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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 Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen] The sentiment of all Members of the House is that the Office of the Taoiseach is one of privilege and great honour is bestowed on the holder by the House and, by association, by the people democratically. It is quite distinct from the role of leader of Fine Gael. The Minister's reluctance to elaborate on the specifics relating to any such inquiry which may be established to pursue the banking question seems to indicate he does not agree with what was alleged here last week when the Taoiseach stated there was an axis of collusion between those in my party who held office in government and Anglo Irish Bank.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I ask the Deputy to confine himself to the actual amendment which is on committee chairperson's-----

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I understand this, but I prefaced my remarks by referring to the generalisations the Minister made in his response to the specific amendments proposed by Deputy Fleming.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell There have been wide-ranging speeches on both sides.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen It is only right and proper that we be allowed to respond in this regard. I respect the role of the Acting Chairman.

Does the Minister agree with what the Taoiseach stated? If so, does he have any evidence of this being the case? If such evidence exists, which I am sure it does not, is it not the duty of the Minister, the Taoiseach or the Government to go to the local barracks - if they can find one which is open - and present any such evidence? If they have no such evidence, the allegation made should be withdrawn and an apology should be made. I ask the Minister to respond to this.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald If we were to adopt the definition of bias as enunciated by some here, we would never get to question anyone because we are on the record on many issues, such as the HSE and virtually every public service throughout the State. Very often our questioning has a political charge to it because we are carrying out a representative function. We must be very careful how we define bias and what damage it could do.

If anyone were to stand up in the House, our friends in Fianna Fáil included, and criticise this legislation and any inquiry which may emanate from it on the basis it is too limited, he or she might have a point. It is a great shame Oireachtas committees cannot make findings of fact, but the people made their determination on this issue and so be it. I think it a great pity that Cabinet confidentiality could create complications with regard to information and documentation we might require. We are all mindful that nothing we do in any inquiry can cut across criminal proceedings and the authority of the courts. That is how it is.

Let us remind ourselves that whoever is on any would-be bank inquiry and whatever its terms of reference, we simply legally cannot make findings of fact. I wonder why the Fianna Fáil benches are so animated on this subject. It strikes me it does not come from an objective analysis or the limitations of the legislation or any inquiry, but that members of Fianna Fáil are using this opportunity during this short debate to grandstand because their feelings have been hurt on the basis of a political charge made by the Taoiseach. To try to use this to scupper the legislation or any banking inquiry I consider to be utterly dishonest on their part.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher We support the legislation.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald One would never guess so.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I wish to respond briefly to what the Minister stated. I am sure he heard the Director of Public Prosecutions at the weekend-----

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin A former DPP.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross Yes. At the weekend the former DPP, James Hamilton, made comments on the effect this inquiry might have and that it might prejudice upcoming trials.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Any inquiry.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross Exactly. I hope the Minister will comment on what the former DPP stated because it came from a non-political source.

It is absolutely self-evident from the debate that we as a House, group and individuals are intrinsically biased. I echo what Deputy Kelleher had to say. It is quite obvious the banking issue and inquiry are already political footballs, whether we like it or not. We have made the case well here this morning for taking it elsewhere to a group of people or a judge who are self-evidently not intrinsically biased. The Minister states there is no automatic assumption of objective bias when he speaks about the former Supreme Court Justice, Catherine McGuinness, and the interesting word is "automatic". On this issue there is a proven political bias by what everyone here has already said on the issue. To suggest in the nitty-gritty of committee rooms Members of the Oireachtas suddenly become media shy is, I am afraid, unrealistic. The committees have all become politicised. Even the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, has, unfortunately, been patently politicised in recent weeks. This is the nature of politicians whether the Minister likes it or not.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Taoiseach did not make any criminal charges against anyone that I heard. He made a political charge on the Order of Business. As I instanced, it is a normal expectation that such cut and thrust would be made during Prime Minister's Question Time and the notion this would impact on the British inquiry system would not arise. I do not want to go into the inquiry on banking which, as the Deputy rightly pointed out, is a matter for the Houses to determine and we will see what comes of it.

With regard to Deputy Kelleher's analysis of the referendum, after the referendum 58% of those who voted "No" wanted the power to inquire vested in the Oireachtas, which is interesting.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Was there another ballot?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin We asked Behaviour & Attitudes for a complete analysis and presented the findings to a public expenditure and reform committee which had a very robust debate. It was important to look behind why people made the decision, particularly if anybody was thinking of running the referendum again. My judgment on this is that we must prove the House capable of doing the normal work of Parliament. I have again heard people ask that a judge do it, or the bizarre notion of having the inquiry done by a jury of 12 men and women good and just. We have a responsibility. This is what parliaments do. They hold governments and the institutions of the state to account. We must step up to the mark on this and this is the framework within which we can do it.

Deputy Ross spoke about the heart of our democracy. Not only was our economy broken in 2008 but our polity was also broken. People's confidence in these places to do their business must be restored, and we are well on the way to doing this. The legislation on whistleblowing, which I published today, is part of this.

With regard to the comments of the former DPP, I do not accept we cannot have inquiries. In the interview he instanced the risk that people would use it to grandstand. We must have the discipline and regulation to ensure this does not happen if we are to ask people to have faith in the capacity of Parliament to hold the institutions and the servants of the State to account in the future.


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