At the outset of this discussion on the motion concerning the election of a new Cathaoirleach of the Seanad tomorrow, I would like to offer my thanks to the outgoing Cathaoirleach, Seanator Seán Doherty, for the way he handled matters in this House and for his efforts to be impartial at all times. There is no doubt that he has been the author of his own misfortune. I have a particular difficulty addressing the topic before us because I do not believe either the outgoing Cathaoirleach or the Taoiseach even though there are elements of truth in that both of them have said. There is a great deal of creative accounting in the way they have put forward their own views and the truth lies somewhere between both versions. I agree with those who say that we will probably never get to the bottom of it.
Last night Senator Doherty outlined the case as he saw it, of the phone tapping of nine years ago. He said "firstly, the Government was concerned about leaks of confidential material from the Cabinet". It has been said, and I agree, that every Government are concerned about leaks; "secondly, it was my job to have these leaks investigated"; that is a statement of fact; it was his job to investigate them; and "thirdly I did not come up with the idea. I took the best advice available to me, tapping was the recommended action". He stated specifically that he had sought the advice of the Deputy Garda Commissioner, Mr. Joe Ainsworth, who was then head of security and "communicated to him the concern of members of the Government and my own concern. Mr. Ainsworth agreed that the leaks were posing a national problem ...and recommended the option of tapping the phone of journalist Bruce Arnold." Therefore, when Senator Doherty referred last night to the best advice available, he was referring to the advice of Mr. Ainsworth. He stated that specifically.
He went on to say "fourthly, I signed an official Garda warrant to authorise such activity and finally, I showed the head of Government the results of the tapping". In everything Senator Doherty said last night there is no indication that the matter was brought to Cabinet for the stamp of approval before phone tapping was initiated or put in place. If one reads very carefully what Senator Doherty actually said last night, one will see there is no contradiction because all he said was that the Cabinet were originally concerned about leaks and that he came back to Cabinet some time later with the results of the phone tapping. There is no indication that the Cabinet discussed it in the interim or if either they or the Taoiseach officially knew what was going on.
Let us now look at what the Taoiseach said today. He stated, and I quote from the transcript of his lunch time press interview, "I want to make it crystal clear that the Government as such and I, as Taoiseach, knew absolutely nothing about any activities of this sort and would not countenance any such abuse". We will leave the last reference to one side for a moment. He went on to say "the Government minutes and records of discussions at Cabinet contain no reference whatsoever to any phone-tapping: and persons who were members of the Government at the time have confirmed that they have no recollection of any reference to the subject".
One can reconcile much of the Taoiseach's statement today and that of Senator Doherty yesterday. The real difficulty is that I do not believe C.J. Haughey did not know what was going on. The Taoiseach officially was not told, the Cabinet officially were not told, but I for one would take a heavy bet that C.J. Haughey knew what was going on There are no records officially anywhere to show that he knew, of course there is not; it would be the nod and the wink and the fixer syndrome at work again.
Could anyone tell me, given our parliamentary system, that the permanent Government would not have dropped it to the Taoiseach's private secretary or his main advisers if the advisers or the civil servants in the Department of Justice, thought for one moment that Senator Seán Doherty was not going to tell the Taoiseach? Those of us who have some little experience of Government even at junior ministerial level, know they know what we have for our breakfast, and rightly so, because they are there to do a job for the country. Everyone right through the system knows exactly what is happening. The message was definitely passed at permanent Government level. I accept that officially it may not have been given to C J as Taoiseach, but he knew it as C.J. Haughey and I will stand over that any day.
Why did Senator Seán Doherty rake over the old coals now? It is obviously a three item agenda. There is obviously much to be gained from going back to Roscommon as a martyr, as I am sure the Acting Chairman is only too well aware. He is already a type of folk hero there. I hope, however, the people will open their eyes and see this for what it is. We have known for many months now of the tragic scandals which have portrayed our country as a corrupt democracy. We are the laughing stock of the international community, financial and otherwise, and they are looking for the next instalment of the national Irish pantomime at this stage.
Through all this we have known of the ongoing push and shove in terms of the leadership within Fianna Fáil. Obviously, Roscommon is number one on the hidden agenda of Senator Seán Doherty; second is the leadership of Fianna Fáil — I will not try to analyse it myself as I will probably get it wrong.
The third point — and perhaps the one which prompted this disclosure at this stage — is the forthcoming phone tapping Bill to be initiated in the Seanad in a couple of weeks time. It has been reported that the present Minister for Justice, Deputy Burke, and Senator Seán Doherty had strong words in recent times about the initiation of this legislation and that Senator Doherty felt he had been let down having, in his own words, carried the can for them on this issue for so long.
If Senator Doherty is telling the truth now he must have perjured himself during the Supreme Court inquiry. If that is so it must be investigated. If Senator Doherty is lying now and the Taoiseach is telling the truth, I expect the Taoiseach to take an action for defamation of character against Senator Doherty. Anything less would not be strong enough evidence that the Taoiseach's version is true. We await the next move.
The Taoiseach was acting Minister for Justice for three weeks during Senator Seán Doherty's reign as Minister for Justice. Anyone who knows how the Department of Justice work knows that the Minister for Justice or the acting Minister for Justice gets a daily and weekly intelligence report from his or her officials. As acting Minister for Justice, the Taoiseach, C J Haughey, would have received daily and weekly intelligence reports. Therefore, I do not accept that he would not have heard quite clearly from the Civil Service and public service what was going on.
Let us not forget that during this time the then Minister Ray MacSharry was bugging or, to put it more correctly, tape recording a fellow Cabinet colleague's phone calls, those of Mr. O'Donoghue. This type of syndrome was pervasive in the Cabinet at the time. I suppose nobody knew that was going on. However Ray MacSharry taped a colleague's phone calls; I expect that will be the next story.
My colleague, Senator Manning, has very succinctly put the case for Fine Gael. He pointed out the violation of human rights which took place during that time. It is a tragedy in this day and age when we are full and equal members of the European Community and the OECD a developed western democracy, that we, in the Upper Chamber of Parliament, rightly accuse a Government of a few short years ago of violating human rights in operating the democratic system. I thought we had abandoned the banana republic syndrome long ago. This is a tragedy for all of us because all of us, as public representatives, will find ourselves tarred to some extent and trying to defend democracy, particularly to the young who have become so cynical about the comings and goings in these Houses, and particularly in the Lower House, over the past few months.
My colleague, Senator Manning, has put the only two options: either the Taoiseach must go or we need a general election. Frankly, we need the cleansing. I know we will be told the public have no appetite for a general election, but sometimes we have to take medicine when we do not like it; sometimes even the public good can be served by something they do not like. We have to be very cool and calm in deciding what the next step should be. I await with interest the response of the Progressive Democrats particularly in relation to what has happened.
On a personal note, I would again like to thank Senator Seán Doherty and to wish him and his wife, Maura, and family all the best during the next few days and weeks through what must be for him a personal agony.