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

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey] The Deputies should get off their high horse and show a bit of respect to the Members of this House who represent the public in a genuine manner. We all know about corruption and there were times in the past when it was far too acceptable. In respect of many of the individuals implicated in the Mahon report and other reports, whether Charlie Haughey, Ray Burke or anyone else who was named in it, there was an undercurrent of knowledge that this corruption was going on. There were people who knew about it but it was hard to make those accusations and it is true that it is hard to make those accusations stick because corruption, by its nature, is secretive. However, things have changed and are changing all the time. Some of it is down to the legislation we brought through to protect whistleblowers. It is incredibly important that people can make these serious charges and still be protected. Even issues around freedom of information and how the State does its business have changed dramatically over the past couple of years and are making a huge difference in all of this. Deputy McDonald was not even at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform when we discussed the public sector standards Bill and some of the concerns we all have about this. The real issue with preventing corruption is about putting the policies and the governance in place so that those people who are the decision-makers on financial transactions do not, for some reason, get left to operate on their own and that a close eye is kept on this sort of thing. This is what many companies across the country are doing all the time.

As Deputies, few of us could engage in corrupt practices, even if we wanted to, because we make global decisions here. We work on legislation and we do not really make individual decisions that can affect the business of what people do. In this new legislation, we are placed in the A category, of lads who must send our returns back to SIPO. Senior civil and public servants are in the B and C categories. We should look at this in regard to how people make the decisions. For instance, the programme on Monday night was about councillors. The real decisions councillors make are about rezoning. It is important the rezoning process is transparent so that people can see whether something underhand is going on. It is for the people who make the decisions, like planning officers, procurement officers and other individuals who make the financial transactions on our behalf, that we should have very strong governance structures. They make the decisions. I am not for a minute accusing any of these individuals of being corrupt, because they are not, but the opportunity to take a bribe or to be involved in fraud is there. It is about looking at how the people who make the financial decisions within the Civil Service and public sector operate and how we can build structures around them to protect them as well. That is where we should start with all of this.

I am sure there are many people here who are old enough to remember there was always a level of acceptance of corruption in this country. It is a cultural thing to some degree. People used to drop off a bottle of whiskey to the local Garda station if something was fixed up for them and it was not considered particularly wrong 25 years ago. Now one would not dream of doing it. People gave small cash payments for getting jobs done. It would never happen now because the culture is changing slowly day by day. There is still a great deal more work to do. If an anti-corruption agency would speed up that process and if we could develop that sort of agency to work on the process, I would be the first to support it, as would all other Members on this side of the House, because we have done so much work already in regard to this issue over the past four to five years. We would be more than willing to do more to ensure that we root out all forms of corruption, fraud and bad practice in how taxpayers' money is spent and how the public sector and Civil Service react. It is vital that we in this House work strongly towards that because we have that role to play. However, it is wrong for members of the Opposition to start by denigrating every single person who happens to be a member of Government as being a taker of corrupt payments because they know it is not true.

Some Members on the other side of the House have been vocal and proactive in raising issues and in having those issues investigated. I particularly admire Deputy Catherine Murphy for the way she sticks with it and keeps probing but I ask her not to make allegations that Members on this side of the House are soft on corruption. We are not soft on corruption and we would be the first to give her whatever support she feels is required to ensure that all transactions done in the name of the State are done in the most honourable fashion possible. I have received extensive correspondence on some of the issues she has raised, both from Northern Ireland and from our own Department of Finance. Maybe there is something there but let us be careful not to blacken anybody unintentionally. Some people in State organisations may not always have made the best decisions but that is not the same thing as corruption. We should be careful about how we judge people and what we say about them and that we give them a fair hearing when the time comes. That is important. I do not have much more to say on that. We should continue what we are doing in this House and let us have more respect for each other when we are talking about this issue in the future.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick I welcome the opportunity to speak this evening. Like so many people around the country, I watched the actions of some of the county councillors exposed by the "RTE Investigates" programme with shock and disgust. It is totally unacceptable for any public representative to use their position in public office for personal financial gain. There should be no place in public life for the kind of behaviour witnessed on the RTE programme this week. What annoys me most, apart from the pure greed displayed by the councillors, is the fact that this kind of behaviour by some can tarnish the reputation of the many fine councillors around the country. I work very closely with many councillors in my own constituency, such as John McGahon, Maria Doyle, Colm Markey, Richie Culhane, Oliver Tully and Dolores Minogue. These councillors are of the highest standard and work tirelessly and honestly for the people of Dundalk, Carlingford, Blackrock, Ardee and Dunleer, who elected them in the first place. As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, has stated, "There is not a state in the world, not even the most open democracy, that has succeeded in fully eliminating the greed, self-service and corruption of those few who abuse political office for their own gratification or enrichment". I also agree with him when he states:

The vast majority of our elected representatives, whether in this building or in council chambers nationwide, are in it for the right reasons. Their service to their communities, to the State and to the public good must not be allowed to be tarnished by the carry-on of the few. This carry-on is absolutely unacceptable.

I agree with him wholeheartedly that this kind of behaviour is disgusting and cannot be tolerated. We must also remember that this is not a victimless crime and victims of this crime include families whose homes are flooded because a corrupted vote resulted in housing being built on a rezoned flood plain and residents of areas left without basic community facilities because a planned town centre was shelved in favour of a privately developed shopping centre. I am very strongly of the opinion that those found to be using their position as a public representative for personal gain, whether financial or otherwise, should have the full rigours of the law used against them. Those found guilty of using public office for personal financial gain should be banned from running for public office in the future and, depending on the seriousness of the offence, should also be jailed. Under the Companies Act, a person can be banned from acting as a director of a limited company if they have not acted in accordance with company law. Why not use the same principle for public representatives? How many times have we seen a public representative exposed for abusing their position and yet they are re-elected and in some cases use the fact that they were caught as an election issue? This is wrong and should not be allowed to happen.

  After the exposure of the councillors on the "RTE Investigates" programme, I would like to think the local authorities involved will now take the action necessary to ensure this sort of behaviour will not happen in the future.

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