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Snippet Contents:

I am stepping in for Deputy Martin, who has been called away. Fianna Fáil supports the proposal before the House to fund a formal inquiry into the taping practices followed in some Garda stations over the years. There are many aspects of this controversy which are unclear. The most important of these is the potential impact of taping on past and future criminal proceedings. The appropriate way for these to be addressed is by a formal independent inquiry. The Taoiseach will recall that he assured the Houses that there would be detailed consultation in respect of the work of this inquiry. Unfortunately, the many assurances of consultation which we receive never amount to more than, at most, the most informal of approaches, with the Government carrying on regardless.
Understanding why this practice developed and continued, whether laws were broken in the process and if legal proceedings were prejudiced is a core part of the work the inquiry should undertake. However, it cannot be left at that. Central to addressing public concern is answering the question of why we had a sudden rush of activity by Government in recent weeks when this activity was known within Government since last year. How is it that the Minister for Justice and Equality, now the former Minister, was officially notified of concerns by the Garda Commissioner but claims to have known nothing until summoned by the Taoiseach one Monday night? These are not side issues; these are issues which are directly involved in the effective dismissal of a Garda Commissioner by the Taoiseach and his Minister for Justice and Equality. If the Taoiseach constructs this inquiry to shield the former Minister for Justice and Equality and the focus is solely on the original activity rather than including how it was dealt with, then people will correctly see it as a cover-up. The Minister for Justice and Equality has repeatedly attacked others for failing to abide by what he said was the law. His attack on the failure of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to inform him of bugging concerns is the most significant. However, yesterday we heard that he can break the law with impunity as long as he makes an apology, no matter the level of bad grace involved in that apology. The former Minister for Justice and Equality and his Department failed to act on this issue when they came into possession of information about it. Yet we are now establishing a sworn inquiry into it and providing millions to fund it. If the Government tries to prevent this inquiry from reviewing its actions then it will be rightly seen by the public as a whitewash.
The Taoiseach will remember that on his appointment he made an explicit promise of running an accountable and transparent Government. Over one month after the Taoiseach and his Minister for Justice and Equality decided to put pressure on the Garda Commissioner to resign, neither the Taoiseach nor the former Minister have uttered one word of explanation about the basis for this action. The Taoiseach has at least continued to make himself available and there have been opportunities for him to be asked questions, even if he works hard to avoid answering them. It is now almost two months since the former Minister for Justice and Equality was willing to do an open interview or a press conference. His limited public appearances have included blanket refusals to talk about the forced resignation of the Garda Commissioner. In recent days he attacked a journalist for a story about him which has turned out to be 100% true. A Minister who will not answer questions or attend Garda conferences, who keeps attacking legitimate stories and who believes that there is nothing illegal in the use of confidential Garda information in a false attack on a political opponent is a Minister whose resignation is welcome and one who should have resigned or been fired before this.
We are about to receive reports on other controversies surrounding the Minister and we look forward to Friday's report being circulated to us and to considering the establishment of other inquiries. The challenge for the Government is whether it will allow genuinely independent inquiries or whether it will try to limit everything to minimise the political impact. If it chooses to continue to put politics first, it will rightly increase public disquiet.
Deputy Adams made reference to the Minister's letter of resignation. As has been said by others, no one takes any great satisfaction in the resignation of a Minister. It involved great personal trauma for him, his family and, I imagine, for his party as well. However, the fact that in resigning he chose to put the resignation in the context of the impending election challenges speaks volumes of where we are. Unfortunately, it suggests to the House and the public that politics in this country under the Taoiseach's Administration has not changed at all and that gaining political advantage is what is of primary importance rather than serving the people. I believe that is a great tragedy at this point.