Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999

Vol. 500 No. 1

Private Members' Business. - EU Commissioner: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann, notwithstanding the ongoing work of the Flood Tribunal established by Dáil Éireann, is of the opinion that EU Commissioner Pádraig Flynn should give a full and immediate response to the allegation that he received a donation of £50,000 from Mr. Tom Gilmartin in 1989, and, failing receipt of such a full and satisfactory account from the Commissioner within the next two weeks, Dáil Éireann shall, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, consider whether it is of the opinion that Mr. Flynn should continue in office in those circumstances.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Bruton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This motion is about Commissioner Pádraig Flynn and recent controversies, but more fundamentally it is about accountability in public life and public faith in the political system as a whole. The purpose of the motion is to make clear to the Commissioner that the Irish people, through their elected representatives in Dáil Éireann, want and expect him to make a clear statement on recent controversies surrounding him and Mr. Tom Gilmartin. Mr. Flynn's failure to clarify matters to date leaves a cloud hanging over him and increases public cynicism about the political system as a whole. We, as public representatives, have a duty to make clear that the stonewalling tactics adopted to date by Mr. Flynn are unacceptable.

The issues to be clarified are quite straightforward. First, did Mr. Flynn, while a Government Minister, receive £50,000 from Mr. Gilmartin? Second, did he receive this cheque in his departmental office from a man who came to talk to him about departmental policy? Third, if he did receive £50,000, what were the circumstances surrounding the gift and to what purpose was the money put? Fourth, did Mr. Flynn contact Mr. Gilmartin subsequent to the establishment of the Flood Tribunal seeking to discuss with him what Mr. Gilmartin proposed to say or had said to the tribunal lawyers? Specifically, did he seek to get him to change his sworn statements to the tribunal?

At this stage we do not seek to condemn Mr. Flynn; rather, we seek explanations. It is not good enough now for Mr. Flynn to try to hide behind the tribunal and say that he will answer questions in due course. At present it is not even clear if he will be a witness at the tribunal. In the case of former Minister Ray Burke, he answered questions in the House which showed that he had a case to answer at the tribunal. Mr. Flynn must indicate whether he has a case to answer at the tribunal, and if so, he must then appear at the tribunal to give a full account of his actions.

A whole series of allegations have been made – mainly, that as a Government Minister he met an individual in his ministerial office to discuss a policy matter and that during the course of the meeting he sought and received a donation for Fianna Fáil or himself for £50,000 with the payee left blank on the cheque. The allegation is that the payee was left blank on the instructions of Mr. Flynn himself. Fianna Fáil says it never received this money and has written to Mr. Flynn to seek an explanation, so far without success. Surprisingly, the Taoiseach never raised this directly with Mr. Flynn in their many conversations.

Some Fianna Fáil figures are trying to spread muck by saying that these activities are not unusual and by saying: "Sure doesn't everybody fundraise?" During my time as a Minister of State, all Ministers and Ministers of State received a Government memorandum instructing them not to meet persons to discuss policy matters in this way without civil servants present. Why were civil servants omitted from this and other relevant meetings in relation to the business of the State? This is something to which I will refer later. Was the business done for the State or was the State being used for business by Ministers?

The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste seem to recognise the seriousness of the issue by their request to Mr. Flynn for an immediate response. However, to make it absolutely clear to Mr. Flynn how seriously this matter is viewed, the time has come for the representatives of the Irish people in Dáil Éireann to demand such a response. Mr. Flynn showed no reticence when he went on "The Late Late Show" and regaled the country with his brilliance, honesty and denial of any charges of wrongdoing. Now that he has been challenged on these statements he must respond for his own sake and the sake of the political system as a whole.

Mr. Burke got at least £60,000, Mr. Haughey at least £2 million, and Mr. Flynn allegedly got £50,000, and all of this was given to them while serving as Ministers. Why were these moneys given to them, in many cases by people they apparently hardly knew? Serving politicians have a particular duty to clarify matters, and failure to do so blackens the good name of all politicians, including many decent Fianna Fáil politicians past and present.

I reject the cant put out by some radio commentators and political spin doctors – especially some close to those currently under investigation – that: "sure everyone was at it, all politics is at least a bit corrupt." The reality is that the vast majority of politicians of all parties work hard on behalf of their constituents for a relatively modest salary and work with honesty and integrity. It is true that the vast majority of Members of this House have fundraised to pay for their campaigns, and this would have been especially true for the years from 1981 to 1992 when there were six general elections, not to mention local and European elections. How many politicians received gifts of the magnitude mentioned? How many received these from relative strangers? How many took gifts of this kind while holding office as Ministers, and in circumstances where there was a clear relationship between the gift being offered and policy issues being pursued? Unfortunately, a few bad apples threaten to give us all a bad name. The more we hear, the more extraordinary the truth seems to be. In particular, some ministerial activity between 1987 and 1992 bears ever closer scrutiny. It is not an exaggeration to say that a culture of corruption hangs over those years, which was the period of golden circles. This is not ancient history as some would like us to believe; these events happened less than ten years ago when all members of the current Cabinet were already Members of Dáil Éireann and many were members of the then Cabinet, including the Taoiseach and Deputies O'Rourke, Woods, Michael Smith, and Seamus Brennan.

There are many events from that period now under investigation by the Moriarty and Flood Tribunals. Others must greatly disturb those in charge of the public purse, such as the purchase of Carysfort College, and remain to be properly explained. For example, why did it cost the State nearly £10 million to purchase Carysfort when UCD were going ahead with the purchase of a facility at Roebuck at no cost to the State?

The March 1992 report of the Committee of Public Accounts sets out the precise concerns. As the Deputy who chaired that committee I again draw the attention of the House to the contents of the committee's report, as they are very relevant to much of what is being inquired into today. The Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, cannot pretend that these questions are not relevant to current Government accountability. These irregular practices which were reported on by the Committee of Public Accounts and raised in the Dáil have never been explained adequately.

"There is a cancer in Fianna Fail that must be rooted out." These are not my words, nor indeed the words of any member of the Fine Gael or Labour parties. They are the words of Minister of State, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, speaking a week ago on "Questions and Answers". I stress that it would be unfair and wrong to attribute wrongdoing to all members of Fianna Fáil, but those who are as shocked as the rest of us must speak up, even now.

Let me give another example of how the business of the State, or was it the business of some Ministers, was conducted in those times. The passports for sale scheme has been much commented on in recent years. I note from newspaper reports that the Moriarty Tribunal has sought these files from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but I am not satisfied that all files relating to this scheme repose there. I suspect considerable activity in relation to this ill-fated scheme was carried out in the Department of the Taoiseach and that the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, played an active part in selling Irish citizenship to wealthy foreigners who either needed it to establish residences within the European Union or to avoid paying federal taxes in the United States of America.

Questions to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform over the past 18 months have failed to elicit significant information about the issue of 11 passports to the family of Sheikh Khalin bin Mahfooz but we know from reports that serious irregularities existed about the issue of these passports. We have the word of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, that he told the current Taoiseach he understood there were serious irregularities in the Mahfooz file, and that Deputy Reynolds felt obliged to advise the Taoiseach of his view in this regard and to let him make up his own mind about appointing Mr. Burke to Cabinet. The former Minister for Justice, Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn, left a memo on the Mahfooz file before she left office in November 1994 in which, I understand, she stated she was concerned and alarmed about its contents. She said the details of the case were highly unusual and a note about the promised investment was extraordinarily scanty by any standards. She had serious concerns about the granting of the naturalisation to the 11 persons in this case and if full, thorough and satisfactory answers to those concerns were not available, she was of the view that the certificates of naturalisation should, if possible, be revoked in each of the cases. The Taoiseach confirmed in the Dáil last October that Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn briefed him on the case in November 1994.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been extraordinarily evasive over the past 18 months in failing to let the House have any real information in relation to the passports scheme. He did, however, indicate some of the countries that gave citizenship on the same basis as the Irish Government, including St. Christopher and Nevis, Tonga, Belize, Panama, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. I need say no more about the place of Ireland in this grouping. We now know who did the business and for whom.

These matters involve serving members of the Government. Those who would not turn a blind eye or look the other way, and who certainly would not conspire or assist, were punished by being banished. We now know why Deputy O'Malley was pushed out of Fianna Fáil, and why Deputies like David Andrews and others were left on the back benches for so many years: they would not go along with the way policy was made and decisions were taken to assist those on the inside. Surely it is time we had an explanation why some of these policy decisions were made, especially when we see policy makers in office in receipt of large amounts of money from people who clearly stood to benefit. Tonight we ask for an explanation from Commissioner Flynn, no more, no less. If he were to give such an explanation we could then reach a reasoned opinion on the allegations. I hope this House asks for such an explanation and I hope he responds.

I want to address also the extraordinary view that Mr. Flynn is too valuable to Ireland as our EU Commissioner to be hounded out of office over a minor matter. First, as I have made clear, these allegations are not a minor matter and require a response. Second, the view that Mr. Flynn is irreplaceable as Ireland's EU Commissioner is simply wrong. He has done a competent job on the Commission but there are a number of individuals inside and outside this House well capable of doing a good job. How can he have any credibility left in Europe if he refuses legitimate inquiries, if the Taoiseach says he is not satisfied with his responses and the Tánaiste says his position is untenable?

The time for arrogance and bluster is gone, the time for explanations has come. Fine Gael is clear in its view that Commissioner Flynn must offer an explanation. We ask others to support this simple request by supporting the motion. We ask the Progressive Democrats, who proclaim their commitment to high standards and whose leader, the Tánaiste, has said Commissioner Flynn's position is untenable, to support the motion. Is the party which did so much to expose the scandals in the beef industry in those years, 1987-92, through the efforts of Deputy O'Malley, prepared to accept that Commissioner Flynn can continue to hold high office and offer no response to the current controversy? We ask Fianna Fáil, the party which asked Commissioner Flynn for an explanation and got none, to support the motion. The Fianna Fáil leader, the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, has publicly stated that he is not satisfied with Commissioner Flynn's response to current events. He and other members of Fianna Fáil now have the opportunity to join with all the other elected representatives of the Irish people and seek that full explanation.

The tribunals of inquiry were established to get to the truth of various matters. It was never intended that public officials should use them as an excuse for not offering clear responses to legitimate public concerns. Just as the Taoiseach realised that the Gilmartin allegations necessitated a public response from him, so also do they require a response from Commissioner Flynn. For years Mr. Haughey made arrogant, dismissive responses to inquiries about the source and extent of his wealth, for reasons we now understand all too clearly. The public will no longer accept such a lack of accountability from their political leaders and those paid from the public purse, and we as politicians must make clear that we too reject the dismissive approach adopted by Commissioner Flynn in his Brussels elevator interview with RTE.

This motion does not pre-judge the Commissioner, it merely asks for an explanation. In natural justice we are giving him an opportunity to make that explanation within two weeks. For all we know, there may be an explanation unrelated to the tribunals, but this cannot be determined until we hear from him. His failure to explain is unacceptable from a serving public official, brings shame on the political system and increases public cynicism. The time has come to let people, through their elected representatives, demand an explanation from Commissioner Flynn who, as he stated on "The Late Late Show", continues to receive pensions from the taxes supplied by this House taken from the public we represent.

The Taoiseach has offered circumstantial evidence as proof against the likelihood of meetings he allegedly had with Mr. Gilmartin in the company of the then Taoiseach and other Ministers in 1989. He offered as his explanation that after 1987 the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, would not have held meetings involving several people on official business in Leinster House but in Government Buildings. As was pointed out by an eminent journalist over the weekend, this view of Mr. Haughey is wide of the mark. His business – party, State and official – was done wherever he happened to be, including Kinsealy. This had been his practice throughout his period as party leader and had even provoked criticism at the constitutionality of how he conducted Government business, a point on which he was sensitive. As was pointed out by the same journalist, apart from the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, no one claimed this meeting, on whatever day it took place, was official business. Mr. Gilmartin's description, which gives it a party political slant, presents it as anything but that. The Taoiseach was quick to rely on the diaries of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, and then only secondhand, to support his circumstantial evidence. The attendance of the Minister, Deputy Brennan, is described as improbable. The Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, has not made any statement. An independent forensic examination of all of the relevant diaries should be carried out. We simply cannot rely on Ministers absolving themselves.

Bruce Arnold's news analysis article in the Irish Independent of 6 February last states:

This was a culture, a way of doing business, and it embraced the finances of the Fianna Fáil party over a long number of years. It appears also to have embraced decision-making, intruded into the business of planning at the highest level, and to have been conducted in ministerial offices, rooms in Leinster House, Abbeyville in Kinsealy, and we know not where besides.

As of today, no line has been drawn separating this truly alarming past from what Mr. Ahern wishes to have seen as the more mundane present. And it will not be drawn until the issue of Mr. Flynn and the £50,000 is addressed.

It is not true to suggest that sort of murky business embraced all of Fianna Fáil. There are many, clearly the majority of, Fianna Fáil members and public representatives who are mortified and ashamed of these events. There is also some hope. Two young Fianna Fáil candidates for the local elections have spoken out and are not prepared to remain silent even now. I know a number of people on the benches opposite share these concerns. The motion before the House gives them the opportunity to express those concerns and to set about separating the truly alarming past from their future. Unfortunately, the past is not separated from the Fianna Fáil of today, however unfair that may be to the majority of Fianna Fáil members. They should not blame the Opposition for that. Their misfortunes are homegrown. They will start to recover the day they start to demand accountability from those on their own benches who know the answers. For the sake of our democratic political system, I urge the House to support this motion.

I support Deputy Mitchell's motion. I regret it is necessary to debate this motion this evening. Padraig Flynn has been an excellent European Commissioner who has served the European Union well. He is personally committed to many of the ideals of the Union to which I and my party subscribe. While I had no part in the decision to nominate Commissioner Flynn for a second term of office in autumn 1994, I was happy to allow his nomination go forward in January 1995. As Taoiseach, I worked well with Commissioner Flynn and found his advice and support on European matters, particularly during Ireland's Presidency of the Union, to be of great benefit.

The events for which Fine Gael seek an explanation from the Commissioner go back nearly ten years, to a time when the Government of our country was shrouded in secrecy, when it was more important for Ministers not to ask the hard question than it was to ask a hard question. It was a time when all one could do was speculate, guess or gossip about what was happening in public affairs, but dealing with issues head on was not the done thing.

The motion we debate tonight is primarily about Mr. Flynn's failure to explain the circumstances in which he allegedly received £50,000 in 1989. This debate would not be necessary if his party leader and Taoiseach had had the courage and moral authority to ask Mr. Flynn, in a straight and direct way, about these allegations when they first came into the public domain nearly six months ago. The Taoiseach never asked Mr. Flynn the obvious question, despite having met him on at least six occasions in the intervening period. The Taoiseach never asked Mr. Flynn the hard question because the Taoiseach has built his entire political career on never asking a question that might prompt an answer demanding unpalatable action.

He never asked Charles Haughey a hard question, either as his supporter or his leader. He never asked Ray Burke a hard question before appointing him Minister and instead chose to send the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on a wasteful errand to London. The Taoiseach chose to stay in Dublin, living near Mr. Burke, meeting him regularly but never asking him the one question that might have been of interest to him. He concentrated instead, by his own account, on staring into the upper regions of vegetation in north Dublin for inspiration. Not surprisingly, no inspiration was forthcoming.

When allegations about Mr. Flynn first arose the Taoiseach chose, once again, to don his familiar earmuffs, eyemask and gag. He presided over the sending of a letter to Mr. Flynn by the General Secretary of Fianna Fáil, a letter which broke new ground in the way in which it begged not to be answered. It was about as convincing in seeking hard information as a tax demand sent in a Valentine's card. Not surprisingly, it has been ignored, at least until Fine Gael tabled this motion.

Getting straight answers to straight questions has never been part of the culture of Fianna Fáil since Mr. Haughey and his associates ran that party. Despite Mr. Haughey's departure the culture of deniability prevails but, as Deputy Mitchell pointed out, it is not shared by all members of Fianna Fáil. There are a great many decent, honourable men and women in Fianna Fáil who are appalled at what is being revealed, but problems must be confronted, not ignored, parked or evaded.

The Taoiseach has refused to tackle the Haughey legacy in Fianna Fáil. The culture of self-service instead of public service has not been finally rooted out. To do so takes hard work and hard decisions – decisions, not rhetoric. Accountability is difficult. It is often embarrassing and sometimes it is confrontational. Accountability can disrupt personal relationships, but without it we cannot have genuine democratic politics.

I am prepared to be accountable to this House for my actions. I have no problem explaining in full the reasons I telephoned Mr. Tom Gilmartin directly. The newspaper, Ireland on Sunday, put a number of questions to me on Tuesday, 26 January, one of which was whether I might ever have met Mr. Gilmartin. As is my practice, I wanted to give a straight, full and final answer to this media query. I decided to check it out with the only person who could definitely confirm my view that I had never met Tom Gilmartin, namely, Tom Gilmartin. I did not want to give replies based on the best of my recollection or on half-hearted trawls through incomplete old diaries. I wanted to give a definitive answer.

Confirming that I had never met him was the sole purpose of my phone call to Mr. Gilmartin on 28 January, and I did not seek to influence anything Mr. Gilmartin might say to anybody. I rang Mr. Gilmartin directly myself, because that is my approach. I do not believe in sending third parties to ask questions for me. If questions concern me directly, I ask the necessary questions myself directly. Mr. Gilmartin has absolutely and publicly confirmed that the sole purpose of my call was to establish we had no previous contact, so that I could confirm this to the media. The telephone conversation I had with Mr. Gilmartin was comparatively short, lasting a few minutes. After I had confirmed with him that we had never met, Mr. Gilmartin, of his own accord, spoke generally for some minutes about various things he had been reported on widely as discussing with various journalists in previous days. I reiterated to him that I had not rung him with the purpose of going into these issues or for anything other than to ask the question whether we had ever met. I repeat here, as Mr. Gilmartin has publicly confirmed, that I did not seek to influence in any way what he would say to anybody – tribunal, journalist or anybody else. I have had no contact with Mr. Gilmartin since that one phone call.

As I was in receipt of a media query, and wanted to give a complete and final answer to it, I believe I was right to phone Mr. Gilmartin, as he was the only person who could definitively confirm my answer to the media query I had received. Some may say I should not have rung Mr. Gilmartin, but should have asked a third party to phone him, or have just relied on my own recollections to say I had not met him. That is a matter of judgment, but that is not my approach. I wanted an answer based on my direct knowledge, not information from third parties of the kind relied upon by the Taoiseach, in his Dáil speech or in answer to press queries about his contacts with Mr. Gilmartin.

Fianna Fáil has made a huge fuss about the fact that I talked to Mr. Gilmartin at all because he is a potential tribunal witness. If it really wants to set that standard, then it might also apply it to itself. If that is its standard, Fianna Fáil might then give the details of all contacts its leader has had with two other tribunal witnesses, Mr. Joe Burke and Mr. Charles Haughey, on the very issues upon which the Taoiseach, Mr. Burke and Mr. Haughey will be giving evidence to the Flood Tribunal. The Taoiseach knows that Mr. Joe Burke will be a witness to the Flood tribunal, because he brought him into it by saying he had asked Mr. Burke to follow up a property issue at the behest of Mr. Gilmartin. I assume the Taoiseach has not sought to influence Mr. Burke's recollections of their respective dealings with Mr Gilmartin, or vice versa. In light of the position Fianna Fáil is now taking, I assume the Taoiseach will not have further conversations with Mr. Joe Burke about the matter on which they will both be witnesses at the planning tribunal. They already appear to have had at least one such conversation, because the Taoiseach has already relied on Mr. Burke for part of this recent Dáil speech on the issues that are before the tribunal.

The Taoiseach has also had contact, through his office, with another important witness on a matter on which both of them will be expected to give independent evidence to the tribunal. That witness is Mr. Charles Haughey. The Taoiseach asked Mr. Haughey to check his diaries in Kinsealy and has co-ordinated his own recollection of events for the Dáil with the evidence Mr. Haughey says he found in those diaries. Again, I assume that there will be no more such contacts between the Taoiseach's office and Mr. Haughey, on these or any other issues on which they will now be independent witnesses before the tribunal.

Each person responds in his own way to difficult issues. There is a difference between my approach and that of the Taoiseach. I believe in putting direct questions, to the people I know can give me the full and final answers. The Taoiseach prefers to work indirectly through third parties. The difficulty with not asking people questions directly, as I asked a question directly of Tom Gilmartin, can be seen in the Taoiseach's current difficulties. As a result of his "no direct questions" approach, the Taoiseach did not ask Ray Burke directly about donations he received before he appointed him a Minister. The Taoiseach did not ask Padraig Flynn directly, about the donations he obtained for Fianna Fáil. The Taoiseach apparently did not ask Charles Haughey anything, face to face, but relied on third parties and letters. That is not my approach.

The Taoiseach's indirect approach has created difficulties for him, in regard to his public accounts of his contacts with Mr. Gilmartin. It meant he had to change his account not once, but five times. First a senior Minister told "Ireland on Sunday" on Friday, 23 January, that, like St. Peter, "no one in the Government knows the man". Such an answer by a senior Minister would hardly have been given without prior clearance from the Taoiseach. Second, on Sunday morning, 24 January, the Taoiseach said it would be "entirely wrong to comment on such matters". Third, on Sunday evening, 24 January, a few hours later, the Taoiseach did comment on these matters, and said he had only "one brief" meeting with Mr Gilmartin and that he had "no recollection of any telephone conversation, or of any conversation with him in regard to contributions". Fourth, on Tuesday morning, 26 January, the Taoiseach found records of two more meetings, but stated that he still did not recollect them. Fifth, on Tuesday night, 26 January, on "Prime Time", he seemed to admit that there might, after all, have been a telephone conversation with Mr. Gilmartin, and there might, after all, have been mention of the question of a donation, but that the Taoiseach definitely did not ask for one for himself, or for Fianna Fáil. Five changes of story – all possibly well meant, but all very confusing. Hardly up to Deputy Cowen's high standards.

My general approach of directly asking the relevant questions of the relevant people – the approach I took in phoning Tom Gilmartin directly – might have served the Taoiseach better during this unhappy saga. That is a matter of judgment. We have a different way of doing things. I will do it my way.

I have always believed that accountability is an important issue in public life. We would not have had the beef tribunal if Fianna Fáil Ministers, and the Taoiseach of the day, Mr. Haughey, had given straight answers to straight questions asked by various Members of the House at that time. We would not have the Flood tribunal if straight answers were given to the questions that should have been asked of Ray Burke by the present Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. We would not have had to table this motion about our European Commissioner, Padraig Flynn, if the Taoiseach chose to confront Mr. Flynn and obtain straight answers to straight questions about alleged donations to Fianna Fáil, while Mr. Flynn was Minister for the Environment, or when the Taoiseach was treasurer of Fianna Fail with access to all its records and access to Mr. Sherwin, who, for the past ten years, knew about the donation to Mr. Flynn.

The Haughey era and the various Ministers that served during it – including the current Taoiseach and several of his Cabinet Ministers – are alive and well and damaging the public credibility of our democratic system. Regrettably there is no such thing as the "new face of Fianna Fáil", while these same personnel occupy senior positions in a party that remains unwilling to confront Mr. Haughey and the decisions his Government, in which the party's current leading figures participated, made during the period 1987 to 1989.

Fianna Fáil should make up its mind, once and for all, to purge itself of the Haughey era. I submit that the most appropriate place for it to do so is by spending a long period in Opposition. Fine Gael in Government has proven in the past that it expects, demands and will give full political accountability. It is ready and willing to lead our country again by means of a new Government which will lead us away from the "fear of the unknown" and "the fear of what is coming down the tracks", that has become the hallmark of the current Administration in recent weeks.

The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government is stagnating and distracted on a daily basis while many important national and European issues remain to be negotiated. It is important that the Tánaiste brings this unviable situation to an end, sooner rather than later.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann

– noting that it has established a tribunal to inquire into allegations concerning the planning process;

– noting the necessity for the tribunal to be allowed to complete its work independently and without delay;

calls on the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Padraig Flynn, to make a full, immediate statement clarifying his position in relation to allegations that he received £50,000 while Minister for the Environment in 1989.".

I propose to share time with Deputies Brian Lenihan and McGuinness.

While it is the convention of the House that the Opposition may put forward any motion it chooses, the Fine Gael motion is inappropriate in two important respects. First, it may well constitute an attempted political interference in the ongoing work of a tribunal established by the House. The appropriate time to debate a tribunal is when it is being established and when it has reported. Second, the Fine Gael motion attempts to establish by a roundabout way the jurisdiction of the House over a strictly independent European public official.

The House has established tribunals where there are allegations of serious impropriety against elected representatives or public officials and where there is a need to investigate facts, untangle evidence and resolve any conflicts of interpretation. Tribunals provide proper safeguards for witnesses and those whose reputations are at stake. Everyone has the opportunity to put forward their case and be cross-examined on it. It is understandable that former ministerial office holders would wish to appear before a tribunal to resolve matters systematically there. We in this House might prefer that a full public statement be made in advance of and outside a tribunal. However, we have no power to curtail the rights and protections to which a public official, like other citizens, is entitled.

Tribunals of inquiry are established to discover the truth. They are deliberately and properly not controlled by politicians. They are not amenable to the day to day pressures of the business of politics. Tribunals do not adopt political stances or take political sides and there are good reasons for this, as will be apparent to any Member of the House.

Brussels has made it clear that it regards this as a domestic matter. My esteemed and former ministerial colleague, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, has been an exemplary Commissioner, as the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy John Bruton, conceded. No one has accused Mr. Flynn of any impropriety in the exercise of his duties in Brussels. He has handled a large budget effectively and has made a good impact in advancing employment policies and the social affairs agenda, including equality and worker representation.

It has also been conceded by the previous speakers that he has been a good Commissioner from Ireland's point of view. He has been able to guide successive Governments on the state of play on important negotiations and he has ensured that Ireland's interests are not ignored at the Commission table. His wisdom and experience are very necessary to us during the course of the crucial Agenda 2000 negotiations.

In the immediate future the EU will be called upon to prepare the way for further enlargement, notably to embrace the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. It has taken the hugely important step of launching its own common currency, the euro, and must now ensure it is consolidated. It must also continue to address the most direct concerns of citizens in areas such as unemployment and the fight against international crime. These are challenging and difficult tasks.

In preparing the Union to meet the challenges of the period ahead, including that posed by the most ambitious enlargement in its history, the member states have for several months now been engaged in a thoroughgoing review of the Union's financing arrangement in the context of the Agenda 2000 negotiations. These negotiations encompass such areas of fundamental importance as the financial framework for the Union for the period 2000 to 2006 and 2007, the future of Structural and Cohesion Funding and further reform of the CAP. The member states are called upon to take momentous and far-reaching decisions that will shape the future of the Union well into the new millennium

Discussions on Agenda 2000 have now entered their final phase. This will be the central issue for discussion at the informal meeting of the EU Heads of State and Government in Bonn on 26 February and the EU Council scheduled to take place in Berlin on 24 and 25 March. The EU Council in Berlin has been identified as the deadline for reaching political agreement on the overall Agenda 2000 package. Such an agreement within the deadline prescribed is essential to equip the Union to turn towards addressing the historical challenges ahead.

Commissioner Flynn has chosen, for his own reasons, not to respond at this time, either to political parties or to the media, to the allegation that he received £50,000 from a property developer. In doing this he has unleashed a wave of criticism and this in the light of his public statement that he will co-operate with the tribunal of inquiry that has been established by this House for that specific purpose.

No political representative at any level is immune from the fallout of the current political scandals. We are all affected by them in one way or the other. I have been in politics for a long time and I know the vast majority of politicians of every party in this House are honest and hardworking people. Members will know that I believe implicitly in justice and fairness. Experience in campaigning on behalf of the victims of miscarriages of justice, such as the Birmingham Six, the Maguire family and Giuseppe Conlon, have taught me that public anger can often lead to the decisions about the lives of accused persons which appease this anger in the short term, sometimes at the expense of true justice. Calmer reflections later on, often in the face of powerful opposition from the establishment, can throw up the errors of such hasty judgment. Trial, conviction and sentence by the House without due process – the modern day equivalent of lynching parties in the Wild West – may be an acceptable diet for some but ought not to be on the menu in a responsible and democratic Parliament.

This is why we are here today. The members of Fine Gael, all 54 of them, have put their names to this motion. They seem unwilling to acknowledge that they have participated in establishing a tribunal of inquiry chaired by a judge of the High Court and charged with the responsibility for investigating improper payments to politicians. They may even claim sole responsibility for establishing these tribunals. Yet, they seem unwilling to await the proper investigation of these matters by this tribunal. Is this in a genuine pursuit of truth or just another political stunt aimed at throwing mud around in the hope that some of it will stick to the Government?

Will the Minister give way to a brief question as Standing Orders allow?

The Deputy will have the opportunity to intervene later.

Will the Minister indicate if he is willing to take a brief question?

Not at this stage.

According to Standing Orders it is for the Minster to indicate if he is willing to yield to a brief question.

I will be guided by the Ceann Comhairle, on this or any other matter. Most regrettably, members on the benches opposite seem unwilling to extend to Commissioner Flynn the same basic right to be heard by the tribunal at the appropriate time, to test the evidence against him and to give such evidence as he sees fit, as would invariably be extended to any person accused of even the most abject crime. They see a narrow political gap of opportunity and hope to implicate the Government in this affair. At the same time they ignore the damage they do to politics in general.

The Government has full confidence in Commissioner Flynn in the exercise of his European function.

The Tánaiste does not.

However frustrating we may find the present lack of information about what precisely happened ten years ago, it would not be in Ireland's interest to withdraw our support from our Commissioner.

My late father was a public servant all his life. Like the fathers of other Members of this House he helped build this nation. He entitled his second volume autobiography Man of No Property. The founding ethos of Fianna Fáil was not about flaunting wealth or power; it was about serving the people. Office holders were noted for their frugal lifestyle. Part of the progress we have made this century is that the majority of Irish people now own some property of their own and have the opportunity to enjoy a relatively comfortable life, though there is still much poverty.

In my party we are determined to eliminate any bad practices that have grown up over the years and to rededicate ourselves to the ideal of public service. We are as interested as anyone in getting to the bottom of allegations of wrongdoing in a proper, structured way and we call on the full co-operation of anyone who can throw light on them.

I have known Pádraig Flynn for many years and I like him. I know him to be as able and hardworking a politician as ever graced this House. If he is guilty of wrongdoing – it is my fervent hope he is not – then he must, and will, face the consequences. The same fate awaits those other politicians and former politicians who tragically stand accused at present and those who may be implicated in the future. Those found to be guilty of wrongdoing will have done great harm to all of us. They have seriously damaged the faith of ordinary people in the political process and the sooner this chapter of politics is closed the better.

Let the message go out, by all means. Sound the warning bells. There is no place in Irish politics for corruption and the casualties must be counted as object lessons for politicians. That is the message the Taoiseach has given. It is clear and unambiguous and I believe that the sins of the past will not be repeated under his leadership. My faith in the Taoiseach's resolve in this matter is unshakeable.

At the closing stages of my career in politics it is with great sadness that I have watched the tale of corruption unfold. I get a pit in my stomach listening to it and looking at it. I have been moved by the disbelief and disappointment that has been the universal reaction of members of the public and of the ordinary members of my party. These are people we all know. The people put their faith in us as their representatives and now they feel badly let down. Party workers throughout the country quietly work year in and year out for my political party for no reward other than the genuine friendships that politics create. They are deeply hurt and offended by the sleaze and they make no secret of it. They and people of all political parties and the public deserve better.

I urge every Member to put the integrity of this House first. We should be patient at a time when patience is an elusive element in the day to day business of politics. It will benefit politics and every Member of this House must see the sense of that. We should let the tribunals and the legal process take their course.

It seems the Minister's speech opposes the amendment he moved, which calls on Commissioner Flynn to explain himself. Perhaps he will clarify if he favours the amendment he has moved or if he is opposed to it.

Am I obliged to answer that question?

That is a matter for the Minister.

My speech speaks for itself.

It indicates the Minister is opposed to the amendment he moved.

I congratulate the Minister on his contribution. He set out the issues at stake in a calm, dignified and fair-minded way. It is clear to anyone who listened to the Minister that this party supports the amendment.

The discussion was opened in an extraordinary manner by Deputy Gay Mitchell. I took note of the various issues he raised before he addressed the substance of the motion. He referred to passports for sale, Carysfort College, receipts of moneys by Charles J. Haughey and Mr. Raphael P. Burke, the position of the diaries of Mr. Haughey and a file on naturalisation for Sheikh Khalin bin Mahfooz. These matters have no relationship to the motion tabled by his party which did him the honour of asking him to move it in this House.

Little was said by Deputy Gay Mitchell in support of the motion but a great deal was said about the Fianna Fáil Party, both as a political organisation and as a collection of Deputies. One of the difficulties the Fianna Fáil Party as an organisation has had in connection with some of these matters is that the persons associated with them are no longer members of or amenable to that organisation. As a convinced European, Deputy John Bruton must be aware that a European Commissioner cannot have political ties of that character.

That is not true. The European Commissioner in EPP attends our party meetings.

I could tell the Deputy about the by-election.

The Deputy is out of his depth.

I know Deputy Ring could cast local light on this subject.

Deputy Lenihan is mistaken.

The accountability which Fianna Fáil as an organisation has sought of Mr. Flynn is in relation to a payment made by him where there is a suggestion that the payment should properly have been made to the Fianna Fáil organisation. I understand a precautionary letter, which the Taoiseach read into the record of the House, has issued in that respect.

We have gone a long way towards meeting the Opposition on this motion because we agree that Dáil Éireann should request the Commissioner to make a full and immediate statement clarifying his position in relation to allegations that he received £50,000 while Minister for the Environment in 1989.

The party did not have to go far.

We join with the Members who have tabled this motion in making that call because this matter has generated immense public interest. We and the public want an explanation so that we can continue to prosecute the affairs and interests of Ireland as a member state of the European Union with vigour and efficiency in the months ahead.

We do not agree with the full terms of the Fine Gael motion for the reasons laid out in the Minister's speech. There are three reasons we do not agree with the part of the motion which states that "Dáil Éireann shall, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, consider whether it is of the opinion that Mr. Flynn should continue in office in those circumstances". First is that we have set up tribunals to investigate these matters. They have been established to pass judgment on the facts proven and established before them.

The terms of reference agreed by the Government for a tribunal established by this House to investigate planning matters are wide-ranging. I refer to the recent Supreme Court judgment in its analysis of Article 5 of the terms of reference of the Flood tribunal. That article provides that:

In the event that the Tribunal in the course of its inquiries is made aware of any acts associated with the planning process which may in its opinion amount to corruption, or which involve attempts to influence by threats or deception or inducement or otherwise to compromise the disinterested performance of public duties, it shall report on such acts and should in particular make recommendations as to the effectiveness and improvement of existing legislation governing corruption in the light of its inquiries.

That is a wide-ranging term of reference. The Supreme Court had an opportunity to consider it in judicial review proceedings brought by an applicant, Mr. George Redmond, in which he named the chairman of the tribunal of inquiry and which proceedings were determined by the Supreme Court on 6 January this year. The Supreme Court stated:

It is clear from the terms that the Tribunal has interpreted the paragraph as entitling the Tribunal to inquire into and report on any acts associated with the planning process which may in its opinion amount to corruption or which involve attempts to influence by threats or deception or inducement or otherwise to compromise the disinterested performance of public duties. ... The words of the paragraph are clear and admit only of one interpretation. ... By virtue of such paragraph the Tribunal is obliged to report on any act associated with the planning process, of which it becomes aware in the course in its inquiries, and which in its opinion, may amount to corruption or tend to compromise the disinterested performance of public duties.

The Supreme Court went on to say that we could have established a tribunal to look into corruption in the planning process if we so wished. It is open to us, therefore, to inquire into suspected cases of corruption and such other cases as might be brought to its attention in the course of its inquiries.

These are grave matters which are within the remit of the tribunal of inquiry. It is not open to us to pass judgment on a former Member in the manner proposed in the Fine Gael motion when we consider the wide-ranging scope of the tribunal's powers. The fact is that the tribunal may look into any matter that arises in the course of its inquiries and it is clear from what we have read in the newspapers that the tribunal is so engaged in relation to Mr. Gilmartin and Commissioner Flynn. Since we established this tribunal on that basis, we must leave it. However great our curiosity and impatience, the tribunal must be allowed to do its work.

A second matter to which the Minister for Foreign Affairs referred is natural justice for Commissioner Flynn. When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden they got a hearing from the Almighty. It appears Deputy Bruton believes we should entertain the banishment of Commissioner Flynn without him giving him the hearing he wishes before the tribunal.


Perhaps natural justice was never a strong suit for Fine Gael or its predecessor parties but—

He has an obligation to explain himself to the country. At present he is as naked as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Commissioner Flynn has the basic entitlement of a citizen of this country. Perhaps it is a laughing matter but it is a basic entitle ment. We are making a different point Deputy Shatter. We accept in our amendment that he should give an explanation to the country; that point is not in dispute. What is in dispute is whether this House should consider in a fortnight's time whether Commissioner Flynn should continue in office. That is the matter I am addressing and my point is that it is not open to us to address this matter because Commissioner Flynn has expressed the view that he wishes his case to be presented to the tribunal.

Why did the Taoiseach send him the letter?

We set up the tribunal with the acquiescence of the political interests and we cannot turn around at this stage and prescribe a different form of judgment procedure – which is what the Fine Gael motion proposes.

A Deputy

That is not true.

It amazes me that the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party unanimously put its signature to a motion which is inconsistent with the very nature of our obligations in the European Union. The Fine Gael Party has always put itself forward as the great party of the European ideal. Passing reference was made to that ideal by Deputy Bruton. What is clear in relation to the position of the Commissioner is that the Commissioner is accountable as a Commissioner and not as former Deputy Pádraig Flynn or as a former officeholder where the rules of this House apply. As Commissioner, he is accountable to the European Parliament and to the Council of Ministers and the institutions of the European Union. Calls from the national parliament of a member state to resign can only erode and undermine the position Ireland has to take in the difficult negotiations in the months ahead.

He has lost his integrity.

I suspect that the Members opposite are well aware of that.

I refer to Deputy Bruton's intervention and his decision to put on record his conversations with Mr. Gilmartin. I was not among those who joined the charge in rebuking Deputy Bruton in that respect and I accepted his good faith when he said that he did not attempt to influence him in any way. Were he to have done otherwise, he would have embarked on a conspiracy to defeat the course of justice and I would not believe that of a Member of this House. Whether it was prudent of him to make the telephone call in the circumstances is questionable because in my judgment if Deputy Bruton was guilty of any sin it is the sin of curiosity and impatience, the sin that vitiates the Fine Gael motion. Deputy Bruton should let the tribunal get on with its work, upon which he as a Member of this House has asked the tribunal to embark. There is one matter which Deputy Bruton did not address in relation to his conversations and I would like to ask him how long was his telephone conversation with Mr. Gilmartin.

The Deputy was not listening.

While the sole purpose of the telephone call may have been to give Deputy Bruton a tribunal clearance certificate in advance, I wonder if he went beyond the simple question of whether he had met Mr. Gilmartin in the past or whether he asked him if he had in his possession information of political consequence.

I have been a Member of this House for 18 months. I came believing that this is where it all happens, that the Members decide how the country is run and where it is going. I have been disappointed. Increasingly it appears to me that we have lost the initiative and we have been diverted from the job we should be doing and, as a consequence, the democratic process has been and continues to be subverted. The country is now being run in part by the press and the Civil Service. We are in awe of the former and we have absolutely no idea what to do about the latter. I do not blame either because nature abhors a vacuum. We the politicians have allowed a vacuum to occur. We play party political games and prostitute the political process in an unseemly hunt for headlines and drone on and on about a process now in train, responsibility for which we have handed to somebody else. We spend huge chunks of time here and elsewhere explaining that the people have a need to know.

Does the Deputy still think he should go?

The people know the tribunals are doing their job and we are wasting time and money taking pot shots at each other in this House. The public will not thank us for that. We have asked the tribunals to establish the facts. The tribunals are doing that and it appears they are making a good job of it but, by the time they are finished, the country, because of the way it is run, will have taken a substantial beating. I believe that individuals who have questions to answer should provide those answers. I believe that Commissioner Flynn should make a statement out of respect for democracy and the high office he held in this country and the office he holds in the European Union. I have no doubt the tribunals will discover the truth. When their conclusions are laid before us I expect that individuals will be brought before the courts and justice will be served.

The tribunals should be allowed to get on with their job and we should stop using every new often unproven allegation as an opportunity to score points and grab headlines. We should be engaged in putting the country on a footing that will ensure that the gaps in the system of governance which allowed this to happen during the past ten years are blocked and the authority and reputation of this House are restored. We now know that is necessary. What concerns the public is that the tribunals demonstrate that the system is too lax and that the process is not transparent enough. The unavoidable fact is that this happened because hundreds of eyes were averted and hundreds of hands were sat upon and voices were never raised. It is not just that men do evil but that good men do nothing.

It is unacceptable that the current system denies legislators the opportunity to legislate. The Civil Service and local government system need to be radically overhauled and made more efficient and transparent. It is not only politicians who must become more accountable. In the present system politicians are accountable for decisions they have no time to check or even understand. Let us not forget that many millions – far more than the tribunal is presently dealing with – have been lost or mismanaged in the recent past.

I have a great deal more to say but in essence I support the Government's position.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Rabbitte.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

On Monday, 25 January 1999, I issued a statement following the condescending, arrogant and offensive performance by the European Commissioner for Social Affairs, Pádraig Flynn, on "The Late Late Show" and subsequent comments by Mr. Tom Gilmartin. I stated that, notwithstanding any investigations by the Flood tribunal, issues pertaining to people who hold high office in this State must be answered. It simply is not acceptable that respect for our democracy should be further diminished by allegations of wrongdoing which are left unanswered, possibly for months or even years, concerning senior politicians.

I further added – and I make no apology for this political point – that those who had taken to lecturing on ethics and their new model Fianna Fáil Party have a particular obligation to put their new mantra into practice. Initial reaction to my statement was not encouraging. Fianna Fáil, the party which, through innuendo and constant sniping, had sought to undermine the function played by tribunals in our democracy became overnight the born again party of tribunals. We have had evidence of that already. "The matter should be left to the tribunals" became Fianna Fáil's new refrain. By the middle of the week, conveniently overlooking his original reticence towards these issues, the Taoiseach began to talk about having established the tribunals himself.

Fianna Fáil is now fully in favour of tribunals and their work. I have no doubt that in the current circumstances the same people, who just over one year ago refused to allow a tribunal to investigate the Ansbacher accounts, would be queuing to facilitate such an investigation now. This new found enthusiasm for tribunals of inquiry stands in stark contrast to Fianna Fáil's normal attitude towards tribunals. All of us know the form. It begins with whispering about the costs, which we had a number of minutes ago. No mention of a tribunal is made without an accompanying reference to its cost and expense. The second element in a two-fold strategy is to begin the muck spreading exercise.

Spin doctors.

The refrain of "they are all the same and we are no worse than the rest of them" is repeated throughout the country, but eventually the kick into touch – in this case the kick into the tribunal – had to cease. That point was accepted de facto by the Taoiseach when he came into the House on Wednesday, 27 January, to address what he knew about the alleged £50,000 payment to Mr. Flynn. In his closing remarks during that debate the Taoiseach stated that “when questions are raised in the public domain I answer them.” The credibility of this statement diminishes by the week, but I will return to this issue later.

Commissioner Flynn, on the other hand, has refused to address any of the allegations made against him, marking him out from the leader of his former party. I believe this to be unacceptable. Whether Mr. Flynn merely received £50,000 for his own use or knew that others had made beneficial use of it, the allegations represent complicity in a crime. His behaviour has brought shame on his party and, as is becoming increasingly clear in Europe, on this country. It has also brought this motion, largely supported by his former party colleagues, upon him.

Mr. Flynn has done well out of this country. His political career has been marked by some of the highest accolades that politics can bring. He has served as councillor, Deputy, Minister and, latterly, as a European Commissioner and will probably earn a pension from all of them. As he stated on "The Late Late Show", he has three houses and a salary well in excess of £100,000. Mr. Flynn owes this country something. All of us are owed more than the contempt with which we are being treated at the moment. The question is simple. Did he receive £50,000 from Mr Gilmartin? If he did, what did he do with it and does he know why it was not passed on to the Fianna Fail Party in Mount Street?

Partly because of the Government's attempts to be too clever by half, we are facing a difficult situation on a series of European issues. While it is true that a commissioner does not directly represent the nation state from which he or she comes, he or she can bring influence to bear on that country's behalf. At this stage, Ireland, and its farming families in particular, need all the influence they can muster. Mr. Flynn is an intelligent man. He must know that the longer a cloud hangs over him and his former party, he runs the risk of becoming a lame duck Commissioner. He knows the Taoiseach, who is becoming particularly adept at cutting his former friends adrift, will not reappoint him later this year. The Taoiseach has already sent out his spin doctors to inform the public of precisely that.

He did not do it himself, though.

Mr. Flynn's continuation in his position undermines our position in Europe. The motion before the House is not the problem as, no doubt, some of Mr. Flynn's friends will claim. Mr. Flynn's actions and inaction, and they alone, are the problem. I welcome the fact that Mr. Flynn has committed himself to co-operating with the tribunal, although I find his constant assertion that he will do so "if asked" disturbing.

The motion before us is reasonable. The Commissioner is being asked to do something which he should have done already. If the Fine Gael amendment is accepted, it will allow the Dáil to give its opinion on the Commissioner's behaviour and allow us to return to the matter, if even that ignominy does not generate a response from the Commissioner.

I take issue with Deputy Lenihan's comments. We are asking for a very simple and straightforward response from Mr. Flynn, a net answer to a very clear question. Did he receive the money from Mr. Gilmartin? The same question was put to him in writing by the Fianna Fáil Party last year. We are not asking him to go into anything else. That is all he must do and then proceed to answer detailed questions in the tribunal but his very refusal to even answer that question over the next number of weeks would have to be indicative of his contempt for this House and the country. That is why I disagree with the weak defence, although I understand why it was put forward, by the Deputy on behalf of his former colleague.

I wish to return to the issue I raised earlier, namely, the attitude of the Taoiseach to questions raised in the public domain involving himself and his management of the Fianna Fáil Party. It appears that the generosity of the Taoiseach's position in summing up his contribution to the debate on 27 January left him soon afterwards. That much became clear when, only a week later, he refused to answer questions on the first set of questions to emerge about his testimony. Questions I tabled this week to the Taoiseach on this issue were ruled out of order on the grounds that the Taoiseach is not answerable to the Dáil on the matter.

I am well aware that the Ceann Comhairle's office has no role whatsoever in determining whether a Taoiseach, Tánaiste or Minister has a responsibility to answer questions in the House, although he frequently gets the blame for refusing them because he is the bearer of bad news. The Taoiseach stated at the end of his contri bution on 27 January that as other facts emerged he was prepared to answer questions. I understand him declining to answer questions if doorstepped by journalists at different functions; he can attend up to 20 functions per day or meets 20 people and may be distracted.

However, in response to specific written questions arising from an analysis of his comprehensive response to the series of statements and questions on 27 January, the idea that he is hiding behind the formula that he has not or is not responsible to this House for the matter referred to in those questions is a complete contradiction of the undertaking he gave that day. We will return later to him on that matter because we will not let it rest there. However, revelations in this week's newspapers throw up another series of questions in addition to those he refused to answer. In fairness to the Taoiseach, he could not have fully contemplated this series of questions on 27 January but, if he felt the need to answer questions in the public domain then, I fail to see what has changed since.

In his speech to the House the Taoiseach sought to put question marks over the motivation behind Mr. Gilmartin's allegations. The point remains however, that Mr. Gilmartin's memory, unaided by the organs of State and Departments, remains every bit as sharp as that of the Taoiseach. The revelations in today's newspapers that, on a check of Leinster House records, Mr. Gilmartin had four meetings with the then Minister for the Environment, while not proof of all his allegations, is at least indicative of a pattern.

The Taoiseach has already put it into the public domain that he could not have been present at a meeting with other Fianna Fáil Ministers and Mr. Gilmartin. Will he now reveal a full list of his appointments on that day, 1 February, and those of his fellow Ministers in 1989?

For the record, my understanding is that the checks conducted by the Superintendent of the House are limited only to the visitor's log kept at the front gate of Leinster House and not the more comprehensive book kept at the inquiries office. Given Mr. Gilmartin's account of events, namely, that he was collected by Deputy Lawlor at Buswells Hotel and then personally brought over to the House, all of us know that a record of his entry to the House is unlikely to have been among those unearthed by the Superintendent. My understanding is that the records for the front gate have been kept, going back over ten years, but the records for the inquiry office – which are much more rigorous because nobody can get past the inquiry office if they are not a Member of this House or an authorised person – are shredded after five years. I want to put on record my concern that this is a fact. I wish to have it verified by the Ceann Comhairle's office, which is the office responsible, to ascertain whether this is the case. We all know Deputies can come past the Kildare Street entrance with a colleague, friend or visitor and not have the name or identity of that person registered in the log book at that entrance. However, one cannot do the same when one gets to the inquiry office. Therefore, the records of the inquiry office will determine accurately whether Mr. Gilmartin was in Leinster House on the occasions he claimed he was and whether he had been brought in by Deputy Lawlor.

The controversy which has arisen around the contacts between Mr. Gilmartin and the Leader of Fine Gael is as interesting for what it says about Fianna Fáil's attitude as it says about Deputy John Bruton. My own view is that Deputy Bruton was probably unwise to contact Mr. Gilmartin directly at this stage but that, given the record of the conversation which Mr. Gilmartin has put into the public arena, absolutely no correlation can be made between Mr. Bruton's contacts and those alleged to have been made by Mr. Flynn to Mr. Gilmartin. I would certainly add to that having listened to Deputy Bruton give a very comprehensive response to that aspect of that matter earlier.

Fianna Fáil knows this, of course, but in its desperation it has been quick to latch on to anything. If Deputy Bruton is guilty of anything, it is allowing of Fianna Fáil to create a smokescreen. However, Deputy Bruton's genuine concern about ferreting out the facts in relation to his own party – as he elaborated in some detail earlier – stand in stark contrast to the attitude of Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach. Never was a party so unconcerned about the loss of £50,000 from its accounts. Oh that we could be all so blasé about such a substantial sum of money. So far the Taoiseach has not even spoken to Commissioner Flynn about it. In fact, the energy expended so far merely extends to a single Oireachtas envelope, the postage of which was pre-paid.

I wonder whether the Tánaiste, who took it upon herself to initiate an investigation of the Ansbacher accounts, has sought to speak to the Commissioner about the same matter. The Taoiseach's lack of concern stretches beyond that of the money allegedly handed over to Mr. Flynn. The key question which must now surround Fianna Fáil's new code of conduct is who intends to enforce it? Not the Taoiseach, if present practice is anything to go by.

His investigation up and down every tree—

A monkey puzzle.

—in North County Dublin in relation to his former friend Ray Burke, is now infamous, as are the detective skills of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

The Taoiseach does not appear to be particularly interested in allegations made against his party's head office by a South County Dublin councillor, Mr. Colm McGrath, and he does not appear to want to exchange words on any difficult subjects with the Commissioner. I suspect the party is not too hot on the trail of the £10,000 missing from a Castlebar bank account.

In fact, it appears the only person he has spoken to is the ever retracting Deputy Lawlor who, like the Taoiseach himself, will probably be a witness to the tribunal and who, as such – to use the logic expounded by various Fianna Fáil spokespersons over the last few days – should not be talking to each other at all.

This was the second point I made in my original statement – that those who were given to talking tough about standards in public life, had to start acting tough. The Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil Party have conspicuously failed to do so.

Contrary to the media reports this morning, the Labour Party has not entered into negotiations with the Government over this motion. While I welcome the fact that the Government has agreed to join the rest of the House in seeking a statement from Commissioner Flynn, its motion does not propose any action if, as I suspect, the Commissioner simply ignores our stipulation. It is time that Commissioner Pádraig Flynn was called to account. To some extent, as we have already heard, our hands are tied. The hiring and firing of an EU Commissioner is not within the remit of this House, but we have a duty to express a view on behalf of those whom we represent and I am happy that the House has chosen to do so.

I welcome the growing consensus in this House, with the possible exception of the Minister for Health and Children, that only the highest standards can be tolerated and that there must legislative penalties for those who do not obey them. This new consensus is a far cry from the suspicion which greeted my party's intention to introduce ethics legislation at the start of this decade.

It is now ten years since 1989 but the politics of that age continue to haunt us all. In particular, they haunt Fianna Fáil, the largest party in the State. I said before Christmas that there was a particular responsibility on this Taoiseach to lance the boil of that generation. To date, he has singularly failed to do so.

We shall overcome.

I wish the Deputy's party would, but I do not hold out much prospect of it. I raised this issue in a speech in Limerick last Friday. As is sometimes the way, the speech received minimal coverage but I noted that last Sunday, Ms Emily O'Reilly echoed the substance of my sentiments. In particular, she posed the question which lies at the heart of new Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach in particular. I quote from her article:

If Bertie Ahern is to be believed in his claim that he intends to root out party sleaze, he must demonstrate it with actions, be it a condemnation of those against whom substantial allegations have been, or sanctions being brought to bear on them.

What will this Government do if the EU Commissioner, to use Ms Emily O'Reilly's words, adds Dáil Éireann to the list of bodies he so brazenly thumbs his nose at?

Debate adjourned.