I can hardly say it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, as it is never a pleasure for politicians to speak in a debate about preventing corruption at a public level, be it administrative, concerning civil servants or public officials, or those elected with a clear mandate for the people. It is important to keep matters in perspective. We are often loath to speak on this subject as it touches the core of what we do every day as working politicians. If one were to read some of the material in our newspapers and other media one might easily jump to the conclusion that the public and those purveying the news have formed the view that the membership of the House is corrupt to the core. This largely relates to events at the tribunals and a small number of people who betrayed the public trust in a gross and terrible way that brings shame on this House and public officials—
Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).
Shame on Fianna Fáil. The Deputy should not include this side of the House with the shame of Fianna Fáil.
I have accused Deputy Shatter of being nothing other than utterly belligerent in his approach to this debate.
We should not be associated with what is seeping from the Fianna Fáil benches.
I have not identified Deputy Shatter's party as being more guilty than any other, nor do I expect him to identify my party as being more guilty than any other.
We should not be associated with corruption.
The speaker should be allowed to speak.
I do not like Deputy Shatter's belligerent approach. He should hear me out before speaking but he has a tendency to open his mouth before engaging his brain. I urge him to curtail that.
I am glad to hear the Deputy say something I have often said about him.
We have not accused—
Deputy Lenihan should continue his speech.
Our party is unique in this regard. We have the dignity not to throw allegations around, unlike Deputy Shatter's party, which throws allegations around like snuff at a wake.
I welcome Deputy Shatter's interruption in one sense. He has tried, as is his party's wont, to turn any matter relating to ethics or standards in public life into a party political football he can kick around to his own advantage and that of his party.
I warn him that if he continues with that approach it will have the effect of undermining the democracy we all hope to serve. It is typical of his party's approach. One would assume from his tone and that of other Fine Gael Members that there are no other offenders when it comes to ethics and that no members of Fine Gael were implicated in any of the tribunals or inquiries that have been set up to investigate proper standards in politics. He seems to forget that his party launched an investigation into its own county councillors and that the report identified some people wrongly, trying to hang them in public opinion. Some of them are decent people and one is the son of a former leader of Fine Gael and former Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Liam Cosgrave. He was identified in this cockeyed, half-researched and ill-prepared report. Fine Gael has no respect for the dignity or rights of the individual. What rights did Senator Cosgrave enjoy when his party investigated him? What right was he given when eminent senior counsel of a Fine Gael hue were brought in to do a stitch-up job on him? If I were Senator Cosgrave or a member of Fine Gael I would be very concerned with the drift of that party and its alleged commitment to ethics and good standards in public life? What justice was accorded to him? It was a rude hanging party.
Claptrap. Tell us about Ray Burke and Deputies Denis Foley and Liam Lawlor.
It is interesting that Fine Gael applied the same standards to its internal investigation—
The current Minister of State with responsibility for food—
—that it does to controversies here regarding my party and the rights and wrongs of what people do in public affairs. They apply the exact same standards that they applied to Senator Cosgrave. They gave him no say at all.
The Deputy would not know good standards if they hit him in the face.
They decided he was guilty as charged before he had any opportunity to respond. That is the kind of justice and hanging court that Fine Gael enjoys. It is no accident, when one examines the history of that party and its brief dalliance with fascism in the 1930s, that they adopt this approach to the individual and to the human right to a fair trial. There is no respect for a fair trial in Fine Gael, which is evidenced by its history and Deputy Shatter should be more aware of that than anyone else.
Tell us about Deputy Lawlor and the Government that depends on him.
The party he takes pride in tried to promulgate fascism in Ireland in 1930s, trying to tilt us towards the jackboot tendency then in Europe. That is what it is at today also; it is the usual Fine Gael jackboot tendency, trying to tar Fianna Fáil and all its members with one brush. We have problems and we are the first to acknowledge that. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and all my parliamentary colleagues have been to the fore in ensuring that higher standards apply. We will have been four years in office next June and every time there is a hue and cry from Deputies opposite about standards and ethics and the need for greater compliance with the tax code or the standards of the House we have been first to act. We were the first to bring forward legislation. We were the first to raise the bar and we were the first to call for the tribunals; we called for those when in Opposition. If Deputy Shatter examines his party leader's record—
The Deputy must be joking.
—he was tardy in moving on some of his colleagues who had transgressed on the ethical code. Unusually, Deputy Bruton was more than quick to forgive during the Tipperary South by-election and to apply the principles of Christianity to one Member who made a serious transgression and who is the subject of serious investigation in a public tribunal. He was quick to forgive – the "best friends forever" factor is still at play in Fine Gael. At least when we move against our own we do so clearly and insist on compliance. The record is there.
They keep on voting with Fianna Fáil, they stay in Fianna Fáil offices and remain as vice-chairmen of committees Fianna Fáil control. That is a vigorous move against corrupt members of Fianna Fáil. Some of them—
I am glad the Deputy has interrupted.
I ask both Deputies to try to respect the Chamber in which they are and to address comments through the Chair. Will Deputy Lenihan continue his speech?
I am being provoked.
I would love to. I welcome Deputy Shatter's intervention regarding the vice-chairman of the Committee on Finance and the Public Services. Deputy Shatter will know that the committees are decided on apro rata basis and shared among different parties. Deputy Lawlor, in turn and in time-honoured fashion, was appointed vice-chairman and that is a matter for the committee to resolve. It was strange that Deputy Deenihan was flying with the usually active Fine Gael fax machine, faxing to the committee secretariat at 10.20 a.m. this morning his anger and worry that Deputy Lawlor should be on the committee.
The Taoiseach has no say in who is appointed.
Where was Fine Gael months ago when Deputy Lawlor was the subject of inquiry and controversy? It has become a rather late convert to the idea that he is an inappropriate person to sit on that committee. Several months ago Deputy Lawlor might be said to have been in greater controversy when under investigation by his own party—
He had not committed perjury at that time.
—and forced, in some man ner or fashion, to resign not only from the parliamentary party but the party itself. After he ceased to be a member of Fianna Fáil by his own choice I never heard from any Fine Gael representative either on that committee, in the Dáil or at the leadership level, represented by Deputy Bruton, call for his resignation as vice-chairman of the committee. This is rank hypocrisy of the kind we see played out every day here on matters of ethics in public life.
Fine Gael is no rose when it comes to ethics and compliance. We know about the debt Fine Gael cleared when it came into Government in 1994 by some form of democratic coup perpetrated against the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, in which, against the public interest and mood, Fine Gael was pushed into power with no support or mandate from the people. It was foisted on the Irish people and into power. It quickly broke up the peace process, but we have never heard Fine Gael properly explain how it managed magically over two years to wipe out a debt of some £6 million because of the very successful fund-raising techniques applied by a person who is no longer apparently a member of that party but is quite prominent when it comes to christianity and forgiveness, when christianity is spoken about on the Opposition benches. I find it amusing that has never been explained.
Also, when it comes to ethics and how business people interact with Government, it is important there is a proper measured response when dealing with business. Business has a right to lobby Government and to interact with Ministers and Deputies and tell them what they would like in an ideal world. However, it seems odd that when Fine Gael was fund-raising, and raising money from one Ben Dunne, it did not just look for a donation, but after dinner when the cigars were produced and the coffee was poured, it rather generously and gladheartedly asked Mr. Ben Dunne – and this is on public record – whether, now that he had coughed up the cash, there were any policies he would like to influence that Fine Gael could put forward on this behalf? That is the kind of craven approach taken by Fine Gael when it comes to raising money from big capital holders and money men. It immediately invites them to write its party policy. One would not find that in Fianna Fáil. Probably one of the greatest complaints that businessmen make about Fianna Fáil is that we take the money and donations, run the race days and the golf events and they do not receive anything in return. That is politics. We are a more robust party than Fine Gael.
There are a great many millionaires attached to Fianna Fáil.
We are more used to dealing with power, sometimes as a majority party, whereas the party opposite seldom gets into power, and when it does, it has to hang up the white flag when it comes to policy because the left wingers always win when Fine Gael is in power.
The Deputy is a politicalAlice in Wonderland type character. He will bring the rabbit into the story next.
No robust right-wing Fine Gael Government has been elected since 1973. Even Liam Cosgrave, the elder, found it difficult to deal with the Labour incubus once it was brought into his ranks. It was a less than right-wing robust Fine Gael Government. It shouts and talks a great deal in Opposition but when it gets into Government, it is the parties of the left and the Labour Party that tend to influence policy.
The Bill before the House represents firm action, but action informed by a sense of proportion and perspective to deal with the problem of corruption. The Bill is welcome in itself but also for recognising that corruption is an international and not simply an Irish problem. The ratification of international conventions shows that Ireland is fully prepared to play its part in the fight against this subversive menace to democracy. International corruption has been compounded and exacerbated by the fall of the Iron Curtain and the demise of the Soviet Union. Deputy Shatter, who has travelled a lot, will know a great deal about the morals and ethics that applied in countries other than Ireland.
It seems Deputy Lawlor is more acquainted with Eastern Europe than most of us are at this stage.
I suppose I should be loathe to quote a former leader of my party, but what happens here is in the ha'penny place compared with what occurs in other jurisdictions. I had the pleasure of working in the newly liberated countries of the eastern bloc, particularly the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, where the levels of corruption are quite horrifying, mainly due to the low pay that public administrators and officials receive in those countries.
I am surprised Deputy Lawlor did not consult the Deputy about the Czech Republic.
For example, a secretary of a department circa 1992 in the Czech Republic would earn something in the order of $300 a month and, therefore, the temptations are huge, when international capital and business is invested in that country, to spread that money around to influence those public officials by giving them bribes. This is a huge phenomenon in the eastern bloc and in those countries that were formerly communist in origin. The great irony, which Deputy Shatter will appreciate, coming as he does from a robust right wing party like Fine Gael—
The Deputy should take a full stand-up comedy routine in the Gaiety Theatre. He should join Equity.
—and our Leas-Cheann Comhairle might also appreciate it, is that the most insidious and corrupt officials in these eastern bloc states are always former Marxists and communists. They are the people who take to the new way of capitalism with gusto. There is a warning in this for anyone who previously served in very left wing parties of the Workers' Party variety that parties like those, Marxists and all as they might be, are the first to take to the new capitalist system and try to bend it towards their own corrupt purposes.
There is also endemic corruption in other parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. When one puts it in this international perspective, one sees that Ireland has a very proud record. Corruption has come to light here only in the past five to ten years and relates mainly to a period from the 1960s onwards when this country forcibly modernised in economic, social and cultural life. I give proper credit to the party opposite for its role in Government during that period too because it played a part, to some limited extent, in the development and modernisation of this country in that period.
We took a great leap forward in the 1960s. Ireland was transformed from the country which Lemass haltingly tried to move forward along the industrial path. With that increased wealth came greater temptations for everybody involved in public or key decision-making to be corrupt. Corruption is not only part of politics, it is also part of the business and banking worlds.
It is important that we have perspective because many Members claim that what the Committee of Public Accounts explored and discovered was dreadful. However, Irish society in the 1980s was non-compliant in a plethora of areas, such as the drink driving laws. We all know that people were brazenly non-compliant when it came to drink driving throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It was almost a feat of great machismo to get into a car while inebriated and drive it at will wherever one wanted. That was a common phenomenon in the 1980s.
Also, people were brazenly non-compliant in terms of our tax laws in the late 1970s and early 1980s. People who cheated on their taxes – small business people of one kind or another – and set up these offshore or non-DIRT type accounts with false names or names of relations in the United States, England or elsewhere, were almost worshipped or regarded as the great cute hoors who were benefiting from the system and not paying their taxes like ordinary people. It is fashionable for the parties on the left to moralise on these controversies and suggest it is the big bankers, politicians and a cosy group looking after themselves who are cheating the system. However, to be historically correct, accurate and objective about it, in the 1980s few people in the welfare class were tax compliant and many cheated on the social welfare system.
It is a canard for the parties of the left to depict this, in propagandistic terms, as an era when the big shots had the run of the country at the expense of the ordinary person or the PAYE worker. The PAYE worker had it hard and there was a subversive attitude to tax. Thankfully, this was realised very quickly by a number of parties It is not often I give credit to the Progressive Democrats but one of the great mainstays of its success in the early days was that it realised the huge public anger because of the overburdening weight of taxation on the individual.
Ireland has a long tradition of incorruptible public service. It has been tarnished by recent revelations but we must keep a sense of proportion about these matters. Despite the shocking nature of what is emerging from the tribunals, Ireland is still one of the most corruption-free Western societies and we should not be stampeded into hasty and intemperate overreaction in the framing of legislation to deal with the problems which have come to light. Because a small minority of public representatives, officials and others in public life have been exposed as having betrayed the people's trust does not mean the entire fabric of public life is rotten to the core. Public service values and public administration have served this State well over the years. We have also to contend with the fact that corrupt and illegal business practices have been uncovered on a wide scale.
Corporate interests and big business must answer questions about the failures of corporate governance in recent decades. Some of these are addressed in the Committee on Public Accounts in terms of the role of the internal audit function in publicly quoted companies. We are moving from a culture of non-compliance to a culture of compliance. That applies across a range of activities, occupations, businesses and interests. We have a welter of tribunals dealing with issues such as child sex abuse, abuse of people under the care of the religious, this House in terms of how we conduct ourselves and so on. It is important to remember that these are the necessary adjustments and corrections that must be made to a society that is much wealthier and, therefore, offers greater temptation to the tax cheat, the unethical businessman or politician.
Politics is a strange business. The manner in which the House orders its business on occasion can give rise to unusual and unexpected coincidences. Today's debate is a very strange conjunction with other events taking place outside the House.
I welcome the fact that we finally have this Bill before us. It is interesting to compare Government action with what the Minister said about the Bill and the Government's much voiced commitment to tackling corruption in politics and public life. It is also interesting to consider the degree to which this Government regards the issue as a priority.
The Bill was published on 4 January 2000 with great public relations excitement, press releases by the Minister's office and multiple interviews. It was regarded as a Bill urgently tackling the gaps within the criminal legal system and the problem of corruption. It took from 4 January 2000 until 21 June – six months – before the Second Stage debate took place. This urgent measure, which the Minister published just after Christmas last year at a time when he was advised it would make a good news story because there is not much news in the first few days of January sat on a bookshelf in the Minister's Department for six months. It was a measure in response to the very real problem of corruption which was continually exposed as a major difficulty in public life in particular in the context of members of Fianna Fáil, both present and former Members of this House who are members of Fianna Fáil.
The Minister may say there were difficulties getting the House to take this issue on Second Stage but the Government orders business and determines the priorities. The Taoiseach and the Cabinet determine what measures are taken each week and the Government Chief Whip ultimately determines business in this House. The Government chose to sit on this measure for six months.
The Deputy does not believe that.
We then had one day of Second Stage and now, on 15 December 2000, we have the second day of Second Stage. This Bill, which should have been law months ago, has no chance of being enacted until the middle of next year. This issue which the Government professed it considered as a priority has been left on the back burner to be taken up and waved around when it appears Fianna Fáil may be getting into some difficulty as a result of the public's perception of that party.
The Deputy should not hold his breath.
It is a disgrace that this Bill has been left sitting around for almost 12 months without Committee Stage being taken.
The high moral ground.
I welcome Deputy Roche. No doubt he will lend some intellectual weight to Deputy Lenihan and have something of great interest to say, no doubt somewhere on the plinth behind the backs of colleagues, that he thinks will satisfy the electorate.
When Deputy Shatter leaves, the intellectual weight of the House will go with him.
Deputy Roche should contain himself. He will have an opportunity.
On a point of information, Deputy Roche is only giving Deputy Shatter what he gave us.
Yesterday the Minister signed what has been termed the United Nations anti-Mafia convention. I thought it appropriate that the Minister was in Sicily signing that convention to tackle, on a Europe-wide basis, the problems of corruption at a time when Deputy Lawlor was effectively confirming to the Flood Tribunal that he perjured himself before it and was finally admitting some of the corrupt practices in which he had engaged over two decades of public life. It is time we came to terms with the reality of what is happening. The Minister was signing the convention and making the appropriate noises that appealed to the other Ministers of the States of the European Union who were present. What about Fianna Fáil's mafia? What about the mafia that has inhabited and contaminated that party over 20 years, the tribunals that are costing the taxpayer millions of pounds in order to get to the truth of the corrupt practices of a former Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Haughey, the tribunal with which Deputy Lawlor has been playing ducks and drakes?
Fianna Fáil is a politically contaminated party. Deputy Lawlor and his behaviour, while he has been put out of the party, is tolerated by it. He is a Deputy on whom Fianna Fáil depends to remain in Government. Despite a public admission of what is clearly, to the mind of every right thinking person, serious misbehaviour in public life, he is allowed to remain in the Fianna Fáil corridors of this House. He is happily left to be vice chairman of a finance committee, part of whose brief is to deal with issues of ethics. Every Member knows party Leaders appoint Members to committees and, through the whipping system, determine whether people will be chairman, vice chairmen or convenors of committees. The Taoiseach has had it within his power during the life of this Dáil to determine whether it is appropriate that Deputy Lawlor retain his position as vice chairman of the committee. The truth is Fianna Fáil is a politically contaminated party that should be driven from office. A stench of corruption surrounds that party. As we are drip fed new information through hearings before the tribunals it becomes quite clear that it is in the interests of the State, the body politic, democracy, the integrity of our democratic institutions and restoring people's faith in the political system that Fianna Fáil leaves office.
People are sickened by the daily revelations from tribunals. The Fianna Fáil political effluent which is seeping from its silage pit in the evidence given before the tribunals does not cast a shadow on the Labour Party, the Fine Gael Party or other Members of this House. It casts a shadow over Fianna Fáil for events which have occurred for which members of that party are responsible and with which it has no wish to come to terms. The party is quite happy that Deputy Lawlor, Deputy Foley and other members of that party who have engaged in questionable conduct brazen it out and remain Members of this House. It is quite happy to be dependent on those Deputies to remain in Government. If some of them had any real decency, in particular, Deputy Lawlor, if he had any remnant of decency remaining, not only would he resign as vice chairman of the Committee on Finance and the Public Service but from this House and public life. However, he will brazen it out. The Taoiseach hopes he will because he knows his term of office depends on Deputy Lawlor continuing to support the Government.
The Taoiseach likes to remind us every so often that Deputy Lawlor is an Independent Deputy.
Like Deputy Lowry.
I challenge the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to deny that the Fianna Fáil Whip's office continues to liaise with Deputy Lawlor to ensure his presence for votes and that the Fianna Fáil Whip's office continues to ensure he goes through the lobbies in this House to support the Government parties in whatever votes of importance take place. I challenge the Minister to deny that. I do not believe he can deny that – in which case, Deputy Lawlor is not really an Independent Deputy. Like some other Members of this House, he is really provisional Fianna Fáil. He has joined Deputy Healy-Rae and others who support the Fianna Fáil party not simply for political reasons, but for self-preservation reasons.
The time has come for this issue to be fully and properly addressed politically in this House and that is something the Government has sought to avoid. That the Government is prepared to remain dependent on these Deputies, that it is prepared to remain dependent on Deputy Lawlor, in particular, and that the Fianna Fáil Whip's office continues to liaise with Deputy Lawlor on votes in this House totally undermines statements made to this House by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 21 June last when the Second Stage debate commenced. He said: "I wish to make it clear without equivocation or ambiguity that the Government on whose behalf I am bringing forward this tough new legislation will not tolerate corrupt behaviour or practices from wherever they emanate." This Government will tolerate such practices provided the person engaged in those practices makes himself available to the Government on a daily basis to support it on crucial votes no matter what damage that person is doing to people's faith in our democratic institution or in politicians.
The Minister said: "Deputies do not need me to remind them of the need to have in place effec tive laws to tackle corruption". We did not need to be reminded. It will take the Minister a year to complete Committee Stage of this Bill never mind to get it enacted. He went on to say:
It is timely that we are debating this measure at this time. Charges of corruption levied against the few have the capacity in the public mind to taint everyone engaged in public life. Allegations and rumours of corrupt practices have a corrosive effect on public life with the result that public confidence in the entire system is undermined. Members of this House have a right to be concerned at the possible erosion of confidence in politics.
Members on this side of the House have a right to be concerned that we have in place a Government contaminated by corruption which remains happy to be dependent in the voting lobbies of this House on the likes of Deputy Lawlor for its continued political existence. There is a very real difference between what this Government says and does.
The Minister went on to say that "we must be concerned at the reports that have emerged [that is, the reports that have emerged before the tribunals] and we must be prepared to take action to ensure that confidence in the political system and in us as politicians is not lost." That required not merely tackling the Lawlor problem, the Foley problem or the other problems to which Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats wish to turn a blind eye. That also required that this legislation be given real priority and that this legislation was not political icing sitting on the Fianna Fáil cake to be brought out in public on occasions when there are embarrassing revelations before one of the sitting tribunals. It is no coincidence that we are taking this Bill this week at a time when Deputy Lawlor is being forced by the tribunal to openly admit some of the behaviour in which he has engaged while still wriggling out of trying to provide the tribunal with the comprehensive information to which it is entitled.
The Minister also said: "There can be no tolerance of corrupt practices within our political system." He repeated that later in his speech. I do not believe anyone outside this House regards Fianna Fáil as a party intolerant of corrupt practices. Fianna Fáil was once described as a slightly constitutional party. The Fianna Fáil party as it is now operating in Government has no real commitment to political ethics and to removing corruption from politics but it is willing to engage in the appropriate verbiage at the appropriate moment when the public relations demands require that it be seen to have some slight commitment to tackling the problem of corruption.
I regret that this Bill has not completed Second Stage. It should have completed Committee Stage at the justice committee and Report Stage in this House. It should have been through both Houses of the Oireachtas and should have become law. I wonder why it has not become law. I wonder whether there was a concern on the Taoiseach's part that if this Bill was enacted speedily through the House, it might place Deputy Lawlor in greater jeopardy with regard to criminal prosecution than he is in at present. I wonder was a tactical decision made to delay the enactment of this Bill to preserve the life of this Government. That is a very serious allegation but it is a serious issue.
The Minister has not ever explained why there was a need to publish this Bill with a great rush of publicity at the beginning of January 2000 and why he has failed to have Second Stage completed in this House until the last day of Dáil sittings in 2000. Will he tell us how speedily he will bring the Bill before committee to process Committee Stage? What is the time frame for completing Report Stage of this Bill, for its passage through the Seanad and for it becoming law?
Does it suit the Government that this Bill is not speedily enacted? Its provisions are of relevance to allegations of corrupt practices concerning the manner in which a Member of this House may have dealt with his financial dealings in the context of moneys and alleged business dealings outside this State. Does it suit the Government that it drags on until the next election is called or that it is enacted a few days before the Government decides to go to the country? Why has the Government been so reluctant and so slow to complete the legislative process of this measure and to give it the priority promised a year ago? I do not have the answer to that question but some of the suggestions I am making are reasonable.
Why does this Government which wants to make a public pretence of cleaning up the political act of members of the Fianna Fáil party, bring this Bill out and dust it off now, since it sat on departmental shelves since last June when Second Stage commenced, to complete it in a restricted debate taking place on the last day of Dáil sittings in 2000? What hold does Deputy Lawlor have over the Taoiseach, the Government or member of the Government, other than trying to preserve a life line to ensure that when votes take place in the lobbies the Government survives those votes?
Is there anything more to it? I do not know and I hope there is not. There is enough to say that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, if he is truly committed to tackling corruption, should in his reply to this debate on behalf of the Government, state that the Government no longer wishes to be in any way associated with Deputy Lawlor, that the Government does not wish to see Deputy Lawlor joining the Government parties in the lobbies on any vote in this House in the future and that Deputy Lawlor is no longer welcome to hold his offices on the Fianna Fáil floor. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should, in his reply, if he is truly committed to tackling corruption, state that the Government no longer wishes to be in any way associated with Deputy Lawlor, that it does not wish to see the Deputy joining the Government parties in the lobby on any vote in this House in future and that he is no longer welcome to hold his offices on the Fianna Fáil floor of this House. Deputy Lawlor should be told by Members of this House on all sides to defend himself in the tribunal in whatever way he sees fit, but he should no longer brazen it out in this House. The time has come for Deputy Lawlor to resign from this House.
I listened to the last contribution more with sadness than in anger. Deputy Shatter is a person of very considerable intellect and it is one of the great sadnesses of this House that a man with such considerable intellect should become so blinded and bitter, an incubus, turned in on himself, incapable of recognising the truth and inventing innuendo.
Is the Deputy looking in the mirror?
Deputy Crawford will get his chance. I await that with interest because it will be as scintillating and sophisticated as everything else that trots out of his mouth.
The reality is that Deputy Shatter is a person with a very considerable intellect and it is very sad that he comes in here like some sort of human muck spreader. Every time he opens his mouth we are regaled with the stench of hypocrisy. The stench of corruption is an issue that concerns us on all sides of the House, but the stench of hypocrisy and self-destruction should concern the Deputy also.
It is, indeed, ironic that Deputy Shatter should come into this House and engage in a tactic that was invented in the 1930s by Mr. Goebbels. He invented the tactic that you create an illusion, you create an innuendo, you throw it out and you challenge your opponent to engage in a debate on that false hypothesis. We heard this false hypothesis several times during Deputy Shatter's contribution. He suggests there is no concern on this side of the House about corruption. He is lying because he knows that is not the case. He knows there are Members on this side of the House who are at least as honest and concerned about corruption as he is. However, he is not prepared to recognise that fact, which is sad.
The Deputy also threw up the hypothesis that somehow or other there is a conspiracy in relation to the Bill being introduced late. He knows that is an invention, yet he challenged the Minister to engage in a debate on the false and hypocritical proposition he has put forward. That is sad because the Deputy has a lot to offer. He is a man of very considerable intellect. I do not say this in a patronising way, because I admire his mind, but I certainly do not admire the filthy tactics in which he engages.
Deputy Shatter is conveniently forgetful that he and his party are not at all choosy about political bedfellows. If they were, would they have engaged in Government in 1994-95 with a party that had never cleared itself of charges of not just political crimes but crimes against the State. Printing money is a crime against the State and we never heard about who transferred a printing machine from Cork to Gardiner Street. This did not matter a whit to Deputy Shatter because in reality at that time it behoved him to be blind on the issue and the political principle. The group with which Deputy Shatter was willing to get into bed at that time had also been engaged in a whole series of other issues. There were allegations of bank robbery and murder and allegations that have never been cleared from the old democratic left Sinn Féin-Workers' Party nexus. Of course, Deputy Shatter was not particularly interested in that.
I do not believe in muck-raking over the past because people from that past have made a distinguished contribution to Irish politics and have a distinguished role to play. I am at least prepared to adopt what is a reasonable principle, that is, that you judge people individually by what they do rather than by some innuendo spread like muck across the entire body politic. Deputy Shatter does politics and democracy in this country absolutely no service by his bitterness, innuendo and untruthfulness and, above all, by the corruption of his own intellect. Corruption comes in many forms. It comes in the form of a politician who is willing to accept a brown envelope. It also comes through the corruption of intellect by a politician who is so disappointed that he has become turned in on himself. I say that not in anger but full of regret for a person I respect.
Deputy Shatter's willingness to engage in the type of politics which totally ignores any kind of justice, prudence or adherence to the laws of decency that apply in most democracies should come as no surprise to us. This week we celebrate one of the most ignominious acts in the State when four men were dragged without trial or charge from Mountjoy Prison and executed by Deputy Shatter's party and forebears. These people were executed without the benefit of trial or due process. The fact that the Deputy and his party continue to engage in this type of political innuendo without due process should hardly be surprising. Nor should we be surprised by his adherence to Goebel's tactic because, as Deputy Lenihan pointed out in his contribution, they had a dalliance in the 1930s with fascism, and the politics and policies of fascism are still deeply ingrained in the party.
I want to address most of my concerns to the Bill. I do not wish to engage in this type of debate because it is ultimately sterile and personally destructive of the Deputy, the House and me. We must both strive for something better for the people who deserve that we leave this type of politics behind. I will not sit here as a representative of the Fianna Fáil Party, a party with tens of thousands of decent and honest men and women, and listen to the kind of political filth that tripped across the Deputy's lips for the past 20 minutes. Shame on Deputy Shatter – this country and the people he represents deserve a lot better.
Deputy Shatter was very anxious to ask how we in this party feel about Deputy Lowry. May I address to Deputy Shatter, through the Chair, the same question about Deputy Lowry he addressed to us about Deputy Lawlor? After all, the acting Chair and I sat through a by-election in 1995 and we know how it was funded, we know who wrote the cheques, we know who the paymaster was, we know the results of that paymaster's dalliance with the Fine Gael Party and we know the value of the £8,000 contribution made to that party in 1985 in County Wicklow. I do not believe that Deputy Shatter shares any personal blame for that, but Deputy Lowry was his party's paymaster general at the time. I now challenge Deputy Shatter to call on his party leader to call on Deputy Lowry to leave this House. If that proposition is right for Deputy Lawlor, it is equally right for Deputy Lowry. However, the reality is that every time this man with a considerable intellect speaks in this House he displays nothing more than his personal bitterness, his extraordinarily deep animus and his extraordinary hypocrisy.
Deputy Lenihan raised a question which is not a bad one to ask the Fine Gael Party. How did they clear that massive debt in such a short time after coming to office? That deserves examination because, after all, the acting Chair will recall, as I do, that when Deputy Bruton had to go to a previous tribunal – I am not saying he perjured himself at the tribunal – he was economical with the truth and he was certainly wrong with the facts. None of us on this side of the House can deny there has been impropriety. There has been impropriety which has damaged this party. I personally engaged in an investigation of allegations about my party members last summer. This was a difficult and painful exercise but we engaged in it. At least it was an honest exercise. Deputy Shatter's party put together a hanging jury and is now prepared to engage with the very people it sought to hang.
I will not go on in this vein because I find it too painful. Before we start pointing fingers at any side of this House we should be determined to clean up a collective act. Through all its history, the only thing the Fine Gael Party has contributed to this country is bitterness.
That is correct.
The only thing it has ever contributed to is bitterness. Éamon de Valera had to bring his birth certificate into this House. The filth and the nastiness that crept into the Fine Gael Party then is there in abundance now. It is incapable of decent political debate or of focusing on an issue.
Does the Deputy think Deputy Lawlor should remain a Member of the House?
I have my own views about Deputy Lawlor. I do not think he is any more fit to remain a Member than Deputy Lowry. Unlike the Deputy, I am not a hypocrite and I am not a liar.
I am not a member of the—
My personal belief is that in the next election—
I advise Deputy Roche to be extremely careful if he is using the word "liar" in relation to any Member.
I am referring to myself.
I merely advise the Deputy to be careful. I suggest he concentrates on the issues.
I welcome the Chair's contribution and assistance in this regard. I am not prepared to ignore the facts nor am I prepared to distort the truth. The truth, and the reality in a democracy, is that both Deputy Lowry and Deputy Lawlor will be judged, as is appropriate, by the people who elect them.
That is right.
The people who elect them have the right to dismiss them. I do not. I am not a voter in either of their constituencies, but if I were I would not vote for either of them. I wish to challenge the two gentlemen from Fine Gael sitting opposite. Do they believe Deputy Lowry is a fit person to be a Member of this House? Are they willing to answer that question? Their silence speaks volumes about their hypocrisy. I ask both gentlemen how did they feel about the suggestion—
Deputy Lowry took no money for political favours.
What an extraordinary assertion.
The Deputy has made many assertions.
Deputy Reynolds has just struggled into the House.
What about the assertion the Deputy made about Deputy John Bruton in this House?
Two or three years ago.
We will deal with that. I am pleased Deputy Reynolds—
I ask Deputy Reynolds to be orderly.
—engaged in that because, yet again, there is an issue to be answered and as Deputy Reynolds has chosen to raise it, I will answer it. I read the correspondence. I actually saw the letter that was written at that time that asked for a tax efficient payment for land. I said in this House that I did not believe Deputy Bruton or any member of his family was guilty of wrongdoing, but I did suggest if the circumstances in that case—
That if it applied—
The Deputy should read the record. What I said was that if the circumstances in that case applied on this side we would hear baying hounds from the far side. As Deputy Reynolds has raised the issue of Deputy Lowry, let us deal with it.
It was the Deputy who raised the issue of Deputy Lowry.
No, it was Deputy Reynolds who raised it. What did Deputy Lowry get for what he did? He cleared the debt of Deputy Reynolds's party. That is a fact. We do not know from where the millions came. Equally, we do not know precisely why Deputy Reynolds's party was paid £8,000 in a cheque for the by-election in County Wicklow.
There was more than £8,000 spent by the party of which the Deputy Roche is a member.
I am not suggesting, and I do not believe, that the Leader of the Deputy's party is a crook. Neither am I suggesting that the Deputy is a crook, but he is certainly naive and down right stupid if he is not prepared to deal with a crook.
Will the Deputy please abide by the rules of the House?
If the Deputy had a brain he would be dangerous.
I thank the Deputy. That is the level of political debate to which we have plummeted.
Deputies Roche and Reynolds, will you please have regard for where you are? Will Deputy Roche please continue with his speech?
If the Chair will ask the gentleman opposite to spancel his tongue, I will continue with the speech. I have asked the two Deputies opposite to say whether they believe Deputy Lowry is a fit person to be a Member of this House. Yet the two gentlemen opposite, as the record will show, have remained silent, one with his fingers stuck in the air and the other with his fingers stuck in his mouth.
So long as it is not his foot.
That is true, neither of them has a foot in his mouth. That is the sole prerogative in that party for the party Leader. The reality is that the Leader of the party opposite has indicated that after the next general election he is willing to consider a position for his very best friend in the party. I came in here to speak on the Bill.
Corruption is an issue that should concern us all and we should not engage in the kind of nonsensical debate in which we are engaged. The political reality is that the people believe we are all tainted whether that is our fault, the fault of those opposite or nobody's fault. This is good legislation and it contains issues that should be addressed as well as issues that should be strengthened. I refer the Minister to the specifics of the Bill. I am concerned that we are still dependent on 1906 legislation. That legislation was drafted in a different time and its focus is on corruption and blue collar crime. There is a need to revise that legislation and to look at white collar crime.
Corruption and suspicion of corruption is a fatal virus that has infected the body politic not only in this country but internationally. In surfing the website this morning I clicked on the words "corruption in government". I got about 100 pages of listings, none of which was about Ireland. One of them, however, might be in the near future. The main reasons for the Bill, which are set out at paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) in the explanatory memorandum, are fine as far as they go. This is a relatively slight piece of legislation. We need a modern and comprehensive approach to this issue. In this House we need to be mindful of the requirement to clear the public consciousness on this matter. I suggest, as soon as the legislation is passed, we set up an anti-corruption committee that will produce some form of inspectorate to examine this issue. It is not today or yesterday that I have suggested this, I have said it on many previous occasions. Incidentally, I suggested it in 1994 when there was a drafting between the Labour Party and the Fianna Fáil Party. I believe something serious has to be done. An inspectorate has to be set up which would be controlled by this House and which would have the means and the funding to investigate speedily any allegations made about Members. We are all damaged and destroyed by such allegations. As Ireland has become richer, it has become a much meaner place. It has become a place where people are more envious, more greedy and more willing to break the rules. The Bill deals with the remedies and the punishments for corruption. I am not happy that they go far enough. We have reached the stage where the people expect a person to go to jail for corruption and I would like that to happen sooner rather than later. There needs to be a cleaning of the political warehouse and we need to show people we are serious.
Section 6 deals with offences for bodies corporate. Undoubtedly this issue needs to be strengthened. There is no doubt that the issue of corruption in bodies corporate needs attention. We saw recently where one bank was alleged, and found guilty, of effectively pilfering small amounts out of thousands of individual accounts. Several other banks and financial institutions were effectively found guilty of treason against the State in perverting the taxation system. It is a reality under this Bill and under existing law that nobody will go to jail for that.
I am sorry that we were drawn down acul-de-sac of arid debate. Whether this legislation was delayed or not is something we could discuss. I do not believe Deputy Shatter believes there is some massive conspiracy and now it is produced at the last minute as a cleansing exercise. If he wants to delude himself that is his privilege. It is not up to me to disabuse him. What we can do is strengthen the legislation and it can be enacted speedily. We should sit down in this House and see what further remedies we need to put in place to regain the confidence we all want from the electorate.