Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that the terms of reference contained in the Resolution passed by Dáil Eireann on 7th October 1997 and by Seanad Éireann on 8th October 1997 as amended by the Resolutions passed by Dáil Eireann on 1st July 1998 and by Seanad Éireann on 2nd July 1998 as further amended by the resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann on 28th March 2002 pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 to 2002 be amended by the substitution of the following paragraphs for paragraphs H and I:

H. The Tribunal shall consist of not more than three Members as follows:

(a) His Honour Judge Alan Mahon and Her Honour Judge Mary Faherty who were appointed by instrument made on 24th October 2002 by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 to 2002, and:

(b) His Honour Judge Gerald Keys, from a date to be specified by instrument made pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2002 by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I. His Honour Judge Alan Mahon shall be the Chairperson of the Tribunal from a date to be specified by instrument made pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 to 2002 by the Minister for the Environment,Heritage and Local Government.'."

The purpose of this resolution is to reconstitute the membership of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments and ensure the tribunal will be able to get back into public session immediately. When resolutions have been passed by both Houses, the Minister will make an instrument under the Tribunals of Inquiries (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2002 to give full effect to the new membership. At that stage, the membership of the three person tribunal will be Judge Alan Mahon, chairperson, Judge Mary Faherty and Judge Gerald Keys.

The need for this resolution arises from the resignation of Mr. Justice Feargus Flood as both chairperson and member of the tribunal. I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Flood for the exemplary manner in which he has discharged his duties, initially as sole member and more recently as chairperson of the three member tribunal.

When Mr. Justice Flood took on the task of investigating allegations of corruption in the planning process in 1997, neither he nor the Government expected that the work of the tribunal would be still under way six years later. During that period he made a sustained and dedicated contribution. His resignation is, in many respects, the end of an era. As the Taoiseach noted, his name will be synonymous with the will and determination of the Dáil, the Seanad and the people to expose and root out malpractice and corruption. That of itself is a significant contribution by him to Irish political history. One has only to look at the public response to his second interim report, published last year, to have an appreciation of the esteem in which he is held by the people.

In recent days there has been much speculation about the events leading to the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood and when the Dáil and Seanad should have been informed. I would like to outline the facts. On 26 May there was a meeting, at the request of the tribunal, with Mr. Justice Flood, Judges Mahon and Faherty and the Attorney General concerning Mr. Justice Flood's staying on as an ordinary member of the tribunal and the costs issue being decided by Judge Mahon. On 28 May Mr. Justice Flood wrote to the Attorney General indicating, for reasons set out in that letter, that he considered himself to be unable to continue to act as chairperson but that he considered he could continue as an ordinary member. He asked the Attorney General to arrange to have the Oireachtas and the Minister informed. Both the Minister and the Taoiseach were given a copy of that letter.

The Attorney General responded on 30 May to Mr. Justice Flood asking whether he wanted a copy of the letter circulated or whether he wanted the Attorney General to simply apprise the Oireachtas of the contents. On 30 May counsel for the tribunal requested the Attorney General not to circulate the letter for the reasons stated on Wednesday by the Taoiseach. On 4 June Mr. Justice Flood wrote to the Attorney General saying he would shortly send a letter, concerning his intention to step down as chairperson, for circulation to the Clerks of both Houses of the Oireachtas. By letter dated 16 June, received late on 17 June, he formally confirmed to the Attorney General that he considered himself unable to continue to act as chairperson and asked that a copy of his letter be sent to the Clerks of both Houses of the Oireachtas. This letter was forwarded to the Minister by the Attorney General, by letter on 18 June, in which the Attorney indicated he believed it would be proper procedure for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to send the letter to both Clerks. He agreed this changed procedure with counsel for the tribunal.

When a copy of the letter of 16 June was received by the Minister, he decided it should be brought to the Government's attention at the earliest opportunity. At the next Government meeting, on 24 June, the Government considered the letter in the presence of the Attorney General and decided on the lines of the response which the Minister should make on its behalf to the chairperson. At the same time, the Minister arranged to forward a copy of the letter of 16 June to the Clerk of the Dáil and the Clerk of the Seanad.

The Minister's letter of 24 June to Mr. Justice Flood raised several issues. It indicated that the Government considered it preferable if he were in a position to remain as chairperson to decide the question of costs. It also expressed the view that there were concerns as to the prospects of legal challenges to future reports of the tribunal, in the light of the contents of his letter of 16 June and his continued involvement as an ordinary member. It asked Mr. Justice Flood to address the risk of legal proceedings to a report produced by the tribunal while he was a member. In doing so it was addressing the following issue.

It was the Government's concern that if Mr. Justice Flood continued hearing modules as an ordinary member over a lengthy period of time, any subsequent report could be challenged. What the Government was seeking to elicit from the tribunal was the nature of risk of such a legal challenge in the context of the length of the proposed modules Mr. Justice Flood would be hearing as an ordinary member. The concern was simple, namely, that those who were determined to challenge a subsequent report of the tribunal would rely upon the fact that Mr. Justice Flood had not heard the costs issue but was willing to decide issues relating to corruption and bribery. It was seeking clarification on this potential problem.

On 26 June 2003 a meeting took place between the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Flood. This meeting had been sought by Mr. Justice Flood to clarify his position. He stated he was personally disposed towards dealing with the issue of costs and to continue in the tribunal for a further period. He stated his willingness to address the costs issue, notwithstanding the added strains and burden it would impose.

There was also a brief discussion about possible future legislative changes to enable the administrative burden of the tribunal placed on a chairperson to be reduced by permitting the administrative tasks of the chairperson to be delegated to another member of the tribunal. This was to address one of the reasons behind the proposal contained in the letter of 16 June 2003 and was a mechanism that would assist his continuation in the tribunal.

It was agreed that Mr. Justice Flood would return to the tribunal offices for the purpose of sending a letter to the Oireachtas in relation to this future role in the tribunal as discussed with the Attorney General. Later that afternoon the Attorney General received a telephone call from Mr. Justice Flood who was at the tribunal. In the call the Attorney General was informed by Mr. Justice Flood that he then wanted to reconsider his future role in the tribunal having had further discussions. It was agreed there would be further consideration of his position overnight by Mr. Justice Flood.

On the morning of Friday 27 June 2003 the Attorney General received a telephone call wherein he was informed that Mr. Justice Flood was resigning from the tribunal. A letter was then sent to the Oireachtas and copied to the Attorney General. Members of this House have a copy. There was only one meeting last week between the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Flood.

The Minister received a letter from Mr. Justice Flood on Friday 27 June in which he indicated that having reflected on the matter and in the interests of the tribunal and its very important work to date and into the future, he had decided to resign with immediate effect as chairperson and member of the tribunal. Mr Justice Flood also sent this letter on the same day to both Houses of the Oireachtas. These are the facts which clearly show that neither in the past nor present has there been any conspiracy to withhold information from the Oireachtas. I hope the matter can rest there and the bona fides of the Government will be accepted.

The Government has also been accused of attempting to frustrate the work of the tribunal by delaying last year in appointing additional members. Again, this is not the case and is unfounded. Resolutions to allow for the appointment of additional members were passed by the Dáil and Seanad on 28 March 2002. To give effect to these resolutions, it was necessary for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make an instrument under the Tribunals of Inquiry Acts to formally appoint the new members. However, the tribunal specifically requested in May 2002 that such an instrument should not be made until after Mr. Justice Flood had submitted his interim report to the Oireachtas.

The interim report on the first three modules was finalised by Mr. Justice Flood and submitted to the Oireachtas on 26 September 2002. An instrument was signed four weeks later extending the tribunal to a three person tribunal with a reserve member. The allegations of attempts to frustrate the tribunal were also scotched when Mr. Justice Flood wrote to the Taoiseach on 30 June confirming that all such allegations were completely groundless. The Taoiseach read that letter into the record of the Dáil on Tuesday. I propose to read it again into the record of this House. It reads:

Dear Taoiseach,

I refer to my correspondence with the Attorney General and Minister Cullen on the above matter in which the reasons underlining my resignation are set out.

I note in the public press statements to the effect that action-inaction by the Government in relation to requests from the tribunal for additional judges or other matters have caused frustration and are the real reason for my resignation.

I wish to state categorically that this is not so. My decision is in no way related to or consequent upon any action or inaction by the Government of any kind.

My relationship with the Government is through the Department of the Attorney General. I have at all times during my tenure of office had a relationship with the Attorney General's Office that has been exceptionally cordial and co-operative. The allegation that the work of the tribunal has been delayed or frustrated in any way by the Government is completely groundless and has nothing to do with my decision to resign.

The reasons for my resignation are solely set out in my correspondence with the Attorney General and Minister Cullen. I trust this letter clarifies the position.

Yours sincerely,

Feargus M. Flood.

While significant work has been carried out by the tribunal, it clearly has much more to do. When the Minister wrote to the tribunal on 24 June, he also asked it to give him a report dealing with the following matters: the likely duration of the current module or modules; the likely duration, up to completion, of all matters arising within the terms of reference, as amended, of the tribunal; the total in legal costs claimed to date by third parties, that is, those who sought representation or provided discovery and so forth; and the likely costs to be incurred in investigating all matters within the terms of reference. The tribunal responded on 25 June. On the future duration of the tribunal, it indicated the tribunal was in the course of hearing evidence in public in relation to a number of interlinked planning modules.

It is the current intention of the tribunal to conclude the public hearings relating to these modules by the end of 2006, after which it will furnish a report on allegations of planning corruption in the Dublin area to the Oireachtas. It is the intention of the tribunal that its report will make recommendations as to how any matters then outstanding might best be dealt with, having regard to the tribunal's obligations and experience and any legislative changes in the meantime.

The tribunal also indicated that the duration of the tribunal beyond 2006 would depend upon the number of issues, if any, deemed to merit public inquiry. The tribunal is currently investigating a number of issues in private but no decision has been taken as to whether any of these issues require public hearing. It is anticipated that within the next 12 months the tribunal will be in a position to decide whether any of the issues should be heard in public and, at that time, it will be in a position to advise the Minister and the Oireachtas of the likely duration of the public hearings relating to any such issue. The full text of the letter in question and the Minister's letter of 24 June were sent to the Clerks of the Dáil and Seanad on 27 June. It is clear from that correspondence that the tribunal still has significant work to do. In the light of the likely duration, it is understandable that Mr. Justice Flood could not be expected to finalise the work of the tribunal as chairperson and his resignation must be seen in that light.

The decision taken last year to appoint a reserve member allows for a smooth transition to a newly constituted tribunal. The proposal is to appoint an existing member as chairperson and to make the reserve member a full member. There is no proposal to appoint a new reserve member at this stage and none has been sought by the tribunal as it would not be practical given that the current module is in mid-stream. If the tribunal makes such a request at any stage in the future, the matter will be brought before the Oireachtas.

Before concluding I wish to refer to the question of who will determine costs on modules to date. It was the Government's preference that Mr. Justice Flood would deal with the matter. The resignation of Mr. Justice Flood means it has to be dealt with by another person. This raises legal issues regarding hearings to determine the issue of costs in respect of modules of the tribunal completed to date. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will arrange for new legislation in the autumn to deal with this issue. Pending such legislation, hearings in relation to costs will not take place.

I re-affirm the commitment of the Government to the completion of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. The speed with which this resolution was brought to the Seanad gives an indication of its commitment to the future work of the tribunal. The members of the tribunal are persons of the highest calibre and integrity and this tribunal will continue with the same persistence and determination demonstrated by Mr. Justice Flood. The members of the tribunal with their legal team and staff will be supported in full in their determination to establish if any corrupt practices exist or have existed in our planning system and to report without fear or favour on the outcome of the inquiries. I commend the resolution to the House.

I thank the Minister for his informative contribution. Fine Gael compliments Mr. Justice Flood on the huge amount of work he did as chairman of the tribunal. The public saw some tribunals in the past as a means for lawyers to get wealthy and for people to be exonerated. Certainly, there have been wishy washy reports from some tribunals. That was not the case with the Flood tribunal. The interim report of that tribunal was frank and thoughtful. It called a spade a spade and people appreciated that fact. The judge used the word "corrupt" in relation to one politician.

Mr. Justice Flood is 75 years of age and he sat for 75 months as chairman of the tribunal. He is entitled to his retirement and Fine Gael wishes him well in that regard. We also wish Judge Alan Mahon every success in his new role. We fully support the tribunal.

However, the Government's handling of this issue has been far from sure footed. The Taoiseach told the Dáil on 24 June about Mr. Justice Flood's intention to resign but he did not have the common courtesy to inform the Leader of the Opposition. He had to apologise for that later. Whatever about not announcing the matter publicly, it is common courtesy to inform the Leader of the Opposition about what is happening. The Taoiseach's comment in the Dáil that the Flood tribunal might take up to 16 years to do its work was also unhelpful, especially when the tribunal has said it can complete its work by 2006.

There is a certain amount of undermining of the tribunal at times. The media will run with a story but they can only do so when they get the story from somebody else. Where do the stories originate? A recent issue of theSunday Independent carried a story that Mr. Justice Flood resigned because of the media's manipulation. That is unhelpful, to say the least. There might be some truth in it but Mr. Justice Flood's letter seems to dispel that view.

There is huge concern about costs as a result of Mr. Justice Flood's resignation. It is amazing that the Government will not bring forward legislation now to deal with this issue. It had six weeks to prepare such legislation because it knew for six weeks that this issue would arise. Given that it was pushing Bills through both Houses and guillotining them for the last few weeks, it could have been done. The lack of legislation creates an air of uncertainty which is unhelpful. People are concerned. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform could have prepared the necessary legislation within that six week period.

Taxpayers are also concerned about the escalating costs of the tribunals. They want to see value for money and results. The Flood tribunal was probably the most successful of the tribunals in that regard. The Government has been tardy in the past in its responses to the Flood tribunal. In June 2001, Mr. Justice Flood requested more judges but they were only appointed in March 2002. On 26 May, the Attorney General met Mr. Justice Flood when he decided to step down. There seems to have been confusion as to when he would decide to resign or retire but this information was not passed on to the relevant people.

The Taoiseach then commented that it would take 15 or 16 more years for the tribunal to complete its work. Everybody makes mistakes and says the wrong thing occasionally but I believe there might have been more to that comment than meets the eye. Mr. Tom Gilmartin is due to appear before the tribunal and he has made serious allegations in relation to the Taoiseach. This uncertainty is not helpful. The sooner the tribunal can proceed in its work, the sooner it can clear up any major issues in that regard.

I compliment the huge amount of work done by Mr. Justice Flood and I wish Judge Alan Mahon every success in his new position. Fine Gael is keen to see the tribunal continue its work. We are also concerned about the escalating costs. The suggestion by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of private tribunals is worth considering if it would speed up the process and reduce costs.

The tribunal has been in existence for seven years but the people who have come before it have long gone from the political sphere. One could wonder about the relevancy of the tribunal, which is the danger when it takes a long time.

It is always relevant to root out corruption.

I accept that. However, the people that are found guilty are long gone from politics. It is a question of accelerating the process. The Taoiseach has questions to answer about his handling of this matter. I hope the Government gives the Flood tribunal the resources necessary to continue its work and I hope its work will be completed before 2006, as the tribunal believes, rather than 15 years hence, as alleged by the Taoiseach.

We thank Mr. Justice Feargus Flood for his work in the tribunal and wish him well in his retirement. We note the huge amount of work he got through, the interim report, which the Minister praised, and the punctilious, stringent and rigorous way he addressed the issues which came before him. We also thank the members of his team and others who worked with him in producing the interim report. He has done the State a huge service.

I was struck a couple of weeks ago by the sudden flurry of concern about the expense of the tribunal. I do not agree with those sentiments. The tribunal is expensive but it is necessary that it continues. The Houses of the Oireachtas voted to establish the Moriarty and Flood tribunals. I was a member of the Cabinet when the establishment of these tribunals was discussed. Regardless of how long it takes, corruption and evil must be discussed publicly and the people responsible must be brought to book. That is the only way we will get public life back into shape and deal with wrongdoing. There is no doubt that both the Flood and Moriarty tribunals – though we are speaking here about the former – have done an immense amount of work. Let us hope the outcome of it all is a much higher level of probity in those who stand for public office or serve the public good and that they are much more strongly imbued with the proper tenets as they go about their business.

There has been much talk of the cost and I do not mean the cost for those proven to have misled the tribunal or withheld information from it, for that matter will be addressed in the early autumn, as I was glad to read in the Minister's script. There has been much talk of barristers and their fees, to which I also have a simple answer. The labour is worthy of its hire, and whatever rate is ordained for such work is that which should be paid. There is no point in entering into envious discourse about the matter.

As I said on behalf of our party and as Leader of this House, I thank Mr. Justice Feargus Flood for the work he has undertaken, often in very difficult circumstances. I note that Judge Alan Mahon is to be the chair of the tribunal. I wish him well in his work. I know his family well from Tullamore in the midlands. I also wish well Mary Faherty, whom I also know, and Gerard Keys, who will now be full members of the tribunal. I praise them all for the assiduous way in which they carry out their work, their legal training, and the dignity which they bring to their office.

I want to correct something which the Minister very clearly outlined in his script and to which our colleague in the House referred. There was no delay. I was a member of the Cabinet during the period when extra personnel were sought. In the script it is very clearly laid out that there was no delay. Mr. Justice Flood wished to issue his interim report while he was still sole member of the tribunal. He said this himself, I presume in correspondence, and it is a matter of record. The extra personnel were granted within four weeks. I know that, on an issue such as this, a hornets' nest can be raised up very quickly. However, there was nothing in it, and the facts were laid out very clearly. The same is true of the facts of the correspondence, of which we received complete copies. I thank the officers of the House for ensuring we got all the necessary correspondence in those last few very busy weeks, when they were engaged in issues such as these, and the punctilious manner in which matters were attended to.

I am sure the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and other members of the Cabinet will be quite clear that current modules will be held in public. There is no way that modules relating to Gilmartin or other planning issues should be dealt with in a private prologue. I fully agree that future modules should be examined in the Bill, which we will have in the autumn, and I am sure that that will be attended to through what I believe will be termed a "commission of investigation". The current modules must be held in public. Otherwise the public's belief in the efficacy of such tribunals would be very considerably undermined. The Taoiseach has assured the Dáil, and I wish to assure this House. I have been informed to the effect that the current modules will be held in public, as is proper in order that people's reputations can be cleared. If others have to hit the dust, that is the way the tribunal will conduct its business.

I commend the motion in my name to the House. The matter has been handled excellently by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Taoiseach, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Above all, the name of Mr. Justice Feargus Flood will be forever linked with the opening up of society and political life, and the exposure of misdeeds, corruption, bribery, misrepresentation and all that was laid out in his report, which was a bestseller. It is hard for us to appreciate that a report from a tribunal could become a bestseller but we saw people lining up on a wet morning in the street to purchase it. Well done to him, and good luck to the new team.

I join others in paying tribute to Judge Feargus Flood for his efforts over the last six years in the planning tribunal which bears his name. The tribunal broke new ground in the history of such tribunals, and Feargus Flood has, by and large, handled it adeptly and very ably. We should remember that in many cases he was dealing with witnesses who had very deep pockets and did not hesitate to go to the courts to assert their rights. In many cases, however, simply by cajoling or persuasion or by the use of words which delivered a clear message to witnesses who might otherwise have been reluctant to contribute as they should to the tribunal, he managed to get the results. It is not difficult to think of examples but I will not recite the names here. He was able to persuade some who might not have done so to contribute fully to the knowledge we now possess. We owe him thanks for this. He did not shrink from using the coercive power of the courts where necessary, as neither he nor the tribunal should. In those decisions, he has done a considerable service to the State.

It has been remarked on before that his interim report was a model of clarity, something which, to be frank, we had not always got from previous reports. In being so startlingly clear by terming certain individuals' behaviour as corrupt, he made the report and the work of the tribunal accessible to people who might have been cynical about it before and said it was all words and that the guilty would get away with it. They have not got away with it, and I do not think they will. At the very least, we have those bold, clear words from Judge Flood that certain practices or specific actions on behalf of certain people were corrupt.

I entirely agree with the Leader when she says we must put the debate about costs into perspective and not lose our sense of outrage about what happened in Dublin in the 1980s. It was without doubt the most outrageous and systemic corruption of power seen in this State – or at least that we know of. It seems to have involved quite a number of people. It was systemic, happening weekly and monthly in Dublin County Council. Needless to say, none of us stands over it now but at the time a fair number of people seemed to find it acceptable. It is important that through the tribunals and the work of these Houses, we make it clear that it was not acceptable then and that it is not acceptable now. Not only is it important that those who did wrong in the 1980s and 1990s are exposed and punished; it is also important for the future of our political system that we set down a clear marker that such corrupt practices are simply not acceptable. We cannot put a cost on that marker, for it must be put down regardless.

As Senator Browne rightly pointed out, the matter has been handled extremely ineptly by the Government. Had the facts set out by the Minister here today and yesterday in the Dáil been stated clearly by the Taoiseach last week, there would have been no problem. It arose entirely because the Taoiseach made it such. He arrived in the Dáil last week and gave the impression that he had only just become apprised of the legal difficulties that had arisen, whereas we found out very shortly afterwards that he had been aware of potential difficulty for a full month, since 26 May. It is still not clear, despite all the lengthy explanations about exchanges of letters and contradictory moves yesterday from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and today from the Minister of State, why the Taoiseach did not see fit at some point during the course of that month to say, even privately, as Senator Browne has said, to the leaders of the Opposition, that there was a problem that had to be tackled.

The Taoiseach is normally fairly astute and clear about such matters but he has been far from that in the past week. Inevitably, in those circumstances, people will wonder what is happening. This matter stinks to high heaven. We still do not have an adequate answer to that question and I suspect we will not get one. Once this resolution is passed, there will be a new chairman of the tribunal.

It is essential the issue of costs is dealt with quickly and fairly. It would be appalling if we were to find ourselves in a situation, because of the events of the past three weeks, where the State had to cough up costs to people who the tribunal found to be corrupt. That is an appalling vista which none of us wants to contemplate. It is essential that legislation is put in place as soon as possible to ensure that does not happen. That is the reason I join others in expressing surprise that it was not found possible or sufficiently urgent to put that legislation in place now.

It is not clear from what the Minister of State said this morning or from what the Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, said yesterday what legislation is contemplated. If the Minister of State has any information to that effect I would be interested to hear it. All of us know we cannot shell out millions of euro to known individuals who have delayed the tribunal and been shown to have engaged in corrupt practices. If so, we will make the whole tribunal a laughing stock. I am sure there are some who would like it to be made a laughing stock. I suggest it is in the long-term interest of all of us in this House to ensure that does not happen.

The Leader clearly said she felt the Quarryvale module and the Gilmartin allegations should be dealt with in public. I accept her assurance and the assurance of others, including the Taoiseach, on face value. It is essential that is the case. In principle, for modules that have not yet been publicly aired or where the tribunal is only starting its work, I would not have any difficulty if they were dealt with in a different way but there would be a need for consultation with Opposition parties to ensure the Houses of the Oireachtas can proceed on the basis of consensus. It is in all our interests that it is done quickly, is transparent and fair and involves a reasonable cost. I am sure the Labour Party would co-operate in ensuring that was done. It must be done on the basis of consensus. Realistically, it cannot affect the modules that have been heard or those that are being heard.

We wish Judge Mahon well in his future role. It is obviously an onerous and important one not only for the Houses, but for the future of the body politic in this country.

I join previous speakers in complimenting Mr. Justice Flood on his work to date. There is no doubt that the manner in which he approached his task and his interim report and the manner in which it was received was an eye-opener for many but, more importantly, it was a good public service. We should never lose sight of the fact that despite comments about tribunal fatigue and that the costs outweigh the benefits, public life is better off as a result of these investigations. During the course of this tribunal certain matters have come to hand, particularly the legal situation in which we find ourselves as a result of Mr. Justice Flood's resignation regarding the determination of costs. This is something from which we have to learn. We have to work on it and, if necessary, we may have to legislate. In legislating for it, let us do it properly. Let us approach the whole question of tribunals and try to make them more efficient and less costly but at no stage should we put that before the public interest.

As a result of this tribunal the public is more informed about what was going on. It is more questioning, has a greater awareness of the whole planning procedure and has a greater awareness of what is right and wrong. The tribunal said that politics is corrupt and I regret that. Individuals have been found to have acted improperly. If one is a servant of the public, elected to public office and abuses that position and privilege, it has to be exposed and corrected. If the future integrity of public life in this State is better served as a result of what has been going on, it is a good public service. Some advocate that we should close down the tribunals. I question the motives of those people and some of the suggestions put forward. Is that in the public interest or is it self-interest regarding a culture that has developed and has to stop?

The issues facing us and the forthcoming legislation will give us an opportunity to examine the role of tribunals, how they are constructed and how they operate. Perhaps we can find a more efficient way of doing it. At no stage should any of us be taken by the opinion that we should cease to investigate corruption because of costs or length of time. While people want heads on plates, we have to be responsible and allow due process, regardless of our opinions. The long-term view has to be in the interests of the State, the public and those of us who are elected to public office that we should operate and carry on our work to the highest standard.

There is always a potential for corruption. Unfortunately, those who are close to power at times are found not to have acted in the public interest but in self-interest. That has to be exposed and we have a responsibility to do it. It is a privilege to work in public life, but it is essential that one carries out one's duties properly.

We compliment the work of the tribunals. In complimenting Mr. Justice Flood, we wish his successor, Judge Mahon, every success in the work he is going to carry on and conclude. I have no doubt that as a result of his findings and his final report, which will be delivered without fear or favour, Irish society and public life will be better served.

Much of the media spin of recent weeks about the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood has been clarified in his letter to the Taoiseach, which the Minister read to the House. The Minister also clarified a number of other inaccuracies that were being circulated for the benefit of public consumption and which suggested some inappropriate behaviour by the Government in frustrating the tribunals. Clearly that is untrue. These tribunals were established by the Houses of the Oireachtas and there is an onus on us to support them. If we have to bring forward legislation to amend the workings of the tribunals, let us do so but with the common objective that what we want at the end of the day is a better standard of public life in this country, where there is no tolerance or acceptance of anyone who abuses their position and, if that happens, that there will not be any cover-up or protection. That is the responsibility of all Members of the Oireachtas. I wish Judge Mahon well in his endeavours and I fully support the resolution before the House.

I thank all Members who contributed to the debate on this resolution. I am pleased but not surprised at the general support for the terms of the resolution. In dealing with this matter during the past few weeks, the primary concerns of the Government were to facilitate the continued operation of the tribunal and to ensure its future operations are conducted in a manner so as not to give rise to any future legal or other problems. The resolution deals with the first issue. The more difficult issue is the question of how the matter of costs is to be determined.

Concern has been expressed about the costs being claimed by third parties. The tribunal has informed us that the costs notified to date amount to €21.5 million but that there are other parties who have yet to furnish estimates. These are significant amounts. The Government is anxious to avoid legal challenges to any future tribunal decisions on claims. It is our duty to act in the public interest and ensure the taxpayer does not have to bear the burden. For that reason, we wanted Mr. Justice Flood to remain as chairperson and deal with the hearings on costs. With his resignation, the hearing on costs will have to be heard by the new chairperson.

We have been advised that the existing body of legislation in regard to the tribunals will have to be amended to permit the new chairperson to determine the issue of costs. This legislation will be brought forward by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the autumn. There have been some suggestions that it should have been prepared now or over the next few weeks. As the legislation required will, of its nature, be complex, it would be wrong to rush it. The Minister will examine the position over the summer months in consultation with the Attorney General. This is the sensible approach. We need to get the legislation right to minimise the potential for successful legal actions against decisions on costs.

Because of the issue of costs, and other issues, we have had suggestions that there should be alternative forms of inquiry. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the Commission of Investigations Bill earlier this week which will allow for the establishment of commissions to investigate and report on matters of public concern. The House will have the opportunity to debate this proposed legislation in the autumn.

Reference was made to the Government undermining and frustrating the work of the tribunal. Mr. Justice Flood made it abundantly clear in his letter to the Taoiseach that this was not the case when he referred to the relationship with the Government, the Department and the Attorney General. He said that at all times during his tenure of office he had an exceptionally cordial and co-operative relationship with the Attorney General's office. Anyone who could suggest there was frustration or undermining of the work of the tribunal has not taken Mr. Justice Flood's letter into consideration.

I concur with the remarks made and tributes paid to Mr. Justice Flood. He discharged his duties in an exemplary manner. It is right that we speak about him in the superlative. He has done the State a great service during the years he chaired the tribunal.

I thank Members for their general welcome for the resolution and assure them that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will bring the necessary legislation before the House as soon as practicable in the autumn.

Question put and agreed to.