An Bille um an Seachtú Leasú Déag ar mBunreacht (Uimh. 2), 1997: An Dara Céim. Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Tairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an an Dara hUair."
Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

For the information of Senators I will explain the procedure we will adopt. Item No. 6, motion pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act, 1994, prescribing a formal statement for the information of voters to be included on the polling card to be sent to every elector and on posters displayed in polling stations, will be formally moved when debate on item No. 5, Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill, 1997, is concluded. At that point the amendments to item No. 6 can be moved in sequence and, if necessary, a separate decision can be obtained on each of the three amendments to the motion. The debate on item No. 6 will be taken in conjunction with Second Stage of item No. 5. The amendments to item No. 6, motion regarding information for voters, can also be debated in conjunction with the amendments to the Bill as the texts are identical. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Taoiseach to the House on the first sitting day of the Seanad.

I congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your election to the most prestigious position of the Upper House, one of the most prestigious positions in the nation — you rank fourth or fifth in those positions. I always made a point of attending the Seanad. I congratulate Members on all sides who have been elected to the Seanad and wish them well in what I hope will be a long period, bringing us up to the year 2002. I will do all I can to assist them. I congratulate Senator Manning, who again leads his party in opposition, and Senator Cassidy, the Leader of the House. I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Members of the new Seanad on the first day of its assembly. I wish them every success in the important work they will undertake in the time ahead. In particular, I congratulate the newly-elected Members and wish them a long political career.

The Bill before the House was presented to the last Dáil on 1 May 1997 by my predecessor, Deputy John Bruton. I acknowledge the contribution he and the former Attorney General, Mr. Dermot Gleeson, senior counsel, made in preparing the Bill. They devoted an enormous amount of time and effort in considering the various constitutional, legal and administrative issues which arose and I thank them most sincerely for that. In the Fianna Fáil general election manifesto there is a commitment to consider the holding of a referendum on the Cabinet confidentiality issue in conjunction with this year's presidential election. In the Progressive Democrats' manifesto there is a commitment to ensure the absolute ban on disclosure of Cabinet discussions can be lifted where disclosure is clearly in the public interest.

On coming to office at the end of June the new Attorney General and I undertook a detailed examination of the Bill and the background to its formulation. On the basis of that examination the Government concluded that it was appropriate to seek the restoration of the previous Government's Bill with a view to putting the proposed constitutional amendment to the people by way of a referendum. The Government proposes that the referendum should be held on 30 October 1997, the date scheduled for the presidential election. The timescale is extremely tight having regard to the administrative arrangements which will have to be put in place following passage of the Bill.

That is the main reason the Government asked the Dáil to deal with the Bill at its special sitting last week rather than leave it until the House resumes on 30 September when the timescale remaining would render an early referendum virtually impossible. Another reason for proceeding with the Bill as drafted is the separate proposal to establish a further tribunal of inquiry into payments to Mr. Charles Haughey and Deputy Michael Lowry. It is important the new tribunal should have available to it the provisions of this constitutional amendment on Cabinet discussions.

I am glad, therefore, on behalf of the Government, to propose the Bill to the House. The text of the proposed constitutional amendment set out in the Bill provides that the absolute confidentiality which applies to Government discussions would be relaxed in particular and exceptional circumstances. It proposes that a new provision should be inserted into the Constitution after Article 28.4.2º. That Article provides for collective Cabinet responsibility. The new provision would ensure confidentiality of Cabinet discussions will continue to have constitutional protection except where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in the interest of the administration of justice, as decided by a court, or by virtue of an overriding public interest pursuant to an application in that behalf by a tribunal appointed to inquire into a matter of public importance. Although the proposed amendment does not refer to the question of an appeal to the Supreme Court, this will be the case if appropriate.

The Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry, conducted over an extended period, brought to notice a shortcoming in the existing constitutional framework. The desire of that tribunal to inquire into the proceedings of Government meetings was precluded by a majority ruling of the Supreme Court. The variety of judicial rulings delivered at that time illustrate the complexity of the issue and the sensitivity of the balance to be achieved.

I will give Senators some of the background to the Bill. At an early stage in the conduct of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry the chairman indicated an intention to ask questions concerning the details of discussions which took place at a Government meeting in June 1988 relating to decisions on export credit insurance for beef exported to Iraq. Counsel for the Attorney General objected to the asking of those questions on constitutional grounds. The chairman then deferred asking questions, although he made a ruling that he was entitled to ask them in order to give the Attorney General an opportunity of applying to the High Court, by way of judicial review, for a resolution of the issues.

Following a High Court case, the Supreme Court, in its judgment of 21 August 1992, upheld by a three-to-two majority the Attorney General's contention in relation to the absolute confidentiality of Cabinet discussions. Leading the majority, Chief Justice Finlay stated:

Confidentiality of the contents and details of discussions at meetings of the Government is a constitutional right which, in my view, goes to the fundamental machinery of government and is, therefore, not capable of being waived by any individual member of the Government nor, in my view, are the details and contents of discussions at meetings of the Government capable of being made public, for the purpose of this Inquiry, by a decision of any succeeding Government.

The courts had previously established in the Ambiorix case in July 1991 that no Government or Cabinet documents were privileged from disclosure in court, merely on account of their origin. Documents which the Government wanted to protect on grounds of executive privilege would have to be inspected by the judge, who would balance the need for secrecy against the interests of the litigant and the public in the administration of justice.

The Constitution Review Group, chaired by Dr. T. K. Whitaker, dealt briefly with the Cabinet confidentiality issue in its report published in May 1996. The group concluded that there were strong grounds for extreme caution in any approach to relaxation of that Cabinet confidentiality rule. It noted:

that such confidentiality is an almost universal feature of Government, and the essential underpinning for the doctrine of collective responsibility enshrined in Article 28.4.2º. Collective responsibility is, in turn, essential to a Government's ability to plan and act cohesively. The possibility that Cabinet confidentiality might in some circumstances be lifted could in itself, obviously, inhibit discussion and, therefore, the effectiveness of Government.

The group considered two approaches:

1. any relaxation should be subject to the most stringent test of public interest, as judged by the High Court or Supreme Court, and should be confined to the context of a criminal prosecution against a member, or former member, of the Government (as is the case in the United States and Australia)

2. the context specified at (1) could be unduly restrictive and it might be better to express any constitutional relaxation in less specific terms, while still applying the test of overriding public interest, as determined by the High Court or Supreme Court.

The group also stressed that the rule of Cabinet confidentiality does not apply to Government decisions which are formally recorded — their communication to those concerned establishes them as items of public knowledge. That is the legal history attaching to this issue.

The doctrine of collective responsibility is underpinned in an important way by preserving the confidentiality of Cabinet discussions. The potential disclosure by an individual member of the Government of these discussions in a particular case, at some future time, could have an inhibiting effect on free discussion at Cabinet. Such confidentiality has been an element in the political stability we have enjoyed over many years.

I believe that the proposals, agreed by the last Government, are reasonable given the complexities involved. They are in many ways an advance on the manner in which the Cabinet confidentiality issue is dealt with in other jurisdictions. Many EU states operate a much more restrictive arrangement in relation to access to Cabinet discussions than what is proposed in this Bill.

As I have already said, the courts established as far back as 1991 that no Government documents were privileged from disclosure in court just because of their origin. Any documents which the Government seeks to protect have to be inspected by a judge of the High Court. With the limited exception, therefore, of some documents which the Government might seek to protect on grounds, say, of national security, Government decisions which are formally recorded and the memoranda on which they are based are made available for Court proceedings where there is bona fide application for their discovery.

I think it is important to emphasise this as there may be some misconception about it. The Bill now being proposed relates solely to discussions at Cabinet. Cabinet documents and Cabinet decisions are already discoverable and made available under the current constitutional provisions. The draft constitutional amendment now before the House provides that, while Cabinet discussions will continue to have constitutional protection, the High Court will have the power to determine disclosure in certain instances by virtue of an overriding public interest.

I am confident that the people in a referendum will respond positively to the proposed amendment.

The motion on the statement for the information of voters in the referendum is brought forward pursuant to section 23 (1) of the Referendum Act, 1994. The purpose of the statement is to assist voters, by making available to them a statement relating to the proposed constitutional amendment. It will be printed on polling cards sent to electors and on posters displayed in the precincts of, and within, all polling stations. A copy of the statement will also be sent to each postal voter, and to each elector on the special home voters list to whom polling cards are not sent. The arrangement proposed in the motion is identical with arrangements made at previous referenda.

The All-Party Committee on the Constitution published two excellent progress reports last April. Neither dealt with the Cabinet confidentiality issue as the committee had been informed on its establishment that it was the subject of consideration by the then Government. I wish to compliment the members of the committee and the members of the constitution review group for their excellent work. I also wish to compliment the secretariat provided to the committee by the Institute of Public Administration.

Having regard to the all-party consensus on the re-establishment of the committee, immediately on assuming office I retained the services of the secretariat to continue necessary research work. The Constitution is now 60 years in operation. It has stood the test of time very well but as we move into the next millennium it is timely that it should be reviewed. I propose to consult very shortly with the Opposition Leaders about the early re-establishment of the all-party committee, and I look forward to its further reports. I also wish to assure Senators that the Government will give careful consideration to the recommendations in the first two progress reports from that committee, and decisions in that regard will be announced in due course.

I commend the Bill and the motion to the House.

I welcome the Taoiseach to the House on the first sitting day of the new Seanad. He frequently attended the House in his capacity as Minister in various Departments and always listened very carefully to, and participated fully in, the debates. It is a very good sign of his views on the House that he is here today to take this important motion.

This proposed amendment to the Constitution gives the appearance of being simple and straight-forward, although practice has taught us that amendments which appear simple and straight-forward may, ultimately, give the greatest trouble, at least when it comes to constitutional matters.

The origins of this amendment have been very well rehearsed: they date directly to the beef tribunal. The restrictive interpretation, as most people see it, by the Supreme Court of the case brought by the then Attorney General had the effect of greatly hindering the work of that extremely long and expensive inquiry into the beef industry. It ensured, although this could hardly have been the intention of the court, that important lines of inquiry could not be pursued and that information which could have greatly helped the work of the tribunal was not made available.

A great deal of time and money might have been saved had this proposed amendment been in place at that time. A great deal of misunderstanding might also have been cleared up. The report of the tribunal might have been clearer and more illuminating than was the case. That is the origin and purpose of this amendment, which is to ensure, especially as we move towards at least one more tribunal of inquiry, that such a situation is not allowed happen again.

The principle of Cabinet confidentiality is an important one. As the Whitaker review on the Constitution, to which the Taoiseach referred, stated, it is the:

essential underpinning for the doctrine of collective responsibility enshrined in Article 28.4.2º. Collective responsibility is, in turn, essential to a Government's ability to plan and act cohesively.

That review group urged great caution in lifting or changing accepted practices. The group was not comprised of politicians who might be said to have a vested interest in restricting access or in promoting the cult of official secrecy. It was chaired by probably the greatest public servant of the last 50 years and, while it included the present and former Attorneys General, for the most part it was comprised of many former public servants, academics, lawyers, representatives of minority groups and people who had no particular axe to grind as far as the continuation of excessive secrecy was concerned. Its report, which was prepared by people who were not part of the political system, urged us to move cautiously. The report was greeted warmly and I was encouraged to hear the Taoiseach say that the work of the all-party committee would be continued as a matter of urgency. Many in this House will look forward to the views of the Government on the second of the two working groups, which is dealing with the future of the Seanad, an issue which was debated at great length during the lifetime of the last Seanad.

Government probably could not work without Cabinet confidentiality, but that does not mean it is an absolute right. It may be enshrined in constitutional language but it must coincide with other fundamental rights, the most fundamental being the need to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done. This Bill is a balanced response to the conflict between two major principles and values — the need for Government to work effectively and in confidence, and the need to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done. Especially now, as we approach another tribunal of inquiry, it is important that it will be able to do its job fully, properly and effectively.

We live in a society which is ever more open to information and this trend will continue to levels hitherto unimaginable. Given the enormous advances in information technology over the past ten years, we cannot even begin to comprehend what the position may be ten or 15 years from now. We may well ask why, in what is universally known as the information age, we should need Cabinet confidentiality. Although there are not many leaks from this Government as yet, it is a feature of all Governments that there are leaks, news management, disinformation, spin doctors, PR, etc. One may ask why we do not go the whole hog into an era of complete transparency. That day may yet come — in 20 or 30 years Cabinet meetings may be as open and held with the same level of public scrutiny of their conduct and content as meetings of this House. However, it is the experience of all Governments, not just this Government, that Cabinet confidentiality is essential because without it Government would not work. We will probably never reach a stage of total transparency and openness in the conduct of Cabinet because business would not get done, trust could not be built up and decisions might not be made easily in such circumstances. The question becomes one of the degree of such confidentiality and the assurance that it is not in conflict with a fundamental imperative. This Bill will not be the last word on the subject but for the moment it strikes a good balance.

My final point was raised by Dr. Gerard Hogan inThe Irish Times on 15 September and was addressed to some extent by the Taoiseach in his Second Stage speech. The nub of Dr. Hogan's argument is that this constitutional amendment will, with the exception of the two areas mentioned in the Schedule — court intervention or a tribunal — lead to the copperfastening of the Supreme Court decision. He argues that access to Cabinet proceedings will be more restricted than under the 30 year rule. Is there a danger this amendment will supersede the National Archives Act? This issue is of great concern to historians and scholars working on the archives. Under this amendment it may be possible for a future Government arbitrarily to exclude matters of genuine, bona fide historical interest which, under the present 30 year rule, would normally be made available. The spectre is that the attitude of openness towards the archives, which has become such an important feature of Irish life over the past 15 to 20 years, could be put at risk by the provisions of this Bill. That is clearly not the intention of the legislation but it is important that the Taoiseach, in his reply, should spell out that this is not so and that any legislation which may be necessary for that purpose will be introduced.

I welcome the Bill and have no difficulty with the constitutional amendment. We will urge the electorate to support it when it is put to them on 30 October. It is an important step.

At the outset I congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your election. It is an indication of the high esteem in which you are held in the House that you were unanimously supported. That is a great tribute and I wish you every success. I welcome our Taoiseach to the House. It is a great privilege that he has come here on our first meeting to discuss this important issue. I hope we will see him in the House frequently, as it indicates the respect he holds for the Seanad. Like Senator Manning, I am grateful that the review of the Constitution will be continued as an ongoing process.

We must make it abundantly clear that the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill concerns Cabinet confidentiality. Article 28.4.2 of the 1937 Constitution enshrined this principle. Most modern democracies, including the United States, Australia and many European countries, require Cabinet discussions and materials to be of the utmost confidentiality. In the Ambiorex case of 1991, the courts decided that Cabinet documents were not in the same category and could be made available by order of discovery. However, arising from the demands of the beef tribunal, the Supreme Court decided by a three to two majority, after a thorough debate, that Cabinet discussions were a different matter and the confidentiality rule applied strictly to them.

In the five years since that Supreme Court decision, the previous Government and the various parties involved in it acknowledged the need for change. At the same time, all parties realise the underlying requirement of Cabinet confidentiality. The purpose of the amendment, which I commend to the House, is that in certain circumstances outlined in the Bill an exception would be made to the rule, but only at the behest or request of the High Court.

I compliment the work of the various committees and Government review groups in the past four years. This is a tedious and difficult area. The previous Attorney General, Mr. Dermot Gleeson S.C., is a great constitutional lawyer. I was privileged to have him as a lecturer in college. Much effort was put in by the previous Government and I am glad the current Government is retaining the secretariat and moving the matter ahead with great speed. Given that the presidential election will be held on 30 October, it is right that we should hold the constitutional referendum on the same date so that both issues can be decided. I have no doubt the House will agree to the amendments proposed, having given the matter due consideration. The Dáil has already considered this measure at length. It is designed to ensure that in future tribunals of inquiry openness and transparency, which the Government requires and pursues, may be achieved. This has been prevented in recent tribunals due to the interpretation given by the courts.

I commend the Bill to the House. I compliment the Taoiseach on coming to the House on this important matter. I trust Opposition Members will recognise the technical importance of what is attempted. Cabinet confidentiality must be retained in some form. However, this measure proposes that in exceptional circumstances of great importance, at the request of a tribunal or a High Court judge, the cloak of confidentiality may be lifted. Such transparency is needed, as has been recognised by the Government.

Having bored many Members of the House in the past with my views on secrecy and disclosure I could almost begin by saying "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted five years ago" and continue. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Taoiseach i dtús báire, ag baint úsáid as chanúint Chiarraí atá agam ós rud é gur beirt sinn, mé féin agus an Taoiseach, a bhaineann an-taitneamh as an chuid bheag sin den tír. Ní fheadar go bhfuil a fhios ag an Taoiseach, ach b'fhéidir go bhfuil duine a bheidh ina iarrthóir don uachtaránacht den tuairim chéanna faoi cé acu áit is fearr a dhul ar laethanta saoire agus go bhfuilimid ar chomhaigne. That proves what good taste the Taoiseach and I share on many matters. I congratulate the Taoiseach on his appointment and I welcome him to the House. That said, it is a pity to have to register a note of dissent but I am sure that will not be a surprise.

Let us examine the Taoiseach's speech. He said:

The potential disclosure by an individual member of the Government of these discussions in a particular case, at some future time, could have an inhibiting effect on free discussion at Cabinet. Such confidentiality has been an element in the political stability we have enjoyed over many years.

Why would it destabilise our political system if members of Government did not behave themselves? The truth is that members of Governments do not behave themselves. They continuously let slip snippets of information, particularly members of coalition Governments. Governments employ press officers to put a gloss on matters which involve at least indirect reference to Cabinet discussions.

I have never understood fully the basis for the Supreme Court decision. The almost apocalyptic language which some of their lordships used in their decision would make one wonder about the basis of Government. Is the basis of Government government or the people? The people are not the enemy. Therefore, we are not disclosing information to the enemy if matters which are regarded as confidential by the Government are leaked to the people. We are simply letting those who are the supreme authority in the State know what those who are chosen to represent us in Government say and how they arrive at their decisions. The underlying assumption of the Supreme Court decision and, unfortunately, of the amendment is that, as far as possible, we should not let the people know what individual members of Government say or think prior to a Government decision. The exceptions proposed are quite correct as far as they go — judicial procedures and tribunals of inquiry are interesting exceptions.

Cabinet confidentiality should be dealt with to the degree necessary by a fundamental restatement of principles echoing the language used by the late and much lamented Mr. Justice Niall McCarthy in his dissenting judgment. It is important to remember that the Supreme Court decision was taken by three to two. He used the phrasesalus populi suprema est lex, that is to say, the good of the people is the supreme law, not the comfort of Government nor the need to protect the apparently vulnerable members of Government who are afraid that people might know what they thought or said. One has visions of vulnerable people who are afraid to discuss their positions being protected by the Constitution. Members of the Government, the Taoiseach included, are not vulnerable people who cannot handle themselves in debate. I do not understand that idea that because people are collectively responsible they must be protected from scrutiny about how decisions were arrived at. That is irreconcilable with democracy.

I am not overly concerned whether other countries are more or less restrictive in this regard. The pertinent question is how one reconciles an absolute rule of confidentiality with government by the people, of the people and for the people. I cannot find a way to do so which does not say in essence that we must protect the Government from the people. That appears to be the basis of this matter.

If this proposal is put to the people I will vote for it because the alternative is so much worse. However, I will do so with considerably diminished enthusiasm. I am concerned about the two standards which will be imposed. We will explain one standard to the people which has the force of constitutional law. However, on the other hand, we will have the increasingly efficient, effective and ever present spin doctors leaking titbits about Cabinet discussions, about who said what and about who won which argument in the interests of the Government, the junior partners in Government or the political futures of individual members of Government in the face of difficult decisions. We will thus have a measure which is meant to copperfasten something which will be blissfully ignored by those who are meant to observe it.

It does not have to be like this. There are measures in place in other countries which would come as an enormous shock to the Irish political system, although not, I hasten to add, applying to cabinets. In the United States every body which gets more than 50 per cent of its funds from the taxpayer must meet in public, save for a range of exceptions covered by the US freedom of information laws. They cannot meet in private or take informal discussion in private prior to public meetings. If the chairman or any other member of such a body decides to have a private discussion with somebody that matter must be recorded and made public at the subsequent meeting of the body. These provisions apply to every body at every level in the US yet they have not closed down the system. In Israel — a country of which I am not too fond — one hears regularly of how the cabinet votes and that country has not been threatened with instability due to leaks from the cabinet.

There is an extraordinary inhibition on discussion in the political process. Macho virility is somehow synonymous with expressing absolute decisions made without discussion or hint of weakness. We have moved beyond the days of ideologies, at least of some ideologies. I sometimes wonder if others are taking over. We have moved from the days of ideologies to the days when we realise all human decision making is imperfect and subject to revision. The only way to have intelligent sequential revision as we improve and understand better, is to understand how people arrived at decisions as well as knowing the decisions they took. We are inhibiting future generations in this fashion because the amendment not only binds us now but in the future. I am not convinced the Archives Act will be unaffected by this amendment and that many of the matters which the records turn up, including Cabinet minutes, will not have to be edited at least to a limited degree to conform with this amendment.

I support the amendments introduced by my colleagues in the Labour Party. We should stand back and reconsider if we are to have a fundamental review of the Constitution and the relationship between the supreme law of the land and the Government. The population is increasingly becoming better educated and more informed than Members of the Oireachtas and know how our Government makes its decisions. Pretending our democracy cannot function adequately is to suggest that democracy is dangerous and we must protect the centres of power or else all that we hold dear will fall down around us. Truth does not destroy democracy. Giving information has not destroyed democracy but the opposite has often destroyed it. I regret the Supreme Court took the decision and it is a pity that two consecutive Governments have decided upon a limited amendment to the Constitution.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Taoiseach go dtí an chéad chruinniú den Seanad nua inniu agus comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Chathaoirleach as ucht a bheith tofa.

My third welcome is reserved for this Bill which is a step in the right direction and is long overdue. I share Senator Manning's reservations about its provisions. Having read an excellent and cogent article by Gerard Hogan published in theNational Daily on 15 September and conferred with experts in this field I am still unclear whether the current position of archive material will be worsened if this Bill is enacted in its present state. I am anxious to hear the Taoiseach's reply to queries of this nature. It would be ironic if access to historical records and material currently in place would be diminished as a result of new legislation coming before the House.

Having read the Bill and its memorandum it is not clear that this new measure when enacted will apply retrospectively, but if not this Bill will not meet the requirements of the present time. I am anxious to hear the Taoiseach's reply to that. If the Bill's provisions are not made to apply retrospectively to quote Macbeth we have "scotched the snake, not killed it".

The majority verdict of the Supreme Court in 1992 sent shockwaves through the body politic particularly in the context of the beef tribunal. The verdict that Cabinet confidentiality was absolute in all circumstances and without exception was in response to an effort to arrive at the truth by the Chairman of the tribunal in circumstances where there was conflicting evidence. It was a shattering blow to his attempts to arrive at the truth. It was clear to every citizen, as well as to the Chairman of that tribunal, that verdict prevented the effective investigation of fraud or criminal behaviour and that the matter had to be rectified. I am very pleased that at the first meeting of this new Séanad, of which I am proud to be a Member, we are tackling this issue today.

This Bill proposes lifting confidentiality in significant circumstances. It will allow the High Court to order disclosure of what happened at Government meetings where this is necessary in the interest of the administration of justice or the proper workings of a tribunal of inquiry. That has to be welcomed as a major advance. However, we are living in very troubled and strange times. There is a widespread belief among the general public "that something indeed is rotten in the State of Denmark". If that is the case there is an onus on all of us to enact legislation to enable us to effectively root it out.

The public believes politicians are either corrupt or corruptible; that the political system operates to advance its best interests rather than promote the common good and repeatedly fails to identify the culprits when scandals arise, and to root out the rot and heal itself. This perception is being fuelled by the tabloid press and by some people who seek to assert that only non-politicians should be considered as suitable candidates for high office. This is dangerous stuff and there is an onus for us all to tackle it. It is the inevitable consequence of years of scandals and low standards in high places and the failure to confront these scandals head on. The public is devastated by a system that permited gross negligence in the case of the BTSB and gross dishonesty before the beef tribunal. They are disgusted at the failure of the system to make people in certain places accountable for their actions. In the words of W. B. Yeats "it does seem that nobody has been brought to book". Some people who should have been dealt with harshly received golden handshakes.

Hear, hear.

This generation of politicians will have to tackle that situation head on with courage and determination. The harsh reality is that when no one is proven guilty everyone is deemed guilty. Without hesitation we must remove the barriers to full accountability. The harsh reality is that when no one is proven guilty everyone is deemed guilty. We must remove without hesitation the barriers to full accountability. We must root out the culture of secrecy that allows corruption fester under the ground and we must restore respect for the institutions of State and do it without delay.

I welcome this Bill as a measure aimed at taking us in that direction. I repeat my concern that the provisions of this Bill may not apply retrospectively. There is nothing, as far as I can establish, in the Constitution or previous practice that would prevent that retrospective application. It is very unclear, from my reading of the Bill, whether that is provided for. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify that point for the House. If that is not the case perhaps he would take my concern on board. Unless the provisions of this proposal when put to and adopted by the people and enacted into law can be made to apply retrospectively then we will have only done half a job this evening.

I am happy with this Bill. There are those who would argue that it is too narrow in scope and others who would argue that it is too limited. I repeat my concern that it may actually worsen access to public and historical records and documents of public interest. It may inhibit the right of Ministers to make disclosures in the context of resignation speeches. I hope that will not happen. I raise it this evening as a major concern.

I look forward to working with the current Seanad and am pleased to see the Taoiseach here on this, my first day in this House. I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation.

I welcome the Bill which, as has been pointed out by the Taoiseach and other speakers, was drafted by the outgoing Administration. I welcome the fact that the current Administration has taken it on board and is implementing it with such speed. The Bill was drafted by the Government of which my party was a member. That Government introduced extremely significant legislation which has a relationship with this Bill, the Freedom of Information Act. That Act, which had long been discussed, was one in which I was privileged to play a role, having worked with former Minister of State, Eithne Fitzgerald. The current amendment is part of an overall package which the previous Government put forward in the context not only of reform of our institutions but of reform of the relationships between the institutions of State and the public. This point has already been referred to and is one to which I will return because I consider it critical to the context of this amendment and the amendments which the Labour Party has put to the current proposal.

I also welcome this amendment as a former working journalist and a current member of the NUJ. I know journalists are not popular with a number of Members of this House and the other House but having worked as a journalist and having turned from poacher to gamekeeper I might have some understanding of where my colleagues are coming from in relation to this. We must as Members of the Oireachtas take into account the relationship between the public and public representatives and the need to balance the maintenance of Cabinet confidentiality and the public's right to know. We stand, at this stage in our democracy, at a critical point. An issue which has been raised in other fora and quite properly in this forum, and one with which we as public representatives are obviously deeply concerned, is the growing level of cynicism among the public and their attitude towards politicians. We are concerned when opinion polls show that the majority of the public consider that we are all "at it", in it for our own gain.

When we look at the major issues which rocked our democracy in the last number of years the central point at issue was the withholding of information. It is extremely important that, in framing proposals to be put forward to the public, we go further than the public currently demands. We live in an era where information is easily available, so much so that the upcoming generation considers the availability of information as something to be taken for granted.

If this Administration in the proposals it puts to the public displays a different attitude, i.e., one which seeks to withhold information, which seeks to cultivate the culture of secrecy, what then are we saying to the public? Effectively, we are saying we have something to hide. We have an obsession in this country with secrecy. Administrations at central and local level are not able to give information freely. The Freedom of Information Act, which I look forward to seeing implemented on the ground, particularly at local authority level, and the relationships between the institutions of State and the public will change this culture of secrecy. In changing that culture and in looking at this proposal we must ask ourselves what signal we are sending to the public. The signal is that we will relax the absolute ban on Cabinet confidentiality but only in the most limited circumstances. The amendments which we are putting forward are extremely limited also and they maintain the balance by maintaining Cabinet confidentiality while giving the Oireachtas, this House and the Dáil the right to make further exceptions. They are not radical proposals by any means. We believe they would make some important and necessary moves in the direction of assuring the public that we are not determined to observe the culture of secrecy, that we are at least making some effort to move towards a greater culture of openness.

I was surprised that the Taoiseach made no reference to the Freedom of Information Act in his address because this proposal, while it is rooted in the beef tribunal issue, is part of a package of reform of our institutions. It is an essential part of that reform. In proposing that reform we must not fool ourselves into thinking the public do not pick up the signals sent out. The public will vote on this proposal the same day they vote in the presidential election, which is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and exciting elections in a long time and is no doubt taking place against a background of political change. On one hand this political change is recognised by virtue of the candidates put forward and the projection they give, but on the other the same voters are being asked to pass an amendment which is extremely narrow in its focus and extremely limited in its application.

Other speakers have referred to the potentially detrimental effects of the legislation. Our amendments attempt to amend that. I will not deal with them specifically in this my Second Stage address except to say that they attempt to combat the culture of secrecy. It has been pointed out that Cabinet memoirs cannot be written as a result of the absolute ban on confidentiality. Some people say that is a good thing but what harm has been done by memoirs that have been written? No harm has been done by Gemma Hussey's recollections of her time in Government or, indeed, by Garret FitzGerald's recollections either. They have given a flavour and colour to our understanding of Government and it probably has had a desirable effect on students studying how our system works. We are living in an era of easy availability of information. As Members of the Oireachtas we show respect for the public in the way we shape the institutions of Government which sends a signal to the public that our democracy is built on respect for the public's right to know. While the Bill is welcome in that it goes a small way towards relaxing the absolute ban on disclosure of Cabinet discussions, it does not go far enough and we may have to return to this issue in the future.

The great importance the Government attaches to this Bill is shown by the Taoiseach being present for all of this debate. I do not propose to change the substance of the Bill. If every public company had to disclose its boardroom meeting to the public it would be very difficult to operate its business, but if a company had to disclose that information when ordered by a judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court for very valid reasons, that is a safety lock. In this instance the Bill proposes to give discretion to a judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court to order disclosure. However, it is important that government rules the country for the people and that members of the Cabinet, can talk openly in Cabinet with confidence that these discussions will not readily come into the public domain other than for very good reasons. The Bill proposes to give discretion to the High Court to determine what can be brought into the public domain but it is important that we spell this out to the High Court.

The Taoiseach in his statement said: "On coming into office at the end of June the new Attorney General and I undertook a detailed examination of the Bill and the background to its formulation." He also said "Another reason for proceeding with this Bill, as drafted, is the separate proposal to establish a further tribunal of inquiry into payments to Mr. Charles Haughey and Deputy Michael Lowry."

We are all aware of the unfortunate circumstances which gave rise to this Bill and to the Supreme Court judgment of 1992. The Bill in its present form will create a number of ambiguities and I will highlight some of them. The proposed amendments to the Constitution are as follows: "The confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter — i. in the interests of administration of justice by a Court, or ii. by virtue of an overriding public interest." What is "an overriding public interest"? Is it fair that we should leave the judge to determine what is an overriding public interest? Surely it is up to the Cabinet, the Oireachtas and the people who set up the tribunal to define that? If a judge determines that it is in the interest of the administration of the court he can order disclosure. That is a long way removed from determining what is of overriding public interest.

I propose that it should read as follows: "The confidentiality of discussion at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save where and in pursuant to an application on that behalf by a tribunal appointed by the Government of Ministers of the Government on the authority of the Houses of the Oireachtas." It is important that all authority remains with the Oireachtas and it should define for a judge what is of overriding public interest.

It has been suggested it is almost impossible to stamp out corruption and to have democracy and confidentiality at the same time. The proposed amendments are an indication of what the Government intends to do in this respect. The background to this legislation is unfortunate but I caution the Senators, we have a country to run and there are matters of international interest on European Community and many other issues to be dealt with. Many of the problems from which this Bill originated are domestic. We must keep in mind the interest of the country and deal with all issues in a proper manner. We must be careful and keep discretion in Government. The people have elected a Government to run the country and the courts will administer and enforce what the Government decides.

I welcome the Taoiseach and hoped that I could have welcomed the Bill in the same manner. Having listened to the Taoiseach today, I am gravely disappointed with the Bill and feel it is a disappointment to any citizen who hoped that the political and administrative machine might have learnt something from the past ten or 11 months. The message this Bill sends is that nothing has changed. Secrecy is still the name of the game and open, transparent government is as far away as ever. It is particularly disappointing that, after three months in office following over two years in Opposition, the Government can do no more in its first piece of legislation than swallow whole the gravely flawed approach of its predecessor.

The Taoiseach explained this Bill, his first piece of legislation, very well and I congratulate him on trying to have it passed in time for the presidential election. However, I am concerned that this is not being handled in the right way.

First, let me drive a nail through the heart of the myths that have grown up around Cabinet confidentiality. The first myth is that absolute confidentiality is a long established part of how things are done. It is not. Let us remind ourselves that the idea of absolute confidentiality for Cabinet discussions, protected by the Constitution, is a totally new idea and not something that has been part of our political fabric since the beginning of the State, either implicitly or explicitly. If it had been, as Senator O'Meara pointed out, no Cabinet Minister would ever have given interviews to historians and no Cabinet Minister would ever have written memoirs such as those written by Garret FitzGerald and Gemma Hussey. When they published their memoirs, we heard nothing about infringing the Constitution despite the fact that both books dealt heavily with discussions around the Cabinet table.

The notion that absolute confidentiality has always been around is a myth. The second myth is the supposed reason why absolute Cabinet confidentiality is now suddenly found to be a necessity. The reason put forward is that it is an absolute prerequisite for collective Cabinet responsibility. One cannot have collective responsibility without absolute confidentiality, so the argument goes. That is nonsense. There is no necessary connection between the two. There is some connection: I do not deny that confidentiality facilitates collective responsibility but it is no more than that. It is simply wrong to suggest, either in practical or legal terms, that one cannot have collective responsibility if one does not have absolute confidentiality for Cabinet discussions.

The real reason for inventing absolute confidentiality was not to protect the concept of collective responsibility. The real reason, as Senator Quill said, was to prevent evidence being given to the beef tribunal. It was a last desperate attempt to stop the truth coming out at that tribunal and, unfortunately, it succeeded by a majority of three to two. As if that was not bad enough, the notion of absolute confidentiality has now grown legs and the machine sees it as a very convenient way of keeping the shutters further closed on Government than has ever been the case up to now.

Commentators have pointed out, to the apparent indifference of the last two Governments, that this Bill makes the situation worse, not better. In raising the veil for the purpose of the new tribunal that is being set up, it lowers the veil in other directions at the same time.

This Bill makes memoirs illegal if they touch on Cabinet discussions. It makes talking to historians illegal. These are profoundly bad things, because we are not talking about private matters but about matters of State, and it is right and proper that they should eventually come into the public domain.

The third myth is that this new concept of absolute confidentiality has had the smallest effect on those who want to flaunt it when it suits them. Since 1992, when the notion was invented, as a matter of political expediency rather than a matter of the public interest, we have seen a massive increase in the amount of leaking about Cabinet discussions. The message to the public has been clear: to protect ourselves in court or before tribunals we will use this concept but when it suits us to ignore it, for political reasons, then we will ignore it.

The people know this. They know the concept was cobbled up out of the blue to keep information from them. They know the concept is totally ignored when it suits some parties in government to do so. What the people were looking for from a Cabinet confidentiality Bill was a new approach that would sweep the covertness and the hypocrisy away. They were looking for a new start and they have not got it in this Bill. I believe that in time this will prove to have been a profound political mistake.

Regarding what the approach should have been, I have had a change of mind, as two or three years ago I would have agreed with Senator Haughey, saying good management practice was to ensure what was said at a boardroom table was never to be disclosed. When the Freedom of Information Bill was debated, I began to realise that there was another way. This Bill is starting from the wrong end. Its stance is that all Cabinet discussions carry an obligation of absolute confidentiality, now and forever, except for the tiny exceptions set out in the Bill. To approach things from this end is to endorse the culture of secrecy, the culture that says the public have no right to know about how they are governed. It is saying: "Everything is secret, except what we say is not secret."

The alternative approach was articulated by then Senator, now Deputy Roche, in arguing for his original Freedom of Information Bill. That approach starts from the other end, that of openness and transparency. This approach holds, in effect, that nothing is secret, nothing carries absolute confidentiality, except those few exceptions spelt out in legislation.

There is an enormous cultural gap between the two approaches, and we have chosen the wrong one. We have chosen the approach of the past, not the approach of the future. We have chosen the traditionally secret approach of the former power that colonised us, Britain, rather than the open and transparent approach which is the culture in many countries in the European Union and, in particular, the Scandinavian countries.

In making this choice, we have failed the people. They do not want to look back to a secretive society; they want to look forward to an open one. The people feel that the ways of secrecy have failed us, particularly now that the skeletons are beginning to emerge from the cupboards, and they want that to change.

In this legislation the Government had the opportunity to meet the people's needs. It had the opportunity to take a decisive step along the road to regaining the people's respect for the institutions of Government. Unfortunately, that opportunity has been spurned and instead a step in the opposite direction has been taken.

Compounding this mistake is the manner in which it has been taken. This legislation is being rushed through under guillotine in the Dáil and with a refusal to amend it in any way. Even more remarkably, the Taoiseach himself has admitted that it is flawed and incomplete legislation, which will need to be patched up later.

That is not how we should seek to amend the Constitution. It is the duty of the Oireachtas to offer to the people only proposals that have been well thought out. Instead, we seem to be approaching the amendment of the Constitution on a kind of trial and error basis. I would dearly love to have welcomed this Government's first piece of legislation as being the first sign of a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance and a new beginning for the relationship between the Irish people and their governmental institutions. Unfortunately, this Bill does none of those things; worse, it seems to imply that no lessons have been learned. If that proves to be the case, the price which will eventually be paid will be very high indeed.

I welcome the Taoiseach to the House. Like other Senators, I compliment him on appearing in the Seanad during its very first sitting. His presence graces the House and lends status to it. In the past, Seanad sittings might have passed through an entire period of Government without the Taoiseach ever appearing in the Upper House.

Having listened to the contributions which have been made and having heard the positions which have been adopted, I find myself standing four-square in favour of the remarks made by Senator Quinn and against those made by Senator Haughey. I understand that Senator Haughey is concerned with public and private companies in the business sector and is concerned that decisions made could give an edge to competitors. It is obvious that there is a need for collective responsibility at the boardroom table. At the same time, and in almost a contradictory fashion, the Senator underlined the importance of the Oireachtas in any decision which would be made in terms of relaxing such collective responsibility. The way forward is for the Oireachtas to be the determining body; rather than having an overall, blanket restraint we should give the Oireachtas a degree of flexibility in matters other than those specified in this legislation.

I compliment the Taoiseach on introducing this legislation. It is the first piece of legislation to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas and there is a certain degree of continuity here in that it was one of the last pieces of legislation put before the previous House. That signifies continuity between the two Administrations.

The reasons for this amendment to the Constitution are well rehearsed and there is a degree of urgency about it. The very unsatisfactory situation which arose in 1992 resulted in the Supreme Court decision which provided for absolute confidentiality in relation to the release of discussions which took place within the Cabinet. That made it impossible for the beef tribunal inquiry to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion; the huge, long, unwieldy report of a 1,000 words or more had nothing conclusive about it at all. Such lack of conclusion arose from the fact that the tribunal was unable to inquire into the whole area of beef refunds and decisions made in relation to them. A question mark hung over the entire report.

If we are to have tribunals which will have the authority to fully investigate Cabinet matters we need to provide for disclosure of Cabinet documents and of discussions which occur at the Cabinet table. The Bill is extremely welcome in that regard. However, if one examines the text of the proposed amendment it refers only to matters which concern wrongdoing where a tribunal is set up to investigate a matter or where the High Court determines in the interest of the administration of justice. That effectively responds to the grounds for the Supreme Court's decision. However, the Supreme Court looked at this matter in a narrow context; it made its decision in terms of the tribunal and in terms of the way in which the tribunal had been thwarted in achieving its objective. That does not mean that we should not look at having greater flexibility in terms of how we are going to deal with the question of confidentiality and disclosure in matters beyond those of corruption which are also in the arena of public importance and interest. That is the core of the matter.

The amendment is fine as far as it goes but by putting it into the Constitution the line is drawn for all other matters that might be determined by law and we find ourselves with an even more restrictive position than that which previously existed.

This is certainly a dilemma. The Labour Party was part of the Government which produced this piece of legislation but we now acknowledge that it is flawed and that it would benefit enormously from Committee Stage in which amendments could be tabled. That is why the Labour Party tabled four amendments, one of which specifically stated" Except in such limited cases as may be prescribed by law "in order that we would provide for the relaxation of disclosure of discussions in relation to Cabinet confidentiality and where the Oireachtas could from time to time decide by law that such disclosure was in the public interest. That is not too radical or outrageous a thing to look for. It is absolutely reasonable. At the moment, we are proposing to do something unreasonable in putting into the Constitution something which cannot be changed by the Oireachtas. Therefore, as the Taoiseach himself admitted in the other House, we will have to revisit this particular amendment in the future. Why revisit it in the future when we can visit it now as it is being dealt with and ensure that we leave the potential and scope for the flexibility which is required? That is all we are seeking; that would allow the Oireachtas at a future time to legislate for particular incidents and provisions in the interests of public order and justice.

If we examine the Constitution itself we will find a very good parallel in Article 40. After the right to life, the second most important right is the right to liberty. That right is enshrined in Article 40.4.1 which states that "No citizen shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law". This Article allows for the matter to be legislated for, in accordance with law, under the Oireachtas and I suggest that is the manner in which it should be presented in this piece of legislation also.

There will be major problems to be addressed once this proposal is incorporated into the Constitution. How will we release documents under the National Archives Act in terms of what is proposed here? Those are matters which do not come under the provisions of this new amendment. No court can make provision for them because it is not part of the administration of justice and has nothing to do with a tribunal of inquiry. We will find ourselves in a situation where it will be very difficult to have any matters of this nature disclosed. A major question will arise about what has been accepted in the past in terms of the 30 year rule of disclosure of archive material where discussions are involved or in the case of somebody being interviewed by a historian about their term in office as a Minister. Where there is no question of crime or corruption and if it is in the public interest it is appropriate that such information be disclosed.

These are serious matters which must be examined and they include public records and historical documents. If a Minister resigns from Cabinet, is that Minister forbidden from giving any public explanation if it revealed something that was discussed at the Cabinet table? It is ludicrous that a Minister cannot justify his or her reason for resignation in a resignation speech before this House or elsewhere. In future Ministers will be unable to write their memoirs without breaking the law. That is the position as proposed in this legislation.

A Minister will find it difficult if not impossible to reveal Cabinet discussions to senior civil servants who may have to implement decisions made during those discussions. We are talking about a nonsensical position. It is not too late to accept an amendment that will allow us regulate this matter by law, in addition to the provisions contained in this amendment to the Constitution.

I agree with the comments made by Senator Quinn about a more open and transparent society. We should approach this problem from another angle. We should seek to disclose everything rather than disclose only a small amount of information. The public will not thank us for proceeding down this path. It has already indicated its contempt for the way in which some political decisions have been taken, notably the secrecy surrounding those decisions and the inadequacies in the administration of our business. The end result of that will be numerous leaks of information. The whole area of Cabinet confidentiality will be streamlined as a result of these provisions. That means that other matters for which we could legislate will be the subject of anonymous leaks to the media. Those leaks will have to be anonymous because people will be subject to prosecution. Such matters should not be dealt with in this fashion.

I welcome the Bill in that it provides greater scope for the issues we will deal with tomorrow concerning the setting up of a tribunal to investigate matters of corruption. I am disappointed, however, that neither the Minister nor the Taoiseach have seen fit to examine the provisions more closely with a view to dealing with their flaws and inadequacies but have put them on the long finger to be revisited at some time in the future.

I will not delay the House. I am delighted to welcome the Taoiseach today. Most of the points I wanted to make have already been made. Like Senator Quill, I believe the general public is very suspicious of politicians. While this legislation has the best of intentions, it may make the public even more suspicious because it is very circumscribed. The Taoiseach and the leader of Fine Gael in the House, Senator Manning, outlined the reasons it is so circumscribed but I wonder if that is absolutely necessary. There is nothing worse than rumour. It is always easier to deal with the facts but the way Cabinet deliberations are now to be considered will mean that we will have only rumours to deal with. I acknowledge that only discussions and not details of decisions are being so circumscribed. I would also like to know if the 30 year rule applies to those discussions. The point made by Senator Costello and others about the difficulties Ministers may have in regard to resignation speeches is extremely important.

Since the Supreme Court judgment in 1992 we have probably had more leaks about what took place in Cabinet than ever before. I am inclined to think this may become the order of the day, although I am not sure how the leaking vessels can be dealt with. I ask the Taoiseach to consider accepting the amendments put down by the Labour Party as a possible means to extend the scope of the Bill, because what is intended to make a bad situation better may, in the view of the general public, make us seem more secretive than ever. I realise that is not the intention of the Government but I fear that is what will happen and we may face greater difficulties in regard to dealing with the various leaks from Cabinet than we would if the facts had been produced at the outset.

As always, I found the comments made by the various speakers to be interesting, thought provoking and at times a little mind boggling. Perhaps I did not make myself clear at the outset. I appreciate the comments made by some speakers about the public's suspicion of politicians, but listening to this debate would make one suspicious when one hears people turning around the facts.

We are talking about the decisions made at Cabinet. Since the Ambiorix case of 1991, it is possible for cart-loads of documents, files, memoranda, etc. to be delivered to the courts or to whoever wants them. Information relating to Cabinet discussions, however, cannot be made available. I would like to see 15 Senators sitting around a table discussing the closure of a hospital in their area, a controversial proposal to build a prison or some other matter if those discussions were to be disclosed at some later time. I know what would happen; the decisions would never be made. Everyone would be boxing so cleverly that we would never run this small country of ours, which is difficult enough to do.

I would love to know what goes on in the companies run by some of the speakers in this debate, including the details that lead to various decisions being made. I would need to be here for another 1,000 years before getting to the bottom of that. We should not give the impression that documents, files, memoranda, etc. cannot be obtained in this country. They can be obtained but information on discussions in Cabinet cannot be made available. We cannot know if the Deputy from west Limerick said this or if the Deputy from west Donegal said that. That is the only information one cannot get and we must not pretend otherwise.

I am not sure whether the public wants such information. There is enough written in the newspapers every week about what goes on without the public wanting to know all the other titbits. Throughout most of my ministerial life I did not listen to any small talk. I made my decisions and then read the Sunday newspapers to find out what their writers thought was said at various Cabinet meetings. Those accounts always sounded better than the actual discussions. Does anybody here really believe that the country will be better off if we know who argued with whom and who said what at the Cabinet table? We will have the most open regime in Europe. I do not want to comment on Israel but people there are forthcoming with the facts, because sometimes the alternatives are not too palatable if one does not speak the truth.

The American Cabinet meets twice a year for a photocall at which they give all the information. If the Irish Cabinet met twice a year we would be able to give all the facts at the photocall. I thank Senators for being so entertaining but I wish to deal with the realities of the Bill.

I am glad there is cross-party consensus on the Bill. However, I am aghast at the suggestion that the text of the proposed constitutional amendment is inadequate and that we are trying to rush it through. This is not true, because the Bill was developed over a period of two and a half years by one of the brightest legal minds. That person looked at the Ambiorix case of 1991 and the sorry saga of 1992 and tried to develop a proposal. The parties in power looked at 23 drafts of the amendment and ultimately came to a conclusion on the matter.

I did not make a quick decision on the matter. A huge amount of background work and research was carried out. For example, we looked at the position in New Zealand, Australia and other countries in trying to decide how best to deal with this issue. This was clearly not an easy task, particularly when one looks at the three to two majority decision. Of course there are different points of view on the matter.

I am surprised at the decision of the Labour Party to seek to amend the Bill. I am particularly surprised at the provisions it seeks to amend because it was represented on the committee which looked at the 23 drafts. It was left to me to take on the Bill, which the Labour Party leader recently called on me to bring forward. When the amendments were debated in the Dáil I said that the Bill had been carefully drafted and their acceptance would lead to a reopening of the debate. Amendment of the Bill is not a realistic option at present and I will not accept any amendments.

I wish to say to Senator Quinn that I could have taken the view that there was no point in proceeding with the legislation if people believed there was no need for it. However, all the legal people to whom I spoke said it would be very beneficial for the tribunal. I will not tell Independents in the Dáil or Seanad that they should not look at this issue as it would be entirely wrong. If they believe there should be cameras at Cabinet meetings and the public should be informed about everything that is said then I will listen to their points. If the committee believes that our regime, which is one of the most liberal in Europe, should be made more liberal next year I will examine its proposals.

The previous Government looked at this matter over a two year period and took advice from the best legal brains. I have the highest regard for Dermot Gleeson and believe it was worthwhile bringing the Bill forward. This is not to say people do not have questions about the Bill. I will seek to answer any fair questions which were raised.

The legal advice available to the Government is that disclosure for historical or archival purposes of material relating to discussions at Government meetings is not permissible under the Supreme Court ruling. The minutes, which are available, record the decisions reached by Government, not all the points made. In one case a Government Secretary made more detailed notes and if they are in the archives then they can be made available. On the point made by Senators Manning and Quill, my legal advice is that data which is already in the public domain will remain there. There are no detailed minutes of meetings. The minutes taken at a Cabinet meeting set out the decisions, which by and large are public knowledge. Following meetings the decisions are discussed by departmental secretaries and officials and are used to brief the media. Some information in the minutes may not be made public until it is required.

I was asked about the 30 year rule. Cabinet documents, the memoranda and decisions of Government are available for public inspection, subject, of course, to the normal archival rules as regards national security. The proposed constitutional amendment will not interfere with this position. Documents are a major source of material for historians and long may that be the case. As regards records of discussions at Cabinet, official papers rarely if ever contain details of lengthy discussions. I referred to the decision in the l991 case.

Senator Quinn asked when all this started. While it was raised at the tribunal in l992, it is part of the l937 Constitution which refers to collective responsibility. On the question of archival material containing details of decisions, information already in the public domain will remain there. The issue of archival material under the 30 year rule is important and merits more detailed analysis. We will not resolve this issue in the short term but the all-party committee should look at it and put forward new proposals. Any such proposals could presumably have retrospective effect.

In so far as details exist they should be in the public domain. The days of massive secrecy are long gone. I would argue as to whether there is great secrecy now. I know where the story came from that if one resigned one could not state that in one's memoirs. Because of the number of people who have written their memoirs in the past 20 years that I have been a Member of the Dáil they will no longer be best sellers.

People who sat around the same table in the past do not all agree about what happened there. They either suffer from a loss of the memory or put different emphasis on events. I will not pronounce on whether those details are legal or illegal, but the memoirs written to date contain many references to what went on at such meetings. Members of this House elected to the Lower House in the future who become Cabinet members, or Cabinet members from this House, for which there are many precedents, might believe that if they resign they cannot tell the world that they have done so. All a Cabinet member has to do is to leave the Cabinet room and write a letter of resignation. Because it is written outside the Cabinet room, he or she can include any details he or she wishes and place the letter on notice boards anywhere in the country and will not have broken the law. Members resigning from Cabinet in the future should not be concerned about publishing details of meetings. There are many other important matters which should concern members of Parliament.

I appreciate the co-operation of the House in taking this legislation. I am advised it will be beneficial in limited areas of the tribunal. It affords us an opportunity to honour a commitment given by every party and the Independents that we would deal with this matter expeditiously as part of the presidential campaign. We are honouring our commitment to the electorate in doing what we said. If other matters of concern arise in the future, as inevitably will happen, we will use our collective wisdom to deal with them.

As Senator Manning said, the passing of this legislation will not mark the end of the debate on this issue and that is not a bad thing. People's attitudes will change and technology and systems of communication will change. I am not sure that there will be change to the extent that people will feel compelled to have access to all details. Many of our good friends in the media could be put out of work if all the details of Cabinet meetings were made public every Tuesday. What would they do between Tuesday and Thursday each week if they did not have to try to find out what happened at Cabinet meetings? It would ruin an interesting part of the entertainment associated with being a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas in these times. I do not believe anything will be lost in that regard.

Many controversies arose in 1992. The Secretary of the then Government said that if the papers available had been made public, it would not have made any difference because the details of the discussion would not have clarified the issue. That is the view of an eminent man who has retired from the public service and is highly respected by all Members of this House.

I am advised the protection of historical and archival information will not be affected. I agree with the Senators that we should make sure we consider those broader areas as we move forward. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, who did an excellent job in chairing the last committee and had the support of members of all parties, did not consider this issue. He agreed to wait for the results of the work of the Government committee and Mr. Dermot Gleeson. I am sure they would now be glad to consider this matter and the way to go if further changes are made. A package of other measures will be considered. Dr. Whitaker's report provides the basis for the package which may take another two or three years to publish. It is inevitable that a range of constitutional changes will be made to take account of the European and world scene in the next four or five years, if not in the life of this Dáil and Seanad. Many issues need to be updated. The best way to proceed is for the all-party committee to complete its work in the form of a package which we could sell to the electorate on the basis of clearly understood parameters. There are ten or 15 issues that require amendment. I ask Senators to support this legislation to allow us to move forward. They are correct in stating it does not represent earth shattering changes, but this issue does not require such a change. If in future it requires such a change we can resume work on it. This Bill represents a great deal of work undertaken by a committee made up of politicians and legal representatives. If I had reviewed that work I would not have been able to bring this legislation to the House until some time next year. I do not believe unnecessary work is beneficial. If further work is required in this regard, as my colleague Senator O'Donovan said, the all-party committee is there to do it. I ask Senators to support the Bill to enable a constitutional referendum on 30 October which I hope the people will support.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.

Question put and agreed.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

We indicated on the Order of Business that we were unhappy with the proposal to take all Stages of the Bill today. There is nothing more important than constitutional amendments. Therefore, Committee and other Stages should be deferred until tomorrow to allow an opportunity to table further amendments and for other groups to table amendments.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist: "Go dtógfar Ceím an Choiste anois".

Question, "That Committee Stage be taken now", put and agreed to.