised. Will the Taoiseach tell the Dáil what he discussed with the head of Blackstone, Mr. Schwarzman, or with Mr. Murphy?

Did the Taoiseach raise concerns about the very obvious conflicts of interest in Blackstone taking on an advisory role with IBRC when it was already bidding for IBRC loans?

Thank you, Deputy.

Tá mé ag críochnú anois.

Go raibh maith agat.

In his response to questions from me during Leaders' Questions in 2012 about the relationship between the Department of Finance and IBRC, the Taoiseach refused to answer but he said that "the highest ethical standards will be employed". Does he still stand over this assertion?

I think I met the person the Deputy mentioned on two occasions. We discussed the general state of the economy and how things were moving in the right direction. It was not for me to discuss any individual company's business.

In regard to the standards the Deputy mentioned in respect of the Department of Finance, he is aware that the Minister for Finance met his party's deputy leader and the other spokespersons or leaders of the parties yesterday to hear their proposals in so far as the commission of investigation is concerned. The issue here is that the Government was very anxious to get all of the information out into the public domain and into this House as quickly as possible. The structure to do that was to ask the special liquidator to collate all of the files and present them to the Minister for Finance by the end of August to be sent to the Committee of Public Accounts and that on its examination, if it requested a further independent investigation, that the law would be changed to allow the Comptroller and Auditor General's office to do it. That strategy was overtaken by the events of the past fortnight, in particular in respect of the case in the court and also because of the range of allegations and assertions that were made. I stress that nothing has been proven against anybody in terms of wrongdoing here. That is why we are having a two-day debate now on the terms of reference, which were approved by the Cabinet this morning and which were contributed to both by the Deputy's party and the other parties opposite, in order that this matter can be dealt with authoritatively and independently by a judge to be nominated as a sole member in charge of this commission of investigation. The Minister has been very flexible in the terms of reference, as the Deputy will be aware. He has even gone so far as to say that if issues were being dealt with or contracted by IBRC before the special liquidator was appointed, the flexibility is there to follow those particular transactions through and, also, that if other particular issues arise, consideration will be given to them.

While the Members will have the opportunity over the next two days to contribute to the debate, the intention is that the commission of investigation will be properly resourced and will deal with all of the issues that are set out between 21 January 2009 and 7 February 2013, the date that IBRC was liquidated. The Government looks forward to hearing the propositions from the various Deputies here over the next period and we should let the commission get under way and do its work. That is in the public interest and it is something the Government supports very strongly.

I asked the Taoiseach the following question in February 2012:

The Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, the bank formerly known as Anglo, has retained the services of the Blackstone Group to advise it on the sale of €30 billion of loans it has across Ireland and Britain... How come these vulture capitalists are advising on this loan but are not precluded from bidding for the debts? They are advising on the sale, but are bidding at the same time. Surely, this is a conflict of interest which runs totally contrary to the Taoiseach's election promises to straighten out these issues and make them transparent.

The Taoiseach, in his response, went on his rambles around Ireland. We never got a response to these issues and now he has said that his intention all the time was to get all the information out into the public domain. The Dáil record, with the contributions of Teachta Murphy, Teachta Pearse Doherty, and myself, shows the exact opposite to be the case.

A question please, Deputy.

When I asked the Taoiseach what he raised with Mr. Schwarzman and Mr. Murphy, he said it was not for him to raise any company's business. He is supposed to protect the taxpayers' interests. He is the Taoiseach and this is public money. The billions and millions we are talking about belong to the people. I ask him again to give some clarity on this. We do not need a commission of investigation; the Taoiseach met them, and he has said now that he met them on two occasions. What did he discuss with them?

The state of the Irish economy and the improvements in the economy. The review, as the Deputy knows full well, will consist of-----

I am not asking the Taoiseach that.

I am telling the Deputy-----

I have his terms of reference here.

He has such respect for the Dáil that he is going to tell the Deputy about that.

-----that it will cover all transactions, activities and management decisions which occurred between 21 January 2009, which was the date of the nationalisation of IBRC, and 7 February 2013, the date of the appointment of the special liquidators to IBRC.

The Deputy will have to get that under a freedom of information request.

On a point of order-----

The Deputy cannot raise a point of order in respect of a reply to a question.

The Taoiseach is not answering the question.

This is what happened in this place in the first instance - questions were not answered.

(Interruptions).

That is right; he has such respect for the Dáil.

I cannot intervene in regard to answers to questions.

Deputy Murphy raised a number of issues in the Dáil and followed them through very consistently.

Because of prevarication.

She needed to use freedom of information requests eventually to get the answers.

The response of the Government was to collate all of those files with the special liquidator and present them to the House and to the Committee of Public Accounts. Deputy Murphy made a very cogent argument in respect of a number of issues.

Will the Taoiseach answer the question?

Events have now transpired that we are having a commission of investigation where all of these matters can be discussed and dealt with.

Is there a minute of that meeting? Should I put in a freedom of information request?

Which meeting are you talking about?

I ask that remarks be addressed through the Chair. Deputy Fleming is the next speaker.

As I said, we discussed the question of the improvement in the economy and the actions the Government was taking to drive that in the right direction. I must say that Deputy Murphy was very clear in her contribution here, that she had checked her sources-----

(Interruptions).

-----on more than one occasion and stood by them. On that basis and on account of the issues that have transpired here, we now have a commission of investigation-----

They have not transpired.

-----with a broad and flexible set of terms of reference, which have been contributed to by all Members of the House and which will be debated over the next two days. It is in the interests of the public-----

That questions be answered.

-----and therefore the Government to have this commission of investigation, give the sole member proper resources to do his or her job and get on with that. The Minister for Finance will make the opening statement, I believe, at 5.30 p.m.

The legitimacy of the body politic has been undermined once more in this most recent sordid debacle in this country. The diligence and persistence through relevant questions by Deputy Catherine Murphy, in the interests of democracy and the people, has unearthed and exposed another web of the same old suspects, which are the banks and the big businesses intertwined with the political system. It again begs the question of whether we have learned anything from the previous major banking scandals and the subsequent collapse of the economy. Serious concern and alarm has been raised among the public regarding the huge scale of write-down sanctioned by IBRC with a select group of 40 big businesses and a select group of individuals receiving a combined write-off of their debt of thousands of millions of euro which, it seems, could amount to anything up to €1.2 billion. Yet again the taxpayer is shouldering this back-breaking burden. This is in contrast to what is happening at the other end of the scale where tens of thousands of ordinary householders' mortgages are being sold off to vulture capitalists. These particular funds are being sold off by IBRC. These unfortunate householders have no mortgage protection as they are outside the control of the Central Bank. There is rough justice for some who are trying to keep a roof over their heads, which is in contrast to another soft landing for the elite and the preferential treatment for these people. How will the Taoiseach ensure that this commission of investigation does not become another multi-million euro burden on the taxpayer with no definite end to the investigation?

Will the Government impose a timely deadline for the work's completion?

I thank the Deputy. He is aware, obviously, of the fact that Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide cost the taxpayer €34 billion, which was the real burden imposed on hundreds of thousands of people over that period throughout the country, when 300,000 jobs were lost and emigration became a factor in everyday life again. Obviously, with the decisions and the challenges faced up to by the people, we are now in a very different position economically, and we hope that by creating another 40,000 jobs this year and the same next year and in 2017, we will ensure that all of the jobs that were lost are recovered and the State will be approaching full employment.

The Government has restructured the banking system, getting rid of some banks and restructuring others. The Minister met recently with the main banks to discuss the question of a reduction in variable interest rates, which is of interest to hundreds of thousands of people.

Regarding the question that the Deputy raised about the commission of investigation, as I said earlier on, when the House and the Oireachtas sign off on the terms of reference for a commission of investigation, that commission of investigation then becomes the sole responsibility of the member who is conducting its business, and that member will conduct his or her business in the way that he or she sees fit within the context of the general terms of reference. Let me repeat that no Justice in this country is a pawn of any Minister and no Justice is a pawn of any Government.

There might be plenty of pawns of Denis O'Brien over there.

It is not possible to politicise it. Otherwise, it does not work. One cannot give directions or diktats to a sole member who is handed the responsibility of running a commission of investigation in an authoritative, independent and objective way so that questions can be answered and the truth can be known, and that is what Government wishes in this case. So I cannot answer the question as to the person, persons or entities that may well take court cases during the course of the commission of investigation, but there is a period of six months to bring in a final report, and if for whatever reason that does not happen, a report of the work to that point will be brought forward. When we sign off here on the terms of reference, it then becomes a matter of responsibility for the member involved, and I am quite sure that the person who takes up that responsibility will run the commission of investigation in a very effective and competent fashion.

As Deputy Tom Fleming well knows, over the years when we had tribunals, they ran for ten years, for 12 years and for 14 years. This method of having commissions of investigation is far more effective-----

We told the Government that a month ago, but it voted us down.

-----and I have no doubt that this one will meet those rigorous high standards also. It is not a case of setting up a commission of investigation and then telling it how to do its work, when to do its work and what we want out of it. We cannot politicise this, and it is right to keep that distance and that objectivity there. I hope that the commission, when the terms of reference are approved by the Dáil and the Seanad, will be allowed to do its work in the way that we all want to see happen.

We could have been spared this inquiry if Deputy Catherine Murphy's questions had been answered at the outset in a fair and comprehensive manner. Unfortunately, that did not occur. This matter is best reflected in a statement by Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton regarding the beef tribunal: "I think that if the questions that were asked in the Dáil were answered in the way they are answered here, there would be no necessity for this inquiry and a lot of money and time would have been saved". That situation has been replicated in this instance.

A memo from a senior official in the Department of Finance reads: "[E]vents over the past few months have led me to question the effectiveness of the management team in IBRC ... I am concerned that the reputation of the IBRC and by extension the State has been damaged as a result of these events." Interestingly enough, according to a 2012 OECD perception report, Ireland had one of the lowest levels of public trust in the governance of State institutions.

A question, please, Deputy.

According to the statistics, only 26% of Irish people had trust in the Government. It is a revealing figure, given our recent and undistinguished history. That is why there is a need for a robust, forensic inquiry.

I am sorry, Deputy, but we have gone way over time. Could you put your question, please?

It is coming. We will need a forensic inquiry to drill down and reveal the true facts. There is an urgent need to redeem public trust in the reform of post-crash Ireland and to restore our international reputation as being a trustworthy, transparent and fair country in which to set up business. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the investigation will give a breakdown of each individual transaction, the exposure and the types of write-down that were given so as to ensure full transparency?

First of all, I have been a supporter for a very long time of the idea that Dáil questions should be answered as fully and as completely as possible-----

(Interruptions).

Deputies, please.

I try to do that-----

Will the Government Deputies not give the Taoiseach a standing ovation?

You are doing a great job standing over there, I can tell you. Remember when you were over here.

Deputy Durkan should be feting the Taoiseach for that.

Deputies, please.

I try to do that with the questions that come into my own Department in so far as that is possible. I remind Deputy Tom Fleming that this Government restructured and reformed the freedom of information system, which allows Deputies to ask questions in respect of information they look for that is not handled by Ministers. There are particular personnel in every Department dealing with that, and I know that many Deputies have been able to get possibly more information, or certainly an extensive volume of information, out of which may come the particular or specific answer that they wish to get. It might be, I suppose, sometimes more appropriate if one were to work backwards or focus the question very precisely. With the volume of material that comes into some Departments, it is not as easy as it might seem.

So it is Deputy Catherine Murphy's fault.

Public figures and politicians the world over have never been in the higher echelons of public trust. I think the bankers were beneath the politicians there for some time. I am not sure where it is now.

The Government is bringing trust down further.

Can I guarantee Deputy Fleming that he is going to get answers to all the questions here? What I want to say to him is that the terms of reference to be debated-----

After the election.

-----and approved by the House will cover all transactions, activities and management decisions that occurred between 21 January 2009, which was the date of nationalisation of IBRC, and 7 February 2013, the date of the appointment of the special liquidators to IBRC, which dealt with particular matters. That will become a matter for the judge in question, Deputy. It is not for anybody in this House to attempt to interfere-----

It is a matter for the terms of reference.

-----in the work of the sole member once the terms of reference have been signed off and approved.

The terms of reference should not be set in cement. We should debate them.

That is what we are doing.

That person will run the business in the way that he or she sees fit, and do a proper, competent, professional-----

What about the fraudulent interest charges before 2009?

-----and independent job. That, Deputy, I hope will deal with all of the issues that arise with regard to assertions and allegations about this person, that person, this entity and that entity so that clarity can be achieved, which is in the public interest and which the Government wants to see arising from this commission of investigation.

What about the fraudulent interest charges before 2009?

Listen to the banker.

That completes Leaders' Questions. We will move on to questions to An Taoiseach.

What of fraudulent deals since 2013?

Deputy Mathews had his chance.

There were fraudulent interest charges from the 1990s.

Deputy Mathews had his chance, but he left.

Leave Deputy Mathews alone.

The Government is limiting us.

Deputy Mathews did not have the courage to stay. He could not stick the pace.

The Minister of State will hear the evidence later.

I was not talking to Deputy Shortall.

The Minister of State would stick anything. He would stand over anything. He will have to be prised out of that seat.