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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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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick] I note that shortly after the programme was aired, one of the councillors resigned from his party. What I do not understand is why he did not resign his seat. How come he felt bound to resign from his party yet did not feel he had to resign his council seat?

I also welcome the fact that the Garda is examining the programme to see whether any action is required on its part. One of the main issues addressed in the "RTE Investigates" programme was that of preplanning application consultations. Section 247 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 sets out comprehensive procedures for such consultations which, the Act specifically states, should not in any way prejudice the final decision of the planning authority and it requires that records must be kept. Furthermore, it is already a criminal offence for a member or an official of a planning authority to take or seek any favour, benefit or payment, direct or indirect, in connection with any such consultation. It was quite clear from the programme that section 247 of the Act is being abused.

Moving forward, how can we ensure that the greed and corruption that has been evident in recent times is eliminated from Irish politics? The Government, since taking office in 2011, has introduced various legislation, including the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013, the Companies Act 2014, the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012, the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 and the Freedom of Information Act 2014. I note also that over the coming weeks we will see a number of Bills before the House, including the proposed public sector standards Bill and the proposed corruption Bill.

I would like to put on the record of the House my complete disgust at what we saw on the "RTE Investigates" programme this week. There is no place in Irish politics, at local or national levels, for any person who seeks to turn what is for most of us an opportunity to serve the public interest into a self-serving, money-grabbing, corrupt practice. This Government has done much to reform the legislative and regulatory landscape. There is more to be done, and in the coming weeks we will see publication of further key reforms in the area of planning, public standards and corruption law. We will continue to work to ensure that we have better laws, better enforcement, and a renewed culture of honesty and trust that will leave no hiding place for those who would betray the public trust.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy): Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy I understand Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is sharing time with Deputies Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Seamus Healy, Shane Ross, Clare Daly, John Halligan and Tom Fleming. They have three to four minutes each. Is this agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I was not surprised but I was completely nauseated by the "RTE Investigates" special on corruption. It was quite stunning to see a Fianna Fáil councillor, a Fine Gael councillor and a pro-business Independent involved in the sort of grubby corruption - there is no other word for it - that they were attempting to engage in.

It is worth remembering the cost of this for society. It is this kind of behaviour that contributed significantly to the economic collapse of this country because much of the political system was held hostage by the interests of developers who, directly or indirectly, had captured it. The interests of society as a whole or ordinary citizens went out the window in the grubby drive for profit assisted by politicians who were essentially in the pockets of developers, banks, etc., who were seeking to profit to the absolute maximum.

The Mahon tribunal reports and commentary suggested that many councillors were screaming foul about many of the development plans and the corruption going on around them, but they were told to shut up whenever they made accusations that they had been approached by developers or that they believed corruption was going on. An overwhelming part of the body politic, certainly at a local level, did not want to talk about it and wanted to hush it up. I do not know how many were involved but I think it was widespread, and that there was a widespread tolerance of it.

We had a small example of this in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in the past year when one of our own councillors was approached by a developer who was trying to get rezoning for a development he was trying to push through. It was in the balance in the council. We do not know how many other councillors he approached, but we know he was rebuffed in our office. When he did not get any commitments on the rezoning, he made an offer to pay the election expenses of one of our councillors. The councillor then went into the council chamber and stated this publicly, at which point there was pandemonium with all the usual suspects of the main parties, particularly Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, stating that one is not allowed say that. Subsequently, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council took down the footage of the meeting where the allegation was made. This is the sort of stuff that is still going on. When I, as a councillor, was doing the county development plan in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and a series of dodgy rezonings was proposed that was clearly in the interests of big private developers for shopping centres, land rezonings or whatever, one could not get one's head around how anybody would support these matters and yet there were councillors in the council chambers supporting them. One Labour Party councillor said to me in a little aside that this is how they would get their election expenses paid. It was an interesting comment. It is exactly the same as what was said to our councillor by this developer. This is the stuff that is going on and it is absolutely rank.

This is not only going on at local level. Deputy Twomey said that it is different at local authority level or with officials doing procurement, but it is not really in the Dáil. I do not accept that at all. The fish always rots from the head. I will give two examples of where there is no will whatsoever at the highest level to go after corruption. For the past few years, there has been no action from the mainstream parties on doing anything about the tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance of the big multinational corporations, which everybody has known about for the past few years, and have every reason to believe they actively facilitated the same tax evasion. Similarly, in the abuse of bogus self-employment and the relevant contract tax, RCT, system in the construction sector, which some of us have been shouting about for years and saying it simply stretches any credibility that three quarters of all building workers on building sites are self-employed contractors, the Government still claims there is no problem. Nothing is done about it because it benefits the State to have these workers so exploited because it gets cheap schools or housing built. The fish rots from the head and we need serious action to deal with that corruption.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger In 1991, my Socialist Party colleague, Deputy Joe Higgins, was elected to Dublin City Council. When he got there, he found a nest of vipers going to the local pub, Conway's, and getting brown paper bags in meetings with developers. This has been well documented. A quarter of a century later, what has really changed when we saw what was in the programme the other night?

The Taoiseach and the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party have expressed their shock. They are the only ones in the country who are shocked - the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, can take that as read. They also stated that these councillors brought the so-called body politic into disrepute. The body politic could not go any lower in repute among the public.

We are essentially talking here about members of the two big parties, plus one so-called Independent. I ask the Minister of State where were the swarms of gardaí conducting dawn raids on the homes of those three councillors the morning after that RTE programme? As for the idea that the parties are taking this seriously, all that was done was that a quiet word was had in the ears of those two councillors to resign from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael so as not to spread the rot. It seems that only public representatives who are opposed to measures such as water charges, austerity and war get arrested in this country and face possible imprisonment. The others, who are money-grabbing from their involvement in politics, walk free.

I also take issue with some comments on social media. This is not gombeen politicians getting small amounts of money. The amounts of money that we are talking about regarding the potential for corruption on local authorities is immense.

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