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Establishment of Independent Anti-Corruption Agency: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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Establishment of Independent Anti-Corruption Agency: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Catherine Murphy on Tuesday, 8 December 2015:

That Dáil Éireann:
recognises that corruption in public and commercial life represents a great threat to the democratic functioning of the State;

finds that culturally ingrained concepts of patronage, clientelism and favouritism have pervaded political institutions and have led to serious failures in corporate governance, particularly where inappropriate links between business and politics have been exploited;

concludes that such failings have eroded public confidence that politics and commerce operate to benefit the many over the few;

notes that Bunreacht na hÉireann places in the care of the Oireachtas a responsibility to ensure that the operation of free competition shall not be allowed to develop as to result in the concentration of the ownership or control of essential commodities in a few individuals to the common detriment; and that the Oireachtas has failed to adhere to this guidance in recent years;

recognises that the State has no effective means of preventing, investigating or prosecuting corruption or white-collar crime as responsible agencies are too disconnected, lack appropriate powers, or lack necessary resources;

further notes:
— that prosecutions arising from cases of proven corruption have been rare;

— the failure of the Government to adequately act on the findings of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon tribunal) nor the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters (Moriarty tribunal);

— that there have been eight tribunals of inquiry in the past 20 years, and where they made findings of impropriety in public or commercial life, very few consequences, if any, have arisen; and

— that five commissions of investigation are currently in operation, and that in some cases, commissions have sought additional powers to ensure they can fulfil their terms of reference; and
recommends, in order to effectively address these matters, that the Government:
— establish a permanent, independent anti-corruption agency to, initially, assume the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission; the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; the Registrar of Lobbyists and the Competition Authority, but not confined to these bodies;

— mandate the anti-corruption agency to act as a standing commission of investigation;

— confer the anti-corruption agency with powers of:
— investigation;

— compellability and testimony-taking;

— court-authorised search and seizure, including access to bank records;

— prosecution at District and Circuit Court level only; and

— arrest;
— empower the anti-corruption agency to initiate and conduct investigations and sectoral reviews of its own volition;

— consolidate and reform legislation tackling corruption, official malfeasance and white-collar crime, and place the anti-corruption agency at the apex of the State’s legislative architecture countering corruption;

— confer the anti-corruption agency with a monitoring and investigative role over public procurement activities, both ongoing and historic;

— mandate an advisory role, initially upon the anti-corruption agency in relation to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces; the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation; professional bodies and any future Electoral Commission, but not confined to these bodies;

— draw on the experience in other jurisdictions in establishing an anti-corruption agency, in particular the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission, IBAC, of Victoria, Australia, the Serious Fraud Office, SFO, of the United Kingdom, and the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption;

— create a new joint Oireachtas oversight committee, to be called the Public Interest Committee, a majority of whom shall be Opposition members; and

— establish annual reporting by the anti-corruption agency to both Houses of the Oireachtas, and ensure reports are debated in both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.”

  Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“condemns all instances of corruption, anti-competitive behaviour, breaches of ethics legislation, breaches of the Companies Acts, and all other forms of white-collar crime;

recognises the need for a robust system of public standards legislation and enforcement to prevent wrongdoing on the part of elected and public officials;

notes:
— the significant programme of reforms introduced by the Government to protect whistleblowers, reform lobbying and increase transparency and oversight, which includes the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, and the Freedom of Information Act 2014;

— the major overhaul and reform of companies legislation introduced by the Companies Act 2014;

— and approves of the reform of competition and consumer protection regulation by the amalgamation of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency into the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission;

— the significant improvement to legislation enabling investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime occasioned by the Criminal Justice Act 2011;

— the further legislative improvements in regard to the prevention and prosecution of unethical and corrupt behaviour, including measures recommended by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon tribunal), including those to be introduced by the forthcoming public sector standards Bill and the criminal justice (corruption) Bill; and

— the reform of planning legislation undertaken by the Government to implement the recommendations of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon tribunal) including the forthcoming planning and development (amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 which is to be published shortly;
recognises and strongly supports:
— the work of the Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in tackling and investigating white-collar crime; and

— the work of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement;
acknowledges the close co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the significant success in terms of recent convictions for white-collar offences;

recognises and strongly supports the work of a range of other specialised bodies who are charged with the investigation of elected and public officials and commercial activities including the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission;

acknowledges the vital independence of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in bringing prosecutions for complex white-collar offences;

recognises that the Government is strongly committed to ensuring that the necessary measures are in place to effectively combat corruption and recognises the significant investment in Garda resources through investment in information communications technology, vehicles, buildings and most importantly through renewed recruitment which will see 600 new trainee Gardaí enter the Garda College in 2016;
further notes:
— that Ireland is a party to a number of inter-governmental conventions which set international standards in the fight against bribery and corruption;

— that Ireland is subject to ongoing external evaluation of the effectiveness of its anti-corruption measures under a number of international evaluation mechanisms including the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption, GRECO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, the Implementation Review Group of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the European Union Anti-Corruption Report;

— the significant work done and currently being undertaken by various commissions of investigation; and

— the engagement by the Taoiseach with Opposition leaders to seek a consensus on how best to address certain challenges that have arisen in relation to a commission of investigation; and

supports the Government’s programme of legislation and reform to improve standards in public office and the private corporate sector, tackle corruption, anti-competitive behaviour and all forms of white-collar crime.”

- (Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine).

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald It makes a very depressing vista, and who would have thought after all the tribunals, the political scandals and the exposure of the cynical and self-serving behaviour of a coterie of councillors, Deputies and even Ministers that we would find ourselves back where we started when it comes to unethical and corrupt behaviour by some politicians? Who would have thought the culture of the brown envelope, honed to a fine art most spectacularly by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, has once again reared its ugly head? I would have hoped, and the people of Ireland might have hoped, this was a thing of the past. Who could have dreamt it is still as much part of the present as it was of the past? For those who might have thought and hoped we had turned a corner in the ethical standards of politicians, and for those who thought this parish pump style political rot that had become a byword for Fianna Fáil local and national governance was but a distant memory, how devastating it must be for our electorate to discover it is alive and well and seemingly going unchallenged.

  I think what most people find most shocking is that such brazen corruption of the type so graphically exposed in the recent RTE programme exists in an almost flippant and casual way. The ordinary voter would have, in all sincerity, hoped after the debacle of previous Fianna Fáil Governments mired in endemic brown envelope corruption and the promise of a new beginning by this Government that we would have left all of this behind. Should we really have expected this in real terms, particularly from a Government that has so generously rewarded the rich and punished the poor, the homeless and the single parent families? It is a Government that gives breaks to the golden circles and the media oligarchs. We would probably need to be delusional, honestly, to believe the Government would really represent a break with the corrupt politics of the past or, indeed, represent a new beginning for the country. Clearly, this is not the case.

  With a wearisome sense of déjà vu we are faced once again with the scandal of public representatives making demands for clandestine payments, and sure why would they not do it? Where is the sanction that would prevent such atrocious behaviour? Where is the punishment for those who have behaved in such a delinquent manner? Can we point to any real tangible examples of corrupt politicians getting their comeuppance? The answer to this is "No", and unfortunately so for our democratic system. The example of the Haugheys, the Lowrys and the Flynns of this world is, perhaps, a beacon of hope for all those who want to use the political system for their own selfish gain to line their own pockets and to do so, it seems, with impunity.

  We should recall that corruption is not a victimless crime. The houses built on flood plains clearly show that the victims of corruption are ordinary families for whom these corrupt politicians clearly have nothing but contempt. Today is international anti-corruption day, and I can think of no more appropriate day on which we deliberate and debate this subject. The costs of corruption are evident. Corruption undermines democratic institutions and stunts economic development. Something with which we in particular should be concerned is that corruption makes the public, all of our voters, cynical about politicians and politics, and who can blame them?

  As we stand here this evening, the question and challenge for the Government and the political system is to make, at last, a real and definitive stand against corruption, set aside self-interest and support an anti-corruption agency and an independent planning regulator with proper teeth and resources, and ensure there are sanctions, penalties and consequences for those who behave in a corrupt manner and who, by extension, corrupt the organs and systems of the State.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy When the Government came to power in 2011 we were promised a democratic revolution, but here we are, almost five years on, and there has been little or no change in how the Government does business. Nowhere is this more obvious than how we have handled the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005. The Bill was introduced in 2005, had Second Stage in 2007, Committee Stage in 2009 and has yet to be brought to Report and Final Stages. It is a Bill by which the outcomes of the Moriarty tribunal could be furthered. Sinn Féin has continually raised the issue with Fine Gael and Labour Party Ministers, but the Bill stands still. As it stands, all the Moriarty tribunal report seems to be useful for is holding up the old sash windows of Government Buildings during warm summer days.

The reality appears to be that the Government does not wish to deal with the tribunals or anything of such matters. To do so would be to severely shift away from how the Government has acted in Ireland for many years. It is not just this Government, but also previous Governments. The findings of the tribunals caused headaches for mainstream parties and for their financial backers. A cosy consortium exists in Irish politics between certain business interests and political life. The Moriarty tribunal pointed this out and yet nothing has happened, just as nothing happened from the outcome of the beef tribunal, and just as those named in the tribunals still operate freely in Ireland, despite having been found doing wrong. In some cases they are still in receipt of Government contracts. Are we serious?

It seems very easy to bring a case against a 16 year old for throwing eggs at a Minister's car. It seems very easy to show up in the early hours of the morning to arrest water protesters in their homes. It even seems very easy to arrest a Member of the House for a political protest at Shannon Airport. Why, then, is it so difficult to follow up on named persons for serious breaches of the law? Is it that Governments in Ireland do not consider white collar crime an actual crime, or is it that the Government is so wedded to the business interests named in these reports that it will never pursue them?

I have no doubt there are many honest Members on the Government benches who do not like the carry on or the actions of these individuals. However, there does not seem to be a political appetite to pursue those who act in a corrupt manner.


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