Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 2 Mar 1999

Vol. 501 No. 3

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Communication from EU Commissioner.

Ruairí Quinn


15 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when he will next meet the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs; the date of his last meeting with the Commissioner; if he communicated the motion passed in Dáil Éireann to the Commissioner; the way in which the information was communicated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5047/99]

John Bruton


16 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the discussions, if any, he had with EU Commissioner, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, when he met him at the informal EU Heads of Government meeting in Germany recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5909/99]

John Bruton


17 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the communication, if any, he or any of his officials have had with EU Commissioner, Mr. Flynn, regarding the Private Members motion passed in Dáil Éireann on 10 February 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5911/99]

John Bruton


18 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he has sought a meeting with the EU Commissioner, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, when he visits Brussels on 3 March 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5917/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 to 18, inclusive, together.

My next meeting with the Social Affairs Commissioner has not yet been planned. The last time I met the Commissioner was on 23 December 1998, as I have already informed the House. I forwarded a copy of the motion passed by Dáil Éireann on 10 February 1999 to the Commissioner with a covering letter, which I will read to the House together with the reply I received from Commissioner Flynn.

I have no specific plans to meet Commissioner Flynn in Brussels tomorrow when I understand he is due to return from the USA. If the opportunity arises, I will certainly take advantage of the occasion, as I always do, to meet him and discuss the major issues on the agenda at the moment.

I will read the two letters to the House, the first of which is from me to the Commissioner:

11 February 1999

I wish to bring to your attention the following motion passed by Dáil Éreann last night, Wednesday, 10 February:

That 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 without delay;

calls on the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Pádraig 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 am confident that, without prejudice to your legal rights or the independence of your present position, you will wish to give careful and serious consideration to your response to the formally expressed wishes of Dáil Éireann, as the body which is the democratic voice of the Irish people.

It is signed by me. The reply, which I received in fax form on Wednesday last and in hard copy yesterday, is addressed to me and signed by the Commissioner. It states:

Thank you for conveying to me the text of the Dáil motion of the 10th of February 1999.

I have voluntarily made a statement to the Flood Tribunal last year, many months prior to the recent controversy. Furthermore, I have to date answered all of the Tribunal's questions on this matter, indicating my willingness to co-operate fully with the Tribunal. If and when required by the Tribunal, I will continue to co-operate and provide my evidence on oath, if that be required.

At the outset when my co-operation was sought by the Tribunal, it was requested by the Tribunal Representatives that neither I nor my legal advisers would discuss with, or divulge to, any person the matters discussed with the Tribunal. I so agreed and will continue to abide by that undertaking.

For my part I have to date fully complied with the Tribunal which was after all estab lished by Resolution of the Dáil to investigate issues proper to its remit.

Recent events have demonstrated the inadequacy of public statements when contrasted with the proper and appropriate disclosure, to the Tribunal established for that very purpose, of all the matters which are properly in its terms of reference.

In the circumstances it would be inappropriate to make a public comment on the matter.

In the interim, I thank you and other Members of the House for the positive comments made with regard to my performance of my responsibilities as EU Commissioner. I will continue to fulfil my responsibilities with the fullest commitment and to the best of my ability. I do know that you will appreciate and accept that commitment.

Yours sincerely,

The letter is signed by the Commissioner.

In relation to the letter the Taoiseach read into the record of the House, is he satisfied with that response bearing in mind the views expressed by all sides of the House during the debate? Is the Taoiseach still of the view that the Commissioner's remaining in his job is pivotal to Ireland's interest? Has he decided yet whether he will reappoint Commissioner Flynn when his term of office expires?

I am glad to have received a response from Commissioner Flynn to my letter conveying the very legitimate concerns expressed by this House a fortnight ago. His reply goes some way towards explaining his position. Indeed it would have been helpful to us all to have had a statement to this effect at an earlier stage, particularly on the day I and the Tánaiste asked him to make a statement.

In so far as whether I am glad or otherwise, we have to respect the Commissioner's right to have the matter dealt with fully by the Flood tribunal. As regards the Commissioner's professional competency as EU Commissioner, he is doing a fine job – the House on all sides made that clear in the debate – and I have no reason to think he will not continue doing a fine job.

In relation to the appointment of the next Commissioner, the Government has not given any consideration to that matter and it is unlikely to do so until late in the summer.

The first question I asked was whether the Taoiseach was satisfied with the content of the response in the light of what was said. An allegation has been made about the Commissioner when he was a Member of this House and a member of the Executive. The House has expressed a view. Is the Taoiseach satisfied with the response he has received, yes or no?

I do not answer yes or no to a question just because the Deputy wants me to. I respect the right of the Commissioner, based on what he has said in this letter to me about the tribunal asking him to keep matters confidential. He stated that the tribunal was set up by this House, that he has been dealing with the tribunal and that the facts, it would seem from this letter, are already with the tribunal. He is indicating his willingness to continue doing anything he is requested to do in the tribunal, including swearing on oath, and I accept that.

It is a pity he did not tell that to Gay Byrne.

Does the Taoiseach think it is satisfactory that somebody should remain in public office with questions of this nature hanging over them without issuing an explanation to the public, who support them in the exercise of their functions in that office?

He has already explained to the tribunal set up by the people who represent the public – ourselves. We set up the tribunal. We asked anyone, through public advertisements, to work in conjunction with that tribunal and the Commissioner is doing that. Rather than someone saying "read between the lines", I believe a letter of this nature could have been written some weeks ago. I am asked if I am totally happy. This letter would have helped greatly if it had been sent three weeks ago. It explains the Commissioner's position.

What does this letter add to the content of Commissioner Flynn's interview on the way into the lift in the Berlaymont? The Commissioner says nothing new in this letter apart from what he had said to Mr. Tommy Gorman as he was rushing into the lift. After that interview with Mr. Tommy Gorman, the Taoiseach supported a motion in this House asking for a fuller explanation. Have we had a fuller explanation? Is it not true that what is in this letter is substantially the same as was available prior to the Dáil motion calling for an immediate and full statement? Does the Taoiseach accept that this is an adequate response to a resolution of the Dáil which is the source of the tribunal's powers and which resolution was adopted subsequent to the establishment of the tribunal and bearing in mind the existence of the tribunal?

Because there was no other way to proceed I sent the resolution to the Commissioner and asked him to respond. He has responded and the House can make a judgment on his response. I can convey to the House what the Commissioner said.

In terms of what is new, I cannot recall exactly what the Commissioner said on the way in or out of a lift and I do not think what he said on that occasion is relevant. His letter makes clear some thing which I did not know previously. The Commissioner says:

At the outset when my co-operation was sought by the tribunal it was requested by the tribunal representatives that neither I nor my legal advisors would discuss with or divulge to any person the matters discussed with the tribunal. I so agreed and will continue to abide by that undertaking.

I did not know that until I received a faxed copy of this letter a couple of days ago.

Is it not the case that subsequent to whatever discussions Commissioner Flynn says he had with the representatives of the tribunal, the Dáil, which set up the tribunal, passed a resolution calling for a public explanation? What weight does the Taoiseach place on that resolution? Does he believe Commissioner Flynn has adequately responded to the resolution passed by the Dáil after the tribunal had been established, in full knowledge of the existence of the tribunal and notwithstanding its existence, asking for an immediate public statement? Does the Taoiseach believe that the call by the Dáil has been adequately responded to by Commissioner Flynn? If not, what will he do about it?

In so far as Commissioner Flynn can answer, it seems to me that he has answered. He has been asked by the House to make a statement and he has done so. He has stated what he has done to date and what he is prepared to do. He is entitled to due process. He is not a Member of this House. Unlike me, he cannot ask or answer questions here. I must accept his reply on that basis.

How does the Taoiseach reconcile Commissioner Flynn's unwillingness to answer questions put to him by the Dáil on this matter with his willingness, notwithstanding his undertaking to the tribunal, to discuss exactly these matters on "The Late Late Show"? How can Commissioner Flynn reconcile the answers given on "The Late Late Show" with the prior undertaking he had given to the tribunal, as he now claims, and with his present refusal to answer a question from Dáil Éireann?

I am not sure if that question is directed at me.

It certainly is.

However, as a helpful response, it seems to me that Commissioner Flynn did not have his legal representatives with him when he appeared on "The Late Late Show".

Is it not the case that the Commissioner would have had legal advisers available to him before he appeared on "The Late Late Show? Is it also not the case that the House drew a conclusion from what he said on "The Late Late Show" that a fuller explanation was necessary?

The Deputy should have contacted his legal advisers before he rang Mr. Gilmartin.

May I ask the Taoiseach, without interruption from the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs—

What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

The Minister did not take legal advice before he went to London.

—if he is satisfied with Commissioner Flynn?

If it is helpful, I will restate what I said. I said I was glad to receive a response from Commissioner Flynn to my letter conveying legitimate concerns expressed by the House a fortnight ago. I sent a letter to the Commissioner on the day following the debate on the resolution in this House and his reply goes some way towards explaining his position. It would have been helpful if I had his response a number of weeks ago. I must respect the Commissioner's right to have the matter dealt with fully by the Flood tribunal.

It is clear the Taoiseach understands the position of Commissioner Flynn. The question to which Deputy Bruton and I are seeking a reply relates to the Taoiseach's attitude to a response to a resolution of this House. Does he believe the response he received to a resolution of this House is adequate or will he take the matter further?

As the allegation is that the money was intended for Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach, as Ceannaire of Fianna Fáil, wrote to Commissioner Flynn, what further action does the Taoiseach propose to take to get answers to that letter or does he propose to simply leave the matter in abeyance?

The Deputy asked two questions, the first of which related to whether I am satisfied with the reply I received. The issue is not whether I am satisfied or dissatisfied with it. A fair interpretation of the letter seems to be that this is as far as the Commissioner can go. He is involved in discussions with the Flood tribunal and has given a statement. It seems from this letter he had discussions with it and he indicated his willingness to co-operate fully with the tribunal when called. He said he will continue to co-operate and give evidence under oath if necessary. His advice, and the advice of the tribunal we set up to deal with this matter, is that he should deal with it in this way, by being silent on some matters and co-operating with the tribunal. There fore, I must be satisfied with his response. I was probably more prominent than any other Member in setting up this tribunal. The tribunal requested that neither Commissioner Flynn nor his legal advisers should discuss with, or divulge to, any person the matter discussed with the tribunal and he agreed to adhere to that undertaking. If I were to dispute that, I would be disputing the advise of the sole member of the tribunal, Mr. Justice Flood, and I will not do that. Therefore, I must be satisfied with what Mr. Justice Flood and his team told Commissioner Flynn and his team.

Regarding the Deputy's second question, I am not answerable to this House as Leader of Fianna Fáil. The answer to this question is a matter of public interest and of interest to Fianna Fáil members. The Fianna Fáil Party's view on matters arising from the various tribunals is that we will await the conclusions of the tribunals as to whether any contributions intended for the political benefit of Fianna Fáil were not used for that purpose before deciding on remedial action that might be required in those circumstances.

Is the Taoiseach satisfied with the way he dealt with the issue of the £50,000 donation? If he were dealing with it again, would he make any changes? Does he consider checks and balances need to be put in place? I appreciate this has been a learning process and I would like to know what has been learned. The Taoiseach said he does not consider the delay of four months in responding to his letter was satisfactory. Can the Taoiseach say how much money would have had to go missing for it to be dealt with in a much more prompt manner? Is there a limit, after which it would be said it would be absolutely unacceptable not to get an immediate reply?

That appears to be a separate question.

It is relevant. Could any other voluntary organisation lose £50,000 before the fraud squad and Revenue Commissioners moved in, or is this specific to Fianna Fáil? Does the Taoiseach think other organisations would get away with this?

The Deputy asked me two questions. In reply to the first, the answer is that I am handling it. The second question was what would excite an organisation about money that might have been there or had gone missing. We did far more than any of the things the Deputy mentioned. The people involved in such a case would set up a fully sworn judicial tribunal, which is what we did. Nothing greater than that could have been done.

The Taoiseach said the Commissioner's letter goes some way towards explaining his position. In what way does the Taoiseach consider it falls short? Why does the Taoiseach think the Commissioner can write a letter now setting out his position with the tribunal a year earlier, when he could not reply to the Fianna Fáil letter of 6 October? Has there been any reply to the letter of 6 October?

Has the Taoiseach established whether Commissioner Flynn got the money in question? Has the Taoiseach made any inquiries into the newspaper reportage over the weekend that the Commissioner said this money was not intended for Fianna Fáil? I remind the Taoiseach that during the debate he said that if any other meetings between himself and Mr. Gilmartin came to light he would advise the House of them. Have any other such meetings come to light?

The answer to the last question is "No". We have not had a further response to our letter of 6 October, to which the Deputy referred. In terms of our involvement, we have no further evidence of whether this money existed other than what has been written in the media. Any involvement the Fianna Fáil Party had in this was already conveyed to the tribunal through the official in our headquarters in Mount Street; that official gave all the details regarding the matter many months ago.

The Deputy asked me in what areas the letter falls short. I am sure I could think up many other questions to which Commissioner Flynn could have responded. However, those issues are now being investigated, or have been investigated, between the tribunal and Commissioner Flynn. He is co-operating with that. Those matters lie with the tribunal. It seems we and everyone else will have to wait for the answers until the tribunal moves on.

I welcome the intention of the chairman of the tribunal to, as was stated recently, speed up its work and bring it to an early conclusion. In all the circumstances, the Government accepts this may be the best way – or the only way – to get to the truth and will require full co-operation to get the comprehensive answers we would all like to hear.

Will the Taoiseach not agree that the advice Commissioner Flynn claims he got from the tribunal lawyers is just procedural caution, that there is absolutely no obstacle in the way of him giving straight answers to the questions that were put to him about this matter and that he is failing in his duty as a public servant in failing to give those answers? Has the Taoiseach shown a copy of this reply to the Dáil resolution to the Tánaiste? Is she as satisfied as he appears to be with this, or does she still regard Commissioner Flynn's position as impossible?

Yes, the Tánaiste has seen the letter and she would be aware of the remarks I have made. I am sure she is looking forward to hearing all the answers as much as I am.

In terms of the legal niceties involved, I would never claim to be as well up on the law as Deputy Bruton. However, I would point out that the tribunal's lawyers, not just Mr. Flynn's, are concerned about this issue. It would seem to me that if this House set up the tribunal, it should have confidence in it. I could not respond to Deputy Rabbitte's question on this matter recently as I was ruled out of order. I would have been quite happy to reply to the effect that this House should have confidence in the tribunal. I have confidence in the tribunal and if the people running it state that witnesses should not discuss or divulge any information relating to personal matters, I will not disagree with that. I do not consider that to be a legal nicety.

Did the Taoiseach take the advice of the Attorney General in framing the Fianna Fáil amendment to the motion debated in this House on 10 February? Is it not the case that the Government was at that time satisfied with the Fianna Fáil amendment which sought a full and immediate explanation from the Commissioner? How was it reasonable to seek such an explanation then but is unreasonable now? Commissioner Flynn has not given the full and immediate answer requested of him by the Dáil.

The Deputy is clutching at straws.

Deputy Bruton is trying to put words into my mouth.

It is my job to ask questions.

I will not reply in the manner which would suit Deputy Bruton as that would be misleading. I have never tried to formulate the type of reply which Commissioner Flynn should give in this regard. As he had appeared on a television programme, I believed he should be in a position to outline some facts. I said it would be helpful if he were to issue a statement. Someone asked earlier why that statement was not forthcoming; I am sure it is his respect for this House which has resulted in Commissioner Flynn responding at this stage. He was asked, following the passing of a resolution in this House, to make a statement and he has done so. Of course, he had to do so within the legal context of the tribunal and its terms of reference.

Surely if Commissioner Flynn had any problem of a legal nature in answering these very simple public questions, the Attorney General would have advised the Government not to table the resolution which was passed by the Dáil?

The resolution took the form of a Government amendment in the normal way.

Such an amendment would surely have had to be consistent with legal advice.

Bearing in mind the Taoiseach's comments in this House, his comments about Commissioner Flynn's performance on a television show on which he answered questions in detail and the Commissioner's own comments at the weekend which suggest he actually received a sum of money, it appears that Dáil Éireann, the elected assembly of the people, is the only forum which cannot get detailed answers. Would the Taoiseach accept that such an attitude can, at best, be described as a disregard for the wishes of this House and, at worst, contempt for it?

I am sure there might be some validity in the Deputy's comments had this House not set up the tribunal. Deputy Howlin is saying that although we set up the tribunal and gave it powers and functions, we should still expect to continue to debate the matter as if there were no tribunal at all.

This House passed a resolution which was tabled by the Taoiseach.

Deputy Howlin stated that statements made by Commissioner Flynn over the weekend indicated he received £50,000. I did not see any statements made by the Commissioner himself in that regard. I still do not know these facts which will have to come forward at the tribunal where the Commissioner will have the rights of due process in answering them.

(Dublin West): Does the Taoiseach agree that if Commissioner Flynn was stopped at one of the multi-agency vehicle checkpoints set up by the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, the people there would get more information out of him than the Commissioner has seen fit to give Dáil Éireann? I again press the Taoiseach on his role as leader of Fianna Fáil. If he meets the Commissioner tomorrow, does he believe that members of his party will find it strange—

The Taoiseach has already explained that he is not answerable to the House concerning matters relating to his political party.

(Dublin West): I am trying to facilitate members of Fianna Fáil around the country who will want the Taoiseach to ask the Commissioner whether he received £50,000.

I have ruled on the matter.

Where are the core values?

(Dublin West): Have any EU leaders raised with the Taoiseach Commissioner Flynn's position or the controversy surrounding him? Has the Taoiseach discussed it formally or informally with any other EU leader or have they expressed opinions on the Commissioner's position?

No leader or member of the Commission has raised with me, either formally or informally, any of the matters surrounding Commissioner Flynn in recent months.

Would the Taoiseach regard it as very unfair if members of the public concluded that he is extremely easily satisfied when it comes to making inquiries about financial dealings involving members of his party?

Deputy Bruton may put whatever spin he wishes on the matter. My satisfaction will be decided in terms of what is relevant to Fianna Fáil when we see the conclusions of the tribunal. If the tribunal proves there are moneys which we should have received, Fianna Fáil will take remedial action based on the evidence and substantive proof which I am sure will result from the tribunals in which I have every confidence. Regarding any other matters, a motion was passed by the House and in due respect to the House I forwarded the motion to the Commissioner. I have taken his reply to the House as this was the proper thing to do. As far as I am concerned I have followed the proper procedures in this matter.

The Taoiseach said he last met the Commissioner on 23 December. The public in general is under the impression that Commissioner Flynn is central to the negotiations taking place and which are so important to the economy. Is it not a bit odd that the Taoiseach has not spoken to the Commissioner at all since 23 December? A headline in a newspaper of 16 February read "Flynn is pivotal to EU negotiations says Ahern". If he is that pivotal should the Taoiseach not meet him to put our case to him?

I heard some Deputies, in particular Deputy Bruton, saying recently that I had six meetings with Commissioner Flynn and asking why I did not ask him about the £50,000. I only had two meetings with the Commissioner since 20 September, namely, on 30 October and 23 December. Several Ministers are involved in the negotiations on Agenda 2000 which covers agriculture and includes the General Affairs Council and my officials. In recent days my officials have been dealing with Commissioner Flynn's senior people, something which is going on all the time. In the normal course of events when I am in Brussels I meet Commissioner Flynn. There is contact.

That is not the point. You said he is pivotal.

He controls the entire European Social Fund.