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 Header Item Order of Business (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Membership of Committee: Motion
 Header Item Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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  Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 19, Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2012 - Order for Report and Report and Final Stages, be agreed to", put and declared carried.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed.

Topical Issue Matters

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 27A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy David Stanton - to ask the Minister for Health to debate the urgent need to open the stroke unit in Cork University Hospital as provided for in the national stroke programme; (2) Deputy Joe McHugh - the mapping exercise for identifying areas of the country that are not serviced with comprehensive broadband connectivity; (4) Deputy Regina Doherty - the need for regulation in the use of sun beds; (5) Deputy Heather Humphreys - the need to regulate for the permitted height of hedges and trees in privately owned gardens; (6) Deputies Denis Naughten and Robert Troy - the steps being taken on foot of the publication of the HSE audit of neglect cases in Roscommon, Waterford and Dublin; (7) Deputy Catherine Murphy - the circumstances surrounding the death of a man in Naas, County Kildare and the wider effect that cutbacks are having on critical ambulance services around the country; (8) Deputy Eoghan Murphy - the implementation of the Smarter Transport Bill 2012; (9) Deputy Michelle Mulherin - the need to review the policy pursued by the Courts Service which is resulting in centralisation of court services in rural counties like Mayo; (10) Deputies Dominic Hannigan and Gerald Nash - the need to review the catch and release salmon fishing policy on the Rivers Boyne, Dee and Glyde and the Castletown river in Louth; (11) Deputy Derek Keating - to report on the Private Residential Tenancy Board, including the responsibilities and powers of the PRTB; (12) Deputy Brendan Griffin - the shortage of beds at West Kerry Community Hospital; (13) Deputy Michael Moynihan - the need for the Minister for Health to honour the programme for Government commitments on home helps; (14) Deputy Billy Kelleher - the need to discuss the increase in day case and inpatient waiting lists; (15) Deputy Mattie McGrath - the need for Gaelscoil Chluain Meala to be considered for a major funding grant; (16) Deputy Eamonn Maloney - the improvement in tourist statistics; (17) Deputy Barry Cowen - the need to discuss ongoing difficulties with rubbish collection in Dublin; (18) Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl - the need to secure the future of Temple Bar as a unique cultural quarter of Dublin; (19) Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett, Joan Collins, Clare Daly and John Halligan - the need to review local property tax penalties for the self-employed; and (20) Deputy Simon Harris - the need for the DART fare anomaly which exists for Greystones commuters to be reviewed and rectified.

The matters raised by Deputies Catherine Murphy; Dominic Hannigan and Gerald Nash; Denis Naughten and Robert Troy; and Derek Keating have been selected for discussion.

Membership of Committee: Motion

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I move:

  Question put and agreed to.

Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and are being taken together.

  Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister reported progress and therefore I call on the Minister.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin We were concluding these two amendments. I wanted to give assurances to the Deputy and to the House that the import of what he wanted is fully captured, and I have rechecked that with the Parliamentary Counsel and the Office of the Attorney General. In fact, the advice is that if we try to expand it in a specific way we may exclude things we would like to include. It is better to have the definition that is all-inclusive, as I have indicated. I do not know whether there are Deputies present who were not here last night in terms of reading it again but they can be assured that records of phone conversations or any electronic data, as well as any written documentation, will be subject to access in this definition.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming We will not waste any time. My views are well known. I expressed them last night. I am pressing the amendment.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I move amendment No. 2:

  Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I move amendment No. 3:

I welcome the opportunity to discuss amendments Nos. 3 and 4. These amendments get to the heart of what this legislation is about, namely, the fairness and impartiality of the Oireachtas in carrying out an inquiry. My amendments No. 3 states specifically that the committee conducting the inquiry shall consist of a minimum of 40% of members of the Government and a minimum of 40% of members of the Opposition. The purpose of that is to ensure there is equality across the Chamber. If the Government has a big majority it allows for it to have the majority of members on the committee but at least the Opposition to the Government would have a minimum of 40% of members. On Committee Stage I suggested a 50:50 membership but that may be too high and therefore I have refined it to a more reasonable percentage, and what I propose in amendment No. 3 is reasonable. If the Government cannot agree to this amendment and allow the Opposition 40% of the membership it is a poor look-out in terms of the way any Oireachtas inquiry would conduct its business. If the Government does not accept this it will lead to what I call institutional bias in terms of any future Oireachtas committee of inquiry.

  My amendment No. 4 specifically states: "A chairperson of any committee established under this Act shall be a member of the opposition." That is similar to the long-standing practice of, say, the Committee of Public Accounts or our current Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. That has always been a good practice where the Government has a majority, in this case a big majority. If the Government does not accept amendment No. 3, it is not allowing the Opposition have even 40% of the membership. If the Minister does not accept this amendment the Government will be saying, "No. we will want 70% of the membership", If the Minister rejects the amendment on an Opposition chair the Government in effect will be saying that it wants 70% of the membership of this committee and that it wants to chair the committee. It is immediately in the territory of institutional bias at that stage in terms of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

  The kernel of the issue that people will appreciate is whether this will be a fair and impartial inquiry. As the Minister is well aware, we are here dealing with this legislation because he proposed a referendum to amend the Constitution to enable the Houses of the Oireachtas undertake full inquiries and overview of the proposed system of Oireachtas inquiry. The Minister put that question in a referendum to the people in November 2011. We will not fight that again but it was lost. It could have been won but the actions of individual members of the Government resulted in it being lost.

  On 12 September 2011 the Minister's Department gave us an explanatory note on the reason that referendum was necessary. Obviously, it dealt with the Abbeylara case with which the Minister's Department will be familiar because he drafted it. We are here today confined by the Abbeylara judgment. That is the essence of what is before us. The purpose of the referendum was to broaden the scope of inquiries beyond the Abbeylara judgment. That referendum failed and therefore by definition we are here with plan B to try to work within the Abbeylara judgment.

  The briefing the Minister's Department gave us on the Abbeylara judgment referred to the issue of objective bias. We all understand the issue of objective, that is, if individual members of a committee making a determination at the same time make comments in the media which indicate that they had prior strong views or fixed opinions, a situation of objective bias could arise. I would be surprised if there is a Member of this House who has not expressed a prior strong view on the banking situation. In a court of law, and this legislation will end up in the Four Courts before any inquiry proceeds or witnesses are called to give evidence, it will be difficult to find the required number of Members of this Parliament who have not expressed a strong prior view. That is one hurdle this legislation will have to overcome. The Minister's legislation for a banking inquiry is doomed to failure because of the actions of his Government, particularly in the past week or so.

  The second aspect of the Abbeylara judgment dealt with bias. I quote from the Minister's explanatory note to us on 12 September 2011 when the Supreme Court referred to the issue of institutional bias. The explanatory note states: "Institutional bias refers, in summary, to a situation where, irrespective of the circumstance of a particular case, it is argued that a specific body [that is, the Oireachtas or the Oireachtas committee] may, of its nature, be inherently biased and cannot, therefore, be relied upon to assess evidence and form judgments in an objective and unbiased fashion." They did say that it is not necessarily the case that the Oireachtas suffers from institutional bias. If that were the case we would not be allowed deal with impeaching a President or a judge, and that was the follow-on note in that document, but the question of institutional bias does arise in regard to committees of inquiry.

  I suggest that the statement by the Taoiseach last week on foot of the revelations in the tapes from Anglo Irish Bank executives demonstrated institutional bias on the part of the Head of this Oireachtas. He is the elected Taoiseach and leader of this Oireachtas and he said they had to look into the issues of collusion. Collusion is a fraudulent, illegal, undercover arrangement in place between people. The Taoiseach has come in here and said that in relation to the Anglo Irish Bank affair, those tapes raise the question of fraudulent collusion between individuals in the then Government and Anglo Irish Bank.

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