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

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] The Oireachtas can be assertive in these matters and determine the terms of reference, the membership and the chair. There should be some debate about that. There will have to be proportionality in respect of it in accordance with the terms of this Bill. I know it is another nice handy sound-bite but there is no question of there being a kangaroo court. We saw posters about that the last time. There will be no kangaroo court because culpability cannot be assigned in respect of any matter. Those are the confines within which an inquiry must work under the Constitution.

In respect of the two-year period, since a committee can only have a horizon of the duration of this Parliament, that would be the horizon. I hope any committee established to look at the banking situation would have different modules of work to do.

In respect of extending the scope of it to the current situation, I am sure another article will come out about that. That can be done at any time by the current Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of current banking oversight. There is a need to get on with that. It should be the normal bread and butter of any finance committee's work. It could hear from the Minister for Finance, who would be delighted to attend, and the Governor of the Central Bank and anybody else the committee wished to ask any questions about. What we need to do is have robust legislation that expands as much as it can but lives within the confines of the Constitution to enable this Dáil to have inquiries into matters of public concern and to stand the test of time.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I will be concise and to the point. The Minister's final remarks let the cat out of the bag about this inquiry because he was responding to the remark about what happened after the night of the guarantee. He said it was up to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform to do that at any stage. The implication was that he, as a Government Minister, and this Government would not allow the Oireachtas to do that if the Oireachtas so chose. The Minister said it is a matter for the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. Clearly, he does not intend for it to be done by the inquiry committee. Leaving it to the Oireachtas committee means the Government will dominate it.

I agree with the Minister about institutional bias. Of course, we can impeach a President or a judge. We are not inherently biased except that the Taoiseach demonstrated inherent bias and abused the privilege of this House by essentially making criminal charges and allegations of collusion. If he believes there is collusion and that criminal charges should be brought, he should refer the matter to An Garda Síochána for investigation. I was very much in favour of this Oireachtas undertaking a banking inquiry until the Taoiseach started showing the true colour of this Government in respect of its sole function regarding what an inquiry is about.

I will finally move on to remarks made by Sinn Féin, whose spokespersons said we were offended by this. I am putting this on the record because I have refrained from saying it before in connection with the remark about us being offended by our relationship with Anglo Irish Bank. I will take no lecture from any member of Sinn Féin about how to deal with banks. It is a party whose associates carried out several armed robberies in this State and the Six Counties. Their associates raided the Northern Bank, robbed post offices and killed members of An Garda Síochána in the process. I will never take a lecture on how to deal with a bank from any member of Sinn Féin in or outside this House.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I joined this debate because I have concerns that if we are talking about trying to get to the truth of the matter - the Minister says the first inquiry will probably be the banking inquiry, which is the obvious one of public interest - and if it is the Oireachtas that decides these things, it is the Oireachtas and not the Minister or anybody else which decides which inquiry will be the first one. I assume it will be in the context of what we are talking about. There will be inherent bias in it. Let us be very clear. The reason the Irish people rejected the Government's amendment in 2011 was because it believes it will be impossible for this Dáil and Seanad, as presently constructed, to have impartial investigations that can come to conclusions, find fact and report. They do not trust the current situation with political partisanship shown on a continual basis. I spoke against that referendum for that specific reason. I do not believe that one could find and record fact because we are inherently partisan in our commentary here on a continual basis. I can assure the Minister that there is no Deputy on any side of this House who has not made utterances that would prejudice their views in the context of an inquiry. The Minister referred to what former Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness said in her response in the Abbeylara case. The Minister should know the Abbeylara case very well because he was a central character in the judgment.

The bottom line here is that if people are mandated to inquire, the difficulty is that one must go to the people to seek a mandate. We are now establishing an inquiry halfway through a Dáil term and will be in a position where we could as an Oireachtas be inquiring into very serious matters of public importance and the inquiry then falls because of the holding of an election. For the next two years plus, we could be discussing the banking inquiry, going through the whole process, bringing in witnesses, using the available information in the context of the Nyberg and Honohan reports and bringing in all the central figures involved. Then the Labour lads walk out the door and bring down the Government and the entire inquiry falls. It is perplexing. If there was a fixed-term Parliament, one might have some chance. However, we will have modules and, obviously, the political modules will be first. That will take us up to a certain period of time. After that, we will have other characters that will be central to any proper, thorough investigation. However, when a Parliament falls, that is the end of the inquiry. The inquiry cannot even finalise the report because there is an election.

That is an inherent flaw in this legislation and if nothing else, the Government should look to see that there are some obligations somewhere along the line that a report must be finalised at a certain period of time. We do not have fixed parliamentary terms. Other European jurisdictions and the US have fixed parliamentary terms. This inquiry system could lead to people being brought in and certain slants put on it from a political perspective and there might not be an opportunity for a person to present themselves because an election has been called. That is inherently unfair and wrong.

The Irish people were very clear in their decision on an amendment sponsored by the Government. The Minister does not even have faith in this legislation and the reason why he has no faith in it is because he is already saying that the Government might revisit the constitutional referendum put forward previously. If this is the belt and braces inquiry the Government is talking about, why is it even talking about the need to have another referendum? It is because this is false and failed in the sense that it would not uncover the truth in respect of any investigation, not just the banking inquiry.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell Could I ask the Deputy to confine himself to the amendments before the House?

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher We will have two years of a banking inquiry and then have an election and the inquiry will probably not even report. That is how flawed this legislation is. If the Minister could give me an answer on that I might be able to see how this could work.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I call Deputy Cowen and ask him to confine himself to the actual amendments.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I will seek to do so but I am prompted to speak having listened to the Minister's response relating to the proposed amendments. In his response, he made general remarks about this Bill and the potential of any further inquiries emanating from it. We understand the Bill creates the ground rules under which inquiries may be set up in the future. We appreciate that and respect the fact that the Government spent the first year in office preparing for a referendum that it did not win. We respect the fact that it spent the next 18 months preparing this legislation, which the Taoiseach has put in jeopardy by virtue of what he said to this House last week. We respect the fact that there is a large scope involved.

The Minister said we were directed in our utterances and contributions by the recent news cycle. His obvious reference was to the Anglo Irish Bank tapes. This is disingenuous of him.

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