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Estimates for Public Services 2014 (Continued)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 840 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] Deputies will recall that the draft Government order providing for the establishment of the commission was approved by the Dáil on 15 April 2014. The draft order included a copy of the detailed and extensive terms of reference for the commission. The draft order was subsequently approved by the Seanad following a debate on 16 April. In accordance with the legislation the Commission of Investigation (Certain Matters relative to An Garda Síochána and other persons) Order 2014 was then made by the Government on 30 April 2014. The Government also formally appointed the Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, as chairman of the commission.

The commission's terms of reference envisage a final report to the Government no later than 31 December 2014 subject to section 6(6) of the Act. There have been calls for earlier reports on some elements of the investigation, particularly the sequence of events leading up to the retirement of the former Garda Commissioner. However, it is important to recognise the independence of the judge and, therefore, the Government has given the commission full flexibility on the nature, timing and sequencing of any part of the investigation. As required under the Act, my Department has made arrangements to publish the commission's terms of reference, the statement of costs and the timeframe for the investigation in Iris Oifigiúil.

The staffing requirements of the commission will reflect the scope of the terms of reference and the ambitious timescale involved. The exact requirements of the commission will become clearer in the coming weeks as it begins to scope its work in more detail. In accordance with the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 the appointment of staff and their terms and conditions will be subject to approval by me with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. In addition to direct staffing costs, set-up and ongoing costs will arise in respect of the establishment of the commission's office, information and communications technology functions, administration, travel and subsistence etc. Specialist expertise may also be required given the subject of the investigation. Based on an initial assessment, a cost of €2 million is deemed to be a reasonable estimate for 2014 and it is therefore proposed to provide for this from the Vote of the Department of the Taoiseach. This estimate is based on the assumption that the commission completes it work by the end of 2014 as specified in the terms of reference. If it were deemed necessary to extend the commission's work beyond that date then further staffing and other costs would of course arise. In addition to salary and administration costs, third-party costs may also arise. In accordance with the provisions of the Act, following consultations with the commission and with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I will have guidelines prepared concerning this area. The extent and timing of any such costs are difficult to estimate at this stage.

The commission will be investigating serious matters which have important implications for An Garda Síochána and our justice system. My sole interest in addressing these matters, which are rightly of deep concern, is to establish the truth. I believe that the establishment of the commission is the most appropriate, timely and cost-effective way of getting to that truth and, therefore, I commend the motion to the House.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl 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.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I wish to state clearly that Sinn Féin welcomes this commission of investigation. If I understood the Taoiseach fully - I might have picked it up wrongly - earlier when he announced the Minister's resignation he said there may be another commission of investigation. I am keen to get clarification on whether there will be two.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This motion is about the €2 million required for the Fennelly commission of investigation. The Government will have to consider terms of reference for the Guerin recommendation for its commission of investigation. That is a separate matter.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Therefore, there will be two. My next point was that if this was to be the case would it require another Supplementary Estimate and, obviously, it will. We also fully support the allocation of necessary finances for the investigation to be carried out comprehensively and professionally.

The backdrop to all of this is that citizens were exposed in recent months to the fact that they had been kept in the dark about the truth of what really happened in the small minority of our Garda stations over many decades and in the Department of Justice and Equality more recently. No one in authority, whether the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the former Garda Commissioner or the Attorney General, has given citizens answers to the questions that have been raised. This is why an investigation of this nature is required. Obviously it requires significant funding and will require many hours of work and a large amount of transcriptions. We will also support the allocation of additional funding if it proves necessary.

The revelations about the taping or tapping of telephone conversations at Garda stations was a major and serious development. It goes to the heart of fundamental issues for any democratic society. It has raised questions for the Garda, the administration of justice, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

A particular case prompted the Government to set up the commission - the Government had to be dragged into doing so and avoided it for a long time.

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