Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 13 to 27, inclusive, 31 to 37, inclusive, 39 to 45, inclusive, 49 to 53, inclusive, and 56 and 75 to 83, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together. There is a lot of repetition, I think.
Electoral Reform Bill 2022: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 11, line 5, to delete “the Electoral Commission” and substitute “An Coimisiún Toghcháin”.
These amendments relate to the Irish language and to the commission itself. I thank the committee members for their suggestions and contributions on Committee Stage. I have reflected on the views expressed in tabling these amendments, which are centred on two themes.
First, amendments Nos. 1 and 8 relate to the title of the commission. I have tabled those amendments to provide that the commission's title, An Coimisiún Toghcháin, is legislated for in the Irish language only. A number of consequential amendments, 23 in total, flow from that change. References to the Electoral Commission will be replaced with references to An Coimisiún Toghcháin throughout the Bill. Guided by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, the approach that has been taken is to update references to the Electoral Commission where such references relate to the commission's legislative definition and also where references to the Electoral Commission are to be placed in other legislation.
The second set of amendments I have tabled under this grouping relate to the commission's use of the Irish and English languages in its communications. Again, this is guided by the debate on Committee Stage. I have tabled a range of amendments to require that the commission publishes key documents and reports bilingually. These include the commission's strategy statement; statements explaining the subject matters of referendums and referendum notices; public notices and reviews carried out in respect of both national electoral constituencies and local electoral areas; and public notices, public information and reports on the regulation of online political advertising.
I hope Members will welcome and support these amendments.
Ba mhaith liom i dtús báire mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire sinsearach as an éisteacht a thug sé dúinn. Chuir sé leasuithe síos a thug roinnt de na moltaí a bhí againn ar Chéim an Choiste ar bord, agus tá siad le feiceáil anois ar an gCéim seo. I welcome the amendments from the Minister. He said he would look at the Bill, he did so and we see the product of that in the amendments that he has tabled. That is to be welcomed. The issue around the 20% of recruitment and of the 20% of the board will obviously be dealt with when the board of the coimisiún is appointed.
Some of the amendments have come from Conradh na Gaeilge and some have come on the suggestion of the senior Minister. It is interesting that some of those amendments are the ones that have not been accepted. Given where we are with the Official Languages (Amendment) Act, which has not been commenced at this stage, it is good that the Minister took these amendments on board to address the lacuna, or whatever one may call it, that we are in at the moment by giving effect to the Government's intent that any future commission would have the effect as set down in the Official Languages (Amendment) Act. I hope other Ministers will take heed of this in other Bills that will be before the House on Report Stage next week, one of which was supposed to be before us today. Like others, I am not trying to have an argument but to ensure all of this is given proper effect in advance of the commencement of Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021.
I am happy enough to withdraw the amendments in my name on the basis and the understanding that the Irish language will not be sidelined at any stage in the future, as the Minister reflected on Committee Stage. That is now reflected in the Minister’s amendments. They do not go as far as I would have liked but the situation is a great deal better now. When the members of an coimisiún are being appointed, we must ensure this issue is to the forefront. It must be understood that their ability to speak Irish, or have an understanding of the Irish language, is an aid. This would be a welcome criterion for such members, if possible, in the future. This is something that has not been to the fore in the past.
Amendments Nos. 2, 5, 6 and 101, in the name of the Minister, are related and will be discussed together. Recommittal is necessary in respect of amendment No. 2 and the other related amendments as they relate to an instruction to committee motion.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 12, line 1, to delete “accounts;” and substitute “accounts; to provide for the holding of fundraising lotteries by political parties;”.
In my concluding remarks on the Committee Stage, I signalled that consideration would be given to bringing forward an amendment to the Bill on Report Stage to allow political parties to apply for a lottery licence in support of their fundraising activities. The insertion of a new section 172 into the Bill, the consequential amendments to the Bill’s Long Title and the amendments to sections 2 and 5 of the Bill are intended to address this issue.
At the outset I would like to clarify that this amendment is intended to provide that registered political parties may apply to the District Court for a licence to run periodical lotteries to support their fundraising activities and may do so under the provisions of this Bill when enacted as an alternative to applying under section 28 of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 2019. For the avoidance of doubt, these provisions do not specifically propose to introduce a new source or sources of funding for political parties but are intended to provide that any lotteries previously operated by political parties, whether referred to as draws, raffles, sweepstakes or otherwise, can continue to be run, subject to the requirements of the new Part 8.
This amendment is largely modelled on section 28 of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 2019. It is intended to be broadly consistent with the approach set out in the Act insofar as it relates to the operation of licensed lotteries specifically by registered political parties rather than by organisations solely with a charitable or philanthropic purpose. Under the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, a lottery is very broadly defined to include all competitions, for money or money’s worth, involving guesses or estimates of future events or past events, the results of which are not yet ascertained or generally known. Deputies may wish to note that this definition is clarified in an information leaflet issued by the Department of Justice, "Applying for a Lottery Licence", which advises that the types of lotteries licence under the Acts include raffles, draws, sweepstakes and bingo events.
I would like to clarify that paragraph 7 of the definition of "donation" is provided for in section 22(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 1997, which provides that the net value of a contribution made by a person in connection with an event organised for the purpose of raising funds for a political party falls within the meaning of a political donation. In practical terms, this means that the donations regime and the threshold set out therein applies to fundraising events organised by political parties. Further, the Standards in Public Office Commission has published guidelines for political parties on the steps to be taken concerning donations and prohibited donations. These guidelines are set out in the context of fundraising events and how the net value of contributions is calculated for the purposes of the donations regime.
I must say that these amendments are deeply disappointing. This is legislation of great importance, as we made clear on Second and Committee Stages. There was a very collegial nature in the committee's dealing with this Bill, with strong cross-party consensus to ensure the legislation on the modernisation of our electoral system and our electoral register, and the creation of an electoral commission, was something we all wanted to do. We have collectively produced a very good Bill.
The amendments the Minister brought forward on Committee Stage with regard to party financing were directly related to the electoral reform legislation because they were about ensuring the integrity of our electoral system was not in any way undermined or jeopardised by party financing. This amendment has nothing to do with any of that. I am genuinely surprised that the Green Party is allowing this set of amendments to be inserted at this point.
The purpose of these amendments is very clear. They will allow Fianna Fáil to do something that it did once last year and got away with, and tried to do a second time but did not get away with because it was in breach of the law. We know very clearly that Fianna Fáil sought to apply to the High Court for a lottery licence on charitable donation grounds. A legal objection was raised and a legal threat was issued, and that lottery was cancelled and the money was refunded. This set of amendments is attempting to retrospectively legalise something that is currently not permissible. It runs completely contrary to the spirit of all of our discussions with respect to this Bill but also to the content of the Bill itself.
I have said to the Minister of State on many occasions that I have an enormous amount of respect for him. We have worked very well on a range of issues. It seems that when the Minister of State's line Minister is doing something that is politically controversial or unpopular, or when there are Private Members' Bills from our party, from the Social Democrats or from the Labour Party that are unpopular for the Government and to which it is opposed, unfortunately the Minister of State is sent in to defend the Bill. I am sure Deputy McAuliffe will defend the line Minister's honour.
This measure is unacceptable. It is not what the Bill is for. It is unacceptable that this has been brought in by way of a motion for non-consequential amendments without debate, where we will only have a limited time for discussion. My colleagues and other Deputies will have other questions, but I ask the Minister of State to tell the House who asked for this. It was not discussed or debated at any of the multiple sessions of pre-legislative scrutiny we held. Who requested this? Why is this here? What has this got to do with modernising electoral reform? I cannot see on the face of everything in front of us that this has anything to do with anything other than allowing Fianna Fáil to do things which it tried to do illegally last year, but did not get away with. It is now trying to change the law to suit itself in order to get away with it into the future. That is entirely unacceptable.
It is extremely disappointing that the amendments have been brought in on Report Stage that were not part of the Bill or the process before. They were not sought during pre-legislative scrutiny by any of the organisations or groups consulted. There were a lot of different requests, very legitimate ones, to improve and strengthen the Bill. Many have not been accepted, unfortunately. I put down amendments that would have strengthened our democracy yet somehow, at the very end of the process, these amendments were tabled to introduce a new form of fundraising for political parties without any proper prior debate or scrutiny.
The Minister of State said that this would not introduce a new form of fundraising for political parties. However, he then said that it would allow political parties to apply for a licence to operate a weekly lottery. I am not aware of any political parties that are operating a weekly lottery or which have ever done fundraising of that nature at a national level. These amendments will specifically allow for this new form of fundraising by political parties. Will the Minister of State clarify why he and the Minister both feel that this is not a new form of fundraising yet the Minister of State has given further explanation and detail which very much suggests that it is? I am not aware of any parties doing it and there is no legal basis for it.
I also seek clarity on the definition of lotteries as there are contradictions in what the Minister of State said. He said that a definition of the lottery includes draws, raffles and so on. He also gave a very specific definition of the lottery which is that it relates to any guessing of a future event where the outcome is not known. A draw or raffle, if it is not around guessing numbers of predicting outcomes at sporting events or other unknowns in the future, does not fit that definition. In the briefing provided earlier in the week no clarity was provided on that point. Will the Minister of State give clarity on that? How is a draw or raffle that is not about predicting a future event, in terms of numbers etc., in the definition? Is it considered to be in the definition on the basis that one does not know who will be pulled from the draw? Is that the future event? Is that what he is relying on? Why does he take the view that this is not a new form of fundraising for political parties? Will he explain this in detail and give some examples of legislation up tp now that has allowed political parties to run lotteries? Will he give some examples where political parties are specifically mentioned?
I am very surprised at the Minister of State being sucked into this stroke and I am shocked at his statement because this is a new avenue of funding for political parties and he should acknowledge that. Lottery permits are allowed. Indeed, individuals and businesses can apply for lottery permits but the key difference is that to get a lottery permit you do not go to court. You get it through the Garda. The maximum value of a ticket is €10 and the maximum prize fund is €5,000. This is where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, but Fianna Fáil in particular, were snookered because they sell their tickets for €75 and €80. The Minister of State should acknowledge that the Government's amendment to allow a political party to apply to the District Court for a lottery licence is a new avenue because that is exclusively held for charitable bodies and philanthropic bodies. He knows that, we know that; that is what the law says. He is changing the law to allow for political parties to be able to apply to the courts. That brings us to the unlawful fundraising that Fianna Fáil was involved in last year, raising over €0.5 million that will be spent on influencing the electoral process. As Minister of State with responsibility for the matter, I ask him to comment. Fianna Fáil applied to the court on two occasions, once in April and then September. They received a lottery licence on both occasions from the court. They applied to the District Court. Fianna Fáil knows well because in 1980 it was brought to the High Court by the Garda when the Garda objected saying that it was neither a charity nor a philanthropic body. It went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court judgment of Gurhy v. Goff made it clear that Fianna Fáil is neither a philanthropic body nor a charity. For Fianna Fáil to fill in an application before the courts – and I have a sample of the application form - and state that the proceeds will go to Fianna Fáil, that is, a charitable body, is the very definition of misleading the court and is indeed a crime.
Thankfully, a citizen last year took a case against Fianna Fáil. As a result of their writing to Fianna Fáil and putting it on notice it did the right thing - it refunded all the money that had been raised until that point and cancelled the lottery so the September licence had no impact. However, what happened about the licence of April-May and the €500,000-plus that was raised in relation to that licence? We know that a lottery licence for a political party is unlawful. How do we know that? We know it because the Minister of State is bringing forward amendment No. 101 to make it lawful in the future. It was unlawful previously. We also know that the form states two things. One is that at least 25% of all proceeds shall be retained to the holder and not less shall than 25% shall be allocated to charitable or philanthropic purposes. That is a requirement on the dodgy licence that Fianna Fáil got at the time. To our knowledge it has not paid a penny to a charity which again is in breach of the law. If this was Sinn Féin which had raised €500,000 through a licence that went to the court, having been taken to the courts during the 1980s by An Garda Síochána to say that it was neither a charity nor a philanthropic body so it could not get the licence and then it did it again, there would be “Prime Time” specials about it. That is the reality.
The Minister of State has responsibility for political spending and all the rest. I am asking him to make a statement on this because it is a very serious charge. The only reason that this measure is before this House today, let us be clear, is because Fianna Fáil got caught out when it tried to do it a second time. It broke the law; it raised €500,000 through an unlawful mechanism and it will use that money for political discourse in elections and whatnot. This is a stroke. It has not come out of campaigning and all the rest. It cannot raise money at the level that it wants to. It cannot sell €75 tickets. It cannot have prize funds of more than €5,000. Therefore the Minister of State has a responsibility to acknowledge that this is a new source of funding for political parties. For lottery permits, we can apply to the Garda but there are limits - €10 is the maximum we can charge for a ticket and €5,000 is the maximum weekly prize. Political parties cannot go near lottery licences. There is a very serious issue that the Taoiseach dodged yesterday but he will not get away with this. Huge amounts of money were raised by a political party in this State unlawfully. Now the Minister of State is coming forward to do the dirty work to make it lawful in the future for them to have their national draws. The Minister of State should be asking questions. If he wants to bring forward legislation with proper scrutiny then that is not a problem. Let us scrutinise it. However, he also has a responsibility to ask why he is being used in this way. Why is he being asked to clean up the mess of Fianna Fáil? Furthermore, as Minister of State with responsibility for this, can he tell us what happened to the €500,000 that was supposed to go to charitable causes? Has Fianna Fáil provided that to charitable causes? Has it handed it over? The reason it cancelled and refunded all of its national draw events for Christmas was that if it had gone to the court, the licence would have been rescinded. It knew that it was caught hook, line and sinker. It was breaking the law; it was caught. The problem is that the April licence had too long of a timeframe before the citizen was aware of the issue. That should not absolve the Taoiseach, the party in government, the Green Party which shares Government with it and the Minister of State having responsibility in this issue from dealing with this matter.
As I said, if the shoe was on the other foot, many column inches would be written about this and many questions would rightly be asked of ourselves and others, but we hear a deafening silence from the Green Party and the Minister of State on this.
This is not some kind of a performative routine from Opposition parties that have decided that we do not like this and we will ritually condemn it because it happens to be an amendment from a Government party and that is what we do. I am genuinely horrified that a measure such as this has been proposed at the last minute, without having been properly signalled to the Dáil, and without it having had the opportunity to properly interrogate and ventilate all of the issues that arose here over the past few weeks.
I will give a potted history of this. We had Second Stage a number of months ago, when there was no reference whatsoever to this proposition. We had Committee Stage in the Select Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage just two short weeks ago. We all spent an extensive period of time in the committee rooms debating what is very necessary legislation that will improve our democracy and help run our elections independently of Government - a demand we have all had over the past 25 to 30 years.
We learned at the weekend, because of a press statement from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, that the Cabinet agreed to sign off on this measure on 24 May. We had an explanation of sorts from the Department that it took a little while to draft the amendment and that is why it did not appear before us on Committee Stage. It is not a complicated amendment but it is a controversial one. It is controversial for all of the right reasons, for anybody who believes in transparency or political reform.
Our track record shows that the Labour Party believes in transparency and political reform as do I. We took big money out of politics in 2015. There is no demand for this. It is a retrograde, backward step and it could potentially herald the return of big money into politics through the back door. We know about the toxic, corrupting, poisonous influence that big money has had on politics and on faith and trust in democracy in this country going back many years. That is why the reforms restricting corporate donations were introduced back in 2015.
I see the problems associated with this. How will we be sure beyond all doubt that moneys raised through these kinds of lotteries are coming through the system legitimately? An organisation could have every capability to exceed the corporate donation limits by signing off on a number of tickets under different names in order to make a contribution to a political party and thereby circumvent the very transparent and rigid rules that are in place at present and have served our democracy well.
The Taoiseach referred yesterday, in response a point I raised on the Order of Business on this very issue, to my party, the Labour Party, having benefitted from democratic resources from our sisters and brothers in the trade union movement since our foundation. The party was founded by the trade union movement. We were legitimately receiving support through SIPTU and other trade unions, but we decided that if serious corporate donations were to be eliminated in this country, we would have to stand up and say that included support from trade unions as well. We took that hit and we did that for the benefit of transparency and political reform.
The truth is that the only demand here was because the Fianna Fáil Party was rumbled in its efforts to operate a lottery, through a licence that it obtained through the court system in recent times. I believe Fianna Fáil feared that the last decision would be judicially reviewed and it would have a series of other problems on that front. This amendment is designed to get one particular political party off the hook and allow it to compete in what I would describe as a financial arms race with other parties that it describes as wealthier than it.
Rather than doing that, we should ensure that we continue to have a level playing pitch apply to all political parties in this country. This measure is a bad day for transparency and political reform in this democracy. It is disappointing that it is coming before us. One of the most interesting emails I received on this issue over the past few days was from a high-profile NGO. I know Deputies Ó Broin and O'Callaghan have received it and perhaps other members of the Select Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage have also received it. It relates to our collective and individual efforts over the past few years to try to ensure that the funding laws for NGOs that are caught up, inadvertently, in the legislation that we have in place are amended in order to allow them to play the full role and participate in this democratic society in the way that they should. There have been soundings from the Department and indications from the Minister that they acknowledge that this is a problem and that it could be resolved. However, it has not been resolved and no efforts have been made to reach out to me, Deputy Ó Broin or Deputy O'Callaghan, who have proposed amendments to fix this long-running sore in our democracy. No efforts have been made to do that. This has not been prioritised.
As that email said, it is very telling what this Government's priority is. This is an eleventh hour, last-minute amendment, which was not properly signalled to us. It is about enabling political parties to have a new way of raising money, while the long-standing issue of the treatment of donations to NGOs remains unresolved. That is revealing about the priorities of this Government and it saddens me to have to say so. We will vehemently oppose this measure. It is bad for democracy, for the financing of political parties and for openness.
The worst aspect of what is going on here this evening is the sleight of hand way in which it is happening. That is probably the worst of all. I have no problem with any party or persons who want to bring a proposal before the House or Oireachtas committees, if they do so in a timely fashion and give everyone a chance to engage, debate, thrash it out, come to a consensus and have a vote if necessary. However, to rush something such as this sends out all the wrong messages, not just in the Houses of the Oireachtas, but around the country. It looks bad and that is why I am opposed to it.
If the Government had given a proper chance and opportunity for it to be debated in full, maybe a consensus could have been reached in some way. When it comes to the issue of fundraising, Independents and smaller parties realise that we are up against the might of the bigger parties and their wherewithal and army chests at all time. All we can rely on, when it comes to elections, is the goodwill of people who are willing roll up their sleeves and go out to canvas. Being an Independent is not easy when it comes to elections.
Having said all that, that is my concern. I do not, for one moment, mean to personally criticise the Minister of State when I criticise the amendment because everybody knows he is an inherently decent man. I acknowledge that. When I am critical of what he is proposing, I am not critical of the Minister of State. I am sure he knows and appreciates that. It is not so much what the Government is doing, but the way it is trying to rush it through. That is the difficulty I have.
I am trying to think of the word to sum up what has happened over the past few minutes. The word "performative", used by Deputy Nash is exactly it. We have had every slur one could possibly put in a contribution, such as stroke and backhanded, and attempts to talk about illegal donations. Hyperbole has been used in the Chamber. Let me speak to the amendment.
The amendment allows political parties to hold raffles and draws to raise funds. That is what it does. There are different ways. Deputy Ó Broin said that I might defend the Minister's honour. I am not defending his honour. I am defending the ability for us to have an open and transparent political system in which citizens can engage.
There are different ways one might fund political parties. As Deputy Nash said, having special sectoral interests do that is accepted as wrong.
We know that corporate donations are incorrect. We have long since moved on in that regard and there is now only a small limit of €101 for corporate donations.
How do we fund political activity? Politics is not some dirty activity. It is what we do in this House and how we are elected to this House. It is how we represent the constituents who elect us. Political activity should be funded in some way. There is significant State support for political parties, depending on representation, for Independents, party leaders and different political parties. It is lower for those in government than the Opposition. We were the beneficiaries of that when we were in opposition.
The other way of funding political parties is by means of a sizable number of small donations coming from across the country, whether it is €10 or €50, with people making a donation to a political party that contributes to what they believe in. That is not a super political action committee - super PAC - dirty or a stroke. It is people making a small contribution to their ideas being progressed in this House. That is what this amendment does. It allows political parties to hold a draw or raffle, with small amounts of money being paid for tickets. All of the amounts submitted are subject to the other limits, including personal and corporate limits, that are in place. We have had significant reform, progressed by Deputy Nash's party and many others, in the area of political activity. Let us not pretend to the public that dirty, illegal money is washing around this Chamber; it is not. Deputies are doing a disservice to all of us here if they are pretending that is the case for a 30-second Facebook clip.
This Bill contains significant changes relating to foreign donations. Perhaps the restrictions that we put in place on foreign donations sting, because some parties take donations above individual limits and above the limits from corporate entities. Sinn Féin does that at the moment. It takes corporate donations above the limits allowed in Ireland and individual donations above the allowed limits, which Deputies Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and I are subject to. We do not take sizable corporate or individual donations. Sinn Féin does. That is perfectly legal because it is done in another jurisdiction. Partition obviously suits on some occasions. It should not pretend that it is not doing it. Sinn Féin takes corporate and individuals donations above the limit that we are allowed in the Republic.
The Greens are not whipping boys for anybody. The Minister is well able to say whatever he believes, and has long experience in politics. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are proposing that political parties will be able to hold prize draws. Is the Opposition really saying that it is against raffles? Are Deputies saying that they are against my mother and father each putting €50 into a Fianna Fáil raffle? We are from an area which does not have many people who go into politics. Somebody from that area might be able to benefit from the resources a political party has to be elected to represent those people. Sinn Féin is trying to stop individuals from buying tickets for raffles. That is not actually what it is doing, though. It is distracting from what it does as a party and it is trying to label all of us as dirty, stroke-ridden and so on. I cannot put up with that. I cannot let people say that about my party now, because my party does not have that kind of activity or money. The vast majority of parties in this Chamber do not have it. We should not pretend to the public, for the sake of a 30-second clip, that Irish politics is awash with dirty money, because it is not, and we know it is not.
If I welcome anything from Deputy McAuliffe, it is his acknowledgement that everything Sinn Féin does related to fundraising is within the law and is done legally.
Sinn Féin still does it.
We do it because it is legal. That is what Deputy McAuliffe is so antagonised about. Fianna Fáil was exposed as breaking the law in the fundraising activities it engaged in last year. Of course it is legitimate for political parties to raise money through legal means and of course it is legitimate for people to support a political party they share the views and beliefs of. All of that is entirely legitimate. The difficulties in Irish politics and the fundamental problems that we face to this day with how our housing crisis, health system, public services, the privatisation agenda and so on are managed have their roots in the past, with the scandals relating to The Irish Press, the sweepstakes, the Galway tents, the money going into wives' bank accounts and the countless tribunals.
Some Fianna Fáil representatives have been keen to talk about historical matters this week. Any one of those issues is open for discussion, but this is about the here and now. It is about the amendment that has been tabled for one reason alone. As Deputy Doherty rightly stated, Fianna Fáil decided to run a national draw in the spring of last year. It raised €500,000 through that draw. In the autumn, it decided to try to raise another €500,000 until the proposed action for a second draw was exposed as being illegal. Fianna Fáil had to throw the tickets in the bin and refund the money that had already been collected because it knew that if the matter had been brought to court, it would have lost.
There is a question which has not been answered and which Deputy McAuliffe did not refer to at all. It will be incumbent on the Minister of State to respond to the questions that have been posed. It is a legitimate question, because it is an absolute fact that Fianna Fáil raised €500,000 last year through illicit means. Regardless of what the law says next week, next month or next year, that was the law at the time. Where has that money gone? Was it passed on to a charity in line with the legislation, which would provide some ameliorating circumstances that Fianna Fáil could rely on? Did it simply go into the coffers of Fianna Fáil? Deputy McAuliffe said we are uncomfortable talking about issues relating to fundraising in the USA or the mechanisms in place in the North. I have answered countless questions in respect of those issues on different occasions, on radio programmes, on doorsteps and outside this House. I find it bizarre that the Taoiseach was challenged about that yesterday, yet he has been involved in media engagements in the 24 hours since, and, to my knowledge, no journalist has put that question to him. What did Fianna Fáil do with the €500,000 that it raised illegally? That is legitimate question which has to be answered. It has been raised several times in this House and no Minister has stood up and accounted for it.
The reason this amendment has been tabled at all is because Fianna Fáil wants to organise another draw in the autumn. There is no other reason for it. The Minister of State has received many commendations. My experience of interactions with him in this House is that he has come in to read prepared statements on behalf of other people.
That is shocking.
I hope the Minister of State will prove that my view of him is wrong. I have no doubt, on a personal level, that he is a lovely man but lately he has been used time and time again to read prepared statements on behalf of others. This is a serious issue. The Minister of State has been asked, instructed or whatever by the Minister to come to this House and move an amendment with no purpose but to be of financial benefit of that Minister's party.
Or any party.
I am not talking to Deputy McAuliffe at all. I am raising very serious questions whereby if they were related to other parties, including my own, we would have a chorus of people putting those questions to us, and quite rightly. The questions have been put to the Minister of State. I sincerely hope he is willing to provide answers or that he has the decency, political courage and cop-on to announce that he is withdrawing that amendment.
Deputy Carthy has asked me to request that the Minister of State deal with the question. I am conscious, when he raises the matter, that every day when I look at parliamentary questions, I am regularly reminded that it is not for Ministers to interpret the law. The procedures of the House dictate that it is the courts that interpret the law and that it is not the role of this or any other Minister to interpret the law. I thank the Deputy for asking me to clarify that matter.
We are losing sight of the core premise of the entire Bill in terms of its potential role to strengthen our democracy and improve accountability and transparency in our political system. That is what the Bill is about. That is what establishing the electoral commission is about. As the Ceann Comhairle stated, I am not going to get into any issues in respect of any political party. What this amendment does is for all political parties to be able to participate in our electoral system and our political process. In response to the point Deputy Doherty made around money being raised to influence the political process, moneys that political parties raised are moneys raised to participate in our political system on an equal footing and to be able to do that. It is important that, collectively, we have an ability to do that. I am a member of a very small political party, as are Deputies Nash and Cian O'Callaghan. We run fundraisers, table quizzes and events for our elections campaigns. Families and members of the community donate. That helps us to get to where we are, into Dáil Éireann or council chambers. This amendment is intended to enable political parties to participate, to be able to raise funds legitimately under the gaming and lotteries legislation, including raffles, draws, sweepstakes and bingo events. Those are legitimate events. The point was raised that this is a new source. The amendment does not specifically propose to introduce a new source or source of funding for political parties. It is intended to provide that lotteries previously operated by political parties which were referred to as draws, raffles, sweepstakes or otherwise can continue to run subject to requirements of the new Part 8.
A point was raised by Deputy Nash in respect of NGOs and civil society organisations. I have met with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, and the coalition of civil liberty organisations. We have given a firm commitment to the ICCL that we will address the issue of the political purposes under the 1997 Act under a broad, comprehensive review. I gave that commitment on Committee Stage and I am giving it again this evening. We will task the commission to carry out that work early on. We do want to address the matter. It is critically important that we do so.
The amendment relates to part of our political system and process. There are no strokes being pulled. There is nothing untoward about it. My colleague has articulated that better than I could. It is not for one particular political party but for all political parties to participate in our political system. I emphasise that the amendment we are bringing forward will simply allow registered political parties to fundraise legitimately by means of draws, raffles and so on. The proposed amendment will remove any doubt that currently exists around the legitimacy of such fundraising events. It is also important to note that the donations regime in the Electoral Act 1997 and the thresholds set out therein will apply to fundraising events organised by political parties. This will not be a way to circumvent those rules. In this context, it will be incumbent on any political party that might engage in fundraising activities under the new Part 8 to ensure that it is in compliance with the requirements under Part 4 of the Electoral Act 1997.
It is unfortunate that Deputies have chosen to see this as a stroke or something untoward. It is to allow political parties to participate in our electoral system. We must not lose sight of the overall premise of the Bill which is around the establishment of an electoral commission and to improve and strengthen our democracy and accountability and transparency in our political system.
For the information of Members, there is a guillotine in respect of this Bill. We have 43 minutes remaining and there are 101 amendments outstanding. We can spend all 43 minutes talking about this if we want to. That is fine; that is the Deputies' prerogative.
The Ceann Comhairle is absolutely right; it is not for Ministers to interpret the law. It is reasonable, however, for the Opposition to ask Government to explain why it is changing certain laws, to clarify the changes it is making, the origins of those changes, who asked for them, when they asked for them, for what purposes and what the consequences would be. That is what Deputy Carthy was doing, and I fully support him in that.
I also agree with the Ceann Comhairle that we have a very limited amount of time to do this and that is deeply regrettable. It is not the Ceann Comhairle's fault at all. We probably spent as much time on this Bill as almost any other Bill in our committee, bar the maritime area planning legislation. At no stage did the Government say it wanted to reform general party financing. If Government approached the Opposition and said it would like to do that, I think we would all be open to having it as a separate, stand-alone matter. We did ask for the motion that was presented earlier for the non-consequential amendments to be taken with debate and that was not possible. We are left in a position of having to have a debate, not because we have chosen to but because Government has tabled amendments that have nothing to do with this legislation and this is our only opportunity to tease it out.
I will respond very briefly to the Minister of State and to Deputy McAuliffe. I asked the Minister of State some very reasonable questions about these amendments. Who asked for them? What is the origin of these amendments? A lot of the debate we have had around the Bill is due to the fact that for many years many people have asked for reasonable modernising reforms to the legislation. We spent lots of time talking about that yet the Minister of State was not willing to tell us who asked for this, when they asked for it, or why.
I also asked in my initial comments why something that has nothing to do with electoral reform or the integrity of our electoral systems is being added in at the last minute. Non-consequential amendments, as I generally understand them from my limited number of years in the Oireachtas, are generally proposed when something of an emergency nature comes up, not when it is just a standard, general reform or change on some other matter. For example, we are going to be dealing with changes to the fair deal scheme tagged on to the construction industry register legislation because we have to try to accelerate the acquisition of private rental properties. We have all agreed that is a sensible thing. I do not believe the intention of non-consequential amendments is to simply tag on other, more general reforms that are not time-bound by anything. There is no urgency around this particular change. It does not have to happen now. It could happen in six months or a year. In view, the Government is misusing the non-consequential amendment procedure and that is very regrettable.
I always speak sincerely on these matters. The Minister of State does himself no favours when he tries to present the very legitimate criticisms of our party and the other Opposition parties in a dismissive manner or as anything other than deeply sincere. I am disappointed by his separate but related comments on NGO funding. Lumping it into a comprehensive review of that other legislation will mean that we will not see light of it for quite some time. We will work with the Minister of State on it and I take him at his word. I want to put it on record that I always get nervous when we are told something is part of a more comprehensive review. The Bill before us was part of a comprehensive review. The Ceann Comhairle probably has more knowledge of the longevity of that debate than most of us. It goes back several decades but we will deal with that separately.
With respect to Deputy McAuliffe, I think he missed the core point of what we are saying. We accepted, warmly and enthusiastically, all the amendments in relation to party financing that the Government brought forward.
We even engaged with the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, on one particular aspect of them. He tabled a very sensible amendment on the €100 threshold as a result of concerns we raised. Therefore, there is no difficulty in our party supporting the maximum level of transparency and accountability when it comes to party financing and funding in this State and the North, or anywhere else for that matter.
The problem is that this amendment under discussion is trying to retrospectively make a change to the law to cover up for the fact that, on two occasions, one political party broke that law. My question to Deputy McAuliffe is on whether he benefited from the licence that in my strong view was obtained in contravention of the law in April and May of last year. Did he benefit from moneys raised from that, moneys that I believe were raised outside the scope of the lotteries Act as it currently operates? That is a reasonable question because it is directly related to the question of why one would or would not support this Bill.
I am quite proud of the fact that my colleague Deputy Ward and I are probably two of the cheapest Deputies in the House. I am not referring to our expenditure in our personal lives but to the fact that we spend far less money getting ourselves elected than most other Deputies. Every single penny we raise in my constituency, as is the case in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Dublin South-Central, is raised in full accordance with the laws of this State. I am sure that when other members of the Opposition speak, they will confirm that, but there is a question mark over Deputy McAuliffe and his colleagues if €500,000-----
That is an alarming statement: "there is a question mark over Deputy McAuliffe". Does Deputy Ó Broin want to reflect on that?
The Deputy should not make any inference against an individual Deputy.
I will choose my words very carefully and the Deputy will have an opportunity to respond.
A Cheann Comhairle, the Deputy's phrase was "there is a question mark over Deputy McAuliffe".
Is that the correct record?
It is a political charge-----
Is that the record? Is that what he said?
If I can finish, I will take the advice of the Ceann Comhairle. I can say without question that every cent that was spent on my last election campaign was fully in accordance with the law, and every cent I have spent in my constituency organisation on ensuring I will get elected in the next general election was spent in a manner fully in accordance with the law. If individual members of Fianna Fáil financially benefited from the lottery licence that was secured in April or May last year, which I believe was secured outside the provisions of the lottery Act, then they cannot say that. I think Deputy McAuliffe has a responsibility to tell us in this Chamber whether he benefited from that. I think that is a legitimate question.
There is a difference between a question, a rhetorical question and an inference. I take it the Deputy is not making-----
Let me be very clear-----
-----any inference that Deputy McAuliffe has behaved in any way that was untoward or irregular.
Let me be very clear. I have no knowledge of Deputy McAuliffe's constituency financing. I am not making any inference about what he has or has not done or what moneys he has or has not benefited from; what I am saying is that if it is the case that €500,000 that Fianna Fáil raised last year under the April–May lottery licence was raised outside the lotteries Act, and therefore illegally, and if any member of his party benefited from that, the public has a right to know. If Deputy McAuliffe has not benefited, he should just clarify that now and the matter will be absolutely closed.
It is really important to note that this runs to the very centre of why we make laws around party financing. If it is the case that, as my colleagues, other members of the Opposition and I have alleged or asserted, the only reason for this change to the law is that one party broke the law, got away with it once, got caught the second time, had to refund the money and now wants to repeat the exercise, that is a problem for us. Let us be very honest about it. It is not about, as in Deputy McAuliffe's very dismissive phrase, a Facebook clip; it is about how we make our laws on crucial issues of party financing. Neither the Deputy, with whom I have had a very good relationship on this and other Bills-----
The Deputy had.
-----nor the Minister of State has answered any of the fundamental questions we are asking. That is very regrettable because, if they had, the issues might have been put to bed and we could have moved on. Instead, we are having a row about an issue that should not even have come to the floor of the Dáil today. We should have been dealing with the substance of the Bill and the consequential amendments. Any distraction or losing sight of the central purpose of this Bill that has been mentioned by the Government is its responsibility. It introduced this and has created a situation in which we have to respond. That is deeply regrettable and a very sour note on which to end what has actually been very constructive engagement over quite a number of months on this important Electoral Reform Bill.
I want to make a couple of points. On the lack of time, I vehemently opposed the use of the guillotine and the restriction of the debate to 90 minutes. We did so on multiple occasions, from meetings of the Business Committee to the Order of Business. Shoehorning more than 100 amendments into 90 minutes is not a way to deal with this. It is bad process and it is bad for democracy. I do not support it at all. It means we are not getting sufficient time to go through these amendments at all. I have made that point before.
On the amendments, it is clear that the Bill seeks to introduce a new form of fundraising for political parties, specifically to apply for lottery licences. Let us be very clear: this is not about small donations or raffles. Without these amendments, everybody involved in politics would be absolutely free under law to seek and receive small donations and have small fundraising events. That is not what these amendments are about. Specifically, they would allow one to apply for a licence for a lottery with a prize fund of €360,000. Let us not kid ourselves because none of the smaller parties in this Dáil or democracy will be looking for licences for lotteries with prize funds of €360,000. This is not about getting small donations from friends, family, communities and neighbours, which is a healthy part of democracy; it is to introduce a new form of fundraising. It is absolutely legitimate, given the proposal of the Government, to have proper scrutiny and debate so we can discuss subjects such as the safeguards that will be put in place for this new form of fundraising. That is what should have happened on Committee Stage. There should have been a genuine, rigorous debate on the safeguards needed and why such large lottery funds are needed if the object is to get small donations. You do not need a large prize fund to accept, receive or seek small donations; you actually do not need any. Fundraising can be done using a prize such as a bottle of wine, as many of us have used in the past. With regard to fundraising I have been involved in, with me as a candidate or otherwise, the extent of any prize fund was something like a bottle of wine or a couple of books. We are not talking about the types of prize funds in question. The latter are on a totally different scale. Let us not kid ourselves about that.
Not having the debate or discussion on safeguards or on why the Government feels it is necessary to have such large prize funds is an issue. How is it that the political system and democracy can exist at the moment without such large prize funds? There is no scrutiny, debate or explanation whatsoever, so I ask the Minister of State to explain his position. The answers we have got have all been about small fundraising efforts, but these do not require large prize funds like those in question. Large prize funds are geared specifically towards what the larger political parties could do. There is a range of dangers associated with how donations made could be misused or abused. We have had no discussion on the safeguards. Let us hear about the safeguards that are planned.
Given the history in this country of political donations, their impact on our planning system and how they have led to planning corruption, resulting in lengthy tribunals at a huge cost and findings against elected representatives from what have traditionally been the two larger political parties, in particular, we cannot brush aside major changes to the law and the political fundraising process as not worthy of proper scrutiny and debate, or as something that can just be rammed through at the last minute, without proper time.
As others have said, there are other issues that people, including those from civil society and NGOs, have been looking to resolve for years. They have not been resolved in this Bill, despite people looking for that to happen. There is a disparity between how that is being treated and the absolute priority the Government has given to this matter, while not allowing proper time for scrutiny and debate. It is not in any way acceptable.
There are a couple of things that need to be said. We heard a defence from our Fianna Fáil colleague, asking what is wrong with his "mother and father each putting €50 into a Fianna Fáil raffle". He suggested that this is about raffles, draws and all the rest. That is fine and there is nothing wrong with that. If someone's mum wants to give them €50, first, she does not need to buy a ticket - she can give it as a donation in the first instance. The second thing is that all political parties operate under lottery permits. However, the limit for a ticket under a lottery permit is €10, and someone’s mum can buy five or ten of them if she wants. She can actually buy up to €2,500 worth if she wants to donate to the party. This measure is about allowing prize tickets of an unlimited nature and prize funds of an unlimited nature. I just want to make that point.
I want to pick up on something the Minister of State said which is wrong. This is a new source of funding. This goes to the core of the issue. Let me be clear. The only political party that went for a lottery licence last year, which is not currently allowed under law but the Government is now going to make it legal, was Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael operated under a lottery permit, with a €10 ticket and a weekly prize fund of no more than €5,000. Sinn Féin operated under a lottery permit. I am sure that if the Labour Party raised money last year, it operated under a lottery permit, and the same for the Social Democrats. It is not as if that creates huge limitations. Fine Gael under lottery permits raised over €1 million in its draw, and it had a lottery permit last year. Fianna Fáil went twice to the courts for a lottery licence. In the 1980s, a superintendent in Enniscorthy, County Wexford objected to the Fianna Fáil Enniscorthy cumann and took the case to the Supreme Court, and was proved right. The Gurhy v. Goff judgment in the Supreme Court held. Fianna Fáil knew all about it because not many political parties were taken to the Supreme Court by the Garda Síochána. Fianna Fáil was applying to raise money by pretending to be a charity, but that was found not to be true. The Supreme Court overturned the District Court decision to grant the licence at that time. It was a significant ruling.
There are massive questions here because somebody filled out an application form that is only available for charities or philanthropic groups, and claimed to be one of those. One could argue that people should know this but if they go to the District Court, they may not know what happened 30 or 40 years ago. The person presenting that document to the court has an obligation not to mislead the court so there is a serious issue there. That is the first point.
The second point is that the second Fianna Fáil draw - the early bird Christmas draw, as it was called - was to be held on 16 December, but it was called off and money was refunded. That is not an easy task but we are told that money was refunded to everybody who bought tickets. It was called off, but why? It was because Chay Bowes took legal action against Fianna Fáil. The same Chay Bowes made the complaint against the Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on which those in the DPP are doing their job to assess whether they will prosecute at the current time, which is up to them. As he was corresponding with Fianna Fáil and informing them he was taking legal action, they had no option. They could have had an option. They could have said what the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, said on the floor of the Dáil, namely, “Everything we are doing is legal.” If it was legal, why would they cancel the draw and refund all the money that they made? It was not legal. They misled the court. They were raising money illegally. That is why they took the drastic measure in December of immediately saying, once they got the letter, “We are caught folks, cancel the draw and refund every penny that was paid.” That is what happened. I am sure Deputies in this House all sold tickets, or at least the majority of them did.
The core issue is this. What happened to the draw that took place on 24 June last year? That was their super-draw. If we look at it, Fianna Fáil Deputies all had their own pieces on their webpages promoting the super-draw, where we were told by Fianna Fáil that they got a licence through the courts. Again, as I said earlier, it could only be by misleading the court because a lottery licence cannot be given to a political party, and there are conditions even if it is given to the political party. Let me clarify that. Sinn Féin can go into court and apply for a lottery licence and say we want a lottery licence and we are giving the money to the Irish Cancer Society, and that is fine. The licence will be granted and we give the money to the Irish Cancer Society, but we could not use it for our own means. The conditions are very clear in that regard. On 24 June, they had their super-draw and it is estimated they raised over €500,000.
Deputy McAuliffe might brush it off and say it is not an issue for him but I ask him to imagine if a criminal went before the courts, as any individual is allowed to do, to apply for a lottery licence, saying he wanted to raise money and was going to give the money to charity, thereby complying with the conditions. If we found out that person who misled the courts actually did not give a bob to charity and kept all the money for themselves, what would we say? Would we just turn a blind eye or would we say that needs to be prosecuted, that needs to be dealt with?
The reason I raise this issue in terms of the Taoiseach is not just because he is the Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil, but because he is the trustee of the party. He is more than just the leader of Fianna Fáil. He is the trustee of Fianna Fáil, which is a very significant issue in terms of fundraising for the party. Indeed, their audited accounts will have his signature on them. It is a serious issue of massive magnitude that we have the leader of this State actively promoting at Christmas a draw which had to be cancelled and money refunded, and that he actively promoted, as trustee and leader of his party, a draw which raised over €500,000, which we know could only have happened by illegal means because a political party could not get a lottery licence.
That brings us back to the point about the licence. We know Fianna Fáil had a licence for their Christmas draw that they had to refund. How do we know it? It is because the courts have to hold a register of licences and, indeed, amendment No. 101 states very clearly that the District Court will have to keep a register of lottery licences that can be inspected by the public. Therefore, anyone can go into the court system and see the licence that was granted to them in September that, again, they had to withdraw. However, there is no record anywhere in the District Court of the licence that was granted for their super-draw for June. It does not exist. We are only taking the word of Fianna Fáil that they had a licence.
Why is that significant? Fianna Fáil can clear this up straightaway by publishing the licence and the application, first, to clarify that they had a licence. Then, if they are to comply with the legislation, which means the money has to go to charity, the only way they can comply with section 28A of the Gaming and Lotteries Act is by giving that money to charity. Why is it significant if they did not have a licence or this licence is not to be found? All of the licences are there in the Dublin Circuit Court but this Fianna Fáil one is not there. When people went to the court, they could not find it. It is not online, it is not physical, it is nowhere to be got. Why is it significant? It is because, as was mentioned earlier, members of that political party had their own page on the website promoting this draw. It is quite significant because section 26 of the Act states:
(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person shall not promote a lottery unless he or she is, or is the employee or agent acting as such of, a person who is the holder of a lottery permit or a lottery licence that is for the time being in force and the lottery is conducted in accordance with the permit or licence.
(2) A person who contravenes this section shall be guilty of an offence.
What does that mean? It means that as bad as it was that Fianna Fáil raised €500,000 illegally, they need to do something with that money. It is not going to be brushed under the carpet because this is a massive scandal.
If members of the party, maybe unknowingly, were promoting that draw and it was a draw without a licence, they were also committing an offence. This is extremely significant. The Minister of State may get to his feet again and say the core of this legislation is about transparency and that it is about this and that. We accept that. We are supporting this legislation and we supported the Government amendments but this is different. As I said, Fine Gael raised €1 million on a lottery permit. It did not go for a lottery licence. This only benefits one political party. In a way, it gives a semblance that what happened last year, which was of such significance, was somehow okay because we are going to make it legal in the future. If the Minister of State believes he can sit there and accept that a political party in this State, now that he knows all the facts, raised more than €500,000 that will be spent on influencing the electoral process and trying to put its own party ahead, then that is fine if that is his view and that of the Green Party. However, he should not stand here and tell me this Bill is about transparency and accountability. Where is the accountability in terms of what has happened? Has the Minister of State even raised it with Fianna Fáil? Who came to the Minister of State and asked for this amendment? We all know. Will the Minister of State tell us? I will give way under Standing Orders if he wants to tell us who asked for this amendment because it was not Sinn Féin and I am sure it was not the other parties here. If this happened in other jurisdictions, we would be talking about it but this is happening right here, right now.
It is unfortunate for the Minister of State that his coalition colleagues are involved in this. I spoke earlier about the shoe being on the other foot. Deputy McAuliffe said what it is doing is legal and that we might not accept but that it is playing by the rules, whatever rules exist. However, what happened here with Fianna Fáil was downright illegal. It was so illegal that the Supreme Court told it so in the 1990s when it tried it at that time. However, it proceeded to do it in 2011 and it got away with it. It tried it again but Chay Bowes stood in its way and it took immediate and drastic action. Within 24 hours of that letter being issued, it cancelled the draw, pushed the button and sent cheques out to everybody because it knew it was illegal. It was caught out. The leader of that party is our Taoiseach. He is the trustee of the party and there are massive questions.
In terms of whether the Minister of State thinks it is okay for political parties to raise money illegally, there is no problem with any political party raising money legally, within the donation limits and under the lotteries and gaming legislation, but when political parties raise it illegally, it is a different matter. It is over to the Minister of State and to Fianna Fáil, but this issue is not going away because it is of such significance that accountability has to happen. If the Minister of State is bringing forward legislation which is about transparency and accountability, he should first bring accountability and transparency to what happened last year before trying to bring in an amendment which is about covering up the stroke and the nature of what happened last year.
I appreciate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was not here for the portion of the debate to which I am going to refer. So much of the discussion tonight has not been about the substance of the amendments. So much of it has been about certain accusations being made by members of the Opposition. I suggest they refer those to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, to the Garda or to whatever forum they believe appropriate.
I am going to speak about the amendment. I will be guided by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, because as a new Member of the House I am unfamiliar as to what happens in these circumstances, but I am deeply uncomfortable with the contribution of Deputy Ó Broin who said there were question marks over me. He alluded that I had benefited in some way financially from activities that were inappropriate. As a Member, I do not know how to respond to that because if I do that in this forum, we will get into a debate about everybody's SIPO returns. I am quite happy to comment on my SIPO in an appropriate forum. However, my worry is that my good name has been taken by Deputy Ó Broin and I wish to have that dealt with in a fair way in the Chamber. I do not know the procedure, so I am asking the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Given that we are debating amendments, if she rules me out of order I will accept that but, as a new Member, a very significant charge has been put before me in the House that is deeply unfair-----
The Ceann Comhairle dealt with it, in fairness.
I would benefit from the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's advice as to how to ensure my good name is not damaged in the way Deputy Ó Broin did.
I was not in the Chair. Quite clearly the Ceann Comhairle was in the Chair when that happened. I was not-----
I repeat that Deputy Ó Broin's statement on the record reflects it.
Deputy McAuliffe will have to stay with me a second.
There is no point in repeating it. I heard what Deputy McAuliffe said. He talked about something that happened when I was not in the Chair, which the Ceann Comhairle dealt with or did not deal with. I do not know. He was in the Chair and I presume he dealt with it. The time to deal with it was at that point, when it happened. At this point, we are under time pressure, which is irrelevant to Deputy McAuliffe's point but is relevant in the sense that we are now talking about amendments that are grouped together.
I am just talking about natural justice here. We have spoken at great length about issues that are not connected.
Deputy McAuliffe asked for my-----
Deputy Ó Broin has taken my good name in the House. I am appealing to other Members in the House. What has happened is unfair.
Sorry, I was asked by Deputy McAuliffe and I appreciate what he asked. I realise it is a serious issue. I was not in the Chair. I did not hear the comments. I cannot deal with them. If Deputy McAuliffe wants to deal with the amendments, I am happy to listen.
To be helpful, I was here and------
It is not being helpful, Deputy.
-----I understand why Deputy McAuliffe might have felt that his reputation-----
-----may potentially have been impugned.
Thank you, Deputy.
Undeservedly so. It is probably best if those kinds of charges-----
Will the Deputy please resume his seat?
-----were not made at all. Could I suggest that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle might be helpful to Deputy McAuliffe and reflect-----
Deputy, can I please-----
-----on how she might advise him because the Ceann Comhairle did not address the problem? He did not address the issue raised by Deputy McAuliffe.
I did not ask for Deputy Nash's advice on how I might address it. I am addressing Deputy McAuliffe who specifically asked for my assistance. I appreciate that but I am not in a position to give him help at this point because it relates to a matter that arose earlier on. I apologise if that does not please him at this point. I understand his raising-----
Is it in order for me to ask Deputy Ó Broin to withdraw the comments?
This was dealt with earlier on.
It was not.
Deputy McAuliffe is bringing it up. The Ceann Comhairle was in the Chamber at that point.
I indicated and the Ceann Comhairle indicated that I would be called.
I am now in the Chair dealing with amendments. I am dealing with what I am listening to at this time. I ask Deputy McAuliffe to deal with the amendments. There are procedures outside of this Chamber on the matters he is unhappy with.
The comments were made in the Chamber.
I am asking Deputy McAuliffe to deal with the amendments at this point, given the seriousness of the amendments that are being discussed and the fact there is a guillotine at 8.30 p.m.
The good name of a Member was taken in this Chamber.
Deputy McAuliffe has asked-----
That is not true. No allegation was made.
It is the way it was interpreted. The Deputy is entitled to an explanation.
I am not allowing-----
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is here to protect Members. I feel very unprotected given what has happened in the Chamber.
The Deputy is not helpful and he is not speaking through the Chair. At this point I have given the advice that I can give. Does Deputy McAuliffe want to use his time in relation to the amendments?
I have no option but to leave the Chamber. I am really disappointed because it is a very significant matter. Perhaps it was made in the heat of the debate but it was wrong and it was wrong to do it in that way. No other personal comments were made by any other Member of the Chamber and it was wrong to do so.
Unfortunately, I am going to have to deal with it this way at this point because I was not in the Chamber and I did not hear.
I appreciate that.
The Deputy is welcome. I call Deputy Matt Carthy on the amendments.
It has been established that the Minister of State is here as the representative of the Government this evening, because he has not disputed it. The charge was put that this amendment was being brought forward in order to facilitate Fianna Fáil to hold a draw which the party could not do in the autumn of last year. He did not dispute that and did not suggest there was another reason for bringing forward that amendment. I take it the agreed position of this House is that this amendment has been brought forward at the behest of one political party in order to make legal what was previously illegal.
The result of the party's illegal activities in that regard was that the party made somewhere in the region of €500,000 last year.
It is legitimate to say that any person who benefited from that illegal activity has questions to answer. Whether they knowing were aware that this was illegal or not, that is not the way the law acts.
Quite a number of specific questions were put to the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, ranging from the simple, such as where did this come from and who asked him, to why did this come in at this point in time. Why was it brought to Cabinet on 24 May? Why was it subsequently only made public after the committee had finished its deliberations? Why, at essentially the final Stage of what was good and agreed legislation, was this brought in? As I say, the Minister of State did not answer that question and we can only take it that the charge was put.
The Minister of State was asked whether he stands over this because what happened was a Fianna Fáil Minister approached him, instructed him or whatever the case may be to bring forward and stand over this amendment and legislation from his Department. There are amendments, as I understand it, amendments Nos. 2 and 101, that are being brought forward specifically to financially benefit that Minister's political party.
Deputy Noonan is the Minister of State who is here representing the Government tonight. As a representative of the Government, the Minister of State has an opportunity to do the honourable thing. In my view, the only honourable thing the Government can do tonight, considering the questions that have been raised and those that have not been answered, is to withdraw the relevant amendment in respect of that. If the Minister of State does that, we will have unanimous agreement to this Bill. The Minister of State can then bring forward legislation on political party financing in which he can address whatever anomalies different parties may have, because there are anomalies in political financing that possibly all political parties will have come across and would like to see addressed. We do not have the option of the Minister to put forward an amendment at the last minute and get the nod of all three parties at Cabinet to bring forward an amendment. Apparently, it was a nod that they signed off on. Every member of Cabinet signed off on this without even seeing the final text on it but that is neither here nor there.
The honourable thing tonight is for the Minister of State to withdraw this amendment. I do not see how the Minister of State can have any credibility if he does not do that considering the serious challenge and question that has been put in respect of what was the illegal financing of a political party that involved the misleading of courts and the contravention of the law as it currently stands.
The attempt by that same political party to use its political office to change the law to make legal what was previously illegal and in which it was involved in legal is scandalous; there is no other word for it. That is Charlie Haughey-era stuff at its most evident. The Minister of State is part of the Government that is attempting to pull that stroke. My question is whether the Minister of State will do the honourable thing and withdraw this amendment because there is no other course. There is no other way that the Minister of State can justify his actions personally and those of his party, in terms of its position at Cabinet, if he stands over this amendment being forced through the House tonight and using the Government's majority to force it through when he knows that the only reason it is being done is to allow Fianna Fáil to provide some political cover to what was its illegal financial acts.
As nobody is offering, I call the Minister of State.
I have no comment.
No comment? Is the Minister of State serious?
Is the Minister of State serious that he will not comment?
Will the Minister of State not answer any of the questions that were put?
The Minister of State is a disgrace, a thundering disgrace, if he has no comment on that.
That is scandalous.
Can I make a point?
I have no comment to make and there are no further speakers.
The Minister of State is here to represent the Government. Several questions were put and the Minister of State will not answer them.
Everybody is entitled to speak uninterrupted. We now have two Members speaking at the same time, which is unacceptable. If the Minister of State is not speaking, I will call Deputy Doherty. There is no problem. Let is do it through the Chair.
Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and forgive me.
I cannot believe what I have just witnessed. The Minister of State has said he has no comment. Deputy Carthy hit the nail on the head. This has deviated from the pre-prepared script. Can the Minister of State not be his own person from his own party and deal with this issue?
Specific questions were put to the Minister of State. Where did this come from? Are we supposed to treat this Parliament in this way, whereby we are facilitating an amendment to legislation which is not even part of this Bill? The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act went through two years ago. If the Government wants to amend that, it should amend it properly and have a proper discussion on it. The Minister of State will not even give a response to very serious accusations, probably some of the most serious accusations and charges that have been levelled in this House in my time, and I have been here over a decade. It is baffling.
Deputy McAuliffe created a nice excuse to leave the Chamber because it is uncomfortable. Damned right it is uncomfortable. It is also uncomfortable for how we deal with democracy and how political parties are raising funds. The rules should apply equally to everybody. The same rules apply everywhere - we will play by those rules in this jurisdictions and other jurisdictions where we are in - but the fact is that Fianna Fáil broke those rules. No other political party in this House did so because it was illegal. It is unlawful.
This amendment is being rushed through. This is at the core of it. There is no way we can discuss this amendment without dealing with the Fianna Fáil issue because the rationale for this amendment is Fianna Fáil's unlawful raising of over €500,000.
Will the Minister of State satisfy himself as to how he is being used as a Minister of State? Will he tell this House where this amendment came from and the background to it? Will the Minister of State publish the communications and the correspondence? Will the Minister of State assure himself that Fianna Fáil had a licence in April for its June draw? Will the Minister of State satisfy himself about the conditions, particularly condition 10(f), which states that that money has to go to charity? It will probably be reported next month in its SIPO annual accounts signed by the party's trustee, the Taoiseach, that it is in the party coffers and that it did not go to charity. Will the Minister of State do any of that or will he merely tell us, "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?" Deputy Noonan is the Minister of State.
- Brophy, Colm.
- Browne, James.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Peter.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cahill, Jackie.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Cannon, Ciarán.
- Carey, Joe.
- Chambers, Jack.
- Costello, Patrick.
- Cowen, Barry.
- Creed, Michael.
- Crowe, Cathal.
- Devlin, Cormac.
- Dillon, Alan.
- Donnelly, Stephen.
- Duffy, Francis Noel.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Flaherty, Joe.
- Fleming, Sean.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harris, Simon.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Higgins, Emer.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Lahart, John.
- Lawless, James.
- Leddin, Brian.
- Madigan, Josepha.
- Martin, Catherine.
- Matthews, Steven.
- McAuliffe, Paul.
- McConalogue, Charlie.
- McEntee, Helen.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McGuinness, John.
- McHugh, Joe.
- Moynihan, Aindrias.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noonan, Malcolm.
- O'Brien, Joe.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Gorman, Roderic.
- O'Sullivan, Christopher.
- O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
- Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Rabbitte, Anne.
- Richmond, Neale.
- Ring, Michael.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Smyth, Niamh.
- Smyth, Ossian.
- Stanton, David.
- Varadkar, Leo.
- Andrews, Chris.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brady, John.
- Browne, Martin.
- Buckley, Pat.
- Canney, Seán.
- Carthy, Matt.
- Clarke, Sorca.
- Collins, Michael.
- Cronin, Réada.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Cullinane, David.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donnelly, Paul.
- Ellis, Dessie.
- Farrell, Mairéad.
- Fitzpatrick, Peter.
- Funchion, Kathleen.
- Gannon, Gary.
- Gould, Thomas.
- Guirke, Johnny.
- Healy-Rae, Danny.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kenny, Martin.
- Kerrane, Claire.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- Mitchell, Denise.
- Munster, Imelda.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- Mythen, Johnny.
- Nash, Ged.
- Nolan, Carol.
- O'Callaghan, Cian.
- O'Donoghue, Richard.
- O'Reilly, Louise.
- O'Rourke, Darren.
- Ó Broin, Eoin.
- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Ryan, Patricia.
- Sherlock, Sean.
- Smith, Bríd.
- Smith, Duncan.
- Stanley, Brian.
- Tully, Pauline.
- Ward, Mark.
- Whitmore, Jennifer.
The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 14 June 2022: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."