Deputy John Bruton has 40 minutes.
Private Members' Business. - Ansbacher Accounts: Motion.
That Dáil Éireann:
noting the contents of the affidavit presented to the High Court on Wednesday, 22 September by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment;
conscious of the public outrage caused by the revelations that systematic tax evasion occurred with intent to defraud the Revenue Commissioners through the use of Ansbacher accounts;
conscious that breaches of exchange controls and company and banking law also occurred through the use of the same accounts;
recognising that the recent revelations may jeopardise the achievement of a new national agreement, essential to national competitiveness and social progress;
aware that the names of account holders are being made public on a select basis and recognising that the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Minister for Finance either have already seen or have been appraised of the list of the account holders,
calls on the Government to ensure that names of all persons who held Ansbacher accounts are made public via a Dáil committee and resolves that it will support the Government in amending section 21 of the Companies Act, 1990, to enable such publication to a committee of the Dáil.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Noonan and Deputy Jim Higgins. Deputy Owen will close the debate tomorrow.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
We should not lose sight of why we want all Ansbacher names released in a proper way. There is public outrage about systematic tax evasion. Money that could have been applied to building schools, hospitals and roads was kept hidden from the Revenue Commissioners in what are believed to be some of the most spectacular acts of selfish greed since the State was founded.
This justified outrage jeopardises the achievement of a new national pay agreement. It is vital to social progress and national competitiveness that there is such an agreement and social peace. Fine Gael has put forward the simple proposal that the Companies Act, 1990, be amended to allow a Dáil committee to publish, with due notice, all 120 names in the Ansbacher depositors list. This is the kernel of the motion for debate this evening.
A simple and speedy parliamentary route is available to Government, to allow Report Stage of the Companies (Amendment) Bill (No. 2) to be taken this week so an amendment can be made to section 21 of the 1990 Act, which was already discussed on Committee Stage of the current Bill, to designate a committee of Dáil Éireann as a competent authority within the meaning of the 1990 Act which would have discretion to publish information, books or documents which are submitted to it. The process of amending section 21 of the 1990 Act, using the Bill which is already before the House, will take only a day. It is not something that must go through five stages. All that is required is one amendment on one stage of the Bill. This can be done promptly, in a matter of one hour or less.
The Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, presumably advised on these matters by the Attorney General, was hopelessly misinformed yesterday when he told reporters at the National Ploughing Championships that the law could not be retrospectively changed to allow for the publication of the 120 names of the Ansbacher account holders. There are many clear legal precedents for such retrospective action of non-penal effect if it is in the national interest. The Taoiseach was personally involved in passing such retroactive legislation.
As Minister for Finance in 1994, he introduced a retrospective tax concession, section 19 of that year's Finance Act, to benefit people with art works and stately homes which, it transpired, benefited only one taxpayer, Mr. Ken Rohan, who was apparently known to the Taoiseach from certain dinners they had within sight of these pictures. This was retrospective legislation. The 1993 tax amnesty, which was much discussed today, was also introduced by the Taoiseach when he was Minister for Finance and that, too, was retrospective legislation. It was retrospective in two respects. It conferred benefits on tax evaders who did not pay their tax on time in the past to the relative disadvantage of those who did. It was also retrospective in another interesting respect in that it introduced new penalties for those who did not avail of the amnesty. These would be retrospective in their effect as to taxes that were not paid prior to the enactment of the tax amnesty. It is arguable that this aspect was retrospective penal legislation. However, it was certainly retrospective.
Even more importantly, the Taoiseach was at the Cabinet table in 1990 when the Government introduced retrospective legislation to help the Goodman group. I hope Deputy O'Malley scrutinises this precedent because he has an interest in this issue. The Companies (Amendment) Act, 1990, contained a retrospective provision which allowed the Goodman organisation to seek protection from its creditors even though the credit in question had been extended prior to the Act being passed. The people who were owed money by the Goodman group found that, by virtue of an Act introduced in the Oireachtas when the Taoiseach was a member of the Government, their credit was devalued by retrospective legislation.
The Taoiseach, therefore, is well aware that retrospective legislation can be introduced in accordance with the Constitution. None of the legislation I mentioned has been challenged as unconstitutional. If it is possible retrospectively to give a benefit to a person who has pictures in their house, to give a tax amnesty which reduces the tax liabilities of tax evaders but not of compliant taxpayers, to change the Statute of Limitations Act in 1991, as the former Deputy Ray Burke did to allow people to make claims they would not have been entitled to make at the time the injury occurred, to reduce the rights of people who were foolish enough to lend money to the Goodman group to the benefit of that group, surely it is possible to change retrospectively the Companies Acts to permit the publication of the Ansbacher lists.
I do not accept that it is unconstitutional to do this and I challenge the Taoiseach's competence in giving misleading legal information on this issue. The Taoiseach said it was not constitutionally possible. He is wrong. Retrospective legislation is not only possible but was introduced by the Taoiseach during his political career in this House. I have serious doubts about the competence of those who are giving the Taoiseach legal advice, if this is the content of that advice.
The Taoiseach knows perfectly well that retrospective legislation can be introduced if it is in the public interest. It is in the public interest that the full list be published with due notice to those who are on it. The fact that selections from alleged names on the list have been released systematically and carefully over recent days to different newspapers reinforces my call for a change in the law to allow the full list to be released in a planned way in accordance with the law and with due notice to the people concerned, giving them a fair opportunity to put their explanations or denials or silence, as they choose, on the public record. This will give them time to think but will require them to have their names published.
The Ansbacher list has, it appears, been partially leaked in a selective and malevolent way by people who have a clear agenda. The Tánaiste has speculated that the agenda might be to destroy the inquiry, but I might speculate about other motives for the releases. Either way, leakers always have an agenda. Clearly, now that there is serious evidence that there is a process of leaking going on, the best way to stop it is to release all the names in a planned and fair way, as Fine Gael proposes.
The Government should not sit by while there is continued selective and malevolent leaking of this list. The Ansbacher list is definitely in the possession of at least two Fianna Fáil Ministers – Deputy McCreevy and the Taoiseach – and at least two Progressive Democrats – the Tánaiste and, it would appear, the Attorney General – who are at the Cabinet table.
Is the Attorney General still a Progressive Democrat?
Quite possibly, information, perhaps not from the list itself, may well be in the possession of a coterie of party colleagues, spin doctors and others to whom conversation or innuendo or even unspoken communications may have been conveyed. That is possible, as all of us know.
In any event there is strong evidence that the contents of this document are being leaked selectively and the Taoiseach and, in particular, the Tánaiste have grave questions to answer about this because the Tánaiste is responsible for its confidentiality. She initiated this inquiry and is responsible for authorising the Taoiseach to be a recipient of the document, which was not provided for in the legislation. She is responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of a report that was prepared for her at her request and if it transpires that these leaks are from the report, then it will have grave consequences for her.
If she believes, as I understand it from one comment she made, that the leaking is being carried out by people who want to sabotage her inquiry, then that is all the more reason for her to furnish the Ansbacher list in full to the Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne, so that he can check the names that have appeared in the newspaper against the names that appear on the list and decide if there is prima facie evidence of leaking. If there is then he can then conduct an in-depth interview with each person who has seen this document, including the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach, the Attorney General and the Minister for Finance, and all the other officers of the courts and elsewhere. We are told there are 15 people involved but, perhaps more, perhaps less. However, if the Garda Commissioner is satisfied that there is a sufficient degree of congruence between the names appearing in the newspapers and those which appear on the list, he should then make the judgment as to whether inquiries should be initiated.
The commissioner and, indeed, the Garda Síochána have a record of being extremely assiduous in pursuing leaks where the Government is concerned. Before the presidential election not only was an individual taken for questioning to a Garda station and his house raided, but the media was made aware of this by someone quite soon after it occurred and it was possible for it to know a day or two before the election that this vigorous Garda activity was under way. I hope similar private and public displays of assiduousness will be shown by the Garda in pursuing these leads. Indeed, I am confident that it will, but that cannot happen unless the Tánaiste gives the Garda Commissioner the Ansbacher list because he has no way of knowing whether the leaks are accurate or false given that he has no basis of comparison between the Ansbacher list and the names which appeared in the newspapers.
I hope that the Tánaiste will come to the House, as I requested this afternoon, and say that she is making the arrangements to authorise, at the very minimum, the release of the Ansbacher list to the Garda Commissioner because if she is not willing to do that, then she is not willing to see the leakers exposed.
If there are any.
What does that mean?
The list fell out of the sky.
The Garda Commissioner can decide that. If the Tánaiste gives him the list he can decide whether there were any leaks. It would not be reasonable for her to make that decision because she is one of those in possession of the documentation and surely she would not suggest that she should be a judge in what could be her own case. Clearly, any issue of deciding whether—
Who has most to lose from the leaks?
That depends on whether the Tánaiste is correct that giving information to the public would prejudice a prosecution. If she is, obviously, the people who have most to gain would be the people whose names appear on the list. If, on the other hand, the Tánaiste is not correct, then the people who would have most to lose would be those whose names are being released. It depends entirely on whether the Tánaiste's legal interpretation is correct.
I prefer not to agree with it because I do not think that non-prejudicial publication in any way adversely affects the prospects of prosecution. It is possible that leaking prejudices a prosecution, but I do not believe that the release of the information with due process, in accordance with law passed in this House, could interfere with the prospects of prosecution, as the Tánaiste seemed to argue.
It is extremely important that the public knows this matter is being dealt with resolutely. It would not be reasonable to allow the publication of these names to be postponed for months, or even years. Perhaps people's names could appear on some list of tax evaders in two or three years without anyone knowing whether its source was the Ansbacher inquiry. A settlement could be made, a name could appear and nobody would know the nature of the process that led to that.
This inquiry has been undertaken on the initiative of a politician, the Tánaiste, following the passage of legislation in this House. It appears to be the subject of leaks and it is very important that the air should be cleared by allowing the full list to be released with due notice to the persons concerned and if the Tánaiste is willing to do that, I seek an assurance from her that she will furnish the list to the Garda Commissioner so that he can decide whether there is evidence of leaking and not the Tánaiste or the Taoiseach.
I do not know who is on the list but I will accept the commissioner's word if he says that there is no significant coincidence between the list that has appeared in the newspapers and the Ansbacher list and if he says there is no significant evidence, therefore, of leaking, I will accept that. However, I do not think that I should be asked to accept that from politicians who have possession of the list, for perfectly proper reasons, of course, but who would, therefore, be tempted to act as judges in their own cases.
Section 21 of the Companies Act, 1990, sets out the manner in which the report of an inspector, such as Mr. O'Brien, shall be reported to what is described as "competent authorities". The competent authorities listed are the Minister – the Tánaiste in this case; a person authorised by the Minister; an inspector appointed under the Act; the Minister for Finance; an officer authorised by the Minister for Finance or any court of competent jurisdiction; a supervisory authority or the Central Bank.
It seems that under subsection (b), a person authorised by the Minister has been interpreted by the Tánaiste to include the Taoiseach and she has sent a report to him. Section 21(2) of the same Act states that a person who publishes or discloses any information, book or document in contravention of this section shall be guilty of an offence which, of course, is a criminal offence in this case. It seems it is quite clear from the series of leaks in the newspapers in recent days that such a criminal offence has been committed.
The Garda Síochána must investigate this offence. On the face of it, the Garda Síochána does not need to be instructed when there is prima facie evidence of a criminal offence but, of course, it will fall at the first fence if the Tánaiste's defence on the Order of Business today is brought into play, that there may not be any leak at all.
The Leader of Fine Gael, Deputy John Bruton, has stated that there is an obligation on the Government to provide the Garda Commissioner with a report, to designate him as the Taoiseach was designated as a competent authority in order that he would be in a position to check the leaks against the names in the report. Any other course of action would simply be evasion of its responsibilities on the Government's part.
The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance have copies of the inspector's report. Taking into account the political flavour of the leaks, it is reasonable for us, in Opposition, to assume that the source of the leaks is political. Only the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach can remove that suspicion from the minds of members of the Opposition and the general public.
The defence of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on today's Order of Business was that no such leak has occurred. The suggestion seems to be that the people whose names were circulated as holders of Ansbacher accounts did not hold such accounts. If the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste really believe that, they must act to protect the good names of innocent citizens. I would like to remind the Tánaiste of the Government's obligation under Article 40.3.2 of the Constitution which states:
The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen.
The Tánaiste must do that under law and the most ready law available to her is what has been suggested by Deputy Bruton, namely, the recommital of the Companies Act and the extension of the section of competent persons. The Tánaiste must decide that a competent person is either a committee of this House or the Ceann Comhairle of this House. Following due notice and due process, the names may be released in a fair and just fashion.
The Tánaiste can already do that under existing legislation.
The Government Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, has been the chief Government spokesperson in this affair. He is not a competent authority under the Act and, so, should not have a copy of Mr. O'Brien's report. Yet, in a recent interview on "Morning Ireland", he put information into the public domain which was not in the affidavit sworn by Mr. Appleby before the High Court. Deputy Brennan said that all persons who held Ansbacher accounts were guilty of tax evasion and that no compliant taxpayer held such an account. The Tánaiste must tell us how Deputy Brennan knew this when he is not a competent person and should not have the information which he gave out.
The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach should consider the enormity of Deputy Brennan's statement. We now have a situation where the Minister designated by the Government to explain its position and support it in this case is actually guilty of a criminal offence under section 21(2) of the Companies Act. He should not have the information, he put information into the public domain, information which he stated categorically and without qualification. He stated that all the 120 people named are guilty of tax evasion because they could not have held an account for any other purpose.
This makes it absolutely mandatory on the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach to act. We must get out of the mire into which the Tánaiste has led us. We are now in a situation where a Government Minister may be guilty of a criminal offence, where a whole series of citizens have been named as holders of Ansbacher accounts and are, consequently, tax evaders, if Deputy Brennan is correct. Yet the Tánaiste refuses to act. She mutters her way through the Order of Business –".there may not be leaks, there might have been leaks.". She will neither involve the Garda Commissioner nor categorically state her position.
Who is she shielding?
Evasion of tax was the intent of anyone who held an Ansbacher account. Breaches of company law and exchange control regulations were consequences of the original intent and purpose. To say that compliant taxpayers will have their views vindicated simply if people are charged with offences arising from company or banking law or exchange control regulations is not sufficient.
We have all experienced the outrage of taxpayers during recent days. They are fearful that the evaders will escape because of the provisions of the 1993 tax amnesty. It is worth looking at that proposition because that is now one of the great fears of compliant taxpayers. In saying that, if people evaded paying their tax as a result of the Ansbacher accounts, those responsible should be named in this House. Responsibility rests with the Taoiseach who was the Minister for Finance who introduced the 1993 amnesty. Any judicious leaks of Government memoranda to vindicate himself and embarrass his then leader, as we saw in this morning's newspapers, is another example of selective leaking in the Taoiseach's political interests. He should be a man and stand up for what he has done. If people evaded taxes which were due as a result of the amnesty, responsibility lies with the then Minister for Finance, the current Taoiseach.
It is worth looking at the position which arose in that amnesty. It is quite clear that if somebody availed of the amnesty and complied with the terms of the 1993 Act, they have no tax liability regardless of whether they have an Ansbacher account. The responsibility lies with the Taoiseach if that is the position.
It may be, however, that those who held Ansbacher accounts did not avail of the amnesty. There is some evidence, particularly the document entitled "Covering the Footprints" which was in the affidavit, to suggest this. It seems that the high powered tax advisers who advised people who held Ansbacher accounts were more concerned that the general knowledge of the scheme's existence should be kept secret than that information about an individual taxpayer would be released. They were far more concerned that the Revenue Commissioners should not hear about such evasion schemes than they were about the actual tax details of an individual depositor. Consequently, they may have advised – there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest they did – that "ar eagla na heagla", in case anyone discovered the existence of this great scam, people should not avail of the tax amnesty. If that happened, the Revenue can investigate and become involved.
In the 1993 tax amnesty, a special collector issued two pieces of paper to people who availed of the amnesty. One was a certificate that they could wave at the sheriff if he arrived for the dining room table and the good chairs saying "No, you can't come in here, I availed of the amnesty", but the other was an actual receipt which nominated the amount paid, the 15 per cent, and also the capital amount by way of income tax or capital gains tax due as the amnesty covered both.
If that is the case, the Revenue can look at the Ansbacher accounts, find out whether there was a deposit of £500,000 and, if the receipt states that £30,000 was received, which would suggest that only £200,000 was declared, the Revenue has a way open to it on the basis of prima facie evidence that a full declaration was not made. The Revenue can go to the appeal commissioners who must adjudicate on the matter. If the appeal commissioner decides there is a prima facie case that full disclosure was not made, the Revenue will receive carte blanche to seek a full audit and the whole protection of the amnesty will fall down.
I would remind the House that the Finance Act, 1999, gave general powers to the Revenue Commissioners, which were very strong powers indeed. One is the power to go to court to investigate a class of taxpayer rather than an individual taxpayer. The Revenue Commissioners can now say there is a class of taxpayers who had deposits in the, so-called Ansbacher accounts and we want to investigate them in full. They have the power to look at the Ansbacher accounts, to look at the individual deposits, to match them against the receipts issued by the special collector to those who availed of the amnesty and if the two do not match they can go back again through the route of the Appeal Commissioners and establish a prima facie case. Actually, the words “prima facie” case are not used in the section. The phrase used is “. if the Appeal Commissioner has a reasonable opinion that full disclosure was not made”. This can be invoked and full audits can be done. I do not think the regulations are stacked in favour of persons who have evaded tax as they may appear at first. Deputies who were here for the debate on the amnesty will recall that not only did it apply up to 5 April 1991 but one of the conditions was that tax returns for 1992-93 would also have to be filed and, of course, if a person declared black economy money in the amnesty he would have to weight his returns in 1992-93 to reflect that. The Revenue Commissioners, looking at the weighting of returns in 1992-93 and subsequent years as black money became white, would have a route into Ansbacher account holders.
If it all falls down, it falls down because the political judgment of one individual was flawed. That is the present Taoiseach, then Minister for Finance, Deputy Bertie Ahern, who came to the House, gave certain assurances and looked for the consent of the House to give an amnesty to people who are the bandits of modern Ireland. They would not pay their fair share and put their shoulders to the wheel when people were dying because of cutbacks in hospitals, when children in schools were failing to learn to read because there were not sufficient teachers and when compliant taxpayers, in the national interest, made serious sacrifices while these people were given a mandate to plunder by the present Taoiseach when he was Minister for Finance.
In the national interest.
(Mayo): I am absolutely amazed at the bland, blasé and indifferent approach of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to this issue. I am very surprised, but then again, it was recounted in the House today that if the Tánaiste was sitting where Deputy Quinn was and sat there for a period of time, we would have an entirely different performance from her. I ought not to be surprised because if the Minister sitting beside her, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister who has departed, Deputy Michael Smith, had availed of the hospitality of which she availed there is no doubt that we would have another Sheedy affair and a possible Cabinet stand-off. There seems to be one rule, with regard to moral principles, for the Tánaiste and another when it comes to setting down definitions for others.
There has been a series of deliberate and selected leaks. The Tánaiste will know that this document was made available to a very limited number of people – to her, the Taoiseach – we understand now after some contradictions and confusion yesterday – the Minister for Finance and a few others. You are the custodian of this document; you are the person to whom public trust in enshrined—
The Deputy should address the Chair.
(Mayo): And it is through the Chair I address the Tánaiste in whom public confidence has been enshrined and vested in relation to this issue. There was a general feeling that, in relation to dealings with the Ansbacher accounts, the right person was in the right place – that the Tánaiste had the necessary grit, doggedness and determination to get to the bottom of the matter and to ensure everything would be done ethically and with propriety, but it has not. What we have is a black propaganda campaign, a sinister series of leaks that would do justice to the German propaganda machine under Goebbels. We have a deliberate attempt to discredit honourable people. All one has to do is look at the leaks and one will see people involved, either on the periphery or directly, with Fine Gael. Over the past 48 hours Fine Gael people – honourable people – have had to come forward and publicly disown any involvement good, bad or indifferent.
Are they automatically honourable because they belong to Fine Gael?
We are honourable people, just as there are honourable people in the Deputy's party.
Have you seen the report, Conor?
You should be ashamed to support them.
He has probably seen it.
(Mayo): Let us go back to Sunday, 12 October 1997 when we had the first leak of a story in The Sunday Business Post of a Department of Foreign Affairs memorandum on Bríd Rogers's and Mary McAleese's conversation. Four days later the Fianna Fáil propaganda machine made a deliberate attempt to associate Fine Gael with that when someone who is sitting in the gallery, Stephen Collins, said, “The Government's immediate reaction was to send its press secretary to brief the political correspondents blaming John Bruton and Fine Gael for the leaks, even before an official Garda investigation was ordered into the affair”.
That is right.
The Taoiseach backed that up at the Wexford opera festival.
(Mayo): At the Wexford opera festival, the Taoiseach said, “Perhaps the previous Taoiseach can explain that”.
Not an honourable man.
(Mayo): Not satisfied with that he goes on to say, “I am sure that Deputy Bruton could clarify to the country whether it was him or not”. On Friday, 17 October, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, linked Eoghan Harris and Roy Dooley with Deputy John Bruton in relation to the leaking of this affair and, from the pontifical chamber of RTE, he told the nation, “Fine Gael obviously changed their strategy about a week or ten days ago and we now have descended to this”. A matter of days later, on the Order of Business, the Minster, Deputy Cowen, said that a member of Deputy Bruton's staff took the documents away and he said, “That is a fact”. A few days later, on Tuesday, 28 October, Tommy Morris, a well known Find Gael activist, was detained in the early hours of the morning, the media were tipped off and, at Lucan Garda Station, a melée of media greeted his arrival. He was released without charge and, coincidentally, three days later the presidential election was held and Mary McAleese was, happily, elected President. Where there had been zeal, enthusiasm and absolute dogged determination to arrest and smear somebody, they suddenly disappeared. There were leaked documents but Tommy Morris did not leak them and nobody associated with Fine Gael leaked them, yet the moment the presidential election was over the investigation ceased. There was another dimension to this. It was the first time in the history of the State, as far as we can recall, that the gardaí were used as political instruments.
What is happening is extremely dirty, black and sinister. The Tánaiste, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and a limited number of people had access to that documentation. It is in the public domain and is now the prattle of pubs and clubs. The Tánaiste has an obligation, because names are being selectively leaked, to come clean and to bring the documentation into the public domain by amending the legislation to make provision for this to be done. Otherwise, she will have failed in her public duty and will have deserted the people who vested trust in her to carry out this assignment. It is an important assignment and she was going well, but she is now floundering badly.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Conor Lenihan.
Is that wise?
There's confidence for you.
Order please, An Tánaiste.
He will hang you out to dry.
I would say he got the list as well.
He probably cannot understand it. The Minister could explain it to him at a constituency meeting.
We are not sharing the constituency any more, Deputy Shatter – he is with Deputy Rabbitte.
If Deputy Lenihan does not know what is in the report, how can he talk to the House about it?
It did not stop the Deputies opposite talking about it.
Order, please, the Tánaiste.
On a point of order, perhaps we should hear Deputy Lenihan first and then the Tánaiste could correct him.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
–approves of the actions of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in seeking the appointment under section 8 of the Companies Act, 1990 of Inspectors to undertake a wide-ranging investigation of the Irish business of Ansbacher (Cayman) Ltd.;
–endorses the remit given to the Inspectors which requires them inter alia to establish whether the company's business was conducted with intent to defraud the Revenue Commissioners or any other party or otherwise for a fraudulent and unlawful purpose, and if so, to identify the statutory provisions involved and the persons in default in each case;
–expresses confidence that the very wide powers given to Inspectors under the Companies Act, 1990 will enable them to complete their assignment successfully;
–notes that section 11 of that Act permits the printing and publication of any reports made to the High Court by the Inspectors in fulfilment of their remit;
–acknowledges that it is not possible in the interim to disclose additional information on the company's affairs because of the prohibitions on disclosure contained in section 21 of the Companies Act, 1990 and in the Order of the High Court of 22 September, 1999.".
Everyone in this House should remember that even though we may not from time to time be in office, we still have to obey some standards of public responsibility. One leader opposite branded 120 people criminals over the weekend, another, Deputy Bruton, is reported by the Irish Independent today as branding me as a criminal.
You have ministerial responsibility for the leaking of this information—
Deputy Bruton, I listened to you.
The Tánaiste without interruption, please.
These wild and reckless claims have no place in Irish political life and have more to do with mob justice and lynch law than with democratic politics. Comments from the Opposition betray a flawed understanding of the Companies Acts and the constitutional obligations of the State when conducting investigations into wrongdoing – civil or criminal.
The 1990 Companies Act envisages two phases in carrying out investigations. The first is the deployment of authorised officers under section 19. Their job is similar to that of an investigating garda. They can report suspected wrongdoing. Their reports, like Garda reports, are meant to be secret. If the authorised officer discovers sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation, the Minister can apply to the High Court to appoint inspectors to inquire into these matters. It is the High Court which decides in the last analysis whether it is fair and just to publish its inspectors' reports. In this way due process is guaranteed. Persons accused of wrongdoing have the right to hear the accusation and answer it in private. They are not named and shamed in public unless and until the High Court decides that they have received due process and it is right to publish the findings against them.
This is the set of safeguards, which we put in place nine years ago for the investigation of company-related wrongdoing in a manner, which upholds due process under our Constitution. It is now envisaged that we amend the law to allow suspicions and allegations be made public and the people concerned may not be aware of the allegations or even that they are suspected at all. If we conducted criminal cases by publishing Garda files or books of evidence without first showing them to suspects, the concept of civil liberty would not exist.
Suggestions have been made in the House today that I should send the report to the Ceann Comhairle so that Members here can read it and make it public. That cannot be done under section 21 of the Act.
The Minister can authorise it.
We are advised that if the law was changed to allow the reports of authorised officers to be made public, they would have to be compiled in a completely different way. The authorised officer would have to behave like a judge or the chairman of a tribunal or like an inspector. He would have to conduct hearings and allow each and every person to be dealt with according to due process. That would be the end of authorised officers as we know them. Section 19 would become section 8. Day to day investigation of corporate wrongdoing would cease.
There are two reasons for rejecting the Opposition's arguments for changing the law to make such reports public. First, it cannot be done in this case because the people affected have not received due process.
What about due process in respect of the people's names who are on the list?
All of the information gathered by Mr. Ryan was obtained on the understanding and in the knowledge that it would not be made public. Second, it would completely demolish the effective enforcement of company law in the same way as extending the Freedom of Information Act to Garda files.
On foot of the information set out in Mr. Justice McCracken's report, I used my powers under section 19 of the Companies Act, 1990, to appoint authorised officers to inquire into the affairs of both Garuda Limited, trading as Streamline Enterprises, and Celtic Helicopters Limited. The authorised officer appointed to look into Celtic Helicopters submitted an interim report to me and, on the basis of the information contained in that report, I appointed Mr. Ryan in January 1998 as authorised officer under section 19 to examine the affairs of Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited.
Gerard Ryan and his team did an outstanding job. They worked extraordinarily hard over the past 18 months, uncovering evidence of very serious breaches of company law, tax law and exchange control regulations. It should be noted that in the course of their investigations they did not secure any co-operation from Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited. Mr. Ryan and his team did everything that they could do within the limited powers assigned to them under section 19 of the Act. Once he had completed his report, Mr. Ryan lodged it with me on 22 June last.
I read the report. Having considered advice from my own Department and legal advice, I concluded that in order to advance properly the investigation into the affairs of Ansbacher (Cayman), the appointment of High Court inspectors under section 8 of the Companies Act was essential. Accordingly, I made application to the High Court under section 8 of the Act on 30 July last and that application was ultimately heard last week on 22 September, when the High Court agreed to my request for the appointment of Mr. Justice Declan Costello, Mr. Paul Rowan and Ms Noreen Mackey as inspectors to investigate and report on the affairs of Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited.
The order made by the High Court requires the inspectors to examine and define the nature of the company's Irish business; to identify as far as possible all of the parties who were either officers, agents or clients of the company, or who otherwise assisted it in carrying out its business; to examine whether the Companies Acts were breached by the company or its officers and, if so, to identify the breaches involved and the persons in default in each case; to examine whether the affairs of the company were conducted with intent to defraud its creditors; and to report on any related matters.
I turn to the question of releasing into the public domain details of those named in Mr. Ryan's report into Ansbacher (Cayman). I accept that there is great public and political curiosity as to who is named in the report and I am not going to allow curiosity to govern considerations of this issue. There are very valid reasons the names or other details set out in Mr. Ryan's report cannot be made public at this stage. First, to do so is expressly forbidden under section 21 of the 1990 Companies Act. Second, publication would be in breach of a specific order of the High Court, and, third, it would be contrary to natural justice.
Mr. Higgins (Mayo) : What about natural justice for the people whose names have been revealed?
They are suffering.
Allow the Tánaiste to continue without interruption, please.
Deputy, I agree they are suffering and I do not want anybody else to suffer the way some people have suffered and the trauma that has been inflicted on people in recent days.
The Minister has responsibility for the leaking of this information and the damage it has caused.
I cannot give credence to any media speculation. The media know who is doing the leaking, if there are leaks. The media know who is feeding the names. I will deal with this later. There are only two types of people feeding names, either those who are stupid and irresponsible or those who want to close down the inquiry.
Certain information was included in the affidavit submitted to the High Court. I point out that this was only a sample of the evidence and was the minimum legally required to support the appointment of inspectors. I ask those who are calling for immediate publication to consider for a moment the impact of such a course of action. Immediate publication would threaten the integrity of the process which is currently under way. It would also pose a very real threat to a number of other important inquiries that are currently being carried out and finalised by the authorised officers under section 19 of the Act.
There is also a real danger that publication could allow people who were involved in serious wrongdoing to evade the consequences of their actions. If the process were to mean that guilty people could get away scot-free and avoid any sanction, is that what this House really wants?
I should also point out that immediate publication would be grossly unfair to those not involved in any wrongdoing whatsoever and who have a right to protect their good names. No fair-minded person who reads that report could suggest that 120 people were involved in wrongdoing and not all of them, Deputy Noonan, were depositors. Some were the beneficiaries of deposits, others had trusts in their name and some had deposits, so they were not all depositors.
The Minister is leaking information now.
I am not leaking it – that is in the affidavit. There is a real danger that publication could allow people as I said to walk off scot-free and I do not believe that is what this House wants or what the public want either. I should also point out that immediate publication would be grossly unfair to those who were not involved in any wrongdoing and they have a right to protect their good names. In this context, I condemn some of the more intemperate political comments which have been made in recent days. Such comments do little to advance the process in which we are involved here.
I wish to clarify the situation in relation to the distribution of the authorised officer's report which I received on 22 June. At that stage a copy was sent to our legal advisers, including the Attorney General. At the time of making my application to the High Court for the appointment of inspectors I sent a copy of the report to the Taoiseach in his capacity as Head of Government. I do not think anybody could say it was unreasonable of me to authorise that the Taoiseach should receive a copy of the report given the significance and importance of what is contained in it.
Will the Minister send a copy to the Garda Commissioner?
I am taking advice on that matter. If there are leaks I might. I am not confirming that there have been any leaks and the Deputy, as I said to him in correspondence, is wrong to assume that there have.
Once the High Court had made its order on 22 September copies of the report were sent to the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Bank and the Minister for Finance who, apart from the Taoiseach and myself, is the only member of the Government to have received or, to the best of my knowledge, seen a copy. By direction of the High Court copies were also sent to the six directors of Ansbacher Cayman Limited, to Mr. Padraig Collery and to the company's legal advisers in early August 1999.
Scurrilous allegations are being made about the leaking of details from the authorised officer's report to the media. There is a veiled allegation that I personally may have broken the law and released information from the report. I refute any such allegation totally. Over the last 18 months I have devoted considerable time and attention to the Ansbacher inquiry. A dedicated team of officials in my Department put in a huge effort to bring this whole process to its current advanced stage. They have uncovered a huge volume of evidence and identified very serious issues in relation to breaches of the law of a grave nature. I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Gerard Ryan and his team for the work they have done. They deserve the recognition of this House for their efforts.
From all that I have said it should be clear that a deliberate leak of information from Mr. Ryan's report could destroy all that has been achieved so far. Nobody has more to gain from such an outcome than guilty parties who may be under investigation and who, in some cases, made several attempts to close the whole thing down over the last 18 months. Nobody has more to lose from it than me. I have been aware of the contents of this report for quite some time, as have a small number of officials in my Department, and the authorised officer had reason to discuss many of the details of the report that was emerging over the past 18 months. They and I have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure there was no publication of its contents.
I will neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of reports which have appeared in the national media in recent days. I recognise that the media have a job to do. I ask them, however, to act in a responsible manner on this very sensitive issue. Latin scholars among us will be familiar with the cui bono principle – to whose good does a particular action redound. The only beneficiaries of leaks will be those who want to destroy the process of investigation which is under way. The media know who has been feeding names. I wish I knew. This information is coming either from someone who is extremely foolish and irresponsible or from someone who is determined to destroy the process which is under way.
No possibility of political motivation?
Any fair minded person who reads the report could not draw that conclusion. I say to journalists and editors, do not play into the hands of those who want to destroy this inquiry. The stakes are high. High Court inspectors are carrying out an investigation which could ultimately lead to serious sanctions against those guilty of wrongdoing. I have great faith in the integrity and professionalism of the inspectors appointed by the High Court led by Mr. Justice Costello. I have great faith in their ability to carry out their appointed task in a manner that is fair and just to all concerned. I ask this House to share that faith with me and not to put any more citizens through what some people have been put through over the past few days.
I am not often depicted as a great defender of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, but for the past 18 months she and her officials have pursued this issue with a vengeance and in an appropriate and proper manner as demanded by ordinary PAYE taxpayers.
How does the Deputy know?
Having listened to the contributions of Opposition Members tonight and earlier today I am beginning to believe that there is a curious mixture of political naivety and rank opportunism on the benches opposite.
(Mayo): That is a bit rich.
In some person's mind, namely, Deputy John Bruton, there is the idea that it is wrong to publish a name in a newspaper today but right to publish a list of 120. I am puzzled by that contradiction. How is it wrong for The Irish Times to publish 40 names but right for the Government to publish 120? How can it be argued that that would not prejudice the people concerned? The Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners has said that he is not working on the assumption that any of them is guilty. He will interview them and determine whether there is a tax liability due. It appears that Fine Gael and some Members opposite want show trials, through the media, of people who may be innocent, including members or former members of Fine Gael. It may be the case that Mr. Sutherland and Ms Banotti are totally and utterly innocent but they will not be helped—
Where did the names come from?
The Revenue Commissioners will speak to them and determine whether there is a tax liability due but it is not—
Is the Tánaiste accepting responsibility for these remarks in her time?
There is a strong element of bluster and guff in the contributions from the benches opposite. There has been bluster from Deputy John Bruton about leaks. What leaks?
The Deputy has just given two of the names.
The Deputy has named two people.
The modern Fine Gael Party—
The Deputy should stop looking up at the press.
—appears to have forgotten about the photocopier and the fact that there is a wide circle of knowledge about these affairs. This is unfortunate as it makes the work of the Government very difficult. The idea of name and shame came from the Labour Party.
The Deputy has just named two people.
Where is the justice in name and shame? Contrast this with the painstaking work of the Revenue Commissioners, the Tánaiste and the inspectors appointed by the High Court. Those are the vital issues that we need to get to grips with.
In the 1980s the American millionairess, Leonie Helmsley, made the vulgar remark, "Only little people pay taxes". There is a terrible sense of justifiable anger among ordinary PAYE workers who went through the 1980s dutifully paying their taxes and getting little or nothing back by way of reward.
Give the script back to Marty.
Those people are making two very simple demands of the Government which must be met. They want the so-called Ansbacher account holders who systematically evaded their taxes to cough up and be called to account. The public is asking that the maximum penalty be applied to those wealthy individuals who blatantly evaded tax and, if this is established, that some form of criminal sanction should apply. I call on the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Revenue Commissioners to apply the sanctions available under the 1993 amnesty legislation which imposes an eight year jail sentence on those involved in tax evasion for sums in excess of £100,000. There has been much talk about the amnesty legislation but nobody has pointed out that under it an eight year jail sentence may be imposed on those who continue not to declare their income. It is not widely known that the amnesty legislation placed an obligation on those who had evaded their taxes to avail of it. If not, graduated penalties of up to eight years in jail would apply.
The Revenue Commissioners should use existing law on tax evasion and settlements so that those Ansbacher account holders who have been guilty of serious tax evasion can have their names published officially with reference to the fact that this occurred in relation to their Ansbacher accounts. In other words, they should depart from the practice of simply naming the occupation of the person concerned and provide the additional information with regard to the type of activity that led to the tax evasion.
The Opposition has made much of the name and shame dimension to this controversy. The reality is that the Government, particularly the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, has pursued the right approach. What is required is the maximum punishment for serious tax evaders and the maximum recovery of taxpayers' money. In addition, the Government should continue its budget tax priorities of returning tax cuts and money to middle and low paid PAYE workers.
It seems we have a landscape of inquiries, carnivals and circuses concerning public inquiries. The Labour Party originally tried to argue that the 120 individuals should be included within the remit of the Moriarty tribunal. All that would achieve would be to give the Bar Library about ten years work which is totally ridiculous – 120 individuals to be investigated in the context of a tribunal, with no possibility of criminal prosecutions. This is complete nonsense, and I am sur prised that Labour, the defender of the ordinary taxpayer, as it characterises itself, would advocate something of that order.
It is a scheme.
This situation requires the Revenue Commissioners to be allowed to go behind the veil of banking confidentiality and investigate where a reasonable suspicion of serious tax evasion exists. They have been given such powers under the 1992 Act passed by this Government. That is the right course. There will be prosecutions and people will be named. The amnesty is not carte blanche to those who evaded their taxes or refused to be honest about the income they earn.
It could be.
I wish to share my time with Deputy McDowell.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
In more than 20 years as a public representative I have never experienced such a sense of anger and outrage among compliant taxpayers as that created by the recent disclosures about the scale and extent of the Ansbacher scandal. The public anger is very understandable and it would be a great mistake for the Government to underestimate the depth or extent of that anger. Failure to take measures to deal with the genuine public fury will further undermine public confidence in the political process, and almost certainly reduce the Government's chances of successfully negotiating a new national agreement with the social partners.
The public's anger is understandable. This was not a case of a few clever businessmen or their advisers opportunistically availing of loopholes in the tax system to minimise their tax liabilities. On the basis of what we know from the affidavit sworn in the High Court last week by Mr. Ryan, it is clear that what existed amounted to a systematic and well-executed criminal conspiracy to defraud the Exchequer, involving some of the country's leading business figures. This is not to suggest that each person who had an involvement with Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited was involved in this conspiracy or was a criminal. However, nobody can seriously dispute that a criminal conspiracy existed.
All one has to do is look at the affidavit sworn by Mr. Appleby which includes, among others, the following findings:
The business of Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited was carried on with an intent to defraud its own creditors, namely, the Revenue Commissioners. The business was carried on with intent to defraud the Revenue Commissioners being creditors of third parties, namely, the Irish-resident individuals and companies with
whom it dealt. Officers of the company destroyed, mutilated or were privy to the destruction or mutilation of books. The company operated a banking business in Ireland without a licence. The company facilitated breaches of exchange control regulations.
These are not my words but those of the Government's official, Mr. Appleby. There is much more, numbered accounts, business being conducted by telephone rather than in writing and back to back loans. These are not the activities of honest, tax-compliant citizens.
Against this background, the public and national interest will best be served by facilitating the earliest possible publication of the names of those identified in Mr. Ryan's report to the Tánaiste, ensuring that this is done in such a way as to avoid prejudicing the right of anyone to due process and a fair trial. This can be done but what the Government is lacking is the political will, not the ability to do so. The Labour Party has published a Private Members' Bill which provides a simple legal formula to allow this to be done.
From the very beginning, the Labour Party believed that the most appropriate body to investigate the Ansbacher accounts was the Moriarty tribunal. The effectiveness of that tribunal to date is a fair vindication of that political judgment. However, on two occasions, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats voted down Labour's proposals to appropriately amend the terms of reference of the tribunal. Had the Government accepted our proposal, the names of the account holders and the nature of the transactions would have come into the public domain and those involved would have been publicly asked to account for their activities. Unlike a tribunal of inquiry, the High Court inspectors will be required to carry out their investigations in private. Maybe this is what was intended all along. Maybe that is why the Taoiseach was so vociferous in ensuring that there would be no reference to the Moriarty tribunal. Maybe privacy has its own political cache.
While the expectation is that the names will be published when the inspectors deliver their final report to the High Court, notwithstanding anything the Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Brennan, said on "Morning Ireland", my understanding is that the final decision will be at the discretion of the court. In other words, there is no guarantee. By nodding, the Tánaiste is signalling that she cannot give a guarantee to the House that the names of the Ansbacher account holders will ever be made public. In addition, it is not clear how long it will take for the inspectors to conclude their investigations. In these circumstances, there is a compelling obligation on the Government to examine every and any legal option to place relevant information drawn from Mr. Ryan's report into the public domain. Maybe in reply to the House, the Tánaiste or someone on behalf of the Government will give an indication of the expected duration of the High Court inspectors' report. Is it three months, six months or a year?
Three to six months.
I thank the Tánaiste, but is there a guarantee of publication?
I would be amazed if the High Court would not agree to publish the inspectors' report.
Will the Tánaiste interfere with the High Court as well?
What does the Deputy mean by "as well"? Will the Deputy state with whom I interfered? There were several attempts to interfere but they were not by me.
We will come to the Tánaiste's trailer later.
The Tánaiste should tell us about them.
Deputy Quinn without interruption.
We will come to the trailer of publicity from the Tánaiste in the valley period of the 31st.
These are serious allegations.
The Tánaiste should put the names before the House.
Deputy Quinn without interruption.
The Tánaiste is well aware of media and newspaper editorials, some of which have changed their tune between Monday and today. The response of the Government to the very reasonable request from the public and Opposition parties that this information should be made available has been misleading and disingenuous, to say the least. The Government argues that, as the law stands, it is prevented from releasing the information to the Dáil by section 21 of the Companies Act, 1990. However, there is no legal or constitutional principle that prevents the Oireachtas from changing the law.
Government spokespersons originally suggested that the Government was prevented from changing the law by the principle of non-retrospection. We had that in dollops from the Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Brennan, on "Morning Ireland". This is nonsense. Article 15.5, the relevant constitutional principle, states: "The Oireachtas shall not declare acts to be infringements of the law which were not so at the date of their commission."
The Bill we have tabled does nothing of the kind and, strictly speaking, it is not retrospective at all because it does not alter the legal status of anything already done. It would simply allow the Tánaiste to inform the Dáil of information she, and as we now know many others, currently hold.
There are umpteen examples of valid laws with retrospective elements. The Proceeds of Crime Act for instance specifically allows seizure of property acquired or obtained before the passing of the Act and this provision has been upheld by the courts. The Taoiseach, when Minister for Finance, infamously on one occasion made extraordinarily generous changes to the Finance Act, 1994, which applied retrospectively over ten years and which benefited only one individual who was, coincidentally, a generous donor to and diner of the Fianna Fáil party.
There is another relevant example of retrospection which emerged in today's DIRT hearings before the Committee of Public Accounts. The former Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, quoted from his Seanad speech on the Second Stage of the 1987 Finance Bill when he said:
I will also be concerned to ensure that the return on all deposits taken by relevant deposit takers in whatever form attract the tax, and I will introduce with retrospective effect whatever measures are necessary to achieve this.
The Tánaiste accepts that the Companies Act, 1990, needs to be amended to extend the range of persons or bodies to whom information obtained by the authorised officer may be released. On 16 February 1999, replying to a priority question from my colleague, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, Deputy Harney said:
The Minister is precluded from making public the results of such inquiries . It is a defect because a Minister is acting in the public interest and when matters come to the Minister's attention it is right that they should be brought into the public arena.
This quotation is from column 708 of the Official Report, lest I am not quoting the Tánaiste accurately. These are the words of the Tánaiste: "it is right in the public interest that when matters come to the Minister's attention that they should be brought into the public arena". What has suddenly changed? A month later, on 24 March, responding to another question from Deputy Rabbitte about the series of investigations being carried out on her behalf, the Tánaiste said "The issues are so serious that they should be in the public domain and not just go to the competent authorities". This quotation is from column 890 of the Official Report. What has changed? Why this conversion to secrecy?
Why do you think I appointed High Court inspectors?
Let us turn to the legislation. The Government has already accepted that the terms of section 21(3) of the Companies Act, 1990, are too narrow in terms of the number of persons or bodies authorised to received information secured in an investigation carried out by an authorised officer. On the Committee Stage debate on the Companies (No. 2) (Amendment) Bill, 1999, currently going though the Dáil, the Government tabled an amendment which accepted the principle of a Labour Party Private Members' Bill to include a tribunal of inquiry among the so-called "competent authorities" entitled to receive information secured by an authorised officer. The Government amendment actually increased from eight to 15 the number or bodies or persons so authorised.
I think the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, is trying to bring up something.
It is the effects of the things one does for the people of Ireland at the ploughing championships.
When are we going to see the dogs' Bill?
During the debate on Committee Stage on 21 July last Deputy Rabbitte also tabled an amendment which would empower the Tánaiste to provide to either House of the Oireachtas or a committee of either House information, books or documents obtained by an authorised officer in the course of an inquiry. Replying on behalf of the Government, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Noel Treacy – and he is not a man to wander from his script – said the ".. amendment appears to make sense, but I wish to reflect on it further .".
The Deputy left out part of the sentence, namely, the first part—
I thank the Deputy. I could be accused of other things if I was to quote that. To recap – the Tánaiste has twice told the Dáil that she would like to see information secured by an authorised officer brought into the public domain, her Department seeks to substantially increase the number of bodies or persons who may receive this information and the Minister of State at her Department regards a proposal to allow the Dáil or Seanad to have such information as making sense. Yet now we have a sudden and dramatic U-turn and the Tánaiste refuses to do what she herself was advocating just a few months ago.
One cannot do it for this.
Having lost the argument about retrospection – the Tánaiste has clearly lost it—
Did the Deputy read the High Court order?
Having lost the argument about retrospection – I have read—
Allow Deputy Quinn to continue.
I have read the purported legal response that the Taoiseach sent to the Leader of Fine Gael by way of a legal explanation and it is nonsense.
Did the Deputy read last Wednesday's order?
Having lost the argument about retrospection the Government has changed tack and is arguing that to put any names into the public domain would prejudice the right of these people to a fair trial and enable wrong doers to "get off". However, the names of close to a dozen individuals or firms who had an alleged involvement with the Ansbacher operation have already been put into the public domain through the affidavit sworn in the High Court last week by the Tánaiste's representative. How is it that putting these names into the public domain does not prejudice their right to due process but that publishing other names would do so?
It is illogical. What is the logic of that?
In addition, it is clear that there has been a systematic and selective campaign to release some of the names of those included in Mr. Ryan's report. The Tánaiste must accept political responsibility for the manner in which these names have been leaked. It is her report and her responsibility. As I pointed our earlier, the categories of people who can legally receive such information under section 21(3) are quite limited and do not, for instance, include the Taoiseach. I ask the Tánaiste to state specifically what person she has designated as a person authorised to receive the information under the terms of section 21(3)(c) of the Act. Today on the Order of Business she indicated that the only person she had designated to receive the information was the Taoiseach. Does that mean that the Attorney General has not received the report? If this is so how is it that journalists were given to believe by Government representatives that the Attorney General had, in fact, received it?
As Deputy Quinn knows, the Attorney General had it. He legally advised—
Thank you, I am just confirming that.
So the Tánaiste was wrong on the Order of Business.
The Tánaiste just said that the Taoiseach had it.
We asked the Tánaiste at the time.
On what basis did the Attorney General have it?
I ask Deputy Howlin to allow Deputy Quinn to continue without interruption. Tánaiste, please allow Deputy Quinn to continue.
I wish to ask the Tánaiste—
I would prefer if the Deputy did not ask a question.
How many more were involved in advising the Tánaiste?
I would prefer if Deputy Quinn—
As Deputy Quinn knows, the Attorney General does not have to be made an authorised officer. The Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Attorney General were involved in this from the very beginning in advising me and my officials. That is the legal advice we took.
I welcome the intervention from the Tánaiste. Did she make an order making him an authorised person? Was there anybody else?
I ask Deputy Quinn to continue.
So we now know that a whole raft of people in the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Office of the Attorney General also have this report.
Did their own advisers have it?
The remit for leaking is being widened as the Tánaiste speaks. I am just establishing the situation.
Is the Deputy suggesting they leaked it?
Blame is being spread.
I think, Deputy—
I ask Deputies to allow Deputy Quinn to continue. If Deputy Quinn addresses his remarks through the Chair he might not invite interruptions.
Now that the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, has recovered his full health the Chair might restrain him from interrupting.
I would hate to see decent public servants being—
I ask the Minister of State to allow Deputy Quinn to continue.
Failure to make the names known will lead to a potentially ludicrous situation, if it has not already done so. We know from the limited information available that those involved in the Ansbacher scam include people who were regarded as pillars of society, captains of industry, members of the boards of some of the most powerful and prominent companies in the State, the type of people who are regarded, especially by Fianna Fáil, as the sort of people who make ideal members of the boards of State companies.
That is not fair.
If these names are not published, how will any Minister considering making key appointments to State boards know whether the person being considered is in fact a tax criminal who may shortly face criminal proceedings?
I accept that the publication of the names would not be without difficulties – we accept that – but it can be done, and it should be done with care. I invite the Tánaiste, if she has not already done so, to read the editorials of the various national newspapers today and yesterday in respect of this matter.
I do not make laws as a result of newspaper editorials.
If our Bill were to be enacted and become law, I would envisage a situation where the Tánaiste would give seven days prior notice to each person mentioned in the report of the authorised officer and undertake to publish and circulate at the same time, and at the Minister's expense, such statement as any one of them might want to make relating to the circumstances in which their name appeared in the report.
Last week's disclosures regarding the Ansbacher scandal came against a background of the opening of negotiations between the Government and the social partners on a possible new national agreement. Any delay in publishing the names will create further distrust among workers and further jeopardise the chances of a successful outcome to the negotiations.
Tax evasion continues to be a problem. Despite repeated efforts to tighten up the law, people continue to break the law because it seems to them that the risks involved are at an acceptable level. People do not go to jail for tax evasion. The worst they usually have to face is the payment of back taxes plus a financial penalty. Last week an official of the Revenue Commissioners was sentenced to seven years in prison for attempting to defraud the State of more than £3 million, and quite rightly in my view. When, however, are we going to see sentences of this nature not just for those who attempt to defraud the system from within, but who actually rob the system from outside?
Tax evasion continues to be a problem and it will be a problem until such time as we deal with it effectively. It is time that we, as a society, accepted that tax evasion is not a victimless crime and treated it accordingly. Every pound in tax evasion means either an extra pound added to the tax bill of compliant taxpayers or a pound less to fund schools, hospitals, social welfare or other vital public services. While the full extent of the loss to the Exchequer from the Ansbacher scam has yet to be established, it is likely to run into tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds.
What has intensified the anger of compliant taxpayers is that this massive evasion was going on when PAYE workers were carrying a particularly crippling and disproportionate share of the tax burden and when they were being asked to accept "in the national interest" cutbacks in essential services on which they and their families depended. Let me quote a phrase which might strike a resonance with some people of the Government side of the House, "cutbacks that hit the old, the sick and the handicapped", the weasel words of one of Ansbacher's most prominent clients.
What is even more galling, however, is that the same business community, of which the Ansbacher account holders were such prominent members, was busy lecturing PAYE workers about the need for restraint and for cutbacks in public expenditure. The disclosures have done enormous damage to the standing and reputation of the Irish business community. The damage is compounded by the Government's refusal to release the information in Mr. Ryan's report and, as a result, a cloud of suspicion hangs over much of the Irish business community, unreasonable and unfair as that might be. I am surprised, however, at the comparative silence of the representative organisations for business and commerce in this country. Leaders of these organisations must consider what steps they can take to rehabilitate the reputation of business in the light of the fallout. A start would be for these organisations to make it clear that there will be no place within their ranks for those who have been involved in tax evasion.
Those of us who in the past raised the possible existence of a privileged élite with political influence, an inside track when it came to key business deals, and a disdain for meeting their tax obligations were derided from the Fianna Fáil benches, and particularly by one former Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, as political extremists, envious of the success and achievement of Irish business.
An amnesty was introduced with which the Deputy agreed when part of that Government.
Introduced by a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach.
And the Labour Party. The Deputy's leader backed it until last Sunday.
If we were wrong, we were wrong only to the extent that we significantly underestimated the greed and avarice of this group. To put it bluntly, we did not know the half of it.
The anger of taxpayers, who loyally paid their taxes week in and week out despite the pain involved, is perfectly understandable. They were misled and taken advantage of. Their loyalty was taken for granted. Their children, their parents, their sick, were required to depend on inadequate and often second class services.
It should also be acknowledged that many taxpayers feel let down by a political system that did not take adequate steps to ensure that scandals like Ansbacher could not happen. Collectively, politicians must now look at ways in which the injustice done to compliant taxpayers can be recognised. As an initial step a decision should be made by the Government to ring-fence all of the money recovered as a result of the DIRT inquiry or the investigations into the Ansbacher affair and this should be paid in the form of a rebate to current and former taxpayers in recognition of the loyalty and the disproportionate burden they were asked to carry when so many others were escaping scot free. This should include all of the money recovered either as unpaid tax or as penalties.
Of course much more than this is required to deliver a fully fair tax system but this, I would suggest to the House and to the Tánaiste in particular, would be a fitting gesture that would not only recognise the loyalty of compliant taxpayers but that we, as a society, are no longer prepared to tolerate tax evasion.
I wish to convey to the Tánaiste, if she has not already appreciated the conveyance, to her party back-benchers and to the Fianna Fáil Party that they ignore at their peril the anger across the State from compliant taxpayers, they ignore at their peril the common editorial line coming out from the national, provincial and regional newspapers and they should monitor the change in opinion that has been expressed by those newspapers since Sunday.
In her remarks the Tánaiste said that I had criminalised 120 people in my radio interview on Sunday. Anyone who had a secret numbered account, who did his business by phone, who ensured that a trail of paper and records was mutilated in the manner described by Mr. Appleby and Mr. Ryan, was prima facie engaged in criminal evasion of taxes. These were not regular banking clients.
The Tánaiste, sadly, knows much more about these things than we do but she trailed it up on 31 December when she talked about "Exposed: a golden circle of swindlers". If anyone has been doing a political striptease about this matter, it has been the Tánaiste. The time has come for her to expose fully those involved and to publish this report in line with her comments to Deputy Rabbitte over the last number of months.
We have clearly seen that the arguments of retrospection do not stand up. The Minister has the power but lacks the political ability. We are calling on her to exercise that.
How can the Deputy say that?