I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 32, to delete "Government" and substitute "Houses of the Oireachtas".
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, to the House. We had a good discussion on this Bill on Committee Stage yesterday. The only amendments Fine Gael has re-tabled relate to the issue of ownership concerning the commission itself, who it reports to, who staffs it and to whom it is ultimately responsible. There is one net issue in all these amendments which we wish to raise again. I acknowledge there was substantial debate on this issue on Committee and Report Stages in the Lower House and I know the Government's position on these matters. Nonetheless, I wish to make the case, even at this late stage.
There is cross-party consensus on the importance of the Bill and the role it will play in terms of investigating matters of public concern. It is important that the House has not been divided on the matter to date. Possibly one of the few advantages of the tribunals to date is that they have had the imprimatur of both Houses of the Oireachtas. However, that will be severed by the new commission structure in that the establishment, appointment of members, setting of the terms of reference, amending such terms of reference and the issue of reporting will all now come under the direction of the Minister who is launching the investigation under the Bill.
Fine Gael believes that the Government should have held the view that an all-party committee or a committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas should be ultimately accountable for the commission once it is established. For example, if an allegation is made against a Minister on a television programme, he or she will have to face a commission if that is so determined. In such a case, is it appropriate or normal that a commission be established by the Government or the Minister him or herself to investigate what might be grievous allegations against a named politician?
Given the politically sensitive nature of the matters before the current tribunals, Fine Gael believes it is wise that the Houses of the Oireachtas should take onto themselves the responsibility of establishing and staffing the commission and ensuring its reporting. The Minister of State might agree that it is most strange that when a report is published by a commission it will come in the first instance to the Minister rather than the Clerks of both Houses. All the interim reports and reports issued by tribunals since the early 1920s have come to the Clerks of the Houses who place them in the Oireachtas Library for Members. Therefore, the provisions in the Bill are a radical departure from this position.
For the first time ever, a report is to be given to a Minister who will make the matter public in his or her own good time, notwithstanding the provision in the Bill that the report be published "as soon as is practicable". The Government should take a final look at this, although I suspect my limited persuasive techniques will not change its view at this late stage. Nevertheless, the point must be made that this new structure should fall within the remit of the Oireachtas and not the Minister or the Government because matters of public concern are for everyone and not just the Minister of the Government as a whole.
There is also a fundamental question concerning the separation of powers. Our Constitution makes it clear exactly who does what in terms of the courts, the Executive and Oireachtas. Now that we are establishing what is a quasi-judicial institution to examine matters of public concern, Fine Gael believes it would be more consistent for the commission to fall within the remit of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Although the point has already been made, I make a final appeal to the Government to accept these amendments on the basis of cross-party consensus and spirit which has been entered into since the Bill was first launched by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. We wish the commission well as well as the separate commissions it will establish.
I acknowledge that the Minister of State is particularly active in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Through him, I ask the Government to give consideration to the proposal that the very first commission to be established under this legislation will examine the matter of sexual abuse in the Dublin diocese. The Minister of State knows that when this matter came to public attention some years ago, the Government told the victims of clerical child abuse in the Dublin diocese that when this new structure was established, it would ask the commission to investigate the issue. If it did so, it would be a great sign of intent on the part of the Government to keep its commitment to those people who have been so badly treated by our society to date. Will a commitment be given in the House today or as soon as possible that the first commission to be established will be a commission to inquire into clerical child sex abuse in the Dublin diocese so that the Government can honour its commitment to those victims and, most importantly, that the commission can get on with its work, whose effect we can see?
It may well be the case that at some point we will have to revisit the Act to ensure it is updated and, if certain individuals try to drive a coach and horses through the legislation in the High Court, we may well have to amend it, which is fine. People should not underestimate that possibility.