Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to introduce the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017 to the House. The Bill is significant legislation which consolidates seven anti-corruption Acts from as far back as 1889 and running right up to 2010. It introduces a range of new offences which modernise our anti-corruption code. The Bill is a central piece of the Government’s recently announced suite of anti-corruption measures which specifically target so-called white-collar crime. The range of measures was developed to respond more effectively to economic and regulatory crime, which has the capacity to seriously damage Ireland’s economy and our reputation on the world stage as being a safe place to do business.

This is priority legislation for the Government aimed at combating corruption at all levels of society. The Bill will strengthen and clarify the key corruption offences and will create new offences. Most importantly, it will provide for more severe penalties for those who engage in corrupt behaviour. The Bill encompasses corruption both within the public and private sector, but with a particular focus on public officials acting in the course of their duties, reflecting the high level of trust that is placed in them. It is imperative that the penalties provided for in the Bill adequately reflect the negative consequences that corruption can have on society, as well as the increasing concern and focus on white-collar crime. The penalties for conviction on indictment for the main corruption offences are up to ten years’ imprisonment and-or an unlimited fine. There are additional penalties that a court can impose on certain public officials who breach the public’s trust by means of corruption. The courts have been given powers under the Bill to remove certain officials from office and to exclude them from holding office for up to ten years subject to the safeguards set out in the Bill. This can be in addition to any other penalties under the Bill. With regard to suspected bribes, while they can already be seized and forfeited under the existing legislation, the Bill strengthens these provisions by allowing the courts to order the forfeiture of assets equal to the value of any bribe given or received.

Reflecting the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal, new offences are being introduced. For instance, the Bill provides for a new offence covering public officials who use confidential information obtained in the course of their duties to corruptly obtain an advantage. There is another new provision which criminalises making payments knowingly or recklessly to a third party who intends, in turn, to use them as bribes. It is intended also to enhance the ability of the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring prosecutions by providing for extended presumptions of corruption. For instance, a presumption of corruption may arise where a person with an interest in the functions being discharged by a public official makes a payment to that official. This could be where an applicant for planning permission makes a payment to a planning official. The Bill also provides clarity in respect of the liability of companies for the corrupt acts of their officers and employees. I will go through these provisions in more detail as I set out the content of the Bill.

The Bill also reflects our international commitments, providing for the main requirements of a number of international anti-corruption agreements to which Ireland is a party. They include the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, the EU anti-corruption convention, the UN Convention Against Corruption, and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. Our membership of these key international anti-corruption groups affords us a further opportunity to review the various anti-corruption measures we have already in place and to improve our laws in light of our experience and participation in these important international fora.

Turning now to the detail of the Bill, I will outline its key provisions. Section 2 defines the key terms used in the Bill. For example "Irish official", "foreign official" and "Irish public body". These categories need separate definition as some provisions apply specifically to those within the public sector, such as in Part 4 which contains the presumptions relating to corruption. The term "corruptly" is defined, addressing a recommendation from the OECD in an earlier evaluation in this regard, and the text replicates the definition contained in the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2010.

Section 5 defines the offences of active and passive corruption, meaning persons who corruptly offer an advantage, which is active corruption, and those who corruptly accept a bribe, which is passive corruption. Both may be prosecuted under this section. These offences no longer contain reference to corruption of or by "an agent". While this term was used in the description of the original offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, the modern definition of "agent" was expanded to cover a very broad spectrum of people, so the "agency" principle is no longer applicable. As was previously the case, the offences encompass corruption within both the public and private sectors, and the reference to office, employment, position or business is intended to cover all public and private sector occupations, including voluntary bodies and sporting and charitable organisations. Deleting the term "agent" was recommended by the OECD in the course of its evaluation of Ireland’s implementation of the OECD anti-bribery convention.

Section 6 gives effect to a recommendation from the Council of Europe and provides for a discrete offence of "trading in influence", prohibiting the promise of an undue advantage to someone who asserts that he or she can exert an improper influence over a public official’s decision-making. As the corruption offence, this section covers active and passive trading in influence. Subsection (3) makes clear it is immaterial whether the alleged ability to exert the improper influence existed or whether the supposed influence led to the intended result. The provision on trading in influence is also contained in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

Section 7 criminalises any act of an Irish official carried out in the course of his or her official position, with the intent of corruptly obtaining an advantage for anyone. It differs from the main corruption offence in that it is not required that another party is involved. A new provision at subsection (2) makes it an offence to use confidential information obtained through one's office for this purpose. This new provision reflects a recommendation of the Mahon tribunal.

Also giving effect to a recommendation of that tribunal, section 8 contains a new offence of giving a gift to another person, where the donor knows or ought reasonably to know that the payment might be used to facilitate the commission of an offence under the Act.

Section 9 extends the existing offence of knowingly using a false document, to include the creation of such a document with intent to induce another person to carry out an act relating to his or her office or business, etc., and contains an updated modern definition of "document" at subsection (3) covering a broad range of electronic records.

Section 10 provides for a new offence of corruptly threatening harm to a person, intending to influence someone to carry out an act in relation to his or her office, employment or business. This provision is a worthwhile innovation, reflecting the fact that a threat can be used in place of offering a bribe when seeking to influence the actions of another in a corrupt manner.

Part 3 contains provisions on the jurisdiction of the State in circumstances where elements of the corruption offence take place outside the State or only partly in the State. Section 11 clarifies that a person may be tried in the State if any element of the offence occurs here, for instance where an offer of a bribe is made abroad but received in Ireland, reflecting a similar provision contained in the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001.

Section 12 provides for extensive extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of corruption occurring outside the State, for instance where the relevant act takes place aboard an Irish ship or aircraft, or where the person concerned is an Irish citizen or official, or an Irish registered company or body corporate as set out therein. Subsections (3) to (5) are additional provisions inserted to give full effect to Article 7 of the EU convention on fighting corruption and to address certain jurisdictional requirements in this regard.

One of the key elements of this legislation lies in Part 4, which sets out the presumptions which are applicable where proceedings for corruption offences under the Act are under way. They adjust the burden of proof by requiring an accused person to demonstrate that they did not act in a particular way or carry out a particular action as opposed to the usual requirements for the prosecution to prove that a particular act had been carried out. These presumptions can be rebutted by evidence proving the contrary. The standard of proof is the civil one of the balance of probabilities. These provisions are there to assist prosecutors in securing a conviction in white-collar trials, which are often complex and difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Section 14 contains a rebuttable presumption that where a payment or gift is made to an official or a connected person, and the donor has an interest in the way those functions are exercised, then the payment or gift is deemed to have been given corruptly as an inducement or reward for the person acting or refraining from acting in accordance with his or her duties unless the contrary is proved.

Section 14(3) lists the functions or decisions of officials applicable in this case, which include the acquisition or sale of property, award of tenders and contracts, licences and passports, as well as the exercise of judicial functions and the administration of justice. Irish officials' functions relating to the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2010 are included as well as functions relating to NAMA and the Central Bank. Reflecting the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal, the presumption extends to gifts or advantages given to or received by or for the benefit of a "connected person" of the official as defined at section 14(5). This includes family and close business relationships.

Section 15 provides for a presumption whereby if a person to whom the section applies fails to disclose a donation exceeding the relevant amount specified in the Electoral Act 1997 or the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act 1999, and the donor had or has an interest in the recipient's actions, the donation is deemed to have been given and received corruptly as an inducement. This presumption is based on that contained in section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001. This presumption, as recommended in the report of the Mahon tribunal, will also apply where a recipient fails to return a donation exceeding the limits set out in the electoral legislation.

Section 16 relates to Irish officials defined as "members" or "officeholders" providing for a presumption of corruption where persons who are required to declare certain statements of interests pursuant to the Ethics in Public Office Acts 1995 and 2001 failed to make the necessary declarations. When corruption proceedings are taken against such a person, the section provides for a rebuttable presumption of corrupt enrichment in respect of the undeclared interests, namely, that the property concerned derives from a gift or advantage received, on account of the person carrying out an act relating to his or her office or business.

Part 5 contains some new components dealing with penalties and enforcement. The objective is to provide for stronger penalties for the offences, including forfeiture of office and to clarify the criminal liability of corporate bodies for corrupt acts committed by their directors or officers.

Section 17 outlines the penalties applicable to persons convicted of a corrupt offence under the Bill. The offence of trading in influence carries a maximum of five years' imprisonment for conviction on indictment and an unlimited fine. Conviction on indictment for offences under section 5, 7, 8, 9 or 10 carries a maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine. The sanctions in this section also include forfeiture of office under section 17(4) in respect of certain Irish officials, other than those officials whose removal from office would require a parliamentary impeachment procedure or where there are particular constitutional provisions protecting their independence. It is important to note that the application of these penalties can only occur after a determination by a court, where a judge considers that is in the interest of maintaining or restoring public confidence in the public administration of the State and where it is in the interests of justice to proceed with forfeiture. A court may also order that a relevant official found guilty on indictment may be prohibited from seeking certain public offices for up to ten years.

Section 18 provides that where a relevant offence has been committed by a person, such as a company director or any other employee, with the intention of obtaining an advantage for his or her company, the company as well as the individual may be liable for the offence. Section 18(2) provides for a defence that the body corporate took all reasonable steps and exercised due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence. Under section 18(3), where it is proved that an offence by a body corporate was committed with the consent or connivance or was attributable to any wilful neglect of a director, manager or secretary of that body, then that person as well as the body corporate is deemed guilty of the offence.

Section 19 is a standard provision, providing that a certificate of a person's citizenship from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade shall be evidence that this is the case. This would be relevant as regards corruption offences occurring outside the State.

Section 20 relates to the seizure of a suspected bribe, and section 21 enables a Circuit Court judge to order the forfeiture of seized property.

Part 6 covers miscellaneous matters, including providing for consequential amendments to other legislation as a result of the amendments in the Bill. Sections 23 to 26 update the references in other legislation as appropriate to corrupt conduct, corruption offences, offences against the administration of justice and relevant offences. Sections 27 to 31 will amend legislation relating to the election or removal of Deputies, Senators, MEPs and local authority members. This is to provide clarity on the procedure involved should a court order the forfeiture of an elected office.

The Bill before the House today marks a significant addition to our laws against white-collar crime and corruption. By repealing laws that date back as far as 1889 and by replacing them with a single modern statute, we are ensuring that anti-corruption law is more accessible to the public. As regards public officials, the Bill complements recent legislation such as the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 and also the Public Sector Standards Bill which is before the Houses at present. These measures will increase transparency in how public officials conduct themselves in office, while ensuring those officials who transgress the high standards required by their office are adequately dealt with.

By its nature, corruption often involves an international dimension. The reputation of a state and its business community can be affected by the rigour with which it tackles corruption. It is a clear demonstration of our engagement with international efforts at the UN, the OECD, the EU and the Council of Europe to tackle the problem. By expanding our range of offences, presumptions and extraterritorial jurisdiction in the area of corruption, it ensures that our international obligations to tackle bribery and corruption both domestically and abroad are being properly and actively addressed.

Finally, as elected officials and public servants, I believe that Members of this House understand that it is only by holding ourselves up to the highest standards, that we can tackle corruption and white-collar crime effectively and maintain or improve the trust, respect and support of the Irish public. I look forward to the debate on this measure and commend the Bill to the House.

I call Deputy Jack Chambers. Is he sharing time?

I am. The other speakers will be here shortly.

Fianna Fáil supports the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017. It is important that the House moves collectively to strengthen anti-white-collar crime through the measures contained in the Bill. The current legislation governing corruption is too unwieldy and because of recent court cases it is prudent to strengthen the current legislation. Following the Aylmer judgment the Irish people were shocked by the poor handling of the procedural process which resulted in somebody being let off despite the weight of evidence. It is important that we move as many of the academics have proposed in recent years and try to unify the fragmented system we have relating to white-collar crime, whereby the State can take on people who are acting in the shadows of strength that they see in the corporate world.

When we consider the different State agencies we have, for example the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Health and Safety Authority and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, we need a cross-departmental approach in addition to the many positive measures in the Bill. We need to strengthen the powers to combat white-collar crime through co-ordination across Government so that the State can take on people who have acted inappropriately and in a corrupt manner. That deserves further attention.

It is important also to resource the implementation of this legislation. As we saw in recent court cases many of the procedural errors that were found were due to staff vacancies over lengthy periods in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. There were too many gaps unfortunately left unaddressed by the previous Government in terms of those vacancies. There is no point in talking about white-collar crime if we do not have the staff employed and resourced to address the issues and also to follow the process and procedure to see a criminal conviction brought through the courts. It is not good enough that basic errors are made whereby people's constitutional rights may be impacted which gives them an exit strategy to the detriment of people's confidence in public administration and in government. It is important that we have well resourced agencies that ensure the delivery of proper implementation of white-collar measures.

This Bill is based on a general scheme that was published in 2012 and approved by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in 2013. I commend the Minister, as the new Minister for Justice and Equality, on reintroducing the Bill and I hope to see it progress through this House. However, his predecessor clearly sidelined it as a priority measure and was not overly interested, in the context of her work agenda, in seeing white-collar measures tackled and progressed through this House. The recent court case and the Minister's recent announcement have seen at least an added focus to this area.

The outcome of the 127-day long case against Seán FitzPatrick was a damning indictment of the State's capacity to investigate and prosecute white-collar crime. The inadequacy of the State to combat white-collar crime was laid bare in the criticisms by Judge Aylmer. The handling of this case, unfortunately, shattered public confidence in the prosecution of white-collar crime. As a Parliament and an Oireachtas, it is fundamental that we add to many of the positive measures that are threaded throughout this Bill. We can learn from the fragmented approach we have across the agencies of the State. Agencies of State have been created and codified from the 1980s onwards, which in many ways was a post-Whitehall model of public administration, with the agentification of Departments. The problem with that has been that when policy and responsibility are decentralised and in times of recession when there are vacancies and difficulties in resourcing matters of significant procedural importance, gaps occur, which is what we saw happen in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. That is what shattered public confidence in the prosecution of white-collar crime in this country. We know that this was only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other instances of corruption which are not seeing the light of day or the courts because of the lack of legislation in this area.

The Minister mentioned that this is a consolidation of legislation from 1889 to 2010. The Irish State and successive parties in government, including my own party, over many years should have taken more measures. We need to strengthen measures to tackle white-collar crime. A Sinn Féin Bill, the Multi-Party Action Bill, was introduced yesterday to address the need to counterbalance the disproportionate power between banks and individuals in order that individuals in very vulnerable scenarios could take on the financial institutions which have more solicitors than many of the biggest law firms. Similarly, this Bill is about empowering and restoring public confidence in our capacity to take on those who have breached the law and committed a criminal offence. In many cases people who have committed minor crimes are put away for significantly long periods while those who have committed major crimes, the costs of which run to billions of euro, are left untouched because of procedural anomalies. That is not good enough in the context of the administration of justice. We as a party will work with the Minister and every other party and Independent group to strengthen measures and toughen the position around white-collar crime. It is important that this legislation is progressed but also that additional measures are introduced.

As the Minister mentioned, the purpose of the Bill is to modernise Irish anti-corruption laws and it represents good legislative housekeeping as it repeals and replaces the Prevention of Corruption Acts, consolidating existing legislation that dates back many years. It goes further and introduces new and stronger penalties, as the Minister detailed. The Bill also gives effect to some of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal, which is welcome, and we need to see further legislative proposals in this area and those recommendations fully implemented and codified, whenever possible.

Section 5 provides for offences of bribe giving and bribe taking within both the public and private sector, including those in voluntary bodies such as sporting or charitable organisations. Section 6 incorporates the active and passive trading in influence. These are measures that up to now have been left in a legal vacuum, which have been an anomaly, without receiving full attention. We know from previous judgments that it was impossible to prosecute to the benefit of upholding the law and protecting against white-collar crime. I am reminded of the Begley case involving the evasion of import taxes on garlic where the individual was put away by a High Court judge. Many individuals, because of their own vulnerability, have been left behind bars for many months and years because of the willingness of the courts and the Director of Public Prosecutions to put away people for relatively minor offences. However, in the case of people who have cost the State billions of euro, the weakness in measures to tackle white-collar crime has resulted in a lack of public confidence in this area. We fully support the addressing of that situation.

We need to go beyond this measure, which is a welcome one. I will fully support the Bill at the justice committee and we will amend it to improve it. It is important for the Minister to move beyond this Bill and create a unified strategy to move away from the current mismatched approach across State agencies and that the corporate elements of Irish life can see an approach that goes across every Department and every level of government.

Currently we have a poor record on white-collar crime relative to other European jurisdictions. The Minister mentioned some of the recommendations and requirements from the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, the EU anti-corruption convention, the UN Convention Against Corruption and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. There are plenty of recommendations and requirements that we have in that context. Some of my colleagues, for example, Deputy Niall Collins, felt that many of the measures the Minister announced in the past two weeks were very much a regurgitation of previous white-collar measures. It is important the Minister moves away from the regurgitation around the press and progresses legislation beyond what he is doing here today, which I believe will receive the full support of this House.

My colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, wants to speak and my colleagues, Deputy James Browne and Jim O'Callaghan, will take some of the Rural Independent Group's time.

Go raibh maith agat. Deputy O'Callaghan is on his way and he is more qualified than most of us to talk on this matter. I am agreeable to doing this and I thank the House for agreeing.

The Long Title of the Bill reads that this is a, "Bill entitled an Act to amend the law regarding the prevention of corruption (including offences relating to corruption) and, in doing so, to give effect to the Convention drawn up on the basis of ... the Treaty on European Union on the fight against corruption involving officials of the European Communities or officials of Member States of the European Union". I am happy to speak on this Bill. I have been a Member of this House for ten years now, thankfully. I note, however, we have been talking a good deal about this issue since 2012 when a regulatory impact analysis was done on the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill 2012.

Indeed the existing law on corruption goes back as far the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889, to which the Minister referred. That is some while ago. Some things never change. I do not know whether to laugh or cry, however, when I read in the 2012 regulatory analysis that the purpose of that 2012 Bill almost six years ago was "to reflect the commitment in the programme for Government to enact a new consolidated and reformed anti-corruption law, to punish white-collar crime and end the impunity from consequences for corporate behaviour that threatens the economy." What happened in the six years? Our country was on its knees after what happened with banking and lack of regulation and it continues so. We have seen one or two court cases and everyone is innocent until proven guilty, everyone is entitled to their day in court, but the cases have been sabotaged, quite literally. They have collapsed because of shredding and abuses. We are just saying platitudes here and nice things and trying to flatter the public. The public is not going to be flattered, though.

Recent events have made it absolutely clear that this so-called commitment to tackle white-collar crime was an absolute farce. Has anything changed? I jest and I question. The actions of the banking sector and the actions of receivers and registrars up and down the country would indicate that we have not really made any meaningful strides. I am tired of saying this here. Thousands of families are sitting in their homes tonight, that is, if they can sit down with the angst and trauma of being threatened with evictions by the actions of the banks. They are going to court, many of them as lay litigants and they are getting little or no quarter. Some registrars are very good but other courts are not. I question the issue as to why registrars are hearing these cases in the first place. I thought it would have to be a qualified justice but I suppose it does not. It is the county registrar in my county and many others. These people are been treated astoundingly badly and are literally not getting a fair crack of the whip.

I have been in the High Court and have seen where an eminent justice did not declare that they had involvement with certain banks and institutions and had to be forced off the Bench. I could not say that without it being true, although the Minister shakes his head. It has happened down in the Four Courts. They had to be forced off the Bench and embarrassed and hunted, literally. We deal with all the issues they were talking about, the different Acts. I made note of all the different aspects of the Bill that the Minister read out. Justice delayed is justice denied and people are not getting justice down in the courts. I have been in the Four Courts with terrorised victims and they could not hear what was going on in the court even, and the judge refused to speak up even having been asked several times. The barristers at the front were talking among themselves and the lay litigant who was not allowed represent herself had been escorted there from prison. The woman should not have been in jail and has never been in trouble in her life. She was unable to stand or talk and was told she could not get advice from a lay litigant individual who voluntarily came to assist her. That is happening. There is no point in the Minister shaking his head. I know it is happening. Countless couples are ignored.

We talked earlier about a housing crisis. Cúpla nóiméad ó shin, bhí an tAire ag croitheadh a cheann. The Minister was indicating that it was not happening. It is happening. The Minister should check the records. I know it.

I never opened my mouth.

No, the Minister was just indicating. That is fine. It is happening. I know it is happening. Bhí mé i láthair cúpla uair agus chonaic mé é sin ag tarlú. The amount of pressure, stress, sickness, marriage breakups and everything else, including the effect on children, that trauma is just unbelievable. Then we have the receivers who are getting court orders granted. They are gung ho making a fortune. A third force, I call them. I have been at many evictions and seizures of goods. The bullying and intimidation and people in balaclavas and boiler suits with Alsatian dogs on leads is something one would not have seen in Mugabe's country when it was at its peak.

Mugabe is gone now.

Are we going to have to have something like that, to take that drastic a measure? I hope not, in our lovely democracy. I am glad that my learned friend has arrived and that he can give me an odd tip here and there. The actions of the banking sector and of receivers up and down the country would indicate that we have really made no meaningful progress.

Questions must be asked, then, as to whether we can take anything in this Bill seriously. I notice the word "probability" in the Bill. That is not good enough language for me. It has to be definite language, not probable. It has to be language such as "will" and "shall", not "may". Will we be here in another six years with the criminal justice Bill 2023, still discussing what we are going to do about corruption and white-collar crime? We have seen what happened with the Paradise Papers and the banking inquiry. We have seen what happened in America, where countless bankers are locked up behind bars having gone through due process. I am greatly in favour of due process. There is nobody behind bars here and trials have been sabotaged. All is not well in the courts and judicial system. It is anything but well. I have had information given to me in the last number of days that is very concerning. I did not go into it last night and will not tonight because I am checking out the facts. It is very worrying and involves a long period of cases not being properly investigated, cases being buried and justice not being served or seen to be served and people escaping.

On dealing with white-collar crime, we did it about 15 years ago. I was on the county council at the time. We all got an email saying we were not to give a box of sweets to the office staff, which I often did because they were always being good to me and they were helpful when we would go in asking this, that and the other. That was all stopped. We were to be totally transparent but the foreign holidays and all the big stuff went on all the time. All law is for the little people. God, I could not buy a person a drink if I met him out because it was considered to be bribery. Yet the foreign holidays and the gravy train, the golf dinners and tours and everything else went on unabated. There is mention in this Bill of all those things being stopped but there are too many words like "probable" being suggested. It must be definite and certain and the law must be applied fairly to the big people as well as the ordinary people. Na daoine beaga always get all the law and there is no law for the rich.

It is happening. The dogs in the street know it now to their cost and, as I said, the cost to the State. We are talking about a housing crisis here and we are arguing about how many houses were built. They were not built in my county or any other county. There is an amount of people being made homeless by the State, by the banks through the organs of the State, the courts, and through the thuggery of receivers and bully boys and intimidation. There is the black market money they are getting for that and the costs that are loaded onto the loans then, and the vulture funds - do not even mention them. We must salute them. I had an amendment to the Finance Bill tabled with Deputy Fitzmaurice that was ruled out of order. Where we had a family in a house that owed so much and the bank was willing to settle for so much, the bank would not settle with the family, a business or a farmer. It sold the debt to the vulture funds for 20% or maybe up to 30% with a stretch, or sometimes 17%, and then all hell broke loose. We gave it to those vulture funds.

The Taoiseach says he is not happy and does not like it. I do not see him standing outside the banks with his hashtag, #leoforfairnessandjusticefortheordinaryfamilies. He would do it for the social welfare lads all right and take pictures and everything else. The genie is out of the bottle. We need to do something. We need stronger language in this Bill.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Cullinane agus an Teachta Buckley. Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Beidh Sinn Féin ag tacú leis. Tá sé i gceist againn leasuithe a mholadh ar Chéim an Choiste ós rud é gur dóigh linn gur féidir an reachtaíocht a láidriú. Tá go leor foráil a d'fhéadfaí a dhéanamh nach bhfuil sa Bhille faoi láthair. Ba chóir go mbeidís ann ionas go mbeidh an reachtaíocht seo mar uirlis níos fearr agus muid ag dul i ngleic le caimiléireacht agus iompar mar sin.

We will be supporting this legislation. It brings current laws on corruption up to date and consolidates them. It also implements a number of international and EU obligations upon the State. There are absences from the legislation, items that we have flagged over a number of years. We will return to them on Committee Stage and I will identify some of them during my contribution. The Bill aims to clarify and strengthen corruption offences in this jurisdiction and those from outside it but acting within it. It provides greater clarity on trading in influence offences, which is overdue. I raised this under questions on promised legislation six or seven weeks ago, so I welcome the fact that the Minister has brought it before the House relatively speedily.

Whether in public life or in business or commerce, corruption has been part of the history of our State.

We have had tribunals of inquiry investigating various issues, including planning corruption, zoning controversies, bribery, corporate fraud, significant Government contracts awarded in a process subsequently found to be biased and defective, unexplained payments, and a banking crisis in which nobody paid the price for their actions. Against that background, we have also had people who played a brave role in taking a stand against corruption, in highlighting it and in whistleblowing.

The State's attitude towards corporate fraud and corruption, however, has been casual and slack. Although not exclusively confined to white-collar crime, to date it appears the Government has been most passive in this area. The Bill recognises little has been done in this area since Fine Gael took office. I hope it will address such cultural issues, particularly in institutions and sectors where questionable practices almost appear to be the norm.

My opinion was reflected in a study, conducted by EY in June 2017, where 47% of Irish employees interviewed believed bribery and corrupt practices were widespread, while 22% stated they would be prepared to act unethically to improve their career progression or remuneration package. These figures are notably higher than the western European average, where 33% of those who took part saw bribery and corruption as widespread. A significant proportion of Irish employees suggested their concerns relating to fraud or corruption led them to consider resigning. However, 56% of respondents who considered leaving a company ultimately stayed. That figure was 19% higher than the average across all the regions surveyed. Future career progression was cited as the main reason for not reporting fraudulent practices while fear for personal safety followed.

This is a culture which must change. It goes right to the top of many institutions, be they public or private, throughout the State. To state otherwise would be to be blind to the past. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, is in need of a serious overhaul. It has brought no prosecutions and achieved no convictions in this State over the past two years. Only 43 prosecutions have been brought by the ODCE in the past decade, a shockingly low amount over this time, especially given the context of what happened since 2007. It has also recently come to light that the most senior Garda position in the ODCE has been vacant since September 2016. Why is this the case? It would be welcome if the Minister could shed light on this.

In addition, the annual reports of the ODCE show that almost €6 million in its allocated funding has been returned to the State over the past three years alone, including €2.7 million in 2016. In the same year, no prosecutions or convictions were achieved by the agency. That simply is not good enough. There is clearly a requirement for an overhaul of the agency as well as more investment in it. I do not have to tell the Minister that the one matter which most frustrated the population over the course of the recession was that while people suffered, some grievously, it appeared no one would be brought to justice for the banking crisis. We did not see the level of court cases that were brought in the US or in other jurisdictions, where corrupt, immoral and reckless to the point of wrongdoing practices took place. We did not see the people who many felt were responsible brought to justice. This may have been due to deficiencies in legislation. It was also because of the under-resourcing of and lack of support for the ODCE.

The issue of the fraud and theft in tracker mortgages was in many ways related to serious wrongdoing on the part of the banks, right up to criminal behaviour. The ODCE was charged with ensuring compliance with company law and bringing to account those who breached it. These statistics paint a worrying picture of the effectiveness of this agency and of the policing of white-collar crime. I welcome the overhaul of this office announced two weeks ago, as it was long overdue. The Bill should support and complement such an overhaul. However, it will require amendments and additional legislation.

I note the overall package of actions on white-collar crime, launched to much fanfare. While elements of it are welcome, there are absences too. There is no dealing with the issue of reckless lending. There is little about individual accountability, beyond what the EU already recommended, and the consolidation of mostly already existing offences. Even issues raised by the Central Bank, like the need for a new offence of giving misleading information to the Central Bank, was not addressed, which is disappointing. It could and should have happened. My colleague Deputy Pearse Doherty noted:

It will not bring about the cultural and legal changes the State needs. Today's plan simply would not have prevented the banking crash or even seen any more of its perpetrators held accountable in a court.

That is the standard by which we should measure actions on white-collar crime. The legislation on multi-party or class actions debated last night would be relevant in holding such bodies or individuals to account.

Many of the sections relate to consolidation of existing legislation, which is positive in dealing with piecemeal provisions, and enacting EU directives. I welcome this, although there are some absences. New provisions, such as sections 7 and 8, recommended by the Mahon tribunal, relate to an act carried out by officials for the purposes of obtaining a gift corruptly or the giving of gifts.

Section 17(4)(c) provides for the prohibition of a person from seeking public office for a period of up to ten years following conviction on indictment for certain corruption offences. This prohibition will not apply to a person seeking to be elected to the Dáil, Seanad, European Parliament or a local authority. That covers nearly all public offices.

Except the President.

Will the Minister explain the rationale behind this section? Is it a constitutional or a policy decision? If somebody found guilty of the serious offence of corruption is disbarred from some public offices, why are they not disbarred from those prominent public offices which make key legislation in the State and govern our local authorities? I look forward to the Minister's clarification on this.

We will be supporting the legislation but bringing forward substantial amendments on Committee Stage because we believe it is in need of considerable strengthening.

When one considers the level and depth of white-collar crime in the State over decades, as well as the inaction of this and many other Governments over the years, along with a level of tolerance and ambivalence towards white-collar crime, even if I attempted to commend the Minister on bringing forward the Bill, he would be quite rightly embarrassed and red-faced. I will not embarrass him because the Government's track record in dealing with white-collar crime is quite frankly appalling. The State and previous Governments have been, at best, ambivalent towards and, at worst, have tolerated white-collar crime for too long. The Bill allows for dealing with active and passive corruption. It prohibits active and passive trading of influence, a new offence which prohibits the active and passive bribery of a person who may be in a position to exert an improper influence over the act of a public official. It deals with corruption relating to office, employment, position or business employment, bribery to facilitate an offence, creating or using a false document, intimidation and corporate liability.

The corporate liability aspect of the Bill needs to be strengthened. It states that a company may be criminally liable if a director, manager, secretary, employee, agent or subsidiary commits an offence under the Bill with the intention of obtaining or retaining business for the body corporate or an advantage for it in the conduct of business. However, the Bill says it shall be a defence for a body corporate to prove it took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence. When an offence is committed by a body corporate and it is proved the offence was committed with the consent, connivance or wilful neglect of senior officers, that person as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of an offence. That could be a way for companies to avoid responsibility for their actions and is an area of the Bill my party will seek to amend. The defence of reasonable action needs to be clearly and unambiguously explained. Members know from the Paradise Papers and the scandal involving AIB and other banks that financial institutions will use any chink in the legislative armour to squeeze more money out of the taxpayer and their customers.

Corruption comes in many different forms and ways. There has been institutionalised white-collar crime and corruption in the State that was facilitated and allowed by the passage of legislation. AIB made a pre-tax profit of €814 million in the first six months of this year. The tax on those profits is badly needed to deal with the crisis in our crumbling public services. AIB is enjoying the so-called "golden arrangement" as a result of a legislative change introduced in 2013 by the then Fine Gael-Labour Government. After all the austerity, brutal cuts and hardship that Fine Gael visited on ordinary people, those responsible in the banks are back in profit and are being told they are free from their obligations to the State. Happy days for the banks. However, these are not happy days for the 8,000 people in emergency accommodation or the 494 people lying on hospital trolleys today. The cosy tax-free deal for the banks amounts to a bailout and is being paid for by the suffering of citizens. The Taoiseach is happy to forgo millions of euro that would address the crisis in housing. Like in the Apple tax debacle, which is another example of institutionalised white-collar crime, the Taoiseach's message is for the banks to keep people's money because the Government can tolerate citizens living in doorways and the sick going without treatment. The Taoiseach's talk of a republic of opportunity has again been exposed as a sham. He really means a republic of opportunism where his Government dances to the tunes of opportunistic bankers and elites in the State who have involved themselves in white-collar crime for decades.

The Government's track record on dealing with, challenging and holding people to account for white-collar crime is appalling. As weak as the Bill is, such changes in legislation are a tiny step forward. However, the reality is that very few who engage in white-collar crime in the State do any jail time. They are protected by the Government, the institutions of the State and legislation that Members very often supported. White-collar crime has consequences and is not victimless. We need to change the law in order to have much tougher sanctions so that those who engage in it know there are sufficient sanctions in place and they will pay a price. However, they will not get that from a Fine Gael Government.

The issue of corruption is of paramount importance to those of us involved in transformative politics, which seeks to empower and encourage people to take control of their State and mould a better and more equal society. If there is no public belief that some in politics truly wish to achieve change, we are left with an impossible task. All Members have heard on doorsteps, radio call-in shows and at public meetings that those involved in politics are all the same. While many in politics may not directly engage in corrupt activities, the complicity, silence and facilitation engaged in by many creates an environment that bizarrely reinforces the ability for such corruption to continue because people grow weary of any hope that things could be different. The system is clearly rigged but the conclusion should never be to leave it as it is. We can build a better system but that will not be done by those who protect or give support to people or organisations that seek to subvert the will of the people and the public good.

Since the foundation of the State, corruption scandals have been common but justice has rarely been done in such cases. Such scandals date back to the awarding of mining contracts under Seán Lemass and allegations of insider trading in the run up to the establishment of CIÉ. In the late 1940s, the Minister's father led calls for an inquiry into favouritism in the sale of a distillery but it ended up hurting the late Deputy Flanagan rather than those accused of corruption. Later scandals involved planning permission, rezoning, and other property schemes that made a few people very rich and did a massive disservice to the public good. I would not be surprised if the legislation being debated today were used in the future to challenge corruption relating to our current housing crisis and the sell-off of public lands.

When my party stood up to corruption in the North in regard to the renewable heat incentive, RHI, it was used as a stick with which to beat us.

As I mentioned, it seems that standing up to corruption can be bad for one's health, which is ironic. Ireland's whistleblowers can also attest to that.

The Bill provides the legal foundation to address corruption but the political and structural will to punish corruption will matter most. That does not currently exist. The main part of the Bill addresses some very important issues highlighted by the Mahon tribunal. The use of influence, bribes, falsifying records or information, threats and intimidation are all dealt with in the Bill and I commend that. Sinn Féin will support the Bill and continue to work to challenge corruption and fight to create a new political reality where people are not just named but properly punished.

Corruption is still here today. There have been rumours that 40 tickets for the Republic of Ireland football match against Denmark were left in the House last night. There should be clarity in the House that the Bill is to stop all such corruption.

I was not at the match but if I had a ticket I would have gone.

There were tickets here.

I thank the Deputy. I do not know what he means.

Some 86% of Irish people think corruption is a major problem in the country, while 70% think the Government is not doing enough to combat it. Some 30% of Irish companies believe they have lost out on a public contract due to corruption, which is shocking. One estimate put the annual cost of corruption at the outrageously high figure of €2.5 billion. Corruption is endemic in the capitalist system in which money and politics intertwine multiple times daily and developers, big business, landlords can legally fund political parties and seek to influence their policies. It is a system under which IBEC had almost 700 perfectly legal meetings in the Oireachtas last year with politicians or political parties, seeking to influence them in favour of the interests of the 1% in the State. The dominant ideology of the system is that profit should be the goal of economic activity and money will inevitably trickle down to benefit ordinary people. Competition between firms to maximise profit is the dominant motive for the actions of corporations and individuals. It is almost inevitable in such a system that what capitalism considers to be legal competition, lobbying and attempts to influence policy will become naked corruption. It is like the relationship between so-called tax avoidance and tax evasion. In the case of corruption, illegal payments are made to gain access, get information or have decisions go their own way in order to benefit in terms of money and profits.

This is a general truth about the nature of the capitalist system and the corruption that is absolutely intertwined with it. I do not make this observation in order to say that one must therefore be quiescent, that there is nothing one can do and that this is just inevitable. However, it means there must be an almighty struggle against corruption to expose it and to resource in particular a fight against corruption. I link this to the need for a political and social revolution to transform how our society operates to end the power of big business and the relationship of establishment parties with big business.

We support the broad outlines of the Bill and think it is an improvement but we also think it is inadequate. I will come later to some of those points as to how, if one wants to deal with corruption, one can do so. To move from the general point about capitalism being intertwined with corruption to the specifics of Ireland, it is obviously the case not just that Irish capitalism has the general forms of corruption, but also that it has more than the average amount of corruption. Ireland has, and has had from the foundation of the State, many features of an undeveloped capitalist economy: a weak capitalist class and a political elite that is happy to be the middlemen who facilitate, fix and organise the exploitation of people and resources on behalf of capital. In these conditions there is no question but that the two traditional establishment parties, the two traditional parties of capital in this country, namely, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have had as members prominent politicians who have on multiple occasions been synonymous with corruption. This is just a reality. It is an elephant in the room of this discussion, and the records of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael regarding corruption are shameful. Fianna Fáil, the party of Charlie Haughey, Ray Burke, Bertie Ahern, Liam Lawlor, G. V. Wright-----

Deputy Murphy is well aware that Deputies may not name people who are not in the House. I caution the Deputy. He has been here long enough to know this.

I do not think - do these people really-----

It is not a matter of what the Deputy thinks. It is my ruling.

Let us quote from tribunals then. I think I am allowed to quote from tribunals.

I am going on the precedence over the years that one does not name names of people who are not in the House.

On multiple occasions-----

It might have happened another time but not on my watch.

Okay, I will talk in general terms.

The Deputy may do so.

People will know who I am talking about. People will know about a former Taoiseach who benefited to the amount of £8 million - Irish pounds - including £1.3 million from one prominent big business man in particular, Ministers who received multiple corrupt payments and a finance Minister who managed not to have a bank account and who did not truthfully account for the origins of money paid to accounts in his name, and multiple corrupt councillors, primarily in Fianna Fáil but also in Fine Gael. Fine Gael is not innocent in all this. I will not mention the name that is never allowed to be mentioned here but I will refer to a major funder of Fine Gael historically, from whom Fine Gael has benefited, receiving significant financial backing from someone who became rich on the back of corrupt payments made to a former Fine Gael Minister. Again, this relationship exists between big business, corrupt payments and an establishment political party. The multiple cases of corruption in respect of councillors also exist in Fine Gael. I will not name their names, but it is interesting that some of the scions of business in Ireland, big respected business men, three in particular, have been involved in relationships of corruption again and again through the decades. This points to corruption being endemic in Irish society, traditionally in the establishment parties, and the question is what should be done about it. We need a society in which the link between money and politics is broken and power is not in the hands of tiny elites. To be concrete, we need the proper funding and resourcing of the Garda, that is, resourcing not only in terms of money, but also in terms of expertise to enable gardaí and, if necessary, the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, to tackle white-collar crime to ensure that corruption and white-collar crime are investigated and prosecutions then brought.

I have looked through the answers over the past number of years, effectively since the publication of the report of the Moriarty tribunal, to questions asked by various Deputies as to whether prosecutions would take place or about Ministers' awareness of prosecutions taking place. The most recent answer I found was from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to Deputy Broughan. The Minister's reply states:

I am advised by the Garda authorities that investigations relating to the findings of the Flood and Mahon Tribunals, as well as the investigation of certain matters arising from the report of the Moriarty Tribunal, are ongoing. I am also advised that recent relevant liaison is maintained by Gardaí with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

A variation on this theme has been the answer for years and years, that is, that the Moriarty tribunal report is sitting gathering dust in the DPP's office. We are aware that they cannot rely on the material directly gathered as a result of that tribunal and then we are told there is some sort of back and forth between the Garda, but there is no clarity. This raises serious questions as to why there is no progress in bringing these matters to fruition and a point of prosecution, and this in turn points to the more general point about ensuring that these things are properly funded.

I wish to raise a question about section 18(2), providing a defence for a corporate body which proves that "it took all reasonable steps and exercised ... due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence" where such an offence of corruption is carried out by a director, manager, secretary or other officer, employee or subsidiary. There is potentially an issue here that corporations should ultimately be able to say, "This definitely was nothing to do with us." I am worried that, as currently drafted, this is a loophole on which corporations could rely to avoid responsibility for someone who they may say is just a rogue official operating on his or her own. If, for example, the company is the one benefiting from the actions of the so-called rogue official, and if the actions and the activity of the so-called rogue official take place partly due to a certain culture that exists in the company, we need a more in-depth discussion about that.

The final point I make concerns the Government and its bringing this corruption legislation through with a straight face. I will not name the Deputy because he is not in the House, but it was very likely, and it seemed pretty obvious, that the previous Taoiseach had a relationship with a certain Deputy who has been found by the Moriarty tribunal to have accepted corrupt payments. With the current Government and the new Taoiseach in place, does such a relationship still exist? We need an answer to this question because the Government's credibility in presenting itself as a fighter of corruption etc. is completely shot by the reality of that relationship. What the recent revelations of the so-called Paradise Papers again point to regarding that relationship and the use of Isle of Man bank accounts for the transfer of money from one prominent business man to the then Minister, now Deputy, is that we need answers from the Government in this respect.

We now move to the Rural Independent Group. There has been an agreement that it has 20 minutes. We will start with Deputy Michael Collins, who is sharing time with-----

I am sharing time with Deputy Jim O'Callaghan.

Our newest recruit.

-----Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, in an arrangement agreed by the House.

I am happy to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Bill is very important as it addresses a variety of anti-corruption measures on a national and international level. This legislation is necessary in eliminating white-collar crime.

Tonight, however, I wish to raise a case with the Minister that I have brought to his attention previously. The case goes back some time and probably needs highlighting again. It is relevant to section 7, "Corruption in relation to office, employment, position or business". The case concerns a constituent of mine in Skibbereen.

The man in question leased a mountaintop site from Coillte, a State agency, in 1990 for the purpose of developing a wireless telecommunications system for west Cork and beyond. This was one of the most valuable sites in the area for mobile telephone communication. However, the arrival of Esat, Digifone, and O2 on surrounding sites resulted in the subject of the lease ending up in the Circuit Court in July 2005, 15 years into a 25-year lease. In a number of court hearings on this issue, it was alleged that no registrar was present to swear in witnesses as is required by law under the Courts of Justice Act 1924. Despite this, my constituent's case was heard and subsequent judgments found against him. The Cork Circuit Court office has since stated a registrar was present but has been unable to provide any names or proof of claimed expenses by that registrar on the day in question. The bottom line is that this man was denied his right of appeal since there was no registrar in court to record the content of the judge's finding on the day. The end result, with no registrar present, is that all Circuit Court appearances are unconstitutional, null and void. This ongoing nightmare has destroyed this man's business ambitions and has added to deterioration of his health due to stress. It has destroyed his family and no one in the Courts Service has done anything to assist him after 20 years of presenting his case to the best of his honest ability. As my colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, has said, justice delayed is justice denied.

I ask the Minister if this Bill can do anything for my constituent. Will this legislation, when implemented, allow his case to be appealed and re-examined as a result of corrupt court proceedings? Are this man and many people like him going to see justice from the white-collar crime he has been a victim of?

I will clarify at the outset that I have not joined the Rural Independent Group. I am just sharing time.

I have an application form.

I am just sharing time with Deputy Collins. I would probably be disqualified from the Rural Independent Group since I come from an urban constituency.

A bit of discrimination is being operated by it.

It is expanding its footprint.

I know. I welcome this legislation and, as Deputy Jack Chambers mentioned earlier, Fianna Fáil will support it. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the delay on the part of the Government in bringing the legislation before the House. I looked at when the heads of the Bill were first published, and it was five and a half years ago, in June 2012. It is disappointing that we have to wait for five and a half years for this legislation to come before this House by way of a Second Stage debate. It is also surprising that it has taken so long because when one looks at this legislation, there is not much to it. It simply updates and revises legislation that existed from 1889, 1906 and 1916. Those were the Acts that dealt with corruption prior to this legislation being introduced and until it is enacted.

Corruption is a subset of white-collar crime. Not every white-collar crime falls under the definition of corruption but corruption is a particular aspect of white-collar crime. Points have been made that the State has been ambivalent about white-collar crime. That is true about the past. However, my view is that has changed in recent years. It was not just a phenomenon in Ireland that there was ambivalence on the part of the State to white-collar crime. It was quite common internationally. It is sometimes said that nothing has been done as a result of the great banking collapse that we had and that bankers never went to jail. That is sometimes a riposte that one hears from individuals who say we are not serious about white-collar crime. However, as we know, that is not correct. When one looks at the prosecutions and convictions of bankers involved in issues concerning the banking collapse some ten years ago, one will see that, to date, eight bankers have been convicted by Irish courts and that six sentences of imprisonment have been imposed on bankers who have been convicted before the courts of serious offences such as conspiracy to defraud.

We can learn from recent experience that, as a State, we take white-collar crime seriously. That also applies to corruption. Just as there have been prosecutions which have been successful, there have also been recent prosecutions which have failed. We need to look at why they have failed. That is why there are deficiencies in the legislation we are discussing this evening. The objective of this House when drafting this legislation should be to try to bring in and enact legislation that would make it easier for the State to prosecute corruption offences while at the same time maintaining the rights an accused individual has when before the court. However, the legislation introduced is deficient in many respects. If one looks at the number of trials that have gone on for white-collar crime, one will note that a big difficulty experienced by prosecutors when it comes to prosecuting white-collar crime is to establish, by way of proof, issues that we would think are relatively straightforward. For example, a document might be written by one person and sent to another and might contain information. An ordinary person might think that it is obvious that the document was sent from the first person to the second and so the first person obviously meant that to happen. That does not happen in a court of law because one has to prove it and prove the content of it. The Minister and Government need to look at the Taxes Consolidation Act because we are far more advanced when it comes to the prosecution of Revenue offences than we are at present with the prosecution of other white-collar crimes such as corruption. In particular, the Minister and Government should look at section 1078B of the Taxes Consolidation Act which deals with those presumptions. Many people listening to this debate may think that is obvious but it is not that simple to prove issues such as this when they come before a court. One issue, to give an example of presumptions that operate with regard to Revenue prosecutions, is section 1078B(3), which states:

Where a document purports to have been created by a person it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is shown, that the document was created by that person and that any statement contained therein, unless the document expressly attributes its making to some other person, was made by that person.

If we could include that by way of a presumption in this legislation, it would make the life of a prosecutor much easier when it comes to prosecuting corruption offences. It has to be noted that prosecution of white-collar crimes is particularly difficult and complicated. That may be part of the reason we have fewer prosecutions for white-collar crime than we have for what may be regarded as more orthodox crimes. For instance, if somebody walks into a bar, grievously assaults a person and walks out of the bar, one would then set up a prosecution of the assailant. There are individuals in the bar who saw it and the victim who presumably saw the perpetrator. That evidence can be given in a prosecution. However, when one has a corruption offence, and documents transferring money, it is more difficult to prove it. An advantage of introducing these presumptions is that if there is something by way of a document saying that one person says to another that he will do something and it is done, then it is a presumption that it happened. At present, a prosecutor has to go through the process of proving that the first person wrote the document. That can sometimes be difficult when the first person is the accused in the case. He has a constitutional entitlement not to give evidence and it can be very difficult to prove it. We need to look at more innovative methods of trying to ensure that we make the life of a prosecutor in these cases considerably easier.

We need to learn lessons from some of the very lengthy prosecutions relating to white-collar crime that took place recently which failed. In the most prominent prosecution which recently failed, if anything, there was not a failure on the part of the prosecutor to take white-collar crime seriously. If there was any fault, the prosecutor was overzealous and overenthusiastic in trying to ensure that there was a conviction. Sometimes, individuals outside this House and even in this House may think that it is the job of a prosecutor to get a conviction. In the United States of America, there are prosecutors who might go in and say they are going to try to get Deputy McGrath convicted, or whoever it is, and look for the top sentences.

They could not hang me.

That does not happen here and in a way I think it is good that it does not happen here. The job of a prosecutor is to accumulate the evidence, put it before a jury and let the jury determine it. We should try to make the job of the prosecutor easier by facilitating prosecutors with greater presumptions in our law. I have asked the Minister to take on board those suggestions. I will also include some in Committee Stage amendments.

I am very happy for people to ridicule the legal profession. It is very healthy in a democracy for them to do so.

We would not do that to you.

There is, however, a considerable skill involved in prosecuting offences, especially white-collar crime. Part of the problem in a recent case that collapsed was that there was not the involvement of specialised prosecutors at a very early stage. The job of an experienced prosecutor is to look at the general facts of a case to find a line of prosecution that is likely to succeed. Part of the problem in prosecutions for corruption and white-collar crime is the complexity of the issues involved. People may say that is just a creation and that it is not that complex. It is. It involves taking a jury through complicated information and keeping it there for very lengthy periods. I am aware that this does not just happen in white-collar crime cases but it is the function of prosecutors to try to ensure they present a case to a jury in a much simpler way. That is the reason it is appropriate for prosecuting authorities such as the Director of Public Prosecutions or investigative authorities such as the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement to avail of the services of people who are experienced in standing up in a court room, addressing a jury and trying to secure or run a prosecution.

There are other matters with the Bill to which I wish to refer. To a large extent, sections 5 and 6 replicate the language used in the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1906 and 1916. Just because they replicate that language does not mean there is anything wrong with it, but I ask the Minister to look again at the reliance placed in the sections on the use of the adverb "corrupting" which is defined in the definitions section in rather a loose way. It states:

“corruptly” includes acting with an improper purpose personally or by influencing another person, whether-

(a) by means of making a false or misleading statement,

(b) by means of withholding, concealing, altering or destroying a document or other information, or

(c) by other means;

I believe the reference to "acting with an improper purpose" is too vague and that the Minister needs to look at it again.

I note that for some reason under section 7, which deals with corruption, the definition of an Irish official does not include a member of a local authority. Considering the evidence and information we have on corruption that has taken place, it would not be advisable to exclude members of a local authority from the definition.

There are a number of sections in the Bill that deal with presumptions. Sections 14 to 16, inclusive, set out three presumptions. We need to have many more in the legislation if we want to make prosecutions more likely and successful.

Section 15(1)(b)(i) refers to a donation to a politician being presumed to be corrupt if it is not within the limit provided for or permitted under legislation. The section refers to a "donation exceeding the limit concerned to the donor in accordance with whichever section of the Act of 1997 or the Act of 1999" applies. I do not believe we can have in legislation words such as "in accordance with whichever section". These are words with which politicians like me can get away in Second Stage debates. We need much greater specificity in identifying specific sections of Acts.

I note that the penalties are a little light. Section 17 sets out the penalty for an offence under section 6 as a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years. A breach of section 18(1) can result in a term of imprisonment that is greater. It brings it up to ten years.

An interesting point was raised by Deputy Ó Laoghaire that needs to be looked at again. There is a provision in the legislation that allows the court to direct or make an order for the forfeiture of any office. The Deputy wondered why, when it came to prohibiting a person from seeking to hold or occupy an office, Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann and other elected officials were excluded. It is my understanding of the legislation, from the way it is drafted, that if an elected Member of these Houses or a member of a local authority is convicted of an offence under it, the court may make an order telling him or her to give up his or her seat. If I was to be convicted of an offence under the Bill, I could be subjected to an order that I forfeit my seat and I would lose it. That is a considerable power and it is not the position in the case of a lot of other legislation. We know that under section 41 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1992 if a Deputy is convicted of an offence which carries a sentence of imprisonment of more than six months, he or she will lose his or her seat. There is an interesting issue if it was ever examined.

The point raised by Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire was related to section 17(4)(c). This provision is different. It states that if a person is convicted of an offence under this legislation, there are certain jobs from which he or she will be precluded from seeking. One of them is working for the State in the Civil Service. It does, however, exclude membership of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. Perhaps the Minister might clarify the position. I presume and suspect the reason is Article 16 of the Constitution which states every citizen over the age of 21 years shall be eligible for membership of Dáil Éireann. I would also be wary and hesitant about imposing such a sanction. I am aware that the Minister is not doing it, but if a person was to be convicted of an offence under corruption legislation, he or she would subsequently be prevented from standing for election to Dáil Éireann. That is a big step and it certainly needs careful consideration, not for the protection of politicians but because the public is entitled to elect an individual to Dáil Éireann. People who have been convicted of offences have been elected to parliaments.

On the sections that contain amendments to other items of legislation, there is a proposal to amend section 42 of the Electoral Act, to which I have already referred, which provides that a person who is convicted under this legislation will thereupon cease to be a Member of Dáil Éireann.

I welcome the legislation and it is important that greater consideration be given to it. We have spent five and a half years getting to this point from the date of publication of the heads of the Bill. If we want to make sure prosecutions for corruption will take place more efficiently and more successfully, we must insert these mechanisms into the legislation. The way to do this is by availing of the presumptions in the Revenue Acts. We could also come forward with further presumptions. We must, however, be conscious all the time that in every criminal trial there is an accused. We can keep bringing forward legislation to make prosecution easier, and in this instance we should, but we should recall that in a criminal case the accused has an entitlement to a fair trial. We need to ensure he or she will have his or her full rights vindicated prior to the outcome of the case.

They are my views and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the time to express them.

Five years ago the final report of the Mahon tribunal into certain planning matters and payments stated:

Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of Government, from some holders of top ministerial office to some local councillors and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated. Although that corruption was occasionally the subject of investigation or adverse comment, those involved operated with a justified sense of impunity and invincibility. There was little appetite on the part of the State’s political or investigative authorities to combat this effectively or to sanction those involved.

While Mr. Justice Mahon was speaking in the past tense, one has to ask whether much has changed in the meantime. Fundamentally, not a lot has changed in the culture around the nexus between politics and business. Too often, a blind eye is turned to inappropriate behaviour and corruption. One must also ask why, more than five years after the final Mahon report, we are only just starting to look at implementing its recommendations. Clearly, the answer is that Fine Gael does not have the political will to tackle corruption in a meaningful way.

While the measures in the Bill are a step in the right direction, its content is hardly revolutionary. The delays in its publication have resulted in a situation in which its recommendations are really just a product of their time, which was five years ago. While this is the Bill we needed five years ago, the debate has moved far beyond this sort of piecemeal approach to tackling corruption in the intervening years. We really need to get with the times. While the heads of the Bill were still at the drafting stage, many other jurisdictions were adopting a far more proactive approach to corruption. They established dedicated anti-corruption agencies, which Transparency International has described as key to the fight against corruption. There is clear evidence that they represent international best practice, which fact was recognised in the United Nations Convention against Corruption, of which Ireland is a signatory. Nevertheless, there has been no move by Government to set up a dedicated agency to tackle corruption by way of investigations and prosecutions. This is the kind of approach we need.

We need a root-and-branch reform of our anti-corruption regime. What we need is something similar to the approach undertaken in Victoria, Australia. In 2012, the state of Victoria amalgamated several existing agencies to establish a dedicated anti-corruption body. The Victoria agency is a proactive body which covers 3,600 public sector bodies, 79 local councils, members of parliament, the judiciary and the police force. It is a prime example of the interagency approach we should and easily could adopt. Crucially, the Victoria model includes the extensive powers many of our agencies lack. For example, it can conduct search and seizure operations, compel interviews and exercise powers of prosecution in certain circumstances.

The Bill before the House represents a small step forward. As a country, however, we are far beyond the point where small steps are enough. Earlier in the year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, seemed to recognise this when he made the need for an anti-corruption agency an essential part of his campaign for the leadership of Fine Gael. While the agency he envisaged was far more limited than the one my party, the Social Democrats, has proposed, it was at least a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, we have heard nothing about that proposal since the Fine Gael leadership election. Instead, we have a five year old Bill being dressed up as new and slotted into a suite of previously announced measures. It is a cynical and transparent effort to make the Government look busy on this matter and an attempt to create the appearance of action.

The truth is that Ireland does not have an effective way of preventing, detecting or prosecuting corruption. Our laws on corruption are scattered across several enactments, with responsibility for detecting it spread across a baffling number of different agencies. As a result, it is very rare to see successful prosecutions of corrupt practices in business or public life. Deputy O'Callaghan mentioned a number, but they represent only a handful of prosecutions in the context of the problems we have across our corporate world and the unhealthy relationship between politics and the business world. Even after tribunals of inquiry have spent millions of euro on investigations and even after they have made adverse findings against particular individuals, this is still the case. Rarely does anybody end up behind bars.

Fundamentally, we have no effective enforcement regime in this country. We may continue to see all sorts of new laws added to our Statute Book, but there will be very few consequences for those involved in corrupt behaviour in the absence of a dedicated law enforcement agency to tackle corruption. Enforcement is the key. Unless there are consequences for those involved in corrupt behaviour, it will continue. This is not good enough. Those responsible for corruption must be held to account and be seen to be held to account. If we never see people being held accountable for their actions, how can the public be expected to trust our institutions? This lack of accountability seriously undermines the authority of our public bodies and tarnishes our reputation at home and abroad. It is extremely dispiriting for people who try to operate within the law. Without accountability there is only impunity. As a result, it is not surprising that we see such low levels of public confidence in our institutions. The special Eurobarometer report on corruption for 2013 found that public confidence in our justice system was just 7%, which is 20% below the EU average. While our public institutions cannot function without public faith, how can we, as Members of Parliament, expect the public to have faith in institutions which have proved to be so ineffective?

A particularly welcome aspect of the Bill is that it will give the courts the power to remove from office those convicted of a corruption offence. As I am sure others Members do, I often find it hard to stomach the fact that we are serving in the same Parliament as someone who has been found to have received corrupt payments yet suffered no consequences for those actions. This goes to the root of the problem that notwithstanding what inquiries or tribunals one holds, corruption will continue if persons who have been found to have engaged in corrupt behaviour do not have to pay a price for it. Beyond that particular failure of accountability is a wider issue. Successive Governments have taken a laissez-faire approach to corruption. If there was a real drive to tackle the problems we face, we would have seen action before now. Given the length of time Fine Gael Governments have had to process and examine the Mahon report, why are we still seeing such a fragmented approach to its recommendations? The only explanation is that the political will does not exist in Fine Gael to tackle corruption in any serious way.

It is curious that the Bill was rushed out after the Government's anti-corruption announcement, yet the Public Sector Standards Bill languishes in committee. Why are we introducing a Bill on corruption in public office that leaves the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, without the investigative and enforcement powers it needs to be truly effective? That is not to say SIPO does not do excellent work, but it is limited to monitoring political finance. There is no doubt that its remit could go far further and that its powers of investigation and enforcement are simply not sufficient.

In 2011, there were 22 valid complaints made to SIPO, but between 1995 and 2012, there were only 11 investigations concluded under the ethics Acts. That organisation has repeatedly called for more powers and measures such as undertaking investigations on its own initiative, the power to conduct hearings or make decisions with greater efficiency. Those requests, unfortunately, have fallen on deaf ears. Furthermore, the Mahon tribunal recommended the regulation of political donations at local level should be undertaken by an independent body such as SIPO. I note the Government's most recent position is that this recommendation will be considered in the context of establishing an independent electoral commission. While an independent electoral commission is long overdue, why wait for this before regulating local election funding? There is already an existing body specifically tasked with managing political donations. The transfer of this responsibility to an empowered SIPO could easily be included in this legislation. It is a perfect opportunity, but regrettably it seems the Government is not taking that opportunity.

It is not enough to think about corruption solely in terms of how it should be punished once an act has taken place or after the event. We need to be much more proactive. We need to reduce the opportunities for corrupt practices in the first instance. We need to put accountability at the centre of public life. An independent anti-corruption agency as proposed by the Social Democrats would act as a powerful deterrent to corruption. This is what is urgently needed.

Earlier this year the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index highlighted several deficiencies in how our public service operates. We scored particularly poorly in terms of regulation and openness. The best way to deal with corrupt practices is to identify potential corruption and act before we are forced to deal with its consequences. Simply put, transparency in public office can be our greatest protection against corruption. This is why I believe we need to repeal the Official Secrets Act and the Ministers and Secretaries Act. We must make Ministers and senior civil servants responsible for their actions and accountable for their decisions. Currently those Acts, particularly the Ministers and Secretaries Act, provide a legal protection and cover for the political advice that is provided to Ministers. That is not acceptable. We should have a right to know whether advice given to a Minister was good or not and to know whether the Minister has accepted that advice and therefore who is responsible when things go wrong.

There would be nothing fundamentally wrong with this legislation, if it was part of a strategic suite of anti-corruption measures. Strategy was, however, completely absent from the ad hoc hodgepodge of old news the Government tried to pass off as a plan. We need these new corruption offences, but we need so much more. It is not good enough to divide corruption into artificial categories and build walls around them. We have seen time and again when corruption is uncovered in public office it is never confined to public officials. White-collar crime and corruption in public office go hand in hand. There are always business or other outside interests involved. This is why it is so disappointing that we are discussing these measures in isolation. I have already explained why I believe the Government needs to show far greater joined-up thinking in how it approaches this issue. However, it is clear from the measures announced earlier this month that there are few new ideas coming from Government. These are reheated measures.

Earlier this year the trial of Seán FitzPatrick collapsed spectacularly as a result of the shambolic handling of the case by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, the agency which is supposed to be the corporate watchdog. The litany of the failings of the ODCE needs thorough investigation and those responsible for the failings must be held accountable. The Minister requested a report on the affair from the ODCE. This was presented to the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fizgerald, on 23 June 2017 and almost five months later this report has yet to see the light of day. When I asked the Minister about this in the past week, there was yet another excuse for the delay in publishing it. In light of the extraordinary, and for the public, the infuriating, failings of the ODCE, surely the priority should have been to get to the bottom of the dysfunction within the ODCE. Instead, Government has come up with a plan to increase the powers and resources of a rebranded ODCE. There is no accountability. This proposal falls very far short of what is required and there is no sense of urgency on the part of Government. The proposal is for the ODCE to be rejigged in mid-2019. Eighteen years after a deficient ODCE was established, an agency which has a very poor enforcement record and where the calamitous mistakes of the handling of the FitzPatrick case were known since 2015, the Minister is saying he will do something in mid-2019. Is it any wonder that the public is so disillusioned with the Government and the agencies of State?

As I said, there are measures to be welcomed in this Bill, but they are a fraction of what we need. As it stands the powers to investigate and prosecute corruption are unevenly spread out among a vast array of public bodies, 13 in total. When corruption is identified the response is generally to set up a tribunal or a commission of investigation. Several million euro later and several years later we usually end up with a report that tells us what happened but does not result in anybody being brought to book. Tackling corruption in public office is a positive step but it is not enough if we do not have a dedicated agency with the power to investigate and prosecute that corruption. We know from bitter experience of tribunals where reports have come out recommending action to be taken that Government has ignored those recommendations and indeed when the report goes to the Garda Síochána or the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, we simply do not get the action that is required. I strongly believe that unless we address the failings in our investigative and enforcement model, the measures in this Bill will never lead to the punishment of wrongdoing. Equally, there should be an effective system in place to investigate and prosecute white-collar crime and corruption in the corporate world. All of these things are connected and should be addressed comprehensively by Government. That is where our focus needs to be and it is precisely the area this Government does not have the courage to address.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions, all of which I regard as valuable in the context of this debate. It is an important Bill. I acknowledge the broad support in the House for the provisions contained therein. I welcome what I see as a shared determination to bring forward robust legislation in this area. Nobody wants to see any corrupt activities go unpunished. As such we need to ensure that our laws are effective in tackling corrupt acts and practices. Corruption is not just a national problem. It is not just an Irish issue. It is a universal problem. The EU anti-corruption report estimates that it amounts to 5% of global gross domestic product, GDP, which represents an enormous drain on economies and nation states. This is not to suggest that corruption presents a large problem in this country.

In the latest Transparency International corruption perceptions index, Ireland was deemed to be 19th least corrupt country in the world. While this is a positive outcome, of course there is no question of anybody ever becoming complacent on this matter.

Dealing with the Bill as published, as Deputies appreciate the Bill does not just provide for new offences and harsher penalties. As I stated earlier, it represents a modernisation of the law on corruption by providing for a single accessible corruption statute. Ireland has been the subject of some criticism internationally over the years for having out-of-date statutes in this area and for the use oftentimes of terminology that might have given rise to certain confusion. I believe the Bill will address these concerns. It will enable Ireland to fulfil a number of our international obligations under the various anti-corruption conventions in a clear and transparent way.

I will briefly inform the House of my intention to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage. These amendments are to give effect to outstanding recommendations of the OECD from its phase 3 evaluation of Ireland and recommendation 1a and 6a relating to the consolidation of Irish corruption offences and amending the dual criminality exception for the money laundering offence in the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010. My officials are working with the Office of the Attorney General regarding the proposed amendments, and it is my intention to make progress on them on Committee Stage.

Deputies Mattie McGrath, Shortall and others mentioned the delay in bringing the Bill to the House, and there has been some commentary in the media on what was perceived to be a delay in the matter of this important legislation. I point out this has been a top priority for me as Minister for Justice and Equality since I entered office in the summer of this year. I know it has taken longer than expected, but the Bill deals with a highly technical and complex issue encompassing a wide body of law already on the Statute Book and issues of a constitutional nature. I hope the time invested in getting the detail right will save us some time in the course of the parliamentary process.

Some Deputies in the course of the debate mentioned issues relating to the banking sector. While I appreciate this input, the Bill is not the appropriate forum for regulation of the entire banking sector. The main corruption offences in the Bill will cover those who are employed in the financial sector, as will the corporate liability offence in section 18.

I appreciate Deputy Ó Laoghaire's contribution, and he and other Sinn Féin Deputies referred to the fact there does not appear to be provision in the Bill for a court to prohibit anybody from seeking to be elected to the Dáil, the Seanad, the European Parliament or a local authority following conviction for a corruption offence. There were, of course, some constitutional issues raised regarding the prohibition of a person seeking to be elected to Dáil Éireann, and some clarity was provided in this area by Deputy O'Callaghan in the course of his contribution. He is right that any conviction would be a matter of public record and voters would be aware of the fact that a candidate had such a conviction. Of course, ultimately, under the Constitution, as was pointed out by Deputy O'Callaghan, the citizens of the State and those entitled to vote in our elections, having regard to the circumstances of each individual, as they always do, would exercise their democratic right accordingly. I believe this is as it should be.

Deputy Jack Chambers said we needed to see further Mahon tribunal recommendations brought forward. In this regard, the recommendations made by the Mahon tribunal related to legislative and other reforms in a number of areas, some of which are the responsibility of other Departments. There are some which I do not believe it would be appropriate to include in this legislation. The corruption offences Bill before us gives effect to six of the recommendations made by the Mahon tribunal. Other outstanding recommendations will soon be addressed in the forthcoming criminal justice (money laundering and terrorist financing) (amendment) Bill and the European Union freezing and confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds of crime regulations of 2017.

As was noted by Deputy Cullinane on the matter of reasonable steps to be taken by a body corporate, should a body corporate face proceedings for the corporate liability offence under section 18, it shall be a defence for it to prove it took reasonable steps and exercised due diligence to avoid commission of the offence. It will be important that companies have adequate systems in place to deal with corruption at all levels of the organisation. Ultimately, these issues will be decided in the course of a trial by the court, especially whether a body corporate did, in fact, take all reasonable steps regarding whether the company or corporate entity exercised an appropriate level of due diligence to avoid the commission of a corruption offence. It is worth noting that in the UK a similar strict liability offence was incorporated in legislation, but the accompanying guidelines as to what are reasonable steps ran to something in the region of 100 pages. We had a look at that in the context of this legislation. We were advised against following a similar course of action and introducing a similar schedule of guidelines. I believe that on balance this is best left to the court, although I am sure it is an issue we will come back to in the context of Committee Stage of the Bill and we will have an opportunity to engage in this regard.

Deputy Chambers mentioned that a joined-up Government approach is needed. As I mentioned earlier, the Bill forms part of a larger range of measures aimed at tackling economic and regulatory crime. These measures will collectively increase transparency and strengthen our response to white-collar crime in the country. We are committed to a number of measures, including the publication and enactment of a criminal procedure Bill that will reduce delays in criminal trials, particularly those involving complex issues, by providing for pretrial hearings on certain legal issues to take place before the jury is empanelled. The Bill will also make provision for the electronic transfer of warrants and the greater use of video link hearings. Both measures will make use of available technology, which will have the effect of cutting down on delays that are regarded as unnecessary.

We will carry out our comprehensive review of anti-corruption and anti-fraud structures and how they are working together to combat white-collar crime effectively. This will involve all State bodies with a role in the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of fraudulent and corrupt activities. As part of this Garda-led joint agency task force, this will be piloted to examine specific areas of white-collar crime in more detail. It will involve the Central Bank and the Garda Síochána, and various other industry representative bodies will feed into the overall review of anti-corruption procedures and structures.

I assure Deputy O'Callaghan, who made mention of local authority members, that they are covered under the definition of Irish officials. They can also be regarded as included in paragraph (j) of the definition of an Irish official as an officer, director, employee or member of an Irish public body. As Deputies will note, they are excluded from the operation of section 17(4)(c), which is the prohibition to seek office, for the reasons I have mentioned earlier in the context of Members of these Houses.

Deputy Paul Murphy referred to section 18 regarding a strict liability corporate offence, which is designed to prevent acts of corruption. The defence that a company has conducted due diligence and taken all reasonable steps is designed to get companies to behave in a manner that can be regarded as proper. There will be obligations on companies and requirements to put in place systems and introduce training in the workplace, but it will be for the court ultimately to decide whether the company acted sufficiently to rebut the presumption.

I acknowledge what Deputy Shortall has said.

I know her party has long supported the establishment of a stand-alone anti-corruption agency that would assume the functions of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Registrar of Lobbyists and the Competition and Consumer Protection Authority and would accordingly be granted wide powers, including powers of investigation and prosecution. I am not convinced the establishment of such an agency represents the best way forward at this stage. It is not clear how a new agency would enhance capacity in this area. I believe we should reflect on the good interagency co-operation we have in this area, particularly the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

I remind Deputy Shortall that as part of a package of measures aimed at addressing white-collar crime, the Department of Justice and Equality has agreed to conduct a review of the effectiveness of those State bodies that have a role in the prevention, detection and investigation of crime and the prosecution of fraud and corruption. The question of whether we need an agency of the type proposed will be considered in the context of the Department's review. In any event, the Bill before the House is still needed. It updates the corruption offences and penalties on our Statute Book.

Deputy Shortall also referred to the Public Sector Standards Bill 2015. I can inform her that the Committee Stage debate on the Bill is unlikely to take place until the spring of next year. As Deputies will be aware, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is prioritising the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation. That work is likely to consume much of the Department's parliamentary time over the coming weeks. I would be happy to convey the Deputy's concern to the Minister.

I acknowledge the contributions of Deputies during this evening's discussion. I look forward to the House debating this Bill on Committee Stage. In the meantime, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.