Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 8 May 2014

Vol. 840 No. 3

Leaders' Questions

The Taoiseach announced the resignation of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, yesterday at 4.30 p.m. in the House. The Guerin report will be published tomorrow and should be debated in the House in considerable detail. It is very unfortunate that the Minister for Justice and Equality resigned when the Members of this House had not yet seen the report. It is surprising also that the Tánaiste, even at lunchtime yesterday, defended Deputy Shatter as Minister and confirmed that he had confidence in him. That is against the background of the receipt of the Guerin report by the Taoiseach's office on the previous evening. Apparently the Taoiseach was launching the campaign of the by-election candidate in Dublin West while his staff were digesting the 300-page report. There are reports today that the Taoiseach was in contact with the Attorney General at 6 a.m. yesterday. The then Minister, Deputy Shatter, was contacted and shown the report.

Despite his actions, the Tánaiste and other Labour Party Ministers have repeatedly defended the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, for the past 18 months, even when his behaviour was highly questionable. I refer to his attitude to the Smithwick inquiry, his attitude to whistleblowers and so on. All of that has made it difficult for us to comprehend the reason the Labour Party in particular was so steadfast in its support for the then Minister, Deputy Shatter, given his approach to many controversial issues, from the bugging of the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to the whistleblowing incident, and so forth.

Can the Minister explain to me when the Tánaiste was first told about the resignation of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter? When did he receive the Guerin report or when was he informed that the Guerin report had been received? Does he now find it somewhat unacceptable that he was expressing full confidence in the Minister at 2 o'clock yesterday without having any idea that by that stage the Minister was resigning and the Taoiseach had engaged with him on the issue?

The Deputy is asking me questions about the Tánaiste's reaction when he was informed or what he knew at a particular time. In many respects all I can tell him is what I know, although it is not necessarily the full story. The Tánaiste was informed mid-afternoon yesterday that the Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence had tendered his resignation. What we understand is that the Taoiseach had invited Deputy Shatter for a discussion. I am quoting what is in the public domain; I am not party to any of this directly. As Deputy Shatter has said, he read a number of chapters in that report and on the basis of what he read he tendered his resignation to the Taoiseach. That is as I understand it. The parliamentary Labour Party was in session when the Taoiseach made the announcement to the Dáil; I think the Deputy was present, so he heard it directly. I came into the Chamber about five minutes after the Taoiseach had started speaking. That is what I understand to be the position.

I thank the Minister. The Tánaiste was informed mid-afternoon. Did the Minister speak to the Tánaiste before coming into the House this morning? There is a reasonable expectation that these questions would be asked, because I find it very surprising that the Tánaiste was blindsided on this issue. Can the Minister confirm when the Tánaiste was told that the report had arrived? Was he made aware on the previous evening, Tuesday evening, that the report had arrived? Was the Tánaiste told then that the Guerin report had arrived and that its content was very grave? Obviously, he was not, nor was he told yesterday morning, even though the Attorney General was told at 6 a.m. He willingly expressed total confidence in the Minister at 2 o'clock even though we now know that the then Minister, Deputy Shatter, intended to resign, and it is clear the Taoiseach knew that. I find it extraordinary that the Taoiseach did not bring the Tánaiste into his confidence earlier with regard to the Guerin report and its potential implications for the status of the Minister, and also with regard to the fact that a senior Minister of the Government in the Department of Justice and Equality was about to resign. Does the Minister not find that somewhat extraordinary?

If the intent of the Deputy's questions is to suggest that the Tánaiste was blindsided in some way by the Taoiseach and that therefore the relationship between the two is less than satisfactory, I have to tell him-----

No. I am not saying that.

That seemed to me to be the direction in which he was going.

I just want to find out when he was told.

I know that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste spoke mid-afternoon yesterday. They were in contact with each other on a number of occasions throughout yesterday and, I suspect, earlier today, but the Deputy is asking me questions to which only the Tánaiste can give him a precise answer. I am telling him what I know, which is not necessarily the whole amount, but I do know that there was ongoing discussion and contact between the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste from mid-afternoon yesterday. As the Deputy is aware, they were each attending a different function, and then there was the Arbour Hill ceremony, and events moved very quickly.

Did they not talk at Arbour Hill?

I do not know if they did. I know that the-----

We cannot have discussions across the floor.

Through the Chair, the Deputy asked me a specific question. I understand the resignation was communicated to the Taoiseach some time in the early afternoon after the then Minister, Deputy Shatter, had read chapters 1, 9 and 20 of the report. On that basis, everything else moved very quickly. As to the precise time the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, knew what and when, the Deputy would have to ask him for that information.

I thought the Minister would have spoken to him.

We could get the information from the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, if he were here. I understand the Taoiseach told us earlier that he was in Galway. I find it extraordinary, given this turn of events and the fact that a senior Cabinet Minister has resigned, that the Tánaiste would not be here, but I will come back to that.

The Minister took the opportunity earlier to extol the virtues of Deputy Alan Shatter and his ministerial career. If one did not know better, listening to his contribution, one would wonder why Deputy Shatter had felt the need to resign. We know Deputy Shatter resigned yesterday not because he accepted that he had faltered or done anything wrong and not because he - or, it seems, the Taoiseach - accepted the criticisms in the Guerin report, but to save the bacon of Fine Gael and the Labour Party and prevent further damage to them in the upcoming elections.

Essentially, he made a party political decision. Former Minister, Deputy Shatter, stood and stands aloof, denying any culpability on his part. He does not accept any responsibility for the succession of debacles that have faced the policing and justice system in recent times; the appalling treatment of the whistleblowers; the appalling treatment of GSOC; the mishandling of the bugging controversy in Garda stations and the collapse in Garda morale and public confidence in the administration of justice. Why should he when the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Cabinet and Fine Gael and Labour Party backbenchers have defended his actions in this Dáil and the media.

We are told that the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, knew of these events mid-afternoon. He certainly did not know about them at lunch time. Deputy Quinn's colleague, Deputy Bruton, also did not know about these matters early yesterday morning because she was on the airwaves reiterating her confidence in former Minister, Deputy Shatter. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, must feel very exposed at this point, or does he?

A question please.

Through each catastrophe, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, stood by former Minister, Deputy Shatter. I am fairly sure that at times the Minister, Deputy Quinn, knew the number of the former Minister was up, that each crisis was a crisis too far and the damage being done to An Garda Síochána and public confidence was becoming serious.

The Deputy is over time.

Yet, he stood by him shoulder to shoulder. The Government rallied around the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, regardless. What does the Minister, Deputy Quinn, think now?

Deputy, please.

Does the Minister, Deputy Quinn, now accept that Deputy Shatter had to resign?

The Deputy is not listening to me. She is over time.

Had it been the Labour Party's call would it have waited for the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, to make up his own mind or would it finally have run out of rope and admitted that he should stand down?

I never cease to be amazed at the warm affection and motherly concern expressed by Deputy McDonald for the well-being and future of the Labour Party. I cherish it deeply and know that we are well liked and minded by the Deputy and that if we ever start to go astray she will, in a careful way, look after us.

We should await publication of the Guerin report, which is currently being redacted at the request of Mr. Guerin as a senior counsel. Many of the speculative questions which all of us in this House have will then be answered. The report will be published tomorrow morning and will then be in the public domain. Many of the reasons people did what they did, specifically the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, will become clearer when the report is published. As stated by the Taoiseach yesterday in response to a question from the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, there will be a debate on the report, although not necessarily next week. That might be a bit premature. We should first all read the report which comprises 300 pages. When the debate will be held is a matter for discussion by the Whips. Let us await publication of the report tomorrow, which will answer many of the speculative questions that none of us can answer. I certainly cannot answer them. I do not propose to give a speculative response to questions from Deputies. That would not be fair to anybody.

Let us await publication of the report, which will provide clarification on many of the issues raised here and elsewhere. Following discussion by the Whips, a debate on the report will then, as indicated yesterday by the Taoiseach, be held.

If the Minister, Deputy Quinn, thinks that referring to me as "motherly" to the cackles of this almost exclusively male audience goes down well with me or mothers who might be watching he is very wrong. I do not appreciate the tone of that remark.

Talk about being sensitive.

I know a sexist undertone when I hear it, Deputy Stagg.

There was no sexist tone.

Can we get back to Leaders' Question please?

The Deputy has nothing else to say.

I have plenty to say, Deputy Stagg. If the Deputy would do me the courtesy of allowing me to say it, I would appreciate it.

The Deputy should ask a question.

Deputies, please.

As a party, Labour was kept in the dark in respect of the Guerin report and the resignation of former Minister, Deputy Shatter, although the Tánaiste is not here to confirm this. Does the Minister, Deputy Quinn, know whether the Government has yet received the Cooke report? Lest I was a little clumsy in terms of the wording used in posing my initial question, I will rephrase it. Does the Minister, Deputy Quinn, now accept that the resolute denial by former Minister, Deputy Shatter, of a catalogue of events, including the treatment of the whistleblowers, the controversy surrounding the bugging of GSOC, the bugging of telephone conversations to and from Garda stations, was the wrong position to take and that it was a bad call on the part of Government and, in particular, the Labour Party to support him? Does the Minister, Deputy Quinn, believe that the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, had no option but to stand down? Should not the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste have made that clear to him?

This Government moved with extraordinary alacrity to deal with these matters in a united way. On 27 February, it commissioned the Guerin report, in respect of which eight weeks in terms of completion were provided, which timeframe, give or take a few days, has been met. The report will be published tomorrow. Previous Administrations set up public inquiries that lasted for 14 years and cost the taxpayer a fortune and produced results of a different kind. This is an important matter. I know that every Deputy in this House and Senator in the other House shares our concern in this matter. We want to get to the bottom of the various allegations and statements made on the basis of proper inquiries. The Guerin report which will be published tomorrow will, I believe, provide a lot more clarity than I can possibly give today.

Has the Government received the Cooke report?

I am told it is expected imminently. When the time is right we will have a full discussion on the reports and will take whatever actions require to be taken as a consequence.

The Minister, Deputy Quinn, did not answer my core question. Did the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, have to step down?

I was wondering if the Minister, Deputy Quinn, had said anything positive about former Minister, Deputy Shatter. While in this regard there was not much information around the old Twitter machine tells me that in the past hour the Minister, Deputy Quinn, said that former Minister, Deputy Shatter, was a reforming Minister, whose record will stand for many years to come. How true.

"I'll tell you something Maurice, and this is just personal advice to you, if Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished."

"If Shatter thinks, here's this guy again trying another route trying to put pressure, he'll go after you."

"He'll go after you."

Fortunately, Deputy Shatter has resigned as Minister. However, the comments of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, suggest that he thinks he was great and right to do what he did.

At this time, Garda Nicky Keogh - that is his name and he is proud of it - from Athlone Garda Station is presenting information to the confidential recipient, Mr. Justice Patrick McMahon. Given the gaping hole that there is in legislation in this country, which means the avenue of the Ombudsman commission is cut off, he has no option but to go to the confidential recipient. He has been left with no choice but to go public because since last week when the man voted by this Government to be Taoiseach laughed at what he brought to me the word at his local Garda station is that he is a whistleblower or, to use a word being used by many people, a snitch. His allegations are serious, including a cover up of an original file which was stolen, with the original incident being removed from the PULSE system; the creation of new statements and appearance of new original information; non-compliance by the Garda with the court order for disclosure and at least one of the accused being threatened by a garda to plead guilty on the day of the court case.

His greatest concern with the drugs operation in November 2009 is that there was a systematic and orchestrated effort by high-ranking Garda officers to induce and coerce citizens, in this case citizens with no previous criminal conviction, to buy drugs from drug dealers, putting them in personal danger, and sell the drugs in turn to undercover gardaí without making any profit, thus boosting crime detection figures concerning arrests, charges and convictions. The result of this operation was that these mostly young citizens of the State, who had no previous drug convictions, now have serious drug convictions.

Finally, a further aspect of grave concern regarding the planning of this operation was that the list of persons nominated to be targeted had a notable omission in that a significant and well recognised drug dealer in the area who has long been associated with a senior member of the drugs unit was excluded. My question is simple enough: what will the Government do to reassure the whistleblower that he will not be bullied or have a rat hung on his door? Will the Government encourage members of the public to go to Athlone Garda station this evening? When the man in question goes to work, he should be encouraged and it should be made known to him that he is a hero and not a rat, as the Government seems to suggest such people are.

The Patten report, which was published many years ago, had approximately 266 recommendations. Approximately 16 of them referred specifically to the nature of the divided society in Northern Ireland and were particular to that part of United kingdom and all the divisions with which we are familiar. The remaining 250 were the best types of recommendations one could possibly have for a Garda authority in this State. My colleague Deputy Brendan Howlin, now Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, brought forward a Bill to that effect. It was rejected by the then Fianna Fáil coalition Government.

If we had the desired authority — we will have it — many of the issues raised by the Deputy, whose concerns I share, could be addressed through a proper outlet. We would have a proper ombudsman for the Garda Síochána, a proper authority and a proper complaints procedure. The Labour Party and Government are committed to introducing a Garda authority. We are committed to introducing whistleblower legislation. These have been on the Statute Book in a partial way. Before the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, became the leader of the Labour Party, he published whistleblower legislation. It was accepted on Committee Stage but then it disappeared into the bowels of the then Government.

The concerns the Deputy is expressing about the individual in question, whom I do not know, are concerns we all share, and I thank the Deputy for raising them. When we have finished our work — we will move without delay — we will have established a Garda authority that will build on the practice that has now emerged in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Northern Ireland is a good place to start, and the Patten report is a document on which we can build our own foundations. This, plus legislation that will protect whistleblowers and other kinds of safeguards, will result in what Deputy Daly called a Garda police service, not a police force and all that this implies. I thank Deputy Flanagan for the way in which he articulated his point. I have outlined where we want to go and we will go there. When we debate the published report, rather than speculate on its content, we will move to have the aforementioned provisions put in place so the kinds of events the Deputy is describing today will no longer happen.

The Government has been in power for three years but urgency and three years do not really go together. If the former Minister had been a reforming Minister, he would have taken on board Deputy Wallace's policing Bill last July. The reality, however, is that the Government is not taking it seriously. There have been circumstances in this country requiring the introduction of legislation overnight. Examples include the legislation to close headshops because of the Government's concerns over drug use. There are now circumstances where heroin dealing and the Garda Síochána are being connected. Can we have overnight legislation on this? An amendment to the Garda Act 2005 would allow serving members of An Garda Síochána to make a complaint to GSOC. It is suggested that in section 82 of the 2005 Act, " "member of the public" means a person other than the Garda Commissioner and includes serving and former members of An Garda Síochána" be substituted for " "member of the public" means a person other than a member of the Garda Síochána or the Garda Commissioner". This is because the individual in question is taking a grave risk today. He is bringing the information to someone for whom I have no disrespect as she is doing the job she has to do but the information will be brought to the acting Garda Commissioner. That is not ideal. We need to be reassured that we will not have what happened last week, in other words, tittle tattle coming down the line, including in the form of the Garda car that followed the former member of the Garda and the current member. I know the Taoiseach wanted to make a joke out of it and say the gardaí were following me. We need to be assured that when the information goes to the acting Garda Commissioner, it will not filter down the line and scupper what the people to whom I refer are trying to achieve. Nicky Keogh is a hero. I wish I knew more heroes like him. There are plenty of them in the Garda Síochána. He has done them proud today and I hope they will shake his hand rather than tie a knot in a rat's tail and put it on his door.

Every Deputy in this House would share the concerns the Deputy has expressed. Let us work together to put in place, on the basis of everything that has happened in recent months and years, dating back to previous Dála, the kind of police or Garda authority that the country requires in the second decade of the 21st century, and protection for whistleblowers, wherever they work in the public service, not just in the Garda. That is what this society needs and what the Government is going to achieve, in the next two years.