Deputy Mulvihill should not make the mistake of standing against me, he would then see who would gain.
The Labour Party is letting people down. This is not the party which Frank Cluskey or Brendan Corish headed. At least some Fianna Fáil members have the bottle to come in here and speak their minds.
Democracy and accountability are words the meaning of which are not known to the majority of the Members of this House. I will commence my speech with a biblical sounding quotation, a reading from the "Book of Allegations". On 15 May 1991 Deputy Dick Spring, the Leader of the Labour Party in Opposition, told the Dáil
The Government covered up the illegal and improper activities in the beef industry since 1987. The refusal to reveal any detail of investigation, the failure to investigate thoroughly the complacency about control and the willingness to take action amounted to a cover-up.
On 28 August 1990 he said: "The pursuit of Goodman monopolistic ambitions over the last couple of years would not have been possible without the support of the Fianna Fáil Government". Despite the high cost of the tribunal, it was necessary to have an inquiry since the allegations made by Deputy Spring and others were denied in the strongest and most personal terms. The report is not a literary masterpiece, but it clearly supports the main allegations and anybody who claims otherwise is trying to make liars of those who made the allegations. Deputy Dick Spring has his shortcomings, but he is not a liar. This report did not vindicate the Minister for Industry and Commerce, now Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, as claimed.
I hope Members will not mind me quoting the new catechism, but when seeking a definition for the word "truth" some of us, at least. might look to it for guidance. The new catechism states that "A lie consists of speaking a falsehood with the intention of misleading". It goes on to state: "It is for the Civil Authority to defend and safeguard a true and just freedom of information". The civil authority in this case is guilty of gross dereliction of duty, to put it at its mildest.
The Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, and those of us who see this scandal for what it is, must stand up and be counted. When listening to the Taoiseach. Deputy Reynolds, one would do well to recall the words of the clown in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "Words are grown so false that I am loath to prove reason with them". The Taoiseach should be reminded of the words from Henry VIII: "Truth loves open dealing." Where was the open dealing in this case?
The tribunal report is, without doubt, the most serious indictment of a Minister's conduct since the 1970 Arms Trial. The report justifies the description of Deputy Reynolds, now Taoiseach, by Deputy O'Malley in relation to export credit insurance as "reckless, irresponsible and unwise." to this might be added the allegation of guile and sharp practice.
In short, the nub of Deputy Albert Reynolds's impropriety when he was Minister for Industry and Commerce is as follows. In 1986 Saddam Hussein was operating a war economy with oil prices falling. Deputy Michael Noonan was Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Goodman Group was selling beef into the war region. The banks told the Goodman Group that they would not continue to give them a facility unless they were covered by export credit insurance, in other words, unless the State and its agents were to give insurance cover for losses suffered.
The Goodman Group tried to put pressure on the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Michael Noonan, but, having taken advice and being told that it was a bad risk, he refused to increase insurance cover.
Deputy Albert Reynolds, when Minister for Industry and Commerce, reversed all of this. The Cabinet increased the level of cover to a 30 per cent maximum, in other words, to 30 per cent of contract value.
Following various meetings, without the presence of civil servants — a practice with few if any precedents, as civil servants usually attend all meetings with Ministers except Minister to Minister meetings and ministerial meetings with party colleagues which are of a political nature — the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, told his civil servants that more applications would be coming in for insurance cover. He did not say how he knew this or why they should be prepared for it. It remains unexplained how he knew that an application for new cover would be coming in from the Goodman Group.
Within days he and his Department gave different terms than the Cabinet had agreed, for example, regarding premium to be charged and period of credit. Why did the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, tell the Government that conditions for export credit insurance for Goodman International would be tougher than they actually turned out to be?
The then Minister Reynold's Memorandum for Government, submitted to the Cabinet in September 1987, set out specific terms under which he proposed to cover a $134.5 million contract for Goodman. The tribunal report finds that Minister Reynolds sought Cabinet approval "on the basis that cover would be granted on those terms" but then gave the cover on "substantially better" terms, saving the Goodman Company over $4 million in premium payments — a gift — with no gain to the State.
Furthermore, when the tribunal sought to establish if information concerning the origin of the Goodman beef for Iraq was mentioned at Cabinet by either of the then Ministers Reynolds or O'Kennedy or if such information was in their briefing material, the Attorney General, now serving as adviser to a Government led by the Taoiseach. Deputy Reynolds, went to the courts to prevent the information being made available to the tribunal.
The payout by the taxpayer so far is alleged to be £8 million, as Deputy O'Malley, while Minister for Industry and Commerce voided the insurance cover based on the small print in relation to the use of non-Irish meat. Goodman Group is now suing the State and if it wins the State may have to pay a figure of between £120 million to £200 million — many people have referred to the figure of £159 million — to the Goodman Group. The established effect of decisions taken by Deputy Reynolds, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, was to expose the taxpayers to possible liabilities of £98.65 million without any independent or professional assessment of the position before putting the taxpayers at such risk. Deputy Reynolds, now Taoiseach, has never explained what induced him to make such a reckless decision.
I am indebted to Fintan O'Toole in his article in The Irish Times of 31 August 1994 for the manner in which he crystallised a number of questions which need to be answered by the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds. As Mr. O'Toole points out, the tribunal report found that the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, laboured under a complete misconception when he gave insurance cover to beef exports to Iraq. Apparently he believed that the risks were worth taking because the exports would put money in the pockets of Irish farmers or at least this is what he would have us believe. The real position was that much of the beef came from outside the State and most of it was from EC intervention stock so that its economic benefits, as stated in the report, were “illusionary rather than real”. The risks, however, were all too real. The Iraqis did default on the payments. The benefits were not there.
In that article, Mr. O'Toole stated:
‘To understand the full import of this finding, it is necessary to understand just how easy it would have been for Mr. Reynolds to find out that the beef was not what he assumed it to be. In the first place, he read a telex from Baghdad which told him about intervention beef being exported under his export credit cover, but failed to attach any significance to it because, as he told the tribunal, "that was not the focus of my attention."
Second, the whole question of the shortage of cattle supplies in Ireland was under constant public discussion in this period, and was discussed with Mr. Reynolds by the IDA. Third, the fact that intervention beef was going to Baghdad was published openly in October 1988 just as Mr. Reynolds was deciding to commit huge amounts of extra cover to Iraq. And fourth, the Department of Agriculture knew all along about the source of beef and was able, when asked by Mr. Reynold's successor, Mr. Ray Burke, to produce detailed information on it within a week.
Since the report finds that this information was easily available to Mr. Reynolds and that "the national interest would ... appear to require" that he should have sought it, his explanation for why he failed to do so will be central to the debate."
On pages 215 and 216 the tribunal report states:
While the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Government were entitled to make their respective decisions in "the national interest", the "national interest" would also appear to require that before exposing the State to a potential liability of well in excess of £100m a more detailed investigation or analysis of the benefits to the economy of such decisions which involved:-
(i) the allocation of 50% of the amount of Export Credit Insurance cover available for all exports worldwide to one particular destination, and
(ii) such risk to the Exchequer if default in payment were made should have been carried out. Such an investigation, if made, might and in all probability would have disclosed that a large portion of the beef to be exported was intended to be sourced outside the jurisdiction and an even larger proportion had been or was intended to be purchased from intervention stock and that the benefits to the Irish economy, arising from such exports, were illusory rather than real.
Why did the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, not ask about the source of the beef and why did the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Joe Walsh, not tell him?
Throughout 1987 those two Ministers worked closely on the IDA-Goodman development plan. According to the tribunal report, the Department of Agriculture and Food was fully aware of the fact that large quantities of intervention beef were going to Iraq.
Another question which requires an answer from the current Taoiseach is how did the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, discover that Goodman International was going to apply for insurance cover on a $134.5 million contract in August 1987? Was he inspired by the Holy Ghost?
Page 209 of the tribunal report states:
Though, as stated by Mr. Reynolds, "the size of the contract was so economically significant for the beef industry" and was the largest ever negotiated in respect of the export of beef, and Mr. Reynolds was aware of the fact that the application was going to be made prior to the receipt of the application in the Department of Industry and Commerce, no satisfactory evidence was available to the Tribunal to establish the circumstances in which the Minister for Industry and Commerce was informed of the application prior to its receipt in the Department or of the necessity to have it dealt with with such a degree of urgency that the Department of Finance and the Department of Agriculture and Food did not have an opportunity to express their observations on the matter in the Memorandum for Government.
Neither the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr. Reynolds, the Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, who was to deal with the matter in Cabinet, Mr. Goodman, nor Mr. Britton have any recollection of who informed Mr. Reynolds that the application would be made.
Furthermore, the Government unlawfully and improperly intervened with the Industrial Development Authority while its then sponsoring Minister, Deputy Reynolds, not only stood by and cheered them on but was clearly in cahoots with the de facto owner of the company which was to benefit from these unlawful directions. I charge him of being in cahoots since it is quite clear that not only did he leave his home, office and Longford telephone numbers for Goodman company representatives to phone him at will but he met with them without the presence of civil servants — all of this in connection with the largest single beef contract in the entire history of world trade. The Taoiseach told the tribunal in evidence that he could not recall the circumstances in which he was told about a deal of such magnitude. Yet he exposed the State to £98.65 million of liabilities without any real benefit to the economy.
The tribunal does not know why the then Minister Reynolds rushed the beef cover increase through Cabinet or how he knew this was going to be urgent, but it is clear how he knew. One company had the inside track. That company had the then Minister's home and personal office telephone numbers. Its owner was, around that time, parking his jet at Baldonnel — a military airport — with special permission of the then Head of the Government.
Who really knows what information changed hands or what deals were really done behind closed doors with these insiders without civil servants present? The tribunal does not say that no improper act took place. It says, in many parts, "there was no evidence". How could there be evidence when witnesses were deliberately excluded and exchanges were verbal? Note the language used by the tribunal on the allegations made about the Revenue Commissioners — the tribunal stated "there is no basis" for these. It did not say that there was no basis for allegations made against Deputy Reynolds, it says over and over "there is no evidence".
The report finds no evidence of closeness between Goodman and the Government of the day. Did anyone seriously expect that it would, any more than Deputy Spring, whose naïvety seems to know no bounds, expected to find evidence of wrongdoing on the Masri file? However, the public are not fooled. They believe that there was a closeness between Goodman and Minister Reynolds and Taoiseach Haughey and, having regard to the fact that the Government on two separate occasions exceeded its powers to interfere improperly with the IDA on behalf of Goodman and then colluded to ensure that Goodman competitors were denied access to the Iraqi market, any responsible person must assume that Goodman had a special relationship with the Government.
Deals where Ministers meet people in private without the presence of civil servants and which subsequently cannot be adequately explained are not recorded on files — they are more likely to repose within the confines of white Hiace vans or other such locations.
It is typical of Deputy Reynolds's behaviour that the current Taoiseach should seek to claim that the report had vindicated him when he was the only person in possession of that report. To quote a recent editorial in the Church of Ireland Gazette:
Mr. Reynolds may have been the first to claim he may have been vindicated, but his quest for three short days of vindication may have misfired, and it appears they will be followed by weeks of closer scrutiny ... The paying public still does not know whether the Cabinet discussed or made a decision in the national interest in June 1988 to confine cover to two companies from State-backed insurance for beef export to Iraq. Mr. Reynolds told three civil servants such a decision was made. But there is no record of such a decision, and five of the Taoiseach's Cabinet colleagues are quoted as saying "the matter was never discussed".
This editorial also calls on the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, to act on the proposal he made in Opposition for legislation allowing Governments to reveal the contents of Cabinet discussions where it is accepted that disclosure is in the public interest. The Tánaiste must press now for this legislation and make it retrospective so that we can know the truth about Cabinet decisions. It is an appalling abuse of the constitutional requirement of accountability that the law agent of the Government went to the Supreme Court to prevent Cabinet information from being provided. Contrast this with the British spy catcher affair when the Cabinet secretary went on the witness stand and later had to admit to being "economical with the truth". He nonetheless was capable of being cross-examined and having his economy exposed. This did not happen here.
To add insult to injury the current Fianna Fáil Minister of State with responsibility for Commerce. Deputy Séamus Brennan, in an article penned by The Sunday Tribune following the publication of the beef tribunal report wrote:
The real cost to the taxpayer is the tens of millions of pounds spent on the tribunal itself. This is not a criticism of the tribunal, but rather a criticism of the politically motivated allegations that resulted in the spending of so much time, energy and taxpayers' money.
It is inevitable that those parties who called for a tribunal are trying to justify their original positions.
If the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, did not take exception to those comments then he should have taken exception to the comments of the Taoiseach on RTE radio following the presentation of the tribunal report when he said that "outrageous political allegations which have been made" have been thrown out by the tribunal. Similar comments were made on radio by the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Cowen. Yesterday in the Dáil the Taoiseach several times rubbed the noses of the Labour Party in it and, in particular, Deputy Spring. He said "the fact remains that if political integrity had not been impugned there would have been no tribunal". Later he said "to make baseless attacks on other people's integrity without proper evidence in itself represents a lowering of standards in public life". There is page after page of attacks on the Tánaiste. The Taoiseach aid:
The entire democratic process has suffered greatly as a result of the conduct of some in the lead up to the tribunal and while it was in session. The manner of the attacks on personalities has cast a cloud over public representatives.
This would not happen if Brendan Corish was alive. This would not happen if Frank Cluskey was alive. It would not happen if Dick Spring was alive politically — politically Dick Spring is dead. What has happened to the Labour Party with its proud history is that it has allowed itself, like Alanna McCree's dog, to go a bit of the road with one party and a bit of the road with another and find itself compromised by keeping in power a Government and a Taoiseach who has clearly been indicted by a tribunal set up at its request. I find it sad to make comments of this kind. I do not share with some members of the Labour Party a socialist belief, but I do share with many others in the Labour Party whom I do not believe for one minute are socialists but who are decent ordinary people, as many of the socialists are, the common belief that we are here to serve the ordinary people, particularly those on the lowest rung. What do they see? They see their voluptuaries going off in big jets, living great lives. Do you three think you are going to keep your seats at the next election? One of the three will come back, the other two will be gone out of here and it is the party over there that will gain at their expenses because the Labour Party has lost its way.
I find it very surprising that this report only in one place uses the word "unethical". That is a criticism I would have of those who drafted this report. Not only unethical but words like criminal, deceitful, reckless, guileful, dishonest and fraudulent might well have been used to describe what happened. What will history say of those Members of the Dáil who have the ultimate power of sanction over those they accurately accuse should they fail to use such sanction? A future reviewer of these events will ask what happened next. This cannot be the end. It cannot be business as usual. This country needs decisiveness to lift us from a moral morass. When our citizens see the head of Government justifying acts which gave rise to this tribunal of inquiry they know that something is rotten in the state of Ireland.
I have one further quotation from Julius Caesar which the Tánaiste and the Labour Party should ponder this week. For they are not to be taken as a timorous team. They must eviscerate those who conducted public affairs in the manner shown by this tribunal report:
There is a tide in the affairs of men Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat
And we must take the current when it serves
Or love our ventures.
I do not want to see a Labour Party which has no influence in a Government or a parliament of this country. I believe the Labour Party has a major contribution to make but it is time it found its way. Grins do not appear on the Official Report but the people who grin in the Labour Party when that is said are those who will be saddest when this Government, led by Deputy Reynolds, dissolves this Dáil and goes to the country at the earliest opportunity, which is what it will do as soon as the Labour Party is compromised enough. That tide is at its flood. We must not let it ebb away. It is time for the ship of state to chart a new course with a new crew, and Fianna Fáil must no longer be allowed to captain that ship until they at least show that they are no longer with the pirates.