Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Ceisteanna (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

6 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if files have been requested from his Department by the Mahon tribunal. [1823/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

7 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of files which have been requested from his Department by the Mahon tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2849/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach , in respect of requests received from the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters for files from his Department, the date on which each request was received; the date on which each requested file was forwarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4628/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

9 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the number of files requested from his Department by the Mahon tribunal; the number of those requests which were acceded to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5884/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

10 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the number of files requested of his Department by the Mahon tribunal; the number forwarded to the tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter [7660/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (81 contributions) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 10, inclusive, together.

It is a matter exclusively for the tribunal to determine how it will proceed with its inquiries, including whether by way of public or private inquiry, regarding any particular phase of its deliberations. I am also guided by the preliminary remarks of the Ceann Comhairle in advance of my statement on 10 February that there is a balance required between the sovereign right of the House to legislate and discuss matters of public importance and on the other hand ensuring that the judicial process, including tribunals, is not encroached upon.

As I indicated in this House on many occasions, most recently in my statement on 10 February, there is a requirement that requests for files and papers made by the tribunal to my Department be kept confidential. On this basis, as the tribunal itself requires that such requests are kept confidential, it would not be appropriate for me to inform the House about any aspect of the private phase of the tribunal of which I may have become aware by virtue of a request for files or other papers. It is a matter for the tribunal to determine if and when it will disclose such matters in public session.

Has the Taoiseach received a request from the tribunal to supplement the files he has sent in by appearing in front of the tribunal and has he been given a date for that appearance? Does he agree he will have to dig deeper into his files and diaries in view of the clear recollection of Mr. Tom Gilmartin that he attended a crucial meeting with the Taoiseach, and the Taoiseach's inability——

Sorry, Deputy, you cannot raise matters that are being discussed at the tribunal.

The Taoiseach has just repeated the Ceann Comhairle's ruling about the sovereign right of the Dáil to legislate and discuss matters of major public interest and the balance in that regard.

The Deputy is correct, the Chair pointed out clearly that it was allowing statements on that day but it was not to be taken as a precedent. It was without prejudice to any decision the Chair may take in the future. The circumstances today are much different from what they were then because at that time allegations were made about Members in this House and Members were given the opportunity to defend themselves. Today, evidence is before the tribunal and we cannot have a parallel tribunal here.

I have no intention of embarking on a parallel tribunal. I do not want to spend the rest of my life in the Dáil like the tribunals. Nevertheless, we all have etched in our minds this morning a picture of a meeting——

I am sorry, Deputy, that may well be but I think the Deputy is well aware that my predecessors in this House, particularly my immediate predecessor, since this tribunal was established made many rulings that it was not appropriate to discuss matters that were being discussed at the tribunal.

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, I respect your ruling. However, just a short number of weeks ago this House debated and had questions about matters that are germane and relevant to the tribunal, including matters relevant to personalities who are in attendance at the tribunal this morning and are taking notes.

That was allowed on the basis that the tribunal was not investigating those allegations. The House did not know when those allegations would come before the tribunal. They are now before the tribunal and the Chair has ruled. All my predecessors have ruled very strongly that we cannot establish a tribunal and then run a parallel tribunal here.

We have never had circumstances like this before.

That has been the ruling of my predecessors — it is in Standing Order 56. The ruling is there, it has been made and the House has accepted that ruling, that it cannot encroach on the functions of the court or a judicial tribunal.

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, obviously I accept your word but it would be helpful if you would draw the attention of the House, when the opportunity arises, to the rulings in question. It seems fair for you to rule that a certain type of question cannot be put in this House, either to the Taoiseach, one of the Ministers or whomsoever, but there is a blanket ruling to the effect that everybody in the country can discuss a tribunal, whatever tribunal, and you seem to be making an absolute ruling that we may never advert to it in this House.

The Chair is just following the precedent through the history of this House, particularly since 1997. The rulings of my immediate predecessor are there, as is the Standing Order.

He was not infallible either.

I do not wish to ask the Taoiseach a question about his appearance before the tribunal or anything like that, I want to ask him a couple of questions about tribunals, if I may. I ask, Sir, that you send in writing to us the position in regard to the ruling. I remember many debates in this House during the lifetime of the beef tribunal and they were never ruled out of order. I cannot recall the rulings of your predecessor to which you refer, but the matters before the tribunal are notsub judice and the rule in this House relates to sub judice matters, as I understand it. The rule that we may not raise matters that are being inquired into at Dublin Castle seems to be entirely unfair.

We have never debated in this House matters that were before the tribunal.

I am not trying to raise matters.

I do not wish to argue about the substance but I wish to ask the Taoiseach a question. The picture which Mr. Gilmartin has etched on our minds of a meeting with several Cabinet Ministers——

Sorry, Deputy, you cannot continue in this line.

It is as clear as the Last Supper in my mind——

You are even outside the remit of the question submitted to the Taoiseach.

——but all the apostles are denying they were at the meeting.

That is not an issue for the House at this time.

Will the files that the Taoiseach submitted to the tribunal be of assistance in clarifying these matters and clearing up the conflict? Is the Ceann Comhairle ruling that I cannot ask that question?

Mary Magdalen said she was there.

Were it not for the fact that the Virgin Mary made an inadvertent entry to the meeting, the poor man would think that he had gone mad completely.

Sorry, Deputy, that is out of order.

The whole country is talking about this.

Sorry, Deputy.

Will the Taoiseach's files and his investigation throw light on who the panhandler and enforcer was who was wandering the corridors of Fianna Fáil in February 1989 and putting the arm on Mr. Gilmartin?

Deputy, you are out of order. This line of questioning is out of order.

Will you not allow me to make progress?

I will not allow you to go outside the Standing Orders of this House, either with regard to the Standing Order dealing with discussing matters before the tribunals or going outside the content of the questions, including your own question. Your question was to ask the Taoiseach if files had been requested from his Department by the Mahon tribunal.

Will the Taoiseach go before the tribunal to clarify the issue of the files?

I hope so. I have been looking forward to that for five and a half years.

When will he go?

That does not arise either.

I wish I knew that too.

You have reiterated your ruling several times, a Cheann Comhairle. The Taoiseach of the country, the Prime Minister of Ireland, is the leader of the Government that set up a tribunal, which is a creature of this House, to determine facts. I do not think it proper that the Taoiseach should have to wait for an indefinite period of time before going to a tribunal to say, "No, I was not there." This House is the supreme legislative body in the country and that tribunal was set up by this House. If the Taoiseach knows he was not at the meeting in question, he should be free to say so, and he can repeat it at the tribunal.

Deputy, I ask you not to continue in that manner. As you rightly point out, this is a supreme legislative assembly. The House decided——

This House set up the tribunal.

Please hear the Chair. The House set up the tribunal and, having done so, it introduced Standing Order 56, which states: "A matter shall not be raised in such an overt manner so that it appears to be an attempt by the Dáil to encroach on the functions of the Courts or a Judicial Tribunal." That is clear. It is the ruling that all of my predecessors have insisted in following. It was put there by the supreme legislative assembly itself and the Chair has an obligation to ensure we follow the Standing Order.

The Ceann Comhairle knows that the Taoiseach, if he wishes, can stand at the bar of one of his local public houses this evening and say, "You know I was not there".

We cannot go on in this manner.

The Chair is not going to allow it.

I am not going to allow it.

The Chair is restricting the Taoiseach from using the words, "No, I was not there".

The Taoiseach would be out of order if he began to debate what is taking place in the tribunals at present.

He is the Head of Government and Taoiseach of the country. He should be entitled to say it.

I would not allow the Taoiseach to be out of order any more than the Deputy.

Has the tribunal requested a specific number of files and, if so, was included among them the controversial file relating to the Golden Island business in Athlone, which was dealt with in 1994 when the Taoiseach left the Department as Minister for Finance?

During the past five or six years the Mahon tribunal has made eight or nine requests of my Department about various matters, all of which are in the public domain. As I understand the ruling, I am not allowed name them, but they are germane to all these issues. On the issue of the files which the Deputy recalls in the Department of Finance, I understand that all those files about designations, of which there are several hundred, have been given to the various tribunals over the years. The Deputy can take it that all those files have been with the tribunals for about seven years.

Did the Ceann Comhairle undertake to circulate the written precedents to us?

Yes. They will be circulated to the Deputy as soon as they are available.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. What did the Minister for Finance mean when he promised to bring proposals to Government in the near future to curtail the costs of tribunals?

As part of the discussions about the legislation before the House, the Government has examined more cost-effective, streamlined and quicker ways of trying to deal with tribunals. One of the issues with which the Minister for Finance has been seeking to deal for some time is theper diem fees. He feels strongly about this, has done so for some considerable time and has endeavoured to bring forward proposals. He believes that the daily fee was a system for short tribunals where people were taken from their private practice work for a period. When people are away for several years, he believes the per diem system is an inappropriate way of dealing with it because the fees become enormous sums. He believes this was not the original idea. He has opposed this system throughout and is in the final stages of bringing forward revised proposals to deal with the matter.

My view is that this should be taken with the Bill before the House. It is difficult to change the rules for the existing tribunals because people have made their commitments on a specific basis. It would be difficult to change that basis for the work in progress. Inevitably there will be other investigations and tribunals in future and there should be a different way of dealing with them. I am supportive of a system that would have a quicker and simpler basis of investigation involving Members of the House. For the future, that would be much more efficient and effective. I will not refer to tribunals or break any rule in referring to my evidence other than to say that it is rather difficult when something is in the public domain for seven years to try to remember what one did 15 years ago. Fortunately, I have had a good memory so far, but it is difficult when one goes back 15 years. If we had a system for the future in the new legislation for commissions of investigation, which is not related to the current tribunals, it would be much simpler and the work could be done much more quickly. With respect to the public, it would be more interesting to find out the information more quickly.

The Minister for Finance has been in office for almost seven years. Did the Taoiseach hear the interview he gave on Saturday in which he implied that all this has been imposed on him and that he inherited the tribunals? He did not. Is he not the same Minister for Finance who approved an increase in theper diem allowance of €800 per day? He gives interviews on RTE and informs the party faithful that he is horrified at the costs of the tribunals being out of control. He may well hold all the views that the Taoiseach has attributed to him about how expensive these tribunals are, but how can he reconcile his rhetoric with his performance?

Do I understand the Taoiseach to say that was just Ard-Fheis speak, that the Taoiseach thinks it is much more realistic to deal with it in the context of the Bill before the House, that one cannot change agreements already entered into with the Office of the Attorney General's and counsel concerned and that this was only Ard-Fheis blather to divert attention from tribunals by the Minister for Finance? Does the Taoiseach agree that the taxpayers of Ireland deserve a more truthful presentation from the Minister for Finance than going around winking and nodding?

That does not arise out of this question.

If the Ceann Comhairle had his way, nothing would arise out of this question. I am trying to be creative like the Minister for Finance. He gives interviews implying that he will do something. I will put a specific question to the Taoiseach that does arise out of this. Does the Taoiseach know, or has he a view, whether, in the module referred to as the Gilmartin module, the three members of the Judiciary will continue to sit as a tribunal or will they at any stage branch off into three different sub-modules with each member of the bench having their own sub-module? Does the Taoiseach know about that or is it something about which perhaps the Minister for Finance knows? Is there anything real about the speech at the Ard-Fheis or was it just old malarkey and the kind of stuff that is for the troops?

There are two points to be made. It was not anything of the nature suggested by Deputy Rabbitte. The Minister has hard and firm proposals on this issue. If the Deputy tables a question to him, he will see that the Minister intends to deal with this issue. I have given my view. When people move into a particular position and play a certain role, the arrangements cannot be changed mid-course, but certainly changes can be made for the future. The existing arrangements have been followed since the beef tribunal. When there have been increases, they are the normal increases that people claim. In that business, the increases can be higher than in other areas. That is the reason they appear higher.

On the issue of the breakdown of the modules, the Deputy will be aware that, when I recommended the changes to the three judges, I thought that was going to work. I must be honest and say my thoughts then do not seem to be the position for this module nor will it be the position for other modules either.

Does the Taoiseach agree there is considerable public interest in the Mahon tribunal as it appears there is standing room only? I am not sure whether he is correct in saying the public want this part wound up as quickly as he might wish.

I did not make that point.

In regard to the files that have been requested and the costs of the tribunal, would it not be helpful or has it been requested that a floor plan of the Fianna Fáil offices be provided, given that Mr. Gilmartin wants to hire a draftsman, which would be an additional cost? Will it be possible to defray that cost somewhat by providing the room and floor plan so that——

That does not arise on this question. The Chair has already ruled on the matter.

I am trying to be helpful in the context of defraying the costs of the tribunal, which I know the Government wants to do. It is a practical suggestion.

The question is out of order. I call the Taoiseach on the first question.

Which one of the questions is in order?

I thought they were all in order.

No, definitely not. What was the Deputy's first question?

Was it about the floor plan?

The Deputy knows it was not. What was his first question?

Was it about the landslide in Leinster House over the past 15 years?

Given that the tribunal at Dublin Castle is packed with members of the public, my question concerned whether the Taoiseach was correct to say the public genuinely wants it wound up.

I did not say that. Referring to the future, I said that when issues are a source of conflict, it would be better to have a system to deal with that conflict quickly rather than dealing with it years later, for everybody's sake.

Let me assist the collective Fianna Fáil memory for the future by suggesting that installing CCTV cameras in Fianna Fáil offices would perhaps remove problems for any future taoisigh.

And in Socialist Party offices.

We cannot afford them, unfortunately. We are not well financed by big business.

The Deputy should not allow himself to be provoked. Does he have an appropriate question?

When will the Taoiseach have his opportunity to be heard at the Mahon tribunal?

The Taoiseach has already answered that question.

He did not tell me when.