Statement by Taoiseach: Resignation of Members of Government.

I wish to announce to the Dáil that I intend, following this statement, to go to Áras an Uachtaráin to tender my resignation as Taoiseach and that of my Ministers to the President. I will not be seeking a dissolution of the Dáil. On the basis of what is provided for in the Constitution, we will continue to carry on our duties until a new administration is formed. I have taken this decision for the good of the country, in the interests of stability and, in particular, to ensure the continuation of the peace process. I am doing this in the knowledge of the full support of my ministerial colleagues.

I have this morning received the resignations of the Labour Ministers and I forwarded them to the President with the advice that she accept them.

In the circumstances that have led to this decision I simply wish to state that it was never my intention to mislead the Dáil or withhold any material information from it. I sought a deeper investigation of the circumstances surrounding the handling of the Fr. Brendan Smyth extradition case from the new Attorney General and have been prepared to draw the appropriate conclusions without flinching. The same goes for my ministerial colleagues. The Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, offered me her resignation yesterday afternoon but I refused because I, like my ministerial colleagues, fully subscribe to collective responsibility.

It has been my privilege to have led a very successful and pioneering partnership Government over the past two years. We have had excellent results in the economy, showing an increase in employment, and we have produced many enlightened social reforms. I would like to think that it has been a compassionate Government.

There will be another time when I hope to set the record straight on the many hurtful and untruthful things that have been said about me and my family not alone in this debate but in recent times. I do not intend to do that now.

The most important achievement of this Government has been the breakthrough to peace in Northern Ireland with two ceasefires. It is a source of immense relief for all of us that the terrible cycle of death has been brought to an end. I thank all the brave people, North and South, who have helped both recently and during the years to bring this about. Now that I am no longer in a position to make a further contribution as Taoiseach I appeal to all those who are and will be in a position to influence the course of events to hold fast to and build on what has been achieved for the sake of everyone living on this island and for future generations.

When I became Leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach I set myself two political objectives — to achieve peace in Northern Ireland and on the whole island and to turn the economy around. I was fortunate in such a short space of time to achieve those two political objectives. Many political leaders set themselves in life certain priorities and goals but for whatever reasons were not around long enough to achieve them. I was fortunate to work with a team and together we were able to achieve our objectives in a short time.

It is with a sense of achievement that I can stand up to say those words today. I pay tribute to all my colleagues, both in Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party, for working with me in Government on behalf of the country on a Programme for Government which we set as a challenge for a period of four and a half years.

I take this opportunity to thank my wife, Kathleen, my children and grandchildren for their great support in carrying the heavy burdens of office. They are heavy burdens but the heaviest burden is always carried in the home — that is where the real strain and pressure is brought to bear. I thank them for their commitment and staying the course with me. There was a very happy family this morning to say "farewell".

It is proposed to seek leave to withdraw No. 7 on today's Order Paper and that the House adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 22 November 1994.

Before proceeding to that aspect of the matter I will be glad to hear statements from the spokespersons or leaders of the parties in Opposition.

I am happy to deal with the two together.

They may have to be put separately.

This is a sad day for the Taoiseach and his family. As someone who has called for his resignation, I am not going to say he was wrong to resign but he offered his resignation this morning in a manner which does him every credit. He did so with dignity and I have no doubt that his family for whom he has a well known exemplary and exceptional concern will have every reason to be proud of him, if not for everything that has happened — there is no mortal of whom it can be said they did everything right every time — then for the way in which he tendered his resignation this morning.

As the Taoiseach recalled, it is important to realise in public life that those of us who are immediately involved in the fray are able somehow or other to distract ourselves from the hurt by constant activity but those who are at home waiting for the phone call with the good or bad news — it is often as bad as good — bear the greatest stress. It was entirely appropriate and in no way maudlin for the Taoiseach to refer to his family on this occasion; they have borne with him what must have been an awful week. I compliment them on the way they have helped him through what was a crisis for him. I do not think there is much more I could say which would be of help to him but I intend to be as helpful as I can as I know how difficult it is for him.

The resignation was inevitable and necessary. Particular information which was very important and central to the matter we were discussing on Tuesday in regard to the suitability of the former Attorney General for appointment as President of the High Court, namely, the fact he had not adverted to a previous case, was made known to the Taoiseach and all Fianna Fáil Ministers who were involved in the preparation of the Taoiseach's speech. All of them therefore were party to the fact that he did not disclose this information to the House.

It would have remained undisclosed were it not for the courageous action of the present Attorney General, Mr. Eoghan Fitzsimons, who made sure it would become known by the letter he wrote which brought the matter definitively into the public arena and led to the events which have occurred today. It was a difficult and painful decision for him because he knew he would cause a problem for the Fianna Fáil Party to which he had given a lifetime of loyal service but in an exemplary way he saw that the national interest came before the interest of his party. I hope this characteristic of Mr. Eoghan Fitzsimons will be put into practice by all of us in politics whenever the crisis moment comes for us.

I compliment the Taoiseach warmly on the work he has done in the peace process. I cannot and do not claim, nor does he, that he was solely responsible for it. He was not, but he played a critical role alongside the Tánaiste and the other Ministers, Mr. John Hume and others, including Mr. Gerry Adams. I have had to ask him difficult questions about the peace process but I hope he understands that is my job and I do so in order to ensure that the peace process may be more durable having been tested more carefully. A stronger peace process can withstand questioning, a weaker one is not questioned. It was our role to contribute to the work on the peace process for which I pay tribute to Deputy Albert Reynolds on this difficult day for him.

There is not much more for me to say on this occasion. Many will analyse these events with the benefit of hindsight. I note with interest that the Taoiseach intends to put his side of the story. I imagine there will be a queue of publishers coming to see him — I take it he will write a book.

I could not do that, I did not keep a diary.

I thought that was what he was saying. I note the Taoiseach will put his point of view on record somehow and we await it with interest.

My only regret in all this saga is that Mr. Harry Whelehan did not publicly put his views on record. If that had happened, his household might be a lot happier this morning. The lesson is that truth should not come out in instalments: the truth, the whole truth should be given on the first day and let the cards fall as they will after that. That is a good lesson for all of us who aspire to high office. It does not matter what happens at the end of the day so long as at the earliest opportunity one has told the truth. Let others manage the news once the truth is already on the table.

I compliment and congratulate the Taoiseach on the manner in which he has addressed the House this morning. It is what I would have expected from the man I have come to know in the past two years. He addressed the House with dignity in very difficult circumstances in a way which many Members of this House could not have done.

When I wrote to the Taoiseach this morning offering my resignation, I did so with a deep sense of regret that this is the way our Government has come to an end. As I said yesterday, this Government has achieved many things. We set out a number of objectives and the Taoiseach chaired Cabinet meetings with skills that very few people possess. He was always willing to listen. In fact, occasionally he had to listen to the odd dissertation on various matters from some of my colleagues and he did so with patience.


Did Deputy Michael D. Higgins say it in verse?

He did so patiently with all of the skills of a chairman. In the House yesterday I listed the achievements of our Government in many areas but one achievement that will stand out above all, as has been mentioned by Deputy John Bruton, the Leader of the main Opposition party, is the Taoiseach's role in the development of the Downing Street Declaration and the peace process. I do not think the Taoiseach ever attempted to claim that it was all his work but it would have been very difficult to achieve the balance of the Downing Street Declaration without the direct input of the Taoiseach's negotiating skills.

I understand very well what the Taoiseach has borne in relation to his family in recent years. I know from working with him that he is probably the family man of this House. I know his relationship with his wife, family and children is strong, caring and deep and I know it will continue. I know that today when other politicians start wondering about what will happen he will have strength in his family. That is very valuable.

As I have said, there were many achievements and I regret it has happened in this way. It has not been easy for the Taoiseach or for any of us. On behalf of my Labour Party ministerial colleagues I thank the Taoiseach for his courtesy and his kindness in chairing our meetings. I thank also our Fianna Fáil ministerial colleagues for their co-operation with us in setting out to achieve peace and to build a better country for all our people.

To quote Shakespeare's Macbeth:

Nothing in his life

Became him like the leaving it;

Nothing in the Taoiseach's political life became him like the way he has behaved this morning. He acted with great dignity and honour. I think he has done the right thing. One would have to be very stone hearted not to feel for the Taoiseach and his family, his wife Kathleen and his children. I can just imagine the trauma they have been going through in the past few days. It is right that we should acknowledge that this morning.

I pay tribute to the Taoiseach for reaching the decision he has made, which cannot have been easy. I suppose as he reflects he must think of the irony of politics and the old phrase — a week is a long time in politics. Only two months ago the Taoiseach came into this House and Leaders on all sides praised him for bringing peace to this island. In a very short time things have changed and it is good for all of us to remember that.

What has happened this morning does not give anybody great pleasure, in case the Taoiseach or anybody else may think it. By and large we have decent honourable people in this House who have to do very difficult things because it is their duty. We have to be critical because that is our duty. We are not critical from any sense of personal animosity. When we have to say things that hurt we know we would be failing in our duty if we did not do so. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach for making this very difficult decision and many people will respect him for it. People may have called for the Taoiseach's resignation yesterday and today but no doubt tomorrow all will feel sorry for him. That is the way we are, it is the sense of decency in Irish people and that is the thing we love most about ourselves.

The Taoiseach has done the decent and dignified thing and has done so in an honourable way. I pay tribute to him for doing so.

In this House yesterday we demonstrated our capacity to be an effective democratic institution in guarding the rights of our citizens and today we demonstrate that we are people with feelings and concern for everybody regardless of their position and the errors we may consider they have made. The Taoiseach demonstrated that he is a man of dignity who recognised that it was right to resign. Yesterday I said he should have done so yesterday but it is a difficult decision and no one expected it to be easy. I give the Taoiseach credit for having come to that decision thus ending the uncertainty which faced this House.

I have no doubt this Taoiseach will be remembered more for the role he played in the peace process than the affair that has led to his resignation today. Everybody acknowledges the importance of his role and the qualities it required of the Taoiseach in terms of finding solutions and compromises in the Northern Ireland situation. The basis of the peace process, the Downing Street Joint Declaration was one of the most important achievements between Britain and Ireland and I think it will lay the basis for a long-term peace in this country.

Obviously, I have said hard things about the Taoiseach because of the decisions he has made. I do not think anyone will expect that the episode we have just come through will be quietly forgotten. Questions remain to be answered but that is for another day, not for today. I wish the Taoiseach and his family well for the future.

Mr. Sargent rose.

We are dealing with statements and, strictly speaking, the Chair confines remarks to the leaders of the parties in the House but in the circumstances prevailing I hesitate to rule against the Member who has offered.

Go raibh maith agat. I appreciate your fairness, a Cheann Comhairle, a quality I would like to ascribe to the Taoiseach. I feel very sad in many ways that this decision should come about in the way it has. The Green Party, An Comhaontas Glas, was in many ways grateful that the Taoiseach was able to rise above the pettiness of party politics in his dealings with all the important peace process and that he was so inclusive in bringing together the diversity of viewpoints. This can be attributed also to the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, but the Taoiseach had to go the extra mile to bring that process about. It was his sympathy with the views of smaller groups that may have had something to do with his decision this day. A sense of friendship and loyalty do not always turn up the correct result as, unfortunately, today has shown. That sense of fairness must be acknowledged and the Green Party will not forget it.

I hope today's events will not overshadow the success of the Downing Street Joint Declaration which we all supported in this House. Today should also mark a turning point in Irish politics which, hopefully, will result in a more openness and transparency. I extend my sympathy to the Taoiseach, his family and, indeed, to the Government on the way this decision has come about. Good work has been done and I hope we can learn lessons from today.

On my own behalf, and on behalf of some of my colleagues on the back benches, which the Taoiseach will be very welcome to join later this afternoon — we will be delighted to have him — I regret very much the events of recent days culminating as it has this morning in the announcement of the Taoiseach's resignation.

I find it rather sad and, indeed, difficult to consider the departure of a Taoiseach who, by his own style, set a new standard of accessibility not only to the Members of this House but to the public generally. Perhaps he was too accessible at times for his own good but nevertheless he was accessible and for this we all thank him. Furthermore, had the loyalty he displayed to those around him been returned in full, we would not be hearing of his departure today.

In so far as the peace process is concerned, of which I am perhaps a little more sceptical than most, I regret the Taoiseach's departure as Leader of the Government but particularly because of what I believe is the most important aspect of his association with the process, namely, his rather unique relationship with the British Prime Minister, John Major. I hope that his influence with Prime Minister Major may continue to be exercised and useful in the furthering of the peace process and that those who follow him in Government will be as concerned, as diligent and as enthusiastic about pushing forward with the peace process as he was.

As an old friend and colleague of many years may I say that regrettable though the Taoiseach's departure is, the very manner of his going is perhaps his finest hour.

Mr. J. Fox rose.

The House will appreciate that we are dealing with statements and I cannot allow anything like a general debate to ensue but I will hear Deputy Johnny Fox.

I will be very brief. As an Independent Member, I wish to join with the sentiments expressed by previous speakers. Over the past month, the Taoiseach has met, in Kipling's words "with Triumph and Disaster". I know he will have the courage to "treat those two impostors just the same". The Taoiseach's words have been very fine. He has emphasised the importance of his family and, in so doing, has emphasised the importance of the family in Irish life.

The Taoiseach has done his best and that has been good enough on many occasions. His best will be a cornerstone in Irish history and I wish him and his family well in the future.

On a point of order, I seek information in relation to the current situation. The Taoiseach has indicated to the House that the Labour Party Ministers have resigned, that he himself is resigning and automatically, therefore, the other Ministers also resign. My understanding is that the Fianna Fáil Ministers will continue to act until other Ministers are appointed by a new Taoiseach. However, I do not think that can apply to the Labour Party Ministers who resigned independently of the Taoiseach's decision.

That is correct.

Is that the case? Will the Taoiseach indicate who will be carrying out the functions of the Labour Party Ministers?

(Laoighis-Offaly): Give up the guns.

A Deputy

Deputy De Rossa would say that.

Surrender the guns.

I have just been handed a note stating that the resignation of the Labour Party Ministers has been accepted by the President.

Accordingly in due course I will as Taoiseach, or as some might prefer to describe it as "acting" or "deputy" Taoiseach, carry out the duties until a successor is found. During that time I will assign their duties to others.

I take this opportunity to say a sincere word of thanks to the political leaders in the House, all part of the great political family. We come into the House and fight our case, put the best spin or blas on it and hope to get our message across. There is only one message I want to get across: I am what I am. I do not pretend to be something that I am not. We all have human feelings but we have a good sense of values as well. It was those values that I came into political life to develop. I have stood by values of loyalty and honesty throughout my political life. I leave this morning to go to Áras an Uachtaráin safe in the knowledge that I have lived that kind of political life. That is all I want to be remembered for. I was straight up, I have never hidden anything. Give it as it was; tell it as it is, that is me. That is what I have been and what I always will be. That is the only image I want to leave in the House and in politics. I am happy to do that.

To everyone who said kind words here this morning and to my old colleague on the backbenches, who has been in politics probably longer than anyone in the House, the father of the House by now — he taught me what I know about politics——

He taught me a few lessons also.

Now you will know why I have been single minded on many occasions in the pursuit of what I passionately believed in, often to my own detriment. In life, in business and politics, you cannot win them all. You win some, you lose some but throughout my life in politics and business I have been delighted to be a risk taker. If you are not a risk taker you will not achieve anything. The easiest way in life is not to be a risk taker. Yes, I was a risk taker in politics and business but I am quite happy that, having taken the risks, the successes far outweigh the failures.

To the Ceann Comhairle and the staff of the Houses I say a sincere word of thanks. Míle, míle buíochas díobh go léir for your help, courtesy and guidance. I know that this great democratic Chamber will go on to build the strength of democracy that we all cherish so dearly. Míle buíochas.