Supplementary Estimates 1994. - Appointment of President of High Court: Statements.

Over the past 48 hours, there has been much speculation about the kind of statement the Labour Party might want from me on this occasion to ensure the future of the partnership Government. This is a good Government and I, and my Fianna Fáil Government colleagues, believe it is our collective responsibility to continue its work. This is a good Government and a good partnership: even now, halfway through our term, the results prove that.

However, in preparing this statement to the House, I have wider and deeper responsibilities. I must, today, explain the failure of a system in this specific case; a failure with ghastly and specific consequences for the children of this country. I must not excuse the failure: I must ensure that it never happens again. I will give this House a full and detailed report but a full and detailed report of a failure in our method of dealing with such a crime as child sexual abuse will never and can never be satisfactory.

It cannot be satisfactory — and it is not satisfactory to me. As a father and grandfather, I find the idea of paedophilia revolting. That the paedophile would be a priest, with the special access to children and the extra layer of trust that we extend to the priesthood is much worse, so much worse. It is a betrayal of innocence, of family, of an honoured position and of a national commitment to the innocence and vulnerability of young people.

I wish to preface my dealing with the explanation furnished by the Attorney General by stating, upfront, my view of that explanation. It sets out the details of the handling of the case in the Attorney General's office. It cannot be satisfactory because it shows a system, developed for past conditions, failing to cope with present realities.

I will not defend that system. On the contrary. I have asked tough questions about it. I am dissatisfied when I see the standard rules and precedents being used but not working properly. I have demanded radical change. I will, as head of Government, take responsibility along with my colleagues for the fact that the system should have been changed sooner. That is my view and the view of my Fianna Fáil colleagues on the issue of public accountability.

We accepted a full explanation of what happened, not as a justification for what happened but as a record of system failure and as something showing the gaps, the flaws and the liabilities that have to be tackled under the Attorney General.

The general public have had the opportunity to read the full text of the explanation inThe Irish Times and the Irish Independent. I intend to place the full text in the Library of the House.

It has been stated that the appointment of Mr. Whelehan to the Bench has the effect of preventing me from answering questions in this House in relation to the case. That is not so. I have been advised that the fact that Mr. Justice Whelehan is no longer Attorney General does not prevent me from dealing now with any matter that arose during his term of office. I can deal with it in the same manner as I could were he still the Attorney General even though in formal constitutional terms he is not accountable to the House.

There was an unacceptable delay in the handling of this case for which we all in Government must take responsibility. On my behalf, and on behalf of the Government, I wish to express my deep regret to the Irish people for the delays that occurred. I give a solemn assurance in this House today that such a situation will never arise again, on the part of an organ of State whose special duty it is to look after the rights of the citizen.

I want to take this opportunity of confirming categorically to the House that I have been assured by the then Attorney General that he did not know and was not made aware of the existence of a request for the extradition of Fr. Brendan Smyth until recent weeks. The existing procedures gave rise to that obviously unsatisfactory situation.

In view of the seriousness of the issues which have arisen in connection with this matter, I decided that there should be a thorough, immediate review of the operations of the Office of the Attorney General. I have directed that this review will be completed within the next three weeks after which I expect a radical re-organisation of the Office of the Attorney General to take place. This review is being carried out by a high-level group chaired by the Secretary, Public Service Management and Development in the Department of Finance and comprising the Secretary to the Government and the Secretary of the Department of Justice.

The group is free to seek such assistance, from within and outside the Civil Service, as it considers necessary, to carry out its task as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible. The terms of reference of the group are: to review and make recommendations on the relevant organisational structure, systems, procedures and staffing arrangements in the Office of the Attorney General.

I see this review as being the essential first step in the preparation of a statement of strategy for the Office of Attorney General. A strategy statement will provide the basis for the reform of the operations of the office in the longer term and underpin the immediate measures that I have just announced. I have asked the Attorney General to ensure that it is put in place as a matter of priority.

Lessons from this case have already been learned by the Office of the Attorney General. It is recognised that this case was not handled as sensitively and urgently as it should have been. Steps have been taken to remedy this. New administrative arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the Attorney General is informed of every extradition request immediately it is received by his office. In addition, the Attorney General has directed that, henceforth, absolute priority over other work, irrespective of its importance or urgency, will be given to any extradition request that involves the abuse of children. I can assure the House that there will never be another Brendan Smyth case.

Extraditon requests are among the important matters that are invariably placed before the Attorney General for his personal decision, but before he will be in a position to make his decision on the request, the preparatory work on the case has to be done by his professional staff. Nevertheless, I believe, and I operate on this basis in my own office, that important and sensitive matters should be brought to the immediate attention of the Taoiseach, Minister or office holder, such as the Attorney General, so that he or she may give directions as to how the matter is to be dealt with in his or her office.

The importance and urgency of this case was clearly not appreciated and understood in the Attorney General's office. Legitimate concern has been expressed by many people at the fact that this case, involving as it did accusations of sexual abuse of children, took so long to be dealt with by the Attorney General's office. I fully share that concern. I appreciate and regret the deep anxiety which is felt by everybody, especially parents, about this case.

Two particularly serious issues arise in connection with this case. The first is how the Attorney General's office could take seven months to process the warrants and, secondly, who is accountable for this situation. In relation to the seven month delay, with great regret I have to tell the House that there is no really satisfactory or adequate explanation which I can give in response to that.

One reason that has been advanced by the Attorney General's office, has been the issue of Fr. Brendan Smyth's address at the time of the warrants. The address on the warrants was a previous address in Northern Ireland but on the accompanying documentation supplied only to the Attorney General's office was an address at Kilnacrott Abbey in County Cavan. It was unfortunately assumed in our Attorney General's office on the basis of this that, if Fr. Brendan Smyth was in the State he was living at that address, living within a religious community. That comfortable assumption, which we now know was regrettably incorrect, resulted in consideration not being given to the possibility that Fr. Brendan Smyth might be out in the community or in contact with young people. There was an unquestioning belief that residence within a religious community by a person accused of offences such as those specified in the warrants would render it out of the question that he would engage in, or have the opportunity to engage in, further activities of that type.

The statement in the documentation as to Brendan Smyth's residence, upon which the assumption was made, should not have been accepted by the Attorney Generals' office at face value. It is a mistake that cannot be allowed to happen again. In future cases of this type any such statement will have to be thoroughly investigated.

I fully accept that there has been justifiable public concern about the manner in which this particular extradition case was handled. Proper priority should have been accorded to it. It was dealt with as a normal extradition case but this was clearly not appropriate given the particular seriousness of the offences and the possibility that existed for further offences to be committed. I regret very much that the lack of urgent action on it has caused so much anxiety to parents and others. I can assure them that they will have no basis for such anxiety in the future.

I fully agree with the criticism which has been made that the process of examining extradition warrants in the Attorney General's office must be changed and changed radically. A seven month delay in processing the paperwork is totally unacceptable. I conveyed my strong views on the way in which this case was handled. The Attorney General will ensure that all members of the staff of his office are fully aware of these views and of the absolute need to ensure that all matters related to the welfare of children will be accorded the highest priority in future.

In the wider context of policy, this partnership Government has made child care a priority and has undertaken that all sections of the Child Care Act will be implemented. Priority will be given to those provisions which confer new and improved powers on health boards, the Garda and courts to intervene more effectively in cases of child abuse. Our State legal services must also reflect these priorities in their work.

The general question of responsibility and accountability has been raised in connection with this case. The Attorney General is an independent constitutional officer and is not part of the Executive of the State. He is the legal officer of the Government but also has a quasi-judicial role. In the case of the implementation of the Extradition (Amendment) Act of 1987, the Attorney General is required to direct that a warrant for the extradition of a person from the State shall not be endorsed unless, having considered such information as he deems appropriate, he is of the opinion that there is a clear intention to prosecute that person, founded on the existence of sufficient evidence. The Attorney General is not answerable to the Government or to the Dáil for that particular statutory function.

As regards the integrity of the office of Attorney General, I am informed that only one officer in the Attorney General's office was involved in the processing of the Smyth case. In response to my personal inquiries, I have been assured that there is no question of outside influence being brought to bear in the case.

When a request for the extradition of a person has been received from another jurisdiction, the decision whether to advise the Garda that they may endorse the warrant, thus initiating the extradition process, or whether to direct them not to do so is one for the Attorney General himself and not for any official, save in the case of absence or illness, which is not relevant in this situation.

The Attorney General is responsible for the decision whether to grant or refuse an extradition request. In the Smyth case, the Attorney General did not make any decision because the preparatory work which had to be done by officials had not been completed at the time it became known that Fr. Brendan Smyth was voluntarily going to Belfast to face trial there. As is known, he did return and was in due course sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

I now wish to deal with a number of specific points. The first point was "why was there such an absolute refusal to issue a public statement or face public questions". I am doing today what I clearly indicated last week I would be doing. I am giving a full account. There has been no refusal to issue a public statement or face public questions.

The second point was in relation to "the Attorney's explanation that he had not seen the request, amplified by the assertion that there would be no point in his seeing it, until all the preparatory work had been completed by an official". This was contrasted with his predecessor's statement in December 1988 that the Attorney General "bears ultimate responsibility for the initation and conduct of extradition proceedings".

The third point was that "in his explanation, the Attorney also says that what comes to him and what does not, is decided on the professional judgement of the person with responsibility for the relevant file". This is contrasted with a letter from the Attorney General about aspects of the Ethics Bill, in which he referred in detail to the "non-delega-tory" nature of the job of Attorney General.

The answer to those two points is as follows: the initiation and conduct of proceedings in the above context refers to the courts, not to the examination of the file in his office. Anything that requires the decision of the Attorney General is, of course, submitted to him, and his decision-making functions indeed cannot be delegated. But that does not mean he has to work singlehanded, or in particular, that work preparatory to a decision cannot be delegated.

I would now like to address some of the broader issues of the case. The Attorney-General's position is not the same as that of a Minister, but he clearly has responsibility for the operation of his office, in the same way as a Minister has under the Ministers and Secretaries Act. We must distinguish between responsibility and culpability. As Ministers pointed out yesterday, if for example there were a teacher accused of molesting a child in a school under the control of the Department of Education, the Minister would be responsible, but he or she would not be culpable, unless, having been informed of that fact, they failed to take corrective action.

Similarly, for example, if patients are abused or left untreated in a public hospital, the Minister for Health is responsible, but again he or she is not to blame, provided they act when the problem is brought to their attention.

Another example would be a case of negligence by a local authority official. The Minister for the Environment would be responsible, but he would not be to blame.

The reality, as we all know, is that hundreds of decisions are made in Government Departments every day of the week. The ministerial head of the office is responsible and accountable for each of these decisions, and must take corrective action when required. They are also in general responsible as far as possible for the efficient operation of their offices. That ideal is not always easy to fulfil, but must be striven for at all times.

Government in Ireland operates under the doctrine of collective responsibility. The Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government. The Taoiseach is in practice administratively accountable for the Attorney General's office in this House. Indeed, accountability is unaffected by the Attorney's appointment to the Presidency of the High Court. I am here to answer for his office and his conduct of it in this House.

If there were legislative delays, as there have been in the past, I do not think the House would find it an adequate excuse if I were simply to attribute all responsibility for the delay to the Attorney General's office. The responsibility would clearly also lie with the Government as a whole. W.T. Cosgrave, as President of the Executive Council in 1924, stated, given the necessity to have somebody to answer for the Attorney General in the House, where he was not a Member, that `In this arrangement the Executive Council has the general responsibility, and must be prepared to answer for the Attorney General — Official Report, volume 5, cols. 916-917. In other words, it was laid down by the first leader of a post-independence Irish Government at the time of the Ministers and Secretaries Act that the Government as a whole was responsible for the Attorney General. In my opinion, it follows that I personally and the Government as a whole must take some responsibility for the deficiencies in the operation of extradition procedures in the Attorney General's office, as brought to light in the Smyth case.

I now want to address all the issues surrounding the appointment of the former Attorney General to the Presidency of the High Court. In recent months, particulary since controversy arose about the appointment, when it was brought into the public domain, I have been faced with two unenviable choices. I was faced on the one hand by the opposition of my colleagues in a partnership Government to this particular judicial appointment, which was made much more difficult to resolve by the fact that it had become public. On the other hand, if I had acquiesced in the violation of a well-established precedent, it would have implied that the Attorney General did not enjoy the full trust and confidence of his colleagues, and consequently, his position as Attorney General would have become untenable.

Part of the question that arose between us was over whether there was a precedent for the Attorney General to be entitled to nomination as President of the High Court. With regard to that point, about which there has been some dispute, I would like to quote one of the most eminent authorities on constitutional government in Ireland, Professor Basil Chubb, in the 1992 third edition of his book,The Government and Politics of Ireland page 295. There he states: “by custom the Attorney General, a political appointee, who is the Government's legal adviser and state prosecutor, is always offered any vacancy to the High Court that occurs during his term of office”. I underline the word “any”, which clearly includes the presidency. No provision was made in the Programme for Government for any alteration of this custom and precedent. I now accept that the desirability of such a custom is open to question, and both parties in Government have agreed that it will not obtain in the future.

Following the initial controversy, we reached an impasse on this issue. The Cabinet agreed to set up a sub-committee of four to see in what way this impasse could be resolved. Discussions took place and some progress was reported. I then had the much publicised discussions with the Tánaiste in Baldonnel on 9 October. Following that meeting the sub-committee worked out a new system of judicial appointments, which it was agreed would be incorporated in the Courts and Court Officers Bill, on my clear understanding that this would pave the way for the appointment of the Attorney General to the presidency of the High Court. Indeed, on 11 October, a Government statement said "when the legislative changes are approved by Government, an appointment to the Presidency of the High Court will be made". I agreed to repeated postponements of the decision, at the request of the Tánaiste. The emergence of the Smyth case did not affect the integrity of the Attorney General, nor his suitability for high judicial office. It was my understanding that the appointment was to be made last week. It was agreed to take it last Thursday evening, but in the event the Government meeting was devoted to a discussion on Northern Ireland arising from the tragedy in Newry that morning. It was decided to have the usual Government meeting on the following morning, Friday, when the full agenda was dealt with.

The Tánaiste came to see me on that Thursday evening and handed me a letter timed 7.30 p.m. I responded to the letter in writing. I received a further letter that night from the Tánaiste timed 11.30 p.m. which was not received by me until I returned home from an engagement, at about 1.20 a.m. I rang the Tánaiste early the following morning. In these exchanges I was anxious to accommodate the Tánaiste in every possible respect, and had no problem with his other requests seeking proper accountability. The only outstanding issue was whether the decision on the presidency of the High Court required to be deferred in order to allow me to be accountable on the Attorney General's behalf to the Dáil in the Smyth case. I sought advice on the proper procedures, and was confirmed in my view that this postponement was unnecessary, because accountability arises for all decisions that have been taken, but not for decisions which have yet to be made.

The responsibility of the Executive is to take decisions and to be accountable for them afterwards to the Dáil. We cannot as a rule hope to satisfy the Dáil, and particularly the Opposition parties, before we take decisions. When the former Taoiseach came to explain and answer questions in the Dáil on the Fr. Ryan extradition case, it was to defend the decision that had already been taken by the Attorney General independently.

My view of good Government is that it must be decisive. We had a long Cabinet discussion last Friday on this issue. I was given no advance warning that my Labour colleagues intended to leave the Government meeting, were the issue of the presidency of the High Court to be decided. Government procedures are such that dissenting voices at a Government meeting are not recorded in the Government minutes, whereas members of the Government absenting themselves from a decision may be recorded, if they so request. It was for this reason we took the view that, rather than staying at the table, our Labour colleagues were absenting themselves for this decision only, thereby recording their dissent. We therefore proceeded to take the decision on that basis. It has transpired that this was a misinterpretation on our part. I genuinely regret that, and any inadvertent offence caused to the Tánaiste and his Labour Party colleagues.

Given the consequences that have arisen, which were certainly not our intention, we must avoid any recurrence of this type of situation. It is clear we need a better method, which is not provided for in the Programme for Government, for dealing with issues of this kind which rarely happen. I am willing to sit down with the Tánaiste to set up whatever structures would explore conflicting interests, and provide a better mechanism of dealing with them within the partnership, which respects vital political interests, while ensuring that essential decisions are taken.

These new structures would underpin renewed trust and co-operation which I recognise as essential components in the good partnership Government. They can serve as the mechanism for dealing with this type of situation in the future, should it ever happen again.

It would be a great pity if a Government that is achieving rapid economic progress, that has achieved the biggest breakthrough in Northern Ireland in over 25 years, and that has a fine legislative programme should be placed in jeopardy over misunderstandings surrounding a single judicial appointment. In particular, it is my profound conviction that we have to give the fragile Northern peace process the best possible chance of permanent consolidation. I believe the national interest requires continuity at this time. We must all work to restore the spirit of partnership which is the cornerstone of this successful Government. I solemnly commit myself as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil to restoring that spirit of partnership and trust.

My colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, has played an indispensable role in both the Northern Ireland talks process and the peace process. I want again to pay tribute in particular to the dedication and expertise which he brought to these delicate and protracted negotiations, the success of which will underwrite the future of this country. History will recall Deputy Spring's essential contribution to that success. We can go forward from here and build on that success. I know that Deputy Spring and the Labour Party are the right partners to achieve that goal.

The Taoiseach should go down on his knees.

His ministerial colleagues and his party have also made a major contribution to the other successes of this Administration. I have sought to achieve certain goals which may be summed up as peace and prosperity for this country.

Own goals.

I have no attachment to office for its own sake. I have always set myself high standards and I would rather sacrifice office than the basic principles of good Government. I am totally committed to public accountability.

That is a separate question.

Indeed, I welcome it as one of the hallmarks of modern democracy.

Why will the Taoiseach not answer questions?

The lengthy account I have given here shows that I am willing to give a full and comprehensive account of the conduct of the Attorney General's office. Where obvious deficiencies have arisen, I asked questions and sought changes. The essence of accountability, where there has been a breakdown in public policy, is threefold; to give a full account of what has happened, to accept responsibility, which I have done on behalf of the former Attorney General, myself and the Government, and to make the administrative changes that are so obviously necessary.

Even the most detailed explanations cannot make a bad situation better — cannot make a flawed system acceptable. The most detailed explanation cannot make any of us feel that a seven month delay in dealing with a child sexual abuser was acceptable.

The Fianna Fáil Party would never seek to justify or minimise what went wrong in the Fr. Brendan Smyth case. All of our members have an instinctive, reflex horror and revulsion of this kind of abuse, particularly when done by a priest friend of a family. It goes against everything we stand for, everything we believe in, everything we work towards.

I have expressed my deep and genuine regret to the Irish people for this bad episode. Now, I go further. Nothing like the Fr. Smyth case will ever be allowed to happen again in this country. I will ensure that the structures are put in place to make that a certainty.

We are meeting today to consider a very serious issue. In our approach to this debate it is important that we are just to all concerned and willing to accept so far as possible the word of all concerned. Before addressing ourselves to that issue we should express our concern for and sympathy to the victims, and their families, of the awful crime of paedophilia, a crime which stays with the victims until the end of their days.

The issue we are being asked to consider today concerns principally the way in which the Taoiseach does his business as Taoiseach. It would appear that last Friday the Labour Party Members, who are members of a two-party Government, failed to obtain adequate explanations for the behaviour in office of the then serving Attorney General. It would appear also that, having failed to obtain those explanations, they withdrew from the Cabinet meeting. Notwithstanding that, the Taoiseach went ahead and appointed the person, about whose conduct adequate explanations had not been provided, to one of the most senior judicial positions. That was wrong on two counts. It was wrong because it is unfair to the judicial system and to all judges that anybody over whom serious questions hang should be appointed to the Judiciary. It was wrong for a second reason, in that it represented a calculated insult to the other party that were members of the Government jointly with the Taoiseach. He thought so little of their opinion that he ignored them entirely, went ahead and took a decision in their absence with which he knew they did not agree.

I simply do not accept the explanation given by the Taoiseach for his having taking that decision. In the course of his statement the Taoiseach said:

Government procedures are such that dissenting voices at a Government meeting are not recorded in the Government minutes, whereas members of the Government absenting themselves from a decision may be recorded, if they so request.

The Taoiseach is trying to pretend to the House and the Labour Party that this departure from the Cabinet meeting on the part of an entire party which represented 33 Deputies and obtained a huge public vote at the last general election was no more than a simple case of somebody looking out the window when a vote was being taken or going out to the balcony with the intention of returning.

I believe that to be a completely incredible explanation. I was not at the meeting so I do not know what went before but my understanding is that it was long and somewhat acrimonious. That the Taoiseach assumed Labour Ministers were simply engaging in a procedural device to wash their hands of a decision rather than making a much more serious protest on behalf of their party at the way in which business was being conducted is completely unbelievable. I will be amazed if the Tánaiste and the Labour Party accept that this is a true statement of the Taoiseach's true beliefs about their decision on that occasion to take that most serious step, as a party, of withdrawing from the Cabinet. The Taoiseach claims that this was a misinterpretation on his part. My understanding is that there was not much time taken after the Labour Party Ministers had left in discussing this issue or attempting to weigh up whether or not this was a correct interpretation of the conduct of the Labour Ministers. My understanding is that the decision was taken very quickly immediately the Labour Ministers had left.

One would have thought that if the Taoiseach was genuinely in doubt as to a true understanding of the reason for the Labour Ministers absenting themselves from the Cabinet he would have taken either of two steps: he would have had a lengthy discussion with his remaining Fianna Fáil colleagues to weigh up the true understanding of what the Labour Ministers were doing or would have requested the Secretary to the Government to contact the absent Labour Ministers to ascertain their view on the matter. He did neither of those things. He did not care to find out the true interpretation of the Labour Party action in this matter. He did not care.

It is interesting to look at some of the circumstantial evidence which may substantiate my belief that the Taoiseach did not care whether the Labour Party were simply engaging in a procedural device to evade responsibility for a decision — which would be uncharacteristic of them — or were making a serious protest. The reason I think the Taoiseach did not bother to inquire is that he was taking this decision on the day the first tallies were coming in from the by-elections in Cork. He knew the Labour Party, as is customary for a party in a coalition, was not doing particularly well and coldly calculated that it would be in no position to object. It was not any misinterpretation; it was a cold, calculated act, one that could be described as the act of a political bully. I do not believe that type of act has any place in any Government whether it be a single or multi-party one. Politics is about arguing one's case but is also about respecting the case of others.

The way in which the Taoiseach acted on that occasion, perhaps spontaneously or without a great deal of deliberation, revealed his true attitude to the Labour Party. Perhaps in times of less stress, when he has more time to deliberate and consult before doing things, he may force himself to treat the Labour Party with more respect, but when he took a decision under pressure, in the heat of the moment, his true feelings emerged. Those true feelings were feelings of contempt. Contempt is the only appropriate noun to describe the activity in which the Taoiseach engaged in ploughing ahead with this decision in the absence of his Government colleagues.

That is the central question. I intend to devote some time to the explanations, or rather non-explanations, that have been offered for the decisions of the Attorney General, now President of the High Court. It is well known by all Members, but not perhaps as well known by members of the public, that it is a well established tradition in this House that one may not criticise members of the Judiciary. On any occasion a Member has sought to criticise members of the Judiciary the Ceann Comhairle or the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has intervened to stop us from doing so, in my view quite properly because of the separation of powers. How then can we pass any judgment on the conduct of somebody who is now a judge? We are not allowed to discuss the conduct of somebody who is now a judge, because we are not allowed to impugn the Judiciary. It is relevant to point out that the Taoiseach, far from being committed to accountability, adopted a deliberate device to prevent the Attorney General being the subject of any searching criticism in this House by placing him in a judicial position where he is not only above accountability but above criticism since it is not proper or appropriate to criticise a judge in this House.

One might draw the conclusion that there is another unworthy motive for the haste in making this decision, that for some reason the Taoiseach did not want the Attorney General to have to answer questions about this matter. Otherwise he could have waited a week to make the appointment and thus allowed the question of the answers provided by the Attorney General for his handling of this case to be discussed. Had the Labour Party or anyone else decided that they wanted to have a critical debate or a critical questioning of the Attorney General, they would have been able to do so because the subject of criticism would not have been a judge, someone who is above criticism in this House. Perhaps his Labour Party colleagues know more about it than I, but the Taoiseach plainly did not want a critical examination of the Attorney General and that explains why he had to give the explanations to the Cabinet and make the appointment at the same time. Any delay would have meant the possibility of an open debate and criticism of the Attorney General's activity and, for some reason, the Taoiseach did not want that. That is wrong. It is not accountability. It is a denial of the prerogative not just of this House but of the public who are entitled to scrutinise the activities of any important officer of State.

The Taoiseach said that the responsibility of the Executive is to take decisions and to be accountable for them afterwards to the Dáil. He continued: "We cannot as a rule hope to satisfy the Dáil, and particularly the Opposition, before we take decisions." It is a gross misinterpretation to imply, as the Taoiseach did, that the Tánaiste was asking him to defer the appointment of a President of the High Court until Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and Democratic Left were satisfied. He was not making any such request. Neither was he asking that the Dáil as a whole should be satisfied with this appointment. He was asking no more and no less than that sufficient time be allowed for questions to be asked publicly. The Tánaiste was not seeking to give the Dáil a veto over Executive decisions in regard to this matter. He was not seeking to give the Opposition — to quote the Taoiseach — a role in this matter. He was simply seeking to allow questions to be asked and the only way the Taoiseach had of preventing that was by taking the decision at the same time as explanations were offered to the Cabinet, thereby shutting off any possibility of questioning on the matter.

The Taoiseach claims that he agreed to repeated postponements of the decision at the request of the Tánaiste. That may be true, but it does not explain why a decision on the appointment had to be made at the same meeting at which the explanations in regard to the Fr. Smyth case were presented. A further postponement of one week would have made no difference. However, from the Taoiseach's perspective, such a postponement would not have allowed him to perform the ritual humiliation of the Labour Party in Government that acting as he did allowed him to do.

The Taoiseach claimed that he was pushed towards haste in this decision by the fact that the controversy within the Government had become public. He must ask himself, as must all Members of the Government, why that happened. It is a matter that reflects discredit on all 15 members of the Government that any matter of this kind should have become public. However, when it comes to accountability for the fact that proceedings at Cabinet became public, the person who is primarily accountable for that failure is the Taoiseach himself as Head of the Government. If a Government leaks it is because it is not managed on a partnership basis, because people feel they are not getting an adequate hearing at the Cabinet table and must, therefore, make their views known through the media. If a Government leaks it is because it is not working and the person who is accountable for that is the Taoiseach. Far from representing some form of excuse for the Taoiseach's behaviour, the fact that matters discussed at Cabinet have become public is an indication of serious failure of leadership on his part.

The Taoiseach also sought to justify his action in proceeding with this appointment on the grounds that there was a well established precedent that the holder of the office of Attorney General could be offered any position that came up in the courts at any time. I have made inquiries of members of the legal profession, of judges, former judges and others, and I am satisfied that there is no such precedent. I understand that the Labour Party agrees with my view on that matter.

Mr. Justice T.F. O'Higgins would not agree.

Mr. Justice T.F. O'Higgins is one of the authorities I quote. He agrees with my interpretation of the matter. It is somewhat strange and provocative that the Taoiseach has chosen to draw an analogy with the responsibility in child abuse cases of the Minister for Education, a Labour Minister, and the Minister for Health, also a Labour Minister.

The Minister for the Environment is not a Labour Minister.

Deputy Bruton is in possession. Let him continue without interruption from any side of the House.

The Taoiseach has sought to imply that there is some similarity between the position of the Minister for Education in the detection of child abuse in a voluntary secondary school in, say, County Galway and the position of the Attorney General. Of course the Minister for Education has a responsibility but it is of an entirely different level and scale from that of the Attorney General in regard to extradition. As the Tánaiste has correctly pointed out, the Attorney General's office is different from the office of a Minister in that, as the Attorney General rather delicately put it, it involves a non-delegatory job. More than that, in regard to extradition it is clear from the record of this House that that is a matter for which the Attorney General is personally responsible in a way that no Minister for Health is personally responsible for what happens in the health services and no Minister for Education for what happens in a particular school.

The Official Report on the debate on the Extradition Bill makes it clear that the responsibility of the Attorney General is very different. During that debate the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Gerard Collins, who is in the House, said the Government was happy that the Attorney General must see and examine all warrants. There is not a similar provision that the Minister for Health must examine all reports on health institutions or that the Minister for Education must examine every school report. However, in the case of extradition there is a specific responsibility on the Attorney General to see and examine all warrants. During the 1987 debate on the Extradition Bill the then Taoiseach, former Deputy Haughey, said this important new procedural step — he was referring to extradition — will mean that the Attorney General will have to form an opinion as to these matters. This is plainly different from the situation with which the Taoiseach thought to compare it. It is a matter for which the Attorney General has a clear personal responsibility. Therefore, a delay of seven months in a case like this represents a personal failure on the part of the former Attorney General.

The Attorney General said he did not see the file and I accept his word on that. Unfortunately, as would be the case in a court, we are not in a position to cross examine him about the matter to test his credibility even though one is disposed to accept his word. We are not allowed to do that because the Taoiseach appointed him to a job where he is above questioning. Even without that, I am willing to accept he did not see the warrants. I am prepared to accept also, but with more difficulty, his statement that finally, in view of certain innuendoes made he has been assured by the official dealing with the case that there was no contact of any kind from or with any political or other source concerning the case. In other words, the former Attorney General claimed that nobody made representations to him. The only way in which that could be definitely determined would be for all those dealing with the case to be interviewed by somebody accountable to this House, but that has not been done. If the former Attorney General interviewed those people he is no longer accountable to this House because he has been promoted. The Taoiseach most certainly did not interview those officials and, to date, he is unwilling to allow anyone else to do so. While I am willing to accept the statement of the former Attorney General on face value, we have been prevented from examining it by the Taoiseach's action in promoting him to the position of President of the High Court. The normal procedure of inquisition to test the veracity of any statement — even though one is not maliciously disposed to disbelieve his statement — have been denied to us in this case because of the action of the Taoiseach in appointing the former Attorney General to a position where he cannot be asked questions. Furthermore, the Taoiseach's abject apologies today on behalf of someone who is not here and who no longer has anything to do with the Government do not adequately deal with the matter, and I wonder about the validity of apologies offered on behalf of someone who is no longer part of the Executive.

The Taoiseach announced a major reorganisation of the office of the Attorney General. As we all know, in business parlance an announcement of a reorganisation of a company usually means that some people will lose their jobs or will be moved to other positions. This is another example of the Government apparently trying to hide behind officials. In the Arcon case the Minister was unwilling to take responsibility for decisions of his Department for which he was legally responsible under the ministers and secretaries Act and produced, not to the Dáil but to journalists, an official who took the rap. This is another case of evasion of responsibility, by shoving the matter into the hands of officials who will now probably be moved and it will be implied that they are truly responsible. That is not acceptable.

When one considers this against a background of a Taoiseach who was unwilling to answer questions in this House about his behaviour in matters covered in the report of the beef tribunal, the unexplained issuance of a passport to an investor in a company belonging to him and his difficult to believe statement that he was unaware of a £1 million investment in his company, we see a picture of a Government that does not really believe in being accountable. I am glad that accountability on this occasion is being sought, but there seems to be an irredeemable aversion to accountability in the Fianna Fáil Party. That party does not believe in having to account to this House if it can get away without doing so. To the credit of the Labour Party, it is not getting away with doing that on this occasion, although it got away with it very often on many equally important matters in the past two years. However, I am glad that, perhaps, that process has now come to an end.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle for being generous in regard to time. I hope I do not transgress on the time of others, but I am sure you will understand that in deliveringimpromptu remarks it is difficult to coordinate my thoughts in the time allocated.

It is clear that not only was the extradition warrant sent to the office of the Attorney General in the normal way, but that the Department of Justice was informed about it. I would like the Minister for Justice to indicate why she did not take action or saw nothing wrong with a seven month delay in processing that warrant. Apparently, the Minister for Justice was aware of the extradition warrant as soon as the Attorney General became aware of it. I understand that an official in the office of the British Attorney General telephoned or wrote directly to the office of the Irish Attorney General about the matter. Who from the office of the British Attorney General made that contact? Who in the office of the Irish Attorney General received such communication? What was the rank of the official who contacted the office of the Irish Attorney General and of the official who received the communication? How long had the warrants been in the office of the Irish Attorney General prior to the receipt of the request from the office of the British Attorney General?

In the statement issued by the Tánaiste and Leader of the Labour Party two possibly not very important questions were ignored by the Taoiseach in his contribution. The Tánaiste referred to some of the questions that refer to internal aspects of the explanation and to some missing information, like dates, notes, comments etc., relating to the extradition file which consists of 27 pieces of paper. I presume those questions are available to the Labour Party and it would be helpful if they were made available to the Opposition members so that we might pursue them later.

The Labour Party Leader referred to other queries that will also arise, and these were pursued by Labour Ministers to no avail. It appears the Taoiseach has dealt only with Labour Party queries contained in the Tánaiste's published statement. Obviously, there are a number of other queries, referred to by the Tánaiste, Which the Tánaiste, probably due to lack of time because the statement was so long, did not include in his public statement. As those matters are obviously of concern to the Labour Party and therefore of some importance, they should be put to the Taoiseach. I invite the Labour Party to make available to us a copy of any other questions it may have — it is obvious there are other questions — so that they can also be put to the Taoiseach.

I hope I have dealt with this matter in a fair and thorough fashion. The ultimate issue is the way the Taoiseach conducted the Cabinet meeting and the way he dealt with his parliamentary and Government colleagues, which is entirely unacceptable. It is not acceptable in any Government, single party or coalition, to make a decision when a significant minority is as unhappy as were the Labour Ministers. To treat colleagues in Cabinet table, be they of your own party or of another, as Labour Ministers were treated last Friday is unacceptable and incompatible with collective responsibility. The person responsible for that is the Taoiseach and, therefore, he should not continue to hold the office of Taoiseach since he has behaved in a manner which is unacceptable.

The issues we are debating this afternoon strike at the very heart of parliamentary democracy. What we are talking about today is the right of Members of the Dáil to vindicate the accountability the electorate places in us. The quote of the century must go to the Taoiseach who said, "I am totally committed to public accountability". I know of no Taoiseach and no office holder in the history of this Parliament who has been less accountable for his actions as an office holder than the Taoiseach. There is the instance of the Masri passports affair — who is accountable for that? On the beef tribunal, who is accountable for putting at risk in excess of £100 million of taxpayers' money? Who is accountable for usurping the authority of the IDA? The Taoiseach should be accountable.

I have to say to the Taoiseach — this is not easy for me, despite what he might think — that I had difficulties working with him as a junior member of his Government. He did not see me fit to represent the Government at Northern Ireland talks. I found that difficult to accept and never got a reasonable explanation for it. The Taoiseach finds it impossible to work with those who differ with him. That has been my view since my experience in Government with him.

It is ironic that it is only two years this month since the Taoiseach, in giving evidence to the beef tribunal, sought to totally undermine one of his Cabinet colleagues. Despite getting the opportunity on, I think, 13 occasions, when Deputy O'Malley's counsel cross-exam-ined him, to clarify what he had said, the Taoiseach persisted in putting his Cabinet colleagues in a position where he had no alternative but to withdraw from Government. Anybody who places the Government at such a risk is not suitable to hold the most senior political office in the country. The experience of the Labour Party does not surprise me, although sometimes one expects that people will learn lessons.

The Taoiseach said he had made up his mind he was going to answer questions, but I do not accept that. Why did I receive a letter from the Ceann Comhairle last Friday, 11 November, telling me that the Taoiseach had transferred my questions on this matter to the Minister for Justice for answer on Tuesday, 6 December while yesterday afternoon I received a telephone call from the General Office to say the Taoiseach would take my questions? What happened between Friday and yesterday? The Government was put at risk and that is the only reason the Taoiseach was prepared to take questions in this House.

When this issue first arose my colleague, Deputy Keogh, raised it on the Adjournment. We were concerned because Fr. Smyth had been a chaplain in Tralee Hospital and had 24 hour access to the children's ward there. We were rightly concerned that the church and hospital authorities did not take precautions to protect the children in their care. It was not until a couple of days later that we realised that extradition proceedings had been initiated in this case by the RUC. On Sunday, 25 October, when we became aware of the extradition proceedings, the Progressive Democrats spokesperson on Justice, Deputy O'Donnell, issued a statement. I will put on record some of what was said. That evening the Attorney General's office said they had not dealt with the matter because it was a very complex case over many years, and the length of time was not unnecessarily long. The next day the Attorney General's office told us that the Attorney General had not seen the warrant, that it was being dealt with by an assistant. Even on the first day, they could not get it right.

Everybody is talking about seven months and I accept the time involved was only seven months, but it could have been two years or seven years as far as the Attorney General's office, the former Attorney General and the Taoiseach were concerned. The only reason it was seven months is that Fr. Smyth voluntarily went back to the North, and we should not forget that. If he had not voluntarily gone back, he may still be here. It is interesting that, as in the case of the beef tribunal, it was a television programme of a foreign channel that brought this matter to public attention and caused action here. That should be noted on this occasion given that a journalist will shortly face proceedings in regard to her fine work.

It is extraordinary that anyone would dare to put forward as a defence the fact that as the priest was in a religious community was reason to believe he would not do again what he had been doing for many years. Anyone who knows anything about child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, knows the pattern: people do not give up, they continue for as long as they have access to children, and we must make sure they do not have access to children.

The Taoiseach's defence of what happened is not convincing. He regrets what happened but he did not say he made a mistake last Friday, and that is very interesting. I wonder why a Taoiseach who was risking so much — the downfall of his Government, tainting the Judiciary, his own reputation and that of the former Attorney General — should have persisted last Friday when less than half his Cabinet were present. I wonder why the former Attorney General accepted the position. Many reasonable people will ask legitimate questions about those two matters. I know of no person who would have put themselves in the position in which the former Attorney General put himself. It is extraordinary that the Taoiseach should have insisted on appointing to the second most senior judicial position in the country a man who was surrounded by so much controversy.

The Taoiseach said it was all right because he was going to answer questions this week, but I do not believe he had intended to do so. On 2 November when Deputy O'Malley and I raised the matter on the Order of Business and asked was the Attorney General accountable for what happened in his office, the Taoiseach refused to answer. The matter went on at length and the Ceann Comhairle sought to rule us out of order, but the Taoiseach did not answer our questions. He did not believe that the Attorney General was accountable.

In his speech the Taoiseach quoted W. T. Cosgrave, but the Government as a whole is not responsible. The Taoiseach, not the Government, appoints the Attorney General, and it is the Taoiseach and the former Attorney General who have to be held accountable.

W. B. Yeats's quotation would be more appropriate.

There is a disturbing litany of recent events where members of the Government, when they found themselves in trouble, blamed their civil servants or, if they wanted to take credit, they blamed their civil servants for giving contrary advice. The Taoiseach did this on 1 September in this House, as stated at column 202, volume 445 of the Official Report:

Does anyone think that in helping to reach this point [bringing peace to Ireland] I have not had to take many critical decisions, without being able to take cover behind official advice? Does anyone think we could have reached this point without personal political initiatives and risk-taking on my part? The country is fortunate that I did not take the official advice in this case....

The Taoiseach was prepared to down his civil servants then and when the Government got stuck in the Arcon affair an unfortunate civil servant was rolled out to take the rap. The Taoiseach is again prepared today to blame a civil servant. I heard last night and read this morning — no reference was made to this in the Taoiseach's speech — that a civil servant is to be moved to the Law Reform Commission. Somebody has to take the rap, but not the Taoiseach and the former Attorney General, the people responsible for that office.

The defence offered by the former Attorney General that he did no know about it is not good enough. The Attorney General is required under section 2 of the 1987 Act to approve personally all requests for extradition to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. What action did the former Attorney General take to put procedures in place in his office to make sure they would be brought to his attention quickly? Obviously, he did nothing. He is responsible for the delay. It is not good enough that he now holds the second most senior judicial position in the State. It is ironic that he was sworn in this morning when we have not yet had an opportunity to put questions to the Taoiseach. This says a lot about what we accept as appropriate standards of behaviour.

Ordinary people are horrified by this case. I said last week during the Cork by-election campaigns that many people had raised this issue with me. Other politicians from other parties dismissed this and said that no one had raised the issue with them. I was surprised by this because many people, particularly young mothers, raised it with me on the doorsteps. Perhaps it was not the first issue mentioned by them but when one engaged in conversation with them it was an issue of concern to the voters of Cork, as it is to every right minded person throughout the country. For too long we covered up child sexual abuse and accepted that our children could be put at risk. The lives of many individuals have been destroyed beyond repair because of child sexual abuse and a failure on the part of the authorities, be they religious or State, to deal openly and realistically with the matter.

It is significant that in his contribution to this debate the Taoiseach did not give us the detail given by the Attorney General in his explanation to the Government as reported in the newspapers yesterday. What we have read during the past few days makes a nonsense of Cabinet confidentiality. When it suits the Taoiseach as it did today we are given the detail of what happened at Cabinet. The Taoiseach vigorously defended the concept of Cabinet confidentiality and refused to answer questions but today when it suits him we have been given full details of what happened at the Cabinet meeting last Friday. This makes a nonsense of the case taken by the former Attorney General which has been defended so often by the Taoiseach.

Does the Taoiseach genuinely believe that Mr. Harry Whelehan, now President of the High Court, was suitable given the controversy surrounding this case? Does he believe that this was the right decision not just last Friday but at any time? Did he make a mistake when he insisted on proceeding with this appointment last Friday? While many words of concern about child sexual abuse have been expressed the word "mistake" has not been used.

I note that the Taoiseach and other Ministers, in particular the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, said that the former Attorney General had no right to speak, that he was a defenceless man. The former Attorney General was not shy when it came to the X case, he spoke out frequently to defend himself. He also spoke out about the Danagher affair, the Maastricht Treaty Protocol and the Solemn Declaration. He had no problem in any of those cases in speaking out frequently, issuing press statements and giving press briefings. Why the silence in this case? Why are Government Ministers insisting that he had no right to speak? He had a right to speak and he was not prevented from doing so by the Constitution. The fact that he did not choose to do so speaks volumes.

The Taoiseach's decision to proceed with the appointment last Friday, the day the by-election results were announced, even if it was the right decision, will make many people very cynical; they wonder why it was not made before the by-elections were held. The Taoiseach knows in his heart that it was the wrong decision and knew that it would not be well received. He made the anouncement so that it would get lost in the election results. I presume he did not know that his colleagues in Government were not going to put up with this shabby behaviour.

The Taoiseach spoke about partnership and trust despite the fact that he sought to destroy this partnership and trust only last August on a sensitive issue for himself, the beef tribunal. We are supposed to believe that he is going to make up but one cannot put a structure or committee in place to contain someone who does not have the capacity to lead a partnership Government.

It may seem surprising - the Taoiseach smiles as I say this — but his predecessor, despite difficulties both for himself and my colleagues in the Progressive Democrats, did know how to lead a partnership Government. He led it in a professional and businessike way. Despite my many criticisms of him over many years I had to admire the way in which he sought to lead that Government. It was a genuine effort to lead a coalition on a partnership basis. This may not be music to the Taoiseach's ears.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach a number of specific questions as I may not get an opportunity to do so later. Perhaps the Taoiseach's advisers will note these questions and provide answers. What work was done on this file by the professional staff in the Attorney General's office? In particular did they prepare any submission, even a partial submission, for the Attorney General? Was any request made by the Office of the Attorney General to the RUC or the UK authorities for additional information? Was any opinion sought from counsel on this file? I note that in the Attorney General's explanation to the Government he dealt with other cases and said they had to seek the opinion of counsel because of the complexity of the issues involved. Does the file contain any written evidence of activity on the case other than the notes from the UK authorities?

Does the Taoiseach believe, because of the way this case was handled by the former Attorney General, that he was a suitable person for appointment to any judicial office? The Taoiseach said there is a precedent but I dispute this. Whatever about appointing the former Attorney General to a High Court position it is highly unusual to appoint him as President of the High Court. A judge has been carrying out this job for the past three years and why he could not be allowed to continue for the remainder of his term of office is beyond me. It was this Government which created the vacancy by appointing Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton as Chief Justice.

Why and when did the Taoiseach give a commitment to Mr. Harry Whelehan that he would be given this job? Did the Taoiseach ask Mr. Whelehan to stand aside and, if so, when? Does the Taoiseach believe that he should resign, as many people do, because of what happened in this case? Even if we have a new Government or a general election the irony is that Mr. Harry Whelehan will remain in that important position for 22 years until he reaches the age of 72 unless he is impeached for misbehaviour as a judge or for incapacity. It is extraordinary that someone who has such enormous power — more powers will be vested in the President of the High Court under the Courts Bill - will remain in office for that length of time. As long as Mr. Harry Whelehan holds that position there will be no public confidence in the presidency of the High Court. As I said earlier, this is about public accountability and we do not have accountability in this parliament. The day the Government is elected is the day it becomes no longer accountable to the Dáil. We have accountability on the day we elect the Taoiseach. After that, we have nothing. Day after day questions are not answered in this House and when difficulties arise that are dealt with in the media, we are told that committees, commissions and task forces will deal with them and that procedures and structures and so on will be changed. We are fed up hearing about new structures and new procedures. Despite all the tribunals, structures and procedures there are still office holders in this country, the Taoiseach and members of his Government, who do not understand the basic concept of accountability and responsibility.

May I ask the ask the Taoiseach who will take the rap for this mess? Who took the rap for the Masri passport affair? Nobody. Who took the rap for the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Industry — perhaps the journalist, Susan O'Keeffe, will take it in a couple of weeks when she comes before the court. It is not good enough that Ministers in his Government are not prepared to be accountable and responsible to Dáil Éireann. It is not for me to make a decision for any party, it is difficult enough to run one's own party——

The issues that arise in this case are very clear and I do not believe that changing structures or mechanisms or putting in place a body such as the one I referred to in the Dáil as "a forum for peace and reconciliation" when we thought all the problems were over until 1997 will change the fundamental problems that have arisen in this case. The Taoiseach does not have the capacity to lead either a single party Government or a partnership Government because bully boy tactics and a take it or leave it attitude is not the way to run a Government and it is certainly not the way to behave in a parliamentary democracy. It is not the way to good Government or the way to create the team spirit we need if we are to have a successful Government where everybody is working together on a common agenda for a common purpose.

I fundamentally believe that the issue that faces the minority party in this Government is so fundamental that it cannot be resolved by changing procedures, committees or putting other mechanisms in place. That of course is a matter for them and not for me.

The Minister for Justice defended the seven month delay and said it was not unusual but she did not tell us that her office had been consulted. I wonder why the Minister for Justice has been silent in this matter because she has not been shy about expressing her personal opinions. However, this morning I read in the newspaper that she too did not know about it; that a civil servant had got the warrants and had not told her. I wonder why there is this secrecy in Government Departments. I find it hard to accept that there is so much secrecy because from my experience as a junior Minister civil servants tell things that one might never need to know about and one gets files on things that are so irrelevant they do not matter. I find it hard to believe that on such fundamental issues people are not told, whatever about being given the file. We were told by the Minister for Justice and the Minister for State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Dempsey, that the way this case was handled was the way cases have been handled for the past 30 years. Of course, the legislation under which the Attorney General was operating only took effect in early 1988 so matters could not have been dealt with like that for the past 30 years. We have not been told the full truth, even on the basic facts.

The issues at stake are very important and may have important and serious consequences for every party in this House. We must begin to learn lessons. We have already had expensive tribunals of inquiry. There is a great deal of disquiet about politicians in general and particularly with the politicians in Leinster House, which was evident from the low vote in both Cork by-elections. We must draw from our conclusions and learn from them. In particular, we must be man or woman enough to take the rap in cases where we are responsible and we must not continue to blame unfortunate civil servants who cannot speak for themselves and who generally act honourably in the interest of the State. If mistakes were made in the Attorney General's Office that was the fault of the former Attorney General. Because of the issues surrounding this particular case the former Attorney General should not have been appointed to the Presidency of the High Court. It was an unwise and inappropriate appointment and will cause major problems for the Taoiseach for a long time to come. I wonder why he put so much at risk for the sake of this one person. I would like to hear his account of why he did that and whether he believes he made a mistake in persisting with the appointment last Friday?

A former Attorney General, Mr. John Murray, in a statement to the Dáil delivered on his behalf by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, on 13 December 1988, volume 385, column 1202, said:

The Attorney General is designated by the Constitution as the chief law officer of the State and is the guardian of the public interest. It is he who bears ultimate responsibility for the initiation and conduct of extradition proceedings.

The statement succinctly summarises the issue at the core of this controversy. The Attorney General bears ultimate responsibility for the conduct of extradition proceedings. Irrespective of whether he personally saw the file — and many people find it very difficult to believe that this was not the case, given the requirements of the 1987 Extradition Act — Mr. Whelehan bears ultimate responsibility for the manner in which his office failed for a period of seven months to process the warrants for the extradition of the child abuser, Fr. Brendan Smyth. Mr. Whelehan bears ultimate responsibility for conduct by his office which has been widely condemned and which even the Fianna Fáil Party has now stopped trying to defend. Given what happened in the Smyth case he should simply never have been appointed to the position of President of the High Court.

Public anger about the handling of the case has been intensified by revulsion at the nature of the evil crimes of which Fr. Smyth was accused and ultimately convicted and sentenced by the courts in Northern Ireland, with no help from the Office of the Attorney General in this jurisdiction. What caused so much shock in the public mind is the manner in which this case was treated in the Office of the Attorney General, as a relatively minor issue not requiring immediate attention and to be processed, according to the report submitted by the then Attorney General to the Cabinet last week, with the same degree of urgency that might be given to an application for planning permission.

What message does this convey to the unfortunate victims of Fr. Smyth, many of whom are still attempting to cope with the trauma of their ordeal? What message does this cavalier attitude convey about the degree of seriousness with which the constitutional office of Attorney General regards the crime of sexual abuse of children?

The approach is further typified by the claim in the then Attorney General's report to the Government that "there was nothing to suggest that the offences were continuing or were likely to continue either here or in Northern Ireland". Who in the Attorney General's Office made this value judgment and what qualification did he or she have to make such a sweeping assessment, especially when all the scientific evidence is that paedophilia is a condition that is difficult to treat with success and that the rate of reoffending is high? On what basis did the then Attorney General accept this judgment and why did the Fianna Fáil members of the Cabinet apparently regard it as satisfactory? Are we to assume that one of the criteria used by the Office of the Attorney General to determine the urgency with which a request for extradition is handled is its judgment of whether an offender is likely to reoffend rather than the seriousness of the offence or the rights of the victims of the accused. Those who murder rarely reoffend. Are we being asked to accept that a warrant for extradition of a person accused of murder would not be treated with any urgency by the Office of the Attorney General because the person sought was unlikely to reoffend or, as we have now been told by the Taoiseach, was resident in a monastery?

It is not just in the Office of the Attorney General that there appears to have been serious shortcomings. We now know that copies of the warrants were sent to the Department of Justice at the same time they were received in the Attorney General's Office. I know the Department of Justice has no direct role in processing extradition warrants but did it not occuar to anybody in that Department to inquire what had happened to the warrants? Did nobody in the Department of Justice consider it worthwhile to pick up the telephone and simply ask if there was a problem with these warrants, particularly having regard to the nature of the crimes for which Father Smyth was wanted?

The Minister for Justice has questions to answer but the principal and most crucial questions are for the Attorney General. With these questions unanswered, the decision to proceed with the appointment of Mr. Whelehan to one of the most important judicial appointments in the country was almost beyond belief. What debt of gratitude does the Taoiseach owe to Mr. Whelehan that he is prepared to put his entire political future in jeopardy to secure his appointment to the Presidency of the High Court?

How can the Taoiseach reconcile the scathing criticism he made today of the handling of the warrant by the Attorney General's Office with his willingness to accept — apparently without question — the report submitted by Mr. Whelehan to last Friday's Cabinet meeting? How can the Taoiseach possibly stand over his nomination of Mr. Whelehan to the position of President of the High Court in the light of what he said in the House today? Although he specifically said in his statement today that the Smyth case has no bearing on the integrity of Mr. Whelehan or his appointment to the High Court, it is simply beyond belief that the Taoiseach can attempt to put that across this House.

Attempts by the Taoiseach today to draw a spurious line between the concepts of responsibility and culpability will not wash. If the procedures in the Office of the Attorney General were inadequate, then Mr. Whelehan must accept responsibility for them. I accept that the Attorney General may not be in a position to be personally aware of every action which might be taken — or not taken — by a member of his staff, but it is reasonable to expect that he should know how long it takes to process extradition warrants in his office. It is reasonable to expect that he should exercise sufficient control over the office to know what is going on. It is not as if this was a case of a Minister in change of a Government Department, with thousands of staff, not being aware of the action of an individual civil servant. The Office of the Attorney General is a relatively small one, fewer than 40 staff, and there is simply no sustainable excuse for Mr. Whelehan's failures.

If one lesson is to be learned from this affair it is that in future the position of Attorney General should be a full-time one with the occupant expected to devote his or her attentions solely to the affairs of that Office. It seems such an obvious reform that I am surprised the Taoiseach did not refer to it in his statement today. Like a number of his predecessors, Mr. Whelehan engaged in an extensive private legal practice while occupying the post of Attorney General. It is fair to ask, if Mr. Whelehan had devoted himself full-time to the job of Attorney General, whether this whole disastrous affair could have been avoided?

The circumstances in which the appointment of Mr. Whelehan as President of the High Court was made adds insult to injury. The manner of the decision was unprecedented — made in the absence of half of the Cabinet and the entire Labour Party membership — and was in breach of the spirit, and possibly the letter, of Article 28.4.2. of the Constitution regarding the collective authority and responsibility of the Government.

In pushing ahead with the appointment of Mr. Whelehan to the Presidency of the High Court against the background of the unanswered questions surrounding the Smyth warrants, in the face of unprecedented public concern and with a substantial number of his Ministers opposing the move, the Taoiseach has made one error of judgment too many and may now have written his own political obituary.

The Taoiseach is not the only one who stands accused of a serious error of political judgment. I believe the concerns expressed by the Labour Party regarding the handling of the Smyth affair are deeply and genuinely held but I simply cannot understand why the Tánaiste, and his collegues agreed to the reappointment of Mr. Whelehan as Attorney General in January 1993 in the light of his previous record in regard to the "X case", Cabinet confidentiality, the beef tribunal and other matters.

Many of the decisions taken by Mr. Whelehan while he was Attorney General to the Fianna Fáil-Labour Coalition Government were also questionable. One of the last major decisions taken by Mr. Whelehan as Attorney General was to intervene to block the Comptroller and Auditor General from publishing information he had prepared on the operation of the 1993 tax amnesty, which was itself one of the most outrageous decisions taken by the Coalition. The aim of the Comptroller and Auditor General was, in his own words, to see whether the evidence he prepared "told us anything about the effectiveness of the normal tax assessment and collection procedures of the Revenue". The Attorney General intervened to prevent the Comptroller and Auditor General from making this information available to the Committee of Public Accounts, to the Dáil and to the people.

My sympathy for the dilemma in which the Tánaiste now finds himself is also tempered by his refusal to heed warnings from this party and others that the inevitable outcome of coalition with Fianna Fáil would be betrayal. Perhaps Deputy Spring was taken in by the media-constructed aura of political invincibility which had been built around him at the time of the last election and genuinely believed that he could change the nature of Fianna Fáil. However, like others before it, Labour has now found it is not possible to change the political culture of Fianna Fáil.

Is the Deputy talking about 1982——

——When he jumped over the barrier——

I am referring to it and I was giving the Tánaiste the benefit of my experience——

I do not want the benefit of all the Deputy's experience.

——but he failed to take it.

Nothing I heard from the Taoiseach today gives me any grounds for believing that the level of trust and political cohesion, which is required in any Government if the problems of the country are to be successfully tackled, can be restored in this Coalition Government. These exchanges constitute the death-rattle of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government and it seems to me that, given the failure of the Taoiseach to address the issues in a convincing way, the withdrawal of the Tánaiste and his colleagues is now inevitable unless what I detect to be a deal in the speech delivered by the Taoiseach is in fact a deal. During that speech the Taoiseach referred to the extension and the implementation of the Child Care Act, ending the custom of the appointment of the Attorney General to judicial positions, he apologised to the Tánaiste and offered to write him into the history books for his role in the peace process. He also apologised to the people, although oddly enough there is no apology in the speech to the victims of Father Smyth.

There is.

I do not detect any great enthusiasm among the public for a general election but that may be the only way in which this political crisis can be resolved. If the Government falls it will be a matter for the President to decide whether to accede to a request from the Taoiseach for a dissolution of the Dáil.

If the President decides not to dissolve the Dáil, Democratic Left is quite prepared to enter serious discussions with other parties to see if an alternative administration can be formed. We will be constructive in our approach and conscious of obligations to the public, particularly to those who voted for our party in the general election and, more recently, in the Dublin South Central and Cork North Central by-elections.

Suggestions that an alternative administration without Fianna Fáil would be unsupportive of the peace process are mischievous and without foundation. All parties in this House support the Downing Street Declaration and are participating in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. The greatest threat to the peace process is from the continued existence of the paramilitary groups and from incidents such as the murder in Newry last week of Frank Kerr. Certainly, a core principle of any Government in which Democratic Left was willing to participate would have to be full support for the Northern Ireland peace process based on the principles of the Downing Street Declaration.

An alternative Government is not just a matter of mathematics. It is not simply a question of getting the numbers together to provide an alternative to Fianna Fáil. Any new administration must be very different from the outgoing Government. Government is about serving the people: too often during the past two years, it has appeared to be the other way around. Despite its lavish promises of openness and accountability, this was a Government which simply lost the run of itself and brought arrogance to new levels.

Matters such as the 17 per cent increase in ministerial saleries, the appointment of an array of advisers, assistants and programme managers and the abuse of the Government jet at a time when taxpayers, who had to foot the bill, were told they had to accept cutbacks and that money was not available for this or that, did as much to destroy public confidence in this Government as any other issue. Any new Government must learn the lessons of the past two years and avoid repeating the mistakes. A simple gesture by a new Administration, such as withdrawing the increase in ministerial salaries, would do much to restore public confidence in the process of government.

Democratic Left want a Government in which the public can have confidence. We want a clean Government from which sleaze will be eliminated which will not stumble from scandal to scandal or crisis to crisis, a Government which is not prepared to sell Irish passports to wealthy business people and which will not reward the rich by giving them tax amnesties. We want a Government which will not continue to tax the sick and unemployed or pay lip service to them but rather will put in place programmes to deal with unemployment blackspots.

These are issues which a new Government must address if it is to restore confidence in the democratic system.

Is mian liom cúpla noiméad de mo ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Blaney.

A subdivision of the tenancy.

This is a serious matter not only in its political implications but because it concerns children who are a vulnerable group in society. It is ironic and tragic that we are constrained in what we can say as a result of the appointment of the Attorney General as President of the High Court and that we now face a pre-Christmas election. Christmas is a time of peace, reconciliation and good will but we are adding to the acrimony and dissention both inside and outside the House. It is sad that the peace process is being used as a political football to try to prevent an election. That process is supposed to show how peace and reconciliation can be brought about on the island. It is contradictory to talk about having a peace forum for people of differing views and traditions when we cannot uphold the principles of reconciliation within the partnership Government. It flies in the face of logic that we would be sincere about one and not about the other.

There has been a breakdown of understanding in the Government and the procedures and processes for creating peace seem to be clear to the Taoiseach only when he is dealing with Northern Ireland. I gave him a book calledThe Politics of Consensus. I know he took an interest in that subject.

He has not read it.

He has a library full of books.

It is clear that he has not applied its message to governing this part of the island. The first rule of consensual politics is whether a decision needs to be taken. There is no need to divide if a decision does not need to be taken. The Taoiseach said this decision was not as urgent as some people, particularly in the media, made it out to be, but the decision has been made hence the division and discord. It is difficult to understand the motivation behind making it. It is as if there is a third element in the coalition Government sufficiently powerful to move the State apparatus, in spite of the reservations expressed by the Dáil, to introduce various questionable measures — the scandalous tax amnesty for cheats and criminals who constitute a malodorous minority in Irish business circles, an arrangement that skirted the limits of company law upon which our credibility as a sovereign trading nation so depended. It is amazing how powerful this element was in getting the State apparatus to move quickly and precipitiously against a young girl who was pregnant as a result of a rape, in furtherance of dogma above compassion. It is amazing that the processing of documentation, duly submitted, can be arrested in the case which led to this debate.

The Taoiseach made a lengthy speech on remorse and resolve but gave little by way of explanation. The Taoiseach said it would never arise again but how can such an event never occur again? I wish that was true but the reality is it is impossible to say so. It is time we and the Labour Party were told what changes are to be made. Is it a change in rules or is it a matter of removing a civil servant and getting him to take flak? Those questions were not answered.

The Taoiseach raised the question of who was accountable as if there was a doubt about it. How can the Attorney General be anything but accountable given his position? If a person is drunk while driving a car it does not matter who plied him with drink; he drank the alcohol and he is responsible. The Taoiseach is fudging the issue of accountability.

The Taoiseach said Fianna Fáil would never seek to justify or minimise the seriousness of the Father Smyth case. Unfortunately, by elevating Mr. Whelehan to the position he now holds without the promised public investigation or questioning the Taoiseach has minimised the seriousness of the case. That is the issue on which we must now ponder.

The issue of government for the next couple of years is just as important as it was two years ago. At that time I was the first to point out — I was looked at with some amazement — that looking at the various combinations of figures there was only one combination that could give us a Government which would last and do much of what was needed for the future. While I might disagree with some of the measures taken by the Government, I am satisfied that the view I expressed prior to its formation — that the only combination was a Fianna Fáil-Labour Government — has proved to be correct. The continuation of the Government is more important than an election. Both parties will suffer in an election. Some people might say that this would be no harm, that they brought it on themselves, but if they suffer losses in an election what will be the position in this House afterwards? Will there be any prospects of a stable Government being formed? Will there be a coalition Government of two or three of the smaller parties which will try to work together?

We all know how difficult it is to work with other parties in Government. Two of the parties on this side of the House and the two parties on the other side of the House have had experience of working in coalition Governments and they know the difficulties involved. The Government was aware of the difficulties it faced. Yet it has managed to achieve many things during the past two years. This clearly indicates the capacity of the two parties to compromise and find solutions, all in the interests of the country. If we do not have a stable Government and an election is called, which will result in instability in this House, it is the people, some of whom are saying it will serve both parties right if they get hammered in an election, will suffer. The Government must realise that it is the future of the public and the well being of the country that is of prime importance and not who was right, who was wrong, who did this or who did not do that.

I was not in the House when the various criticisms were trotted out but I listened to every word that was said on radio. The Opposition and those who want to hammer the Government, whether Fianna Fáil or Labour, are having a field day but it is not a great day for the country, it is a bad day for the country. I ask the leaders of the two parties to realise that important though the issues raised by the appointment of Mr. Whelehan as President of the High Court are they are not nearly as important as the future well being of the country and the economy, not to mention the peace process.

I agree with those who say that the peace process should not be made a political football and I am not going to do anything of that nature. Nevertheless I appeal to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to think back to the time before they formed the Government, and the hills they knew they had to climb. Despite what they saw, they addressed the issue and by and large made a good job of it. They have done a better job than would be done by a less stable Government, whether it is formed by Members of this House or as a result of an election which can only create instability. In an election some parties will lose seats while others will gain seats and there will be more Independent Deputies which all parties agree is a bad thing. We would put up with that, the Independents could do with more company. This might be a stabilising factor in the midst of the chaos which I think will follow if the Government parties do not put their heads together this evening and decide, in the interests of the people and the country, not to call an election. With all due respect, this is not an election issue. It is so far removed from an election issue that we are wasting the time of the House talking about it.

I ask the leaders of the two Government parties to get together and resolve their differences. I ask those who criticise the Taoiseach and-or the Tánaiste to remember that it is the Government parties who decide who are the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach; it is a matter for the parties in Government to make those choices. I say to those who argue that the Taoiseach or Tánaiste is not suitable for office or that one is more suitable than the other that we do not decide who is Taoiseach or Tánaiste, it is the Government parties who decide, the people having decided on the strength of those parties. The leaders of those parties should get together and get back to work.

That completes Statements. Questions may now be put to the Taoiseach.

When he returned from Australia the Taoiseach said there was no great rush about making the decision on the appointment of the President of the High Court. I think he said it would be all right if the decision was deferred for up to six months. What was the rush to make the appointment last Friday, the same day the explanations were seen for the first time by many other members of the Cabinet?

I returned from Australia in September. I never said the decision could be deferred for six months. At that time we were talking about an immediate crisis and a general election issue. In that context I said it was not a matter which had to be dealt with within days or weeks. We are now in mid-November. During our discussions at that time the Tánaiste and I agreed that it was not a general election issue and that the "Four Wise Men" should get together and put forward a resolution. They did this and it was sent to Cabinet. I never stated that the decision could be deferred for up to six months.

Is it not the case that it was possible for the acting President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Declan Costello, to continue in that job at least from last Friday to, say, this Friday so as to allow the explanations which were provided by the Attorney General to be made more publicly available, scrutinised and examined? What was the rush to get the entire job done on that one day, particularly when part of the Government had absented itself from the meeting?

I made clear in my statement to the House the reasons the decision was proceeded with on that day. As a former Minister, Deputy Bruton knows full well that the Executive makes the decisions and it is accountable to the House. That is the correct procedure under the Constitution, and he knows that. That is the procedure I followed in this case.

We had a very long Cabinet meeting. I reject the suggestion by anybody in the House that our meetings have been shouting matches. I can say without fear of contradiction that Deputy Bruton's description of the nature of our relationship at Cabinet as one of "contempt" was never the case. Neither were there any votes by this Government or the previous Government. I hope Deputy Bruton will understand that the Executive carried out its role first and that it is accountable to the House. That is why I am here today. I made it clear at all times — I made this clear as early as, I think, last Thursday or Friday — that the Executive is accountable to the House and that I would answer questions.

If a question is raised which requires supplementary information from the former Attorney General, the President of the High Court, how is it possible for the Taoiseach to obtain that information from him now that he is no longer in any way accountable to the Dáil because of the Government decision? Does the Taoiseach not realise that it is impossible for the occupant in this instance to be accountable when he is no longer in a position where he is answerable to the Taoiseach because the Taoiseach has appointed him to the High Court? Does the Taoiseach understand that that change in his status means that accountability and answerability, so far as Mr. Whelehan's behaviour is concerned, is impossible? If any question is raised here which requires further information the Taoiseach is not in a position to check it out with Mr. Whelehan who is now a judge and thereby in a position where there can be no communication between himself and the Taoiseach.

Deputy Bruton would have people believe that the only reason for making a decision last Friday was to try, in some way, to prevent the House from asking questions about this whole affair. I made it very clear in my statement that that was not the case, that I was accountable to the Dáil and here to answer questions. Every Member of this House knows that the only forum in which an Attorney General can be made accountable under the law is at a Cabinet meeting, and we had a long Cabinet meeting in relation to the issue. The Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government of the day, is accountable to this House for the Attorney General and that is the exercise in which we are engaged now. There was no question of depriving the House of this opportunity to ask questions. If Deputy Bruton wants any further information on the Attorney General's office I will certainly do everything I can to obtain it for him.

I now call on Deputy Mary Harney.

On a point of clarification only, I take it you will be coming back to me.

May I ask one question of a procedural nature? Why is the Minister for Justice not in the House in view of the fact that her office received a warrant on exactly the same day as the Attorney General's office?

The Minister for Justice was present all evening. Like others she left but I have no doubt she will be back. In her absence I will define the role of the Department of Justice — a question raised by Deputies Bruton and Harney. The impression created by today's media, reporting on the role of the Department of Justice in the Smyth extradition case, is misleading in that it proceeds on the false assumption that the Department of Justice was in possession of certain essential information. The factual position, for the benefit of the House, is as follows. As is normal practice in extradition cases, copies of the warrants in the Smyth case were sent by the Garda authorities to the Department of Justice and to the Chief State Solicitor's office.

However, the information contained in the warrants stated the name of the person sought but without any reference to his being a priest, gave a previous Northern Ireland address only and signified the offence by a reference to named persons without giving their ages and relevant provisions of the Offences Against the Persons Act, 1861, of indecent assault against a male and in one case a female. There was no information whatever available to the Department of Justice until the recent controversy arose to suggest that this was a case of child sexual abuse.

The requirement, when extradition warrants are first received — this applies in all cases — is for a determination by the Attorney General in respect of the functions imposed on him under the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987, and in relation to advising on whether the request meets the requirement of our law. No decision or action is required by the Minister for Justice or the Department of Justice in advance of the Attorney General's determination.

The procedure in all extradition cases — which was followed in this case — is to allow the legal issues, which the Attorney General is required by law to consider, to be dealt with in accordance with established arrangements which include the provision of such additional information as is necessary for that purpose and in the manner judged best by the Attorney General's office. No pressure would be brought to bear by the Department of Justice, and it would be improper for it to do so, unless it becomes specifically aware of some special circumstances as, for example, a pending release from prison, the imminent departure of the person concerned from the jurisdiction or pressure from the authorities requesting extradition. No such signal was received in this case by the Department of Justice.

Or the Garda Commissioner?

Does the Taoiseach accept that he made an error of judgement last Friday in proceeding with the appointment of Mr. Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court?

In my elaborate statement to the House today I have explained in detail the circumstances surrounding the case and the basis on which the decision was taken.

Did the Taoiseach make an error of judgment — yes or no? Let him answer.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach a specific question because it is fundamental to this issue. Did he make an error of judgment in proceeding with the appointment last Friday?

Let us avoid repetition.

I have set out in detail to this House——

Is the answer yes or no?

——every step leading up to the decision made by the Government. There is nothing further I can add that will change Deputy Harney's or any one else's mind. The decision was made on the basis on which I laid it out here today. Consequently this House was not deprived of the opportunity of asking questions or of accountability. The Deputy should accept that.

Did the Taoiseach make a mistake? That is a very simple question which he should be prepared to answer.

I have already said that there was a misinterpretation by my colleagues around the table——

They made the mistake and the Taoiseach did not.

Let us hear the Taoiseach's reply.

The Deputy is not in the Four Courts now, he is in his part time job.

I have told the House in detail that our interpretation of the basis of our partnership colleagues leaving the Cabinet room was that they were absenting themselves from the Government for that particular decision. From my vast experience in Government — I am sure others will confirm this — if you stay in Cabinet and vote against something, as an expression of dissent, you will not be recorded in the Government minutes, whereas if you absent yourself from the table you will be so recorded at your request. That was our interpretation of what was in the minds of our colleagues. Clearly, since that was not the case, we had, indeed, engaged in a misinterpretation of our colleagues' position.

Did they all walk out nice and quietly?

Given the quote I read into the record earlier from a former Attorney General, John Murray, to the effect that it is the Attorney General who bears ultimate responsibility for the initiation and conduct of extradition proceedings how can the Taoiseach stand over his statement that: "The emergence of the Smyth case did not affect the integrity of the Attorney General, nor his suitability for high office". How can he reconcile those two issues?

What I have attempted to do in the House today was to separate two questions from each other; first, the Attorney General himself and, second, the procedures of the Attorney General's office in dealing with this extradition case — the Smyth case as we have come to know it. I will take the procedures first. What is the normal procedure in the Attorney General's office for dealing with a warrant? Normally, an outside agency which is seeking to extradite somebody out of this jurisdiction is in touch with the Attorney General's office. There is much exchange of information in relation to the circumstances in which extradition may eventually be sought. That normally gets rid of much of the preparatory work that is usually done by officials before it is presented to the Attorney General for final determination. It is the Attorney General — and he or she alone — who can make that decision about extradition. There was no advance notice or otherwise in relation to this case. I understand it took approximately two years to put the warrants together. Consequently when they arrived in the Attorney General's office the matter started from scratch. I am not defending the seven month delay, which I have already said was unacceptable. It is clear the system in that office operated successfully over a long time, but in this case it failed. The Government must take responsibility for that and ensure the procedures and structures in the Attorney General's office are such that a similar case will not be allowed to happen in the future.

I have already taken action in that regard. The former Attorney General, before taking up a higher judicial office, directed every member of his staff to ensure that all extradition warrants of this type are brought to attention immediately. The new Attorney General, in conjunction with the secretary of personnel and management development in the Department of Finance, the secretary to the Government and the secretary of the Department of Justice, has been given responsibility to examine the structures in place in the Attorney General's office and to report within three weeks on the matter.

The Government is committed to making whatever changes are necessary. Radical changes will have to be made because the procedures and structures of that office have not been changed for approximately 40 years and I am sure no Member would claim that changes are not overdue. That will ensure that this type of situation does not arise again.

I do not know anybody who does not accept the Attorney General was not aware, or made aware, of the existence of the warrant in question and the events of the past couple of weeks do not change that, nor does it change his suitability for higher office. There is nothing to say he is not as suitable today for higher office as he was a few weeks ago. That is the reality.

I tried my best to give an insight into the workings of the system and how it failed in these circumstances, but it worked successfully for a long time. We accept responsibility for its failure in this case. The matter has caused a great deal of anxiety to many families and neither I, nor I am sure any other Member, would attempt to say that any one of us is more concerned than another about the sexual abuse of children. It is an abuse of the family and of freedom — it is obnoxious.

Has the Attorney General at any time accepted responsibility for the negligence in dealing with this case and, if so, would that not call into question his suitability for higher office? Will the Taoiseach accept that if the Attorney General had been a full time Attorney General there might have been less chance of such negligence? Does he intend to ensure that future Attorneys General, at least under his Administration, are appointed to the post in a full time capacity?

I take the point made by the Deputy in the latter part of his question and will consider it in terms of future Attorneys General. I have taken the necessary steps to ensure the system will not fail again. New administrative arrangements have been put in place already; future Attorneys General will be notified of such cases immediately In addition, the Attorney General has issued a directive to ensure that these types of cases are given priority over everything else. From time to time the Government sends directives in regard to legislation to the Attorney General's office which require immediate attention and that can affect the work of the office. To ensure that nothing gets in the way of giving priority to such cases in the future, the Attorney General and the Government must be informed of them immediately so that we do not give directives in regard to legislation at that time. It is fair to point out that since this Government took up office the Attorney General's office has produced 40 per cent more in legislative terms than previously with the appointment of only two additional trainees. However, no statement I make here can explain the failure of the system in this case.

Who will be made accountable for that?

The system failed and I have nothing more to add. I cannot give an answer off the top of my head to the second part of the Deputy's question.

Will the Taoiseach address the earlier part of my question? Will the Attorney General accept responsibility for the negligence in dealing with this case? He said the Government accepted responsibility, but I ask if the Attorney General accepts responsibility. If so, does it not raise a question about his suitability for higher office?

I do not like repeating myself.

The Taoiseach could have answered the question.

I made it clear from the outset that the Attorney General did not see the warrant, was not made aware of its existence and, as far as I am aware, nobody doubts that. Neither has anybody expressed doubts about the competence, propriety or integrity of this man.

He is still responsible. The buck must stop with somebody.

It must start first.

The essence of accountability is threefold, namely, to give a full account of what happened, to accept responsibility and to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that whatever went wrong will never go wrong again.

Does he accept responsibility?

I already said we accept responsibility. I sought advice on the proper procedures for proceeding in this case and followed it. I have already said the accountability of the Attorney General can be questioned at the Cabinet table and that I am accountable to the House for what happened.

He certainly cannot be questioned now.

I stated the facts and nothing can change what has happened. I gave the facts up front. The system failed, and it is my responsibility to ensure it does not fail again.

With your permission, Sir, I will ask two questions. Does the Taoiseach stand over last Friday's decision as a good and properly executed one?

I have gone through at length the steps that led to the decision on Friday last and there is nothing more I can add. The decision was taken after long but not acrimonious discussion but taken on the basis of a misinterpretation of what our colleagues had in mind when they left the room. I explained that in detail and there is nothing further to add. There was no wilful intention on my part going into that Cabinet meeting to wreck a partnership Government.

What about during the meeting?

What would be the objective of going into the meeting——

To rub their noses in it.

Let us hear the Taoiseach's replies without interruption.

I have already said that I genuinely regret any inadvertent offence we may have caused to our colleagues in this regard. It was not my wilful intention to cause them any offence and any suggestion to the contrary would make no sense whatsoever. I have said exactly what I believe this country needs at present, that is stability.

Accountability.

Tell me when politicians wilfully seek an election that could end up taking place in Christmas week?

In October 1992 when the Taoiseach gave his evidence to the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry.

(Interruptions.)

It is very clear from the Taoiseach's reply that there is no contrition whatsoever and that he stands fully over the decision he took on Friday last. May I ask why he choose to bring about this instability, despite his having quoted Professor Basil Chubb? I had to check twice because I thought he was quoting the theologian, Cardinal Basil Hume, such was the theological content of the point. The appropriate quotation reads:

... by custom the Attorney General, a political appointee, who is the Government's legal adviser and State prosecutor, is always offered any vacancy to the High Court that occurs during his term of office.

Is it not a fact that there were two vacancies in the High Court, one for a member of the High Court and the other for its presidency? Why did the Taoiseach bring about this instability by insisting on appointing the then Attorney General to both vacancies? Would he agree that he insulted the institutions of the State, the Cabinet, the Oireachtas and the courts by his abuse of power on Friday last? Is it not true the Taoiseach gambled that the Labour Party would not dare walk out following the results of the Cork by-elections and that the instability of which he now asks us to believe he is fearful was caused by his reckless gambling?

Deputies

Hear, hear.

I will admit that I go to the races occasionally but, if anyone in this House seriously suggests that I gamble with the lives of any of our people, with our economy or the future of this country, I reject any such suggestion. In the course of my statement earlier I quoted from the 1992 edition of Professor Basil Chubb's bookThe Government and Politics of Ireland where he states:

... by custom the Attorney General, a political appointee, who is the Government's legal adviser and State prosecutor,...

He has not been in State prosecution for 20 years. If the Taoiseach knew anything he would know that he ceased to be State prosecutor in 1974.

That is why Deputy McDowell is where he is. He knows it all.

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach without interruption.

He has not been State prosecutor for 20 years until these procedures started.

I believe that the former Chief Justice, T.F. O'Higgins, has said that this convention did exist. I am open to contradiction on that but I was told by a number of people who heard that on television. There is clear acceptance of such convention and I am committed to that. Is anybody really suggesting that I should change somebody's working conditions halfway through when even basic trade union principles and natural justice would demand that one should not do so?

(Interruptions.)

AG — IOU.

In the course of his statement the Taoiseach said:

The Attorney General is responsible for the decision whether to grant or refuse an extradition request.

When the Extradition (Amendment) Bill was introduced in 1987 he was a member of the Cabinet. Would he agree that the only reason that Bill was introduced at that time was to solve a problem within Fianna Fáil who had political difficulties about the whole principle of extradition? Does he recall that the Taoiseach of the day came into this Chamber — I was then Opposition spokesman on Justice — and gave a guarantee, for the benefit of Fianna Fáil backbenchers, that the Attorney General personally would deal with every extradition request that came into his office? Does he agree that the only reason for the introduction of that Extradition (Amendment) Bill was the resolution of a political problem? Would he agree that, at that time, the Fine Gael Party proposed an amendment to transfer that responsibility from the Attorney General to the Director of Public Prosecutions for the simple reason, as we pointed out at the time, that the Attorney General was semipolitical, being appointed by the Taoiseach of the day? Would he agree that the justification for adhering to the Attorney General was to satisfy the political problems within Fianna Fáil, who defeated that amendment?

The Taoiseach now expects us to believe, given the background to the Extradition (Amendment) Bill, 1987 and the political difficulties within the Fianna Fáil Party over extradition, it would be seven months before the Attorney General would see an extradition request despite the fact——

Please, Deputy Barrett I have a host of other Members offering.

The former Taoiseach and the then Minister for Justice, who is sitting in this Chamber, are well aware of the fact that a guarantee was given to Fianna Fáil backbenchers at their Parliamentary Party meeting that this was a resolution of their problem, and that each and every extradition request would be presented personally to the Attorney General.

As I recall it, Deputy Barrett was the Fine Gael spokesman on Justice at that time. If my memory serves me correctly, the objective of that Bill was to ensure that, whenever the extradition of somebody from this jurisdiction to another was sought, the onus was placed on the Attorney General to ensure that that person could expect a fair trial, that there was a reasonable prospect of such a fair trial, that evidence existed and had been checked out to exist, and that there was a case to be answered. I have been paraphrasing from memory. Deputy Barrett tabled a worth-while amendment to that Bill to the effect — again I am relying on my memory — that, whenever charges related to offences committed a long time ago——

The Taoiseach should be careful about what he says. The Attorney General's report to the Cabinet was incorrect. The then Minister for Justice, Deputy Gerry Collins, said, column 345, Volume 376, No. 1 of the Official Report of 1 December 1987:

The Bill also provides that a person's return may be refused where, by reason of lapse of time it would, having regard to all the circumstances, be unjust, oppressive or invidious to return him.

It was already in the Bill.

Deputy Barrett can make his own point about what was or was not political.

There was an insinuation that, in some way or other, all of these extradition cases are political. I want to put on the record that since I became Taoiseach the Attorney General has never discussed any extradition warrant with me. I have outlined the constitutional position of the Attorney General. It should be quite clear to everybody that, in future, he or she alone must make the determination at the end of the day. Deputy Barrett's amendment to the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987 provided that the Attorney General had to establish, whenever very old charges were brought, whether there was a reasonable chance that justice delayed could be justice denied. In the case of the Smyth extradition warrant the charges ranged over a period going back some 28, 27, 22 years and, if I recall correctly, the most recent six years ago. I acknowledge that Deputy Barrett tabled that amendment in order to protect people. I have already stated clearly that I consider the seven months in this case to be totally unacceptable but nonetheless a reasonable period must elapse in any extradition case because we have witnessed both extremes. For example, we saw Dominic McGlinchey arrested somewhere on a St. Patrick's Day, the Supreme Court met and he was over the Border that night. In the end it transpired that the basis, evidence and so on produced at the time, did not exist when he was charged and was acquitted——

A court decided that, quite properly.

I am merely giving the circumstances. He had to be extradited back again, tried here and imprisoned. All I am saying is that there has to be some reasonable time, but in no way would I attempt to make a case for a delay of seven months. I would not and could not.

On a point of order——

The Deputy cannot raise a point of order at Question Time.

I asked the Taoiseach to answer a question.

Deputy Barrett had a lengthy period. I am calling Deputy O'Donnell. I intend to allocate questions fairly.

I am glad we have returned to the question of the warrants because we had deviated from it. The former Attorney General placed much reliance on the preparatory work that is done leading up to his seeing a file and making his determination as required under the Act. Nothing in what the Taoiseach has said gives me any reason to believe that any work was done on the file. I would love to see that file. Was anything done? Was a telephone call made to the Northern Ireland prosecuting authorities? Was contact made with the RUC to flesh out the details of the warrants? The Taoiseach said that an assumption — a comfortable assumption — was made by the legal assistant dealing with the matter that there was no danger to the public because Fr. Smyth was living at Kilnacrott Abbey. One simple inquiry to the RUC would have revealed that this man was a persistent paedophile, that they had records of his persistent offending and that the very nature of the offences stretching over many years would have indicated a persistent system of reoffending.

I will be as helpful as I can. Following receipt of the extradition warrants in the Attorney General's office on 30 April 1993 the following took place between the office of the UK Attorney General and the office of the Irish Attorney General. A letter dated 4 May 1993 received via the diplomatic bag in the Attorney General's Office on 14 May 1993 was sent by the UK Attorney General to the Irish Attorney General enclosing the additional extradition documents consisting of a confirmatory note on statements of facts and of law. This letter was addressed to the Irish Attorney General. It was contained with the other documents in an envelope addressed to a senior officer who was in charge of this file. Somebody asked earlier how many people worked on this file. The answer is just one. Mr. Whelehan never saw this letter which was retained by the senior officer.

On 20 September 1993 an officer of the UK Attorney General's office contacted the Attorney General's office regarding the case.

On 14 October 1993 the officer of the UK Attorney General's office contacted the Attorney General's office regarding the case. On 18 November 1993 the officer of the UK Attorney General's office contacted the officer in the Attorney General's office about the case. On 6 December 1993 the UK officer contacted the officer in the Attorney General's office about the case to inform him that Fr. Smyth was returning voluntarily to Northern Ireland. The official is a senior officer in the Attorney General's office. It is not known what rank the English officials held. It is assumed that they are of equivalent rank. All concerned have professional qualifications.

In relation to additional information on work done on the file, the following work appears to have been done: (a) the Chief State Solicitor's office checked the warrants and noticed a number of possible defects which would have to be corrected; (b) in the Attorney General's office, the file indicates that work was done in the form of research or consideration of the issues on five occasions or so. There appears to be five different memoranda or sets of notes with nothings on them which would support this proposition. No submission at any time was prepared or submitted to the Attorney General.

I was asked if information regarding the matter was sought from anyone such as the RUC, the Garda etc. No such information was sought. I was asked if any activity of any kind was indicated in the file. The only activity consists of the notes and memoranda indicating legal research plus the Chief State Solicitors's office note. No opinion was obtained from counsel.

I was asked if there had been contact with Kilnacrott Abbey. No such contact was made. The Attorney General's office proceeded on the assumption that Fr. Smyth was resident at the Abbey. As a result of contact with the UK Attorney General's office it has been ascertained that negotiations between Fr. Smyth's legal advisers and the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions took place on or about 22 November 1993. The Director of Public Prosecutions did not believe Fr. Smyth was anywhere else but in Kilnacrott Abbey but had no information on his file regarding the seven month period. Again, I believe that this failure to check is part of the system failure. It is a judgment that is exercised as to the urgency of individual cases and the stage at which information on them and papers connected with them should be furnished to the Attorney General. The importance and urgency of this case was clearly not appreciated or understood by the Attorney General's office. As to the assumption made about Fr. Smyth's residence in Kilnacrott Abbey, nobody in this House would agree with that.

Arising from that, will the Taoiseach confirm that while all this activity was taking place the Attorney General was actively considering amendments to the extradition legislation? Over that seven month period did the Attorney General never ask his officers about extradition warrants? Did he never make the kind of routine inquiry of his officers that might have elicited information about this case. When the Taoiseach tells us that the Attorney General did not know or that he was not made aware, is he telling us that the Attorney General did not ask about extradition warrants or that, if he did ask, he was given misleading information?

There was no suggestion that he was given misleading information.

It was just negligence?

Nobody doubts his word or explanation that he did not know and neither was he told of the existence of such a warrant. The system that served such situations had, for many years, stood the test of time. It failed on this occasion and failed dismally. I am not here to defend the failure but to record the facts. Nothing I can say will change the fact that it failed. I am not aware of proposed changes to the extradition Act but, in fairness to Deputy Gilmore, I will inquire from the Attorney General's office.

They were passed through this House.

The Deputy was talking about new changes.

I am talking about early 1993.

I misunderstood the Deputy's question. I thought he was talking about new changes. I cannot be precise but I do know that the Attorney General neither knew nor was told about this matter. The internal system was as I said. Extradition warrants go to the Attorney General's office and the preparatory work is done. When that is completed they are passed to the Attorney General for determination and a decision. That is how the system works and has worked. However, it was not good enough on this occasion and it is going to be put right.

Deputy Gilmore rose.

Deputy Jim Mitchell.

I am willing to yield to Deputy Gilmore.

Is the Taoiseach telling us that it is an acceptable performance by the Attorney General that over a seven month period, while legislative changes were being considered by the Attorney General himself, he did not even make a routine inquiry in his office about extradition warrants which would have produced information about the Brendan Smyth warrant? Is that a satisfactory performance of the functions of the Attorney General?

I am sorry to have to repeat that at the time the former Attorney General did not know, or was not told about, an extradition warrant for Father Brendan Smyth.

The Taoiseach should answer the question.

We found a systems failure relating to how judgment is exercised as to the urgency of individual cases and the stage at which information on them and papers connected with them should be furnished to the Attorney General. The importance and urgency of this case was clearly not appreciated and understood in the office of the Attorney General. That is the reality. The file was sent to the office of the Attorney General, one officer took charge of it, no one else worked on it——

He did not do any work on it.

——and that officer did not submit it to the Attorney General.

Who will take the rap for that?

I am giving the House all the information I have on this matter. We know the system failed, but I am outlining the system that had worked for some time.

How many other such files are lying around in the office of the Attorney General?

The Taoiseach said that he and his Fianna Fáil colleagues misinterpreted the intentions of the Labour Party. Even if he is prepared to overlook all the lapses highlighted so well by Deputy Gilmore, why did he rush with such indecent haste to the Phoenix Park to make the appointment? Will the Taoiseach agree it has all the hallmarks of wanting to present his colleagues in the Labour Party with afait accompli?

I agree with Deputy Mitchell that the appointment may have the hallmarks of what he described, but I will give him the facts. Shortly following the Cabinet meeting at which the decision was made I contacted the Secretary of the Government and told him to make the appropriate arrangements for the appointment. Members must understand that other appointments had been arranged, it was suggested that the appointment be made on Saturday, but it was not possible to arrange it. I am aware there is a perception that there was a made rush to make the appointment on Friday evening, but the reason was to accommodate appointments. It was not my intention to rush to the Phoenix Park at 5.30 or 6 p.m. that evening nor did I request that to be done. That time was agreed to facilitate others.

For the sake of clarity will the Taoiseach indicate what is in his statement today that is new, that was not or could or should not have been said last Friday? The House would like to know what, if anything, the Taoiseach added to the statement he made last Friday. Frankly, Sir, I can find nothing in it apart from a few threadbare shreds of sackcloth and a thimblefull of ashes. Has the Taoiseach made up his mind about what went wrong with the Smyth case? He said today it was dealt with as a normal extradition case. If that is true how many other extradition cases have been messed up completely? Will the Taoiseach explain why two statements in his speech today are contradictory? He said that this case was dealt with as a normal extradition case and there is no real adequate or satisfactory explanation for that. He called it a systems failure. Will the Taoiseach tell me I am wrong in thinking that if it was a systems failure he is giving the lie to the Minister for Justice who, on the last occasion she answered questions about the Smyth case in this House, tried to tell us there were some arcane legal complexities in this case? Which of those two explanations is the real one and which one is he sticking to now? Out of all that welter of contradiction and confusion is it the simple truth that the person dealing with the case as Attorney General was incompetent for the job of Attorney General at the time he was exercising it?

I do not regard the seven months delay in this case as acceptable in any shape or form.

Which extradition is the Taoiseach talking about?

Please, give me the opportunity to reply. Neither I nor anyone in this House regard such a delay as acceptable. We are all aware of our personal views on such an offence. That is why the delay in this case is not acceptable.

The Minister for Justice found it perfectly acceptable.

This matter was dealt with, wrongfully, as an ordinary extradition case.

Was it an ordinary case, a systems failure or a complex case?

Deputies should listen to the Taoiseach's reply.

I do not believe that I, Deputy Dukes or other Members would have made the assumptions made. However, those assumptions were made and a judgment taken. It was wrong to treat the case as an ordinary extradition case. When dealing with an extradition case one must refer to case law, statutes, etc. Which may impinge on the rights of the citizen to be extradited. We are all aware that a large number of extradition warrants are contested in this country. Consequently, a detailed level of investigation and preparatory work must take place. I have said repeatedly here that this file was never submitted to the former Attorney General nor was he made aware of it. Nobody doubts it, that is the reality and nothing I say will change that.

In relation to what is different in the statement I made this evening from what was contained in the document printed over the weekend——

I referred to the Taoiseach's statement last Friday.

——the statement I made today accounts to the House and that is part of my responsibility. That is what my statement represents and it must be read in the context of what it and the other document say.

I now call Deputy Michael McDowell.

Does the Taoiseach accept——

I have called Deputy McDowell:

——that he did not say anything different today from what he said last Friday? Will he answer yes or no to that?

Will the Taoiseach indicate if the inadequacies of the systems in operation in the office of the Attorney General were an unpleasant surprise? Will he agree that they must have been known to the then Attorney General who must have known how every warrant which came into his office was dealt with? Must it not have been the case that Mr. Whelehan, the then Attorney General, knew he did not see documents for considerable periods of time when they were dealt with by others and that he did not exercise personally any responsibility to determine the priority of urgent cases? Does it not follow clearly that the political responsibility for the maladministration lay with the person whose duty it was to correct it, the then Attorney General? In view of that why did the Taoiseach reward such incompetence with promotion to high judicial office?

Reward for failure.

I want to make it clear that in accordance with the practice that existed then — and for many years previously — extradition requests were not seen by the Attorney General until all relevant preparatory work had been completed. The cases are then presented to the Attorney General for his decision——

The former Attorney General should have seen them.

——which I am sure is understood clearly by Deputy McDowell. Under the Act the decision of the Attorney General cannot be delegated.

The Attorney General has to make decisions as to priorities in terms of which cases are urgent.

The Attorney General has to make decisions whether to extradite offenders; that function cannot be delegated.

The Attorney General has to decide which cases are urgent.

The preparatory work associated with extradition cases can, is and has been delegated but, as I am sure Deputy McDowell will agree, the final determination has to be made by the Attorney General and nobody else. That system does not work any other way.

The former Attorney General knew the system was rotten and he did nothing about it.

I reject that. Deputy McDowell is the first speaker I have heard this evening——

The Taoiseach agrees the system is wrong and that it was not the responsibility of the Attorney General.

It is the same system no matter who is Attorney General.

This system has not been changed for many years. The Government accepts responsibility——

It was changed in 1987.

Deputy McDowell, there are a number of Deputies offering.

Deputy Molloy's party would be lucky to get 4 per cent in an election.

I would like to see Deputy Cowen's party's percentage after this debate.

Deputy McDowell is the first speaker I recall this evening who questions whether the former Attorney General was made aware——

——of the system. I am only asking about the system.

Who is accountable in the Office of the Attorney General?

I have not heard any other Deputy make that accusation. The system for dealing with extradition cases failed and it is our duty and responsibility as a Government to make sure it does not happen again.

Whose responsibility is it to change the system?

I have taken the first steps to ensure the system will not fail again. New administrative arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the Attorney General is informed of every extradition request immediately it is received by the office. In addition, the Attorney General has directed that henceforth absolute priority over the other work, irrespective of its importance or urgency, will be given to any extradition request for a person accused of abusing children. I assure the House there will not be another Fr. Brendan Smyth case. The first essential steps are being taken. Three secretaries are considering the basis of management in the Attorney General's office and that is only right.

It was the responsibility of the former Attorney General to stop that——

The systems in this office have been unchanged for too many years. There is no computerisation system or other such service and all those areas have to be reviewed. On behalf of the Government I am giving a full commitment——

Whose responsibility is it?

The Deputy should read the script.

I have laid out the areas of responsibility.

The Taoiseach will not answer the question because the answer is obvious.

A full review of the systems and structures is being carried out and in the meantime resources are being committed by Government and essential steps are being taken to ensure there is not a repetition of this case.

If, as the Taoiseach said on several occasions, the conduct of the Attorney General and the seven months delay was unacceptable, why did he appoint him as President of the High Court?

I did not say his conduct was unacceptable; I said the system that allowed this to happen was unacceptable, that the seven months delay was unacceptable, and I repeat that here.

Who is responsible for the system?

In dealing with this matter, with the Fr. Smyth case generally and with many of the questions raised this evening, it is necessary to draw a very clear distinction between two explanations for the failure in the Attorney General's office: first, the failure to act because of serious misjudgment by an individual or individuals or because of inefficiencies in the way in which the office is administered; second, the question of deliberate intention not to act for what I describe as sinister motives — for example, an inclination to delay or somehow cover up serious offending simply because the alleged perpetrator was a priest.

Why did the Taoiseach appoint the Attorney General as President of the High Court?

I assume it is accepted that we are dealing only with the first explanation.

Failure of administration and responsibility for it.

I have seen nothing to suggest that the failure outlined in the second explanation was involved. Any suggestion that there was a deliberate cover up would amount to a most serious and damaging charge. For that reason I sincerely ask all contributors to the debate in condemning the failure to bear in mind the crucual distinction between the two types of questions.

I am calling Deputy Enda Kenny.

The Taoiseach did not answer the question as to why he appointed the Attorney General.

Deputy Molloy rose.

The Deputy will be called in due course.

I wish to give notice of my intention to ask a question. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is not looking this way.

I have called Deputy Kenny. I want to be scrupulously fair in the allocation of time and the record will show that I have been.

In response to questions from the Taoiseach the former Attorney General, in his report said: "In view of certain innuendoes that have been made, I have been assured by the official dealing with the case that there was no contact of any kind from or with any political or other source concerning the case". In the Taoiseach's speech today he said: "In response to my personal inquiries, I have been assured that 4there is no question of outside influence being brought to bear in the case". Will the Taoiseach clarify what those inquiries involved? Did the Taoiseach speak to the former Attorney General or to the official who briefed the former Attorney General in respect of the report he issued?

A number of innuendoes were made about what may or may not have happened and I questioned the former Attorney General in that regard. I wish to state clearly and unequivocally that no extradition case was ever discussed with me since I became Taoiseach.

Was it discussed with anyone else?

Not that I am aware of. The charge was made that I must be aware——

Was the matter discussed with anyone else?

Not that I am aware of.

Was representation made from any other quarter?

Were representations made about this case, by any method, to the officials concerned or to the Attorney General? Did the Taoiseach interview the official concerned or did he simply satisfy himself by interviewing the Attorney General?

I was assured that no contact or representations were made from any outside source to the official in the Attorney General's office in regard to this matter.

Was contact made with the Garda Síochána through the RUC?

I thought I had put on the record of the House the information about the RUC, but I will come back to it.

I said earlier that the first step in practising the politics of consensus is to determine, when one does not have agreement, whether it is vital for a decision to be made. Why was it so vital last Friday for this shotgun decision to be made? Will the Taoiseach elaborate on that? If it had come to the Taoiseach's attention that the Attorney General was a member of a clandestine organisation, would it have influenced his judgement on the Attorney General's suitability for high office?

I have outlined extensively the basis that led to the decision. It has transpired that there was a misinterpretation on our part and I have said twice in this House that I and my colleagues genuinely regret any inadvertent offence caused to the Tánaiste and to our colleagues in Government in that regard. I now have the information requested by Deputy O'Donnell about the UK Attorney General's office.

I asked about the RUC.

A letter dated 4 May 1993 was received via the diplomatic bag——

The Taoiseach already gave that information.

I said that I already put it on the record.

Has the Taoiseach information on the RUC?

There was correspondence from the RUC on 2 December 1993 requesting the up-to-date position on the Fr. Smyth case. This however was forwarded to the Chief State Solicitor for his attention on 9 December 1993.

As regards the rush to the Phoenix Park, at what stage did the Taoiseach discover that the Labour Ministers would absent themselves? Did he proceed to the Park to put Mr. Whelehan beyond accountability to this House in the belief that Labour Party Ministers had merely dropped out to hear the latest from the count centre in Cork?

Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Minister for Justice was unaware of the existence of these warrants? Is it not the case that matters of far less serious import than a child abuser at loose in this jurisdiction would have been drawn to the attention of the Minister for Justice and that in this case this information was brought to her desk?

Will the Taoiseach answer the question to which the people want an answer? Why would he put his Government and own reputation and future as Taoiseach at risk for the purposes of making Mr. Whelehan President of the High Court? Does he recall the intervention of the former Attorney General to direct his senior counsel to intervene when the Taoiseach was being questioned at the Beef Tribunal about the motivation behind his decisions as Minister for Industry and Commerce and that this gave rise to the doctrine of Cabinet confidentiality which had the effect of saving his political neck?

It was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the reason he appointed Mr. Harry Whelehan President of the High Court was to repay that debt——

Outrageous.

——despite his lamentable performance as Attorney General?

Deputies should be very careful in making such innuendoes in this House.

I have no intention of raising to the bait; outrageous allegations are being made in the House.

There is nothing outrageous about it; he did intervene.

Does the Deputy accept the Supreme Court's decision?

That can be responded to. The Deputy should please resume his seat.

He did intervene; it is on the record. Counsel were not permitted to inquire about the motivation behind the Taoiseach's decisions when Minister for Industry and Commerce. That is the reason he is President of the High Court and the Taoiseach put at risk the cohesion of the Government.

Scandal monger.

We will get to Galmoy tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow.

There are but eight minutes left and other Deputies have to be accommodated.

The Deputy should not threaten me.

I am not doing the threatening in this House; I know who is threatening to look into my back rooms and those of Deputy McDowell.

Muck raker.

Would Deputy Rabbitte wish to monopolise the remaining seven minutes?

(Interruptions.)

I have no intention of rising to the bait. The facts were determined by Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton and I will leave his report intact. Deputy Rabbitte used the colourful phrase "mad rush to the Park". I explained the matter in detail to Deputy Mitchell who also raised that aspect of the case. I repeat there was no mad rush to the Park as the Deputy suggested. The Secretary to the Government was asked after the Cabinet meeting to make the appropriate arrangements. Other commitments had to be taken into consideration as I am sure the Deputy will appreciate. Saturday was not considered suitable for various reasons.

What about today or tomorrow?

We had to comply and dovetail with someone else.

When did the Taoiseach discover that the Labour Party Ministers had withdrawn from Government?

At no time did I discuss what Deputy Rabbitte is trying to infer, that somehow the former Attorney General involved himself; this is something I know nothing about. If the Deputy wants to substantiate this I will be glad to have the matter investigated for him.

Of course he did, it is a matter of record. He intervened directly to direct his senior counsel.

I call Deputy Molloy.

I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but Deputy Rabbitte also raised the question of the role of the Department of Justice. The impression created by media reports today on the role of the Department of Justice in the Smyth extradition case is misleading in that it proceeds on the false assumption that the Department was in possession of certain essential information. This is not the factual position. As is normal practice in extradition cases, a copy of the warrants in the Smyth case was sent——

The Taoiseach read that already.

I have no control over questions. Like everyone else, Deputy Rabbitte has the right to receive a reply.

(Interruptions.)

This is time wasting.

I have said already that interruptions from either side of the House are unwelcome.

The information contained in the warrants included the name of the person sought but without any reference to the fact that he was a priest. It also included a previous Northern Ireland address only and signified the offence by reference to named persons without giving their ages——

This is the third time the Taoiseach has told us this.

——and the relevant provisions of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, indecent assault against a male and in one case a female.

The Taoiseach is using up the time available.

The Taoiseach will have half an hour in which to make his statement.

If Deputy Rabbitte wants the information that is his prerogative. If he wants to ask supplementary questions that is also his prerogative. If Deputy Rabbitte is happy with the information I have given to him I will not read the remaining two pages.

Deputy Rabbitte rose.

I call Deputy Molloy.

The Taoiseach invited a supplementary.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach a number of questions. In his opinion is the Attorney General responsible for maladministration in his office? In view of the fact that for some months prior to the appointment of the new President of the High Court he was well aware of the strong opposition of the Labour Party in the partnership Government why did the Taoiseach persist and proceed with the appointment? How did he come to the conclusion that the Labour Party Ministers were merely absenting themselves from the Government meeting to register their non-par-ticipation in the decision to appoint Mr. Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court when they did not return for the remainder of the meeting? The explanation given by the Taoiseach so far to the House is not plausible.

It may well be that the explanation given as to what went wrong in the system is not plausible or acceptable and I agree with the Deputy in that regard. I have already dealt clearly with the question of responsibility, accountability and culpability both in my statement and in response to questions. I quoted W. T. Cosgrave——

Will the Taoiseach answer the question I put to him without reading out what is written on the page to take up the remaining time?

Arrogance, ignorance.

(Interruptions.)

There are but three minutes left and I want to accommodate another Deputy.

I accept what Deputy McDowell said but the Constitution has not been changed. The responsibility clearly lies with the Government as a whole. I quoted what W. T. Cosgrave said when President of the Executive Council in 1924. He stated that given the necessity to have someone to answer for the Attorney General in this House, where he was not a Member, "in this arrangement the Executive Council has the general responsibility and must be prepared to answer for the Attorney——

In 1937 the Attorney General was appointed by the Taoiseach of the day.

We had a new Constitution in that year.

The first Irish Government post-independence laid down where the responsibility lay in the Ministers and Secretaries Act.

Eamon de Valera changed that provision because he did not like——

If I am allowed, I might add that it is 70 years since that happened. I think the House would agree that as part of the strategic management initiative I am undertaking——

Management?

——it would be in everyone's interest to look again at the 1924 Ministers and Secretaries Act not just from the point of view of the Government but also from the point of view of Secretaries of Departments——

It is time to look at the Taoiseach.

——who find themselves in an invidious position with regard to decisions taken down the line. That is an issue the Dáil could address profitably.

The Taoiseach should keep going, it is nearly 6.30 p.m.

My colleague beside me, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Ahern, has responsibility for the public service which comprises 187,000 employees.

There are 40 staff in the Attorney General's office.

The system was wrong and he knew it.

Is the House seriously suggesting that he should have to take full responsibility if any one of these 187,000 makes a mistake? He is responsible but not culpable. That is an exercise for a future date in this House.

That concludes questions.

Sir, you indicated you would call me. I have a final question for the Taoiseach.

The Chair does not have any discretion in that matter. If I had the discretion, I would accommodate the Deputy. By an Order of the House of this day I must now call on the Taoiseach to respond to the statements.

I am the fine Gael Party spokesperson for Justice.

Will the Taoiseach yield a few minutes to allow one question?

The Taoiseach is agreeable to allowing me——

In the interests of consensus and co-operation I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to allow Deputy Gay Mitchell to raise a final question, even though I have been answering questions for an hour and 15 minutes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

On a point of order it would be fairer if a spokesperson from each of the parties in Opposition was allowed to raise a question. Fair is fair.

On page 16 of his speech the Taoiseach said:

In my opinion it follows that I personally and the Government as a whole must take some responsibility for the deficiencies in the operation of extradition procedures in the Attorney General's Office as brought to light in the Smyth case.

Does this mean he is saying that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Labour Party should share in the guilt of the decision he made last Friday? He said: "My view of good Government is that it must be decisive". Is he contrasting this with the Labour Party's insistence on accountability as indecision and in effect is he not getting in his retaliation first so to speak? Why was none of the 17 or so existing High Court judges from whom every President of the High Court since 1924 was chosen not suitable for the position on this occasion?

I will not go into the latter part of Deputy Mitchell's question, and well he knows it.

What I was discussing was the responsibility of the Government as laid down by W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council, in relation to the office of the Attorney General. Time and time again this afternoon I have tried to separate the actions, procedures and the systems in the office from what the then Attorney General knew and was not told about the Smyth case. I must have said it four or five times and I hope it is now clear. The answer to Deputy Mitchell's question is "no". It refers to the procedures and systems that have unfortunately failed dismally.

That concludes questions. I must now call on the Taoiseach to make a statement in reply.

On a point of order, Sir,——

Sorry Deputy, I have called the Taoiseach.

May I ask the Taoiseach to take questions from the other Opposition parties?

I was asked to agree to take one question from Deputy Mitchell and I said that if the House agreed I would take it. I had to beg for the indulgence of the Chair to take the question. It is up to the Chair to decide.

I am working to an Order of the House of this day. We deviated from it with the agreement of the House but I must now call on the Taoiseach to make a statement in reply.

Sir, will you put the matter to the House?

I have answered questions for the past hour and 15 minutes. I have sought to give full, frank, open and honest answers to all the questions. Any fair minded person will accept that I have made a really honest effort to address all the issues raised by the Deputies in this House.

Who wrote this script?

I do not propose to delay the House much longer.

If the Deputy had been present at the Order of Business he would have known what would happen.

Will Deputy McDowell please resume his seat?

Is it in order for the Taoiseach to read a script?

A Progressive Democrats petulant demagogue.

On a point of order, Sir, may I ask——

From a Fianna Fáil forgetful financier.

Well done John, at least I can laugh.

Sir, may I ask for a ruling on a point of order, is it in order for the Taoiseach to read a script at this point?

I am reading from notes.

Some civil servant has written this rubbish.

The word "contempt" was introduced in this debate this evening to describe my attitude to my partners in Government. I totally reject that.

The Taoiseach loves them.

I think my partners in Government would certainly accept that I was never contemptuous of them at any Cabinet meeting. I gave them every opportunity to argue their point and we had very successful Cabinet meetings. By and large, every Cabinet meetings, with few exceptions——

The Beef Tribunal report——

——dealt with the full agenda of the Cabinet meeting and we have made progress over the past two years. If we can put the mechanisms in place, we will continue progress for the next two and a half years.

Will the Taoiseach get off his knees?

Does that apply to your former partners?

The Labour Party will find out when the time comes.

It is important to record the fact——

Just perjury.

——that persons are regularly extradited on foot of warrants alleging sexual offences.

Sir, did you hear that the Taoiseach has been accused of perjury. Will you ask the Taoiseach to admit to it or comment on it?

I did not hear such a remark. If I had heard such a remark from a Member I would take action.

Sir, it was repeated three times.

It is very difficult to hear anything at this point.

The Taoiseach was not being accused of perjury. The Taoiseach accused somebody else of perjury 14 times I believe.

I did not accuse anyone of perjury in my lifetime.

Just deliberate dishonesty under oath.

For example the latest report on the operation of Part III of the Extradition Act, 1965, which was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas at the beginning of the year shows that during 1992 four persons were extradited to England for assault and sexual offences against children. During 1993 one warrant was received in respect of the charge of rape and the person was extradited.

I have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the system will not fail again. New administrative arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the Attorney General is informed of every extradition request immediately it is received in his office. In addition the Attorney General has directed that henceforth absolute priority over other work irrespective of its importance or urgency will be given to any extradition request for a person accused of abusing children. I can assure the House that there will not be another case of this type. I have also decided there should be a thorough review of the operations of the office and this will be completed in the shortest possible time, within three weeks and before that, if possible. Deputy Blaney in this House suggested that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and I should get together and put the country and the economy first. I concur with those sentiments and I hope that this Government will not fall before it has had an opportunity to see the Programme for Government and all it entails carried through to a successful conclusion. The Irish people will be the judge of whether the Programme for Government will have their support for the future and they will say what they think of the Government during its period of office. It has been suggested by Deputy De Rossa that I am unsympathetic to Fr. Smyth's victims — that is totally untrue.

The Taoiseach did not apologise to them.

Many times I have said — so many that I cannot remember — that I deeply regret that offences such as this should happen and that any State organ should fail and thereby put children at risk of abuse.

The Taoiseach apologised to the Irish people but he did not apologise to the victims of Fr. Smyth for the negligence and pain inflicted on them.

I stressed that I abhor and condemn any such acts against children.

Deputy Bruton referred to the accountability of the Attorney General to this House. I have dealt with this matter fully in my statement. The Attorney General is an independent constitutional officer and is not part of the Executive of the State. As well as being the legal officer of the Government he has a quasi-judical role. In the case of the 1987 Extradition Act, he has a clear statutory function. He is not answerable to the Government nor to the Dáil for the exercise of this function. The importance of the independence of the Attorney General has been emphasised many times in our courts. As the Supreme Court put it in McLoughlinv the Minister for Social Welfare, 1956, the Attorney General is in no way the servant of the Government, his is an independent position. He is a great officer of State with grave responsibilities of a quasi-judicial as well as an Executive nature. While he is in office he holds, and must hold, if he is to do his duty and discharge his responsibilities, an independent position. He is specifically excluded from being a member of the Government which again underlines his independent position.

It would clearly be quite inconsistent with the constitutional independence of the Attorney General if he were to be answerable to Dáil Éireann. My statement sets out fully the reasons the appointment of the President of the High Court was proceeded with and the circumstances involved. As I said, I was given no advance warning that my partnership colleagues intended to leave the Government meeting were the issues of this appointment to be decided. I repeat that I genuinely regret the misinterpretation that arose and any inadvertant offence caused to the Tánaiste or his ministerial colleagues or both.

Prior to that decision being taken the only outstanding issue was whether the decision required to be deferred in order to allow me to be accountable on the Attorney General's behalf to the Dáil on the extradition case. As I said, I sought advice on the proper procedures and was confirmed in my view that this postponement was unnecessary because accountability arises for all decisions that have been taken.

There is no question, as Deputy Bruton suggests, that I hold the Labour Party in contempt — I hope I have already dealt with that allegation. I paid tribute in my statement on a number of occasions to the indispensable role in both the Northern Ireland talks process and the peace process which the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, has played. The two of us working as a team have reconciled the up to now irreconcilable position that existed for 25 years and for anyone to suggest that that success could be achieved by one of the parties involved having contempt for another is simply not plausible nor acceptable to me. The Tánaiste's ministerial colleagues and his party know full well that they too, along with the rest of us, have made a great contribution to the many achievements of this Administration and that we work well as a team.

Deputy Bruton questions the existence of precedence in relation to the appointment of the President of the High Court. I have already given him the statement of one of the most eminent authorities on constitutional Government in Ireland, Professor Basil Chubb. The practice of appointing Attorneys General to the superior courts existed prior to the foundation of the State and has continued since then. Thirteen Attorneys General have been so appointed since 1924——

None as President of the High Court.

——including Mr. Hugh Kennedy, who was appointed as Chief Justice on 6 June 1924; Mr. Conor A. Maguire, who was appointed a Judge of the High Court on 3 November 1936 and President of the High Court on 17 December 1936; Mr. Aindrias O'Caoimh, who was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court on 16 March 1965 and was subsequently appointed President of the High Court on 15 August 1966——

Subsequently appointed.

——and Mr. Anthony J. Hederman, who was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court on 30 June 1981.

While no provision was made in the Programme for Government for any alteration of this custom and precedent, I have made clear that I accept the desirability of such custom is open to question and we have agreed that it will no longer obtain.

Does the Taoiseach regret it?

This is truly a reforming Government.

As I said in my statement here today, I sincerely regret any offence or hurt that I may have caused in this particular situation. It was never my intention — it would be politically injudicious — to try to wreck a Government that is performing so well and which intends to carry out its full Programme for Government.

Listen to Gerry Collins.

Is the Taoiseach going to say the act of contrition now?

I realise politicians have to make their charges. I understand that and I never expected coming in here today that anyone on the opposite side of the House would agree with what I was saying. That is the business of confrontational politics.

Does the Taoiseach have a firm purpose of amendment?

Deputy Rabbitte, let us hear the Taoiseach without interruption.

I think that my Labour colleagues can give testimony to the fact that I have on all occasions——

Is the Taoiseach a recidivist?

——seen the implementation of the Programme for a Partnership Government as the paramount objective of this Government. In fact, if anyone cares to join me in my office after this debate, they will see that I carry out my own personal audit of the Programme for Government, irrespective of the other people who may be monitoring it.

The Taoiseach is embarrassing the Tánaiste.

Who wrote this stuff?

Are we getting absolution from Father Dick Spring?

A Deputy

Is the Taoiseach likely to offend again?

The Taoiseach without interruption.

I have recognised that——

The new Cabinet should write a better script the next time. The system seems to be breaking down.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

(Interruptions)

We have the Yellow Pages now. We have given up the main directory.

It is better than being in a party that is in meltdown.

This is a great officer of State.

These interruptions must cease now.

I think the cardinal is making up for his losses in the by-elections.

As reconciliation has finally broken out in the House I will conclude by saying that I have mentioned new mechanisms which I wish to put in place to ensure that there is no repetition of the breakdown which has occurred in this partnership Government.

Not good enough.

Too little too late.

I purposely left the details of this mechanism vague and general and would hope that the Tánaiste and our Labour colleagues would see this as a clear indication of my willingness not to put any parameters on those mechanisms, to underline the openness of my approach to ensuring that this effective Government stays in place to ensure the completion of its programme——

To ensure the Taoiseach stays in office.

——to advance the peace process and to make Ireland more prosperous and more peaceful for our people.

It is now a grovelling Government.

A grovelling Taoiseach. He plays the right tune.

It is a Left tune.

May we have a white Christmas?

Better than a red one. A Marxist looking for a white Christmas.

It does not come that early. I have committed myself here to continue to work for this country to make it a more peaceful and more prosperous place for our people of today and our children of tomorrow.

That concludes statements and in accordance with an Order of An Dáil of this day, the House stands adjourned until 10.30 tomorrow morning.

The Dáil adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 November 1994.