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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 Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger] I spent 11 years on a council, and the rewards are large if one wants to be in the big parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, some independents and, occasionally, but less so, the Labour Party. Development plans and planning decisions mean big bucks, thousands and possibly millions of euro. Members of parties of big business, or some of the so-called Independents, many of whom are from that general gene pool, money in brown envelopes for votes is the stock in trade.

One Deputy who spoke here said it was difficult for a Deputy to be corrupt and asked what a Deputy would get from it. As long as one is in a party that accepts donations from big business, the potential for corruption is obvious. Why do developers and big businesses give money to parties? Is it because they love democracy? They are not doing it for nothing but because votes will be taken in this Chamber on their behalf that benefit the banks and corporations, the Apples, Googles, Starbucks and all of them. A politician does not have to personally receive money. There is major corruption in here.

Why are councillors allowed to get work from a council to which they are elected? Why is a councillor who is elected to a council able to receive money from the council? Will this practice be banned in the legislation next week? It is obviously corrupt. Councillor Hugh McElvaney had a waste business and was doing council work. It is unbelievable. He was elected to represent the people. This had better be outlawed in the legislation next week. This is not the first time it has arisen. Councillors in Kerry County Council, some of whom were elected to the Dáil, did significant business with the council, and there are Deputies who are in the same boat.

What action will be taken against the councillors who, when they were filling in the disclosure forms which we all have filled in for 11 years, forgot that they owned a house, land or other property? Many of the councillors are working in businesses that have very close connections with councils, dealing in property and land. Will the parties of big business, including Fine Gael, ban councillors from accepting money from developers and big businesses? Will they ban Deputies and political parties from doing the same? Will they ban councillors from doing work with the councils of which they are members? Will they ensure councillors do not personally benefit from being elected? I do not think so. To the Anti-Austerity Alliance it is very important that we do not gain personally from being Deputies or councillors but take necessary expenses and live on an average wage. Corruption is alive and well. I do not have time to deal with it; however, Siteserv shows that the idea that the few paltry laws the Government has introduced have dealt with it is completely wrong.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy I welcome the motion. It is scandalous that the Government will reject it. I want to highlight an issue that underlines the need for the anti-corruption agency with a monitoring and investigative role over public procurement activities for which the motion calls. Public procurement is a key area in which the space exists for public representatives or others to interfere with public processes for the private benefit of themselves, other private individuals or big or small business. There is an ongoing and unresolved controversy which I have highlighted in freedom of information requests and parliamentary questions, and about which Justine McCarthy has written in The Sunday Times. It relates to the very serious irregularities that have been exposed in the tendering process for telecare equipment in the senior alert scheme. I was first contacted about it several months ago by a not-for-profit company that had participated in the tendering process. The company raised serious concerns about the process, particularly the role played by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. The more information that The Sunday Times and I have uncovered, the more it is clear that very serious irregularities occurred and that there are very serious questions to be answered by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, in particular. Months after we started digging, those questions remain unanswered.

  At the heart of the irregularities is a meeting that took place on 10 December last year between the Minister, a Department official, Labour Party Deputy Brendan Ryan and two representatives of the company, TASK limited, that went on to be the successful bidder. The meeting happened just days after the deadline for tenders had ended and while Pobal, an agency under the Minister's Department was assessing the tenders. It is suggested the CEO of the company is a supporter of Deputy Ryan. The fact the meeting occurred would appear to be a clear breach of the procurement rules. Although the relevant tender rules, in section 6.7, clearly stated that canvassing shall disqualify, the company that appears to have attempted to canvass went on to be the successful bidder.

  Other serious questions remain unanswered. Inexplicably, no minutes were taken at the meeting. A few days ago, I asked the Minister why no minutes had been taken. I received an answer in the name of the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, which accepted the meeting had taken place and said it was "of brief duration in respect of which minutes were not considered necessary". However, the Minister did not reveal to me what was subsequently revealed to The Sunday Times after a freedom of information request, that, two days after the meeting, Pobal, the agency responsible, sent an e-mail to the Department that stated, "the process as a whole is now void and redundant", and that the process was abruptly stopped. Later, the process was restarted. Why did we not receive this information as part of the answer to our question? Was it an attempt to cover it up?

  The Department stated that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, had no idea that representatives of the company would be present at the meeting. This begs two questions. Why did the meeting take place in the form it did if it was going to be a meeting between two party colleagues? Why have a Department official there and in such a formal way? What on earth was Deputy Brendan Ryan doing bringing company representatives involved in an ongoing tendering process to meet a Minister unannounced? The notion that it was a meeting for which minutes were not considered necessary, where nothing happened, does not tally with document four, which we received through the freedom of information request, an information note written further to the meeting on Wednesday 10 December which clearly states that following the meeting with TASK the Minister raised a number of issues, particularly the division of the market into ten lots, a minimum standard for any equipment supplied and consultation with suppliers. Why was there a meeting in which nothing happened, apparently, and no minutes needed to be taken, and yet the Minister felt prompted to raise the very particular points that related to the tendering process?

  Pobal said the legal advice it received afterwards suggested that the procurement process had not been affected and it was able to restart it. On what basis was this advice given? On what version of the meeting the TASK representatives attended was it based? Surely the legal advice should be published. There are very serious questions for the Government and Minister. On what basis was the 10 December meeting organised if the Minister did not know TASK representatives would attend? Why were minutes not taken? Why did Pobal decide to suspend the process and based on what legal advice did it decide to restart the process?

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy I compliment Deputies Paul Murphy, Donnelly and Shortall on bringing forward the motion, which I support. Public and commercial life must be transparent and accountable. The purpose of the motion is not to accuse any individual or party but to put in place effective structures to ensure corruption in public and commercial life is dealt with effectively. The motion recognises that "corruption in public and commercial life represents a great threat to the democratic functioning of the State" and 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". Nobody can take issue with those statements. I support the proposal for the establishment of a permanent, independent, anti-corruption agency to deal with the situation and that the agency should have powers of investigation, compellability and testimony taking, court authorised search and seizure, prosecution at District and Circuit Court level and arrest to deal effectively with the situation and to ensure public and commercial life are accountable and transparent.

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