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

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 899 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] The establishment of the agency will ensure full oversight of public procurement, new anti-corruption legislation and a standing commission of investigation, along with other measures.

  The two associated tribunals, namely, the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, cost the taxpayer in excess of €200 million, and yet the implementation of any of the findings or recommendations has been wholly unsatisfactory. In 2016 the Statue of Limitations will expire for action on Moriarty. If that occurs without action people will have a right to feel cynical.

  Speaking on "Claire Byrne Live" last night, a former Standards in Public Office, SIPO, official, David Waddell, said the need for an agency akin to the one proposed by us is unquestioned. SIPO currently has no teeth and is essentially little more than a warning flag, but with no real powers of enforcement. Good people are involved with it, but they are very frustrated, something they have been making known for a long time.

  There has been, and continues to be, a calculated removal of oversight by previous Governments and, unfortunately, by this Government. The most recent example, whereby my trek through the arduous freedom of information process was stymied with replies to parliamentary questions, shows just how difficult it is to see beneath the veil on matters of vital public interest. This calculated removal of oversight is evident at almost every level of Irish political life.

  Just yesterday, Social Democrats councillor and candidate for Dublin Central, Gary Gannon, received a reply from Dublin City Council, telling him that it would not disclose the details of the tendering process for the modular homes in Ballymun as the information was commercially sensitive. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, despite refusing to acknowledge the housing emergency, has seen fit to implement emergency public procurement measures which ensure that information regarding the tendering process is restricted. The removal of oversight is exactly the kind of thing that makes people livid and destroys trust in our systems.

  When I pursued issues surrounding IBRC, the Cregan inquiry was established and every other avenue to seek clarity was immediately closed down. I had pending freedom of information requests into the relationship between the Department and IBRC during the period July 2012 to the infamous promissory note night in February 2013, when banking debt was turned into sovereign debt. Those freedom of information requests were refused, but they predated the establishment of the inquiry. It is not my reading of the legislation that such requests can be refused.

  I sought information because previous freedom of information requests had indicated an extremely fractious relationship between IBRC and the Department, and I wanted to understand how we came to the chaos that was the promissory note night and whether something could have happened to accelerate the extremely hasty decision. It is an issue of extreme public concern. There may well be nothing in the freedom of information requests, but we need to see the information. This is what oversight looks like, yet every avenue I pursued was closed down to me. In other words, it was, yet again, the calculated removal of oversight.

  The Department had concerns about six particular transactions, of which Topaz was one. An article written by Kevin Daly in The Sunday Times, states:

The price, not disclosed on the day, is close to €500 million, making it a whopper payday ... Dennis O'Brien who acquired Topaz two years ago paid about €150 million for Topaz debt, which was sold by the liquidators to IBRC the state-owned bank, and has just forked out another €75 million to acquire ESSO Ireland. Even allowing for hefty capital investment in Topaz, they have cleared about €250 million in 24 months. "It looks like the deal of the decade" one industry source said.

These were distressed assets that were owned by the State. Is it any wonder that the Department had concerns about them?

  In a letter to me last Friday, the Taoiseach kicked the interest rate issue into the long grass by claiming it is difficult to resolve, but it is a key issue. One debtor, Denis O'Brien, alleged that he was offered an interest rate via a verbal agreement outside of the normal functioning of the IBRC credit committee. It is not sufficient for the Taoiseach to say it is difficult to resolve. The question is whether this was an acceptable practice for a bank tasked with getting the optimum return for citizens. When suspicions of insider trading regarding the now notorious Siteserv transaction occurred, I wrote to the Stock Exchange, which transferred me to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, which in turn referred me to the Central Bank, which eventually referred me back to the Stock Exchange. Nobody had answers and nobody knew who was supposed to answer, which was worse. It is hardly a coincidence that there has never been a conviction for insider trading in this country. This is the precise point I want to make, namely, that legislation on its own is not enough. We need an agency with the power and teeth to do more than that.

  In the letter sent to me by the Taoiseach, he referred to conflicts of interest in regard to members of the commission not sitting in on the work of any transaction that they may have had a connection to, yet the issues to be addressed by the commission are awash with conflicts of interest, none more so than Blackstone, one of the transactions about which the Department raised serious concerns. IBRC retained an American company, Blackstone, to advise on the disposal of its remaining loans which were worth €30 billion at nominal value. The same company, that is, Blackstone was permitted to bid for IBRC loans. When questioned about this, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, dismissed the contention that there was a conflict of interest because the company had put in Chinese walls. Quoting from, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, declined to disclose to the Dáil what money IBRC paid Blackstone for advice on its UK and Irish loan book, citing confidentiality. We do not know how much we, who own 100% of IBRC, are paying Blackstone to get advice on the sale of assets whose buyer might well be Blackstone. I have to take a deep breath when I read that because I find it upsetting.

  This is taking place under the watch of a political party which in 2011 made a commitment to do something about such things. A Fine Gael document stated the same small network of professional advisers, accountants, lawyers, financial advisers or other consultants are linked to NAMA, the NTMA, the bailed-out banks, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance. This presents an obvious conflict of interest which undermines confidence in Ireland's public and private sector governance.

  Is it any wonder that the people will be disappointed? This is precisely why we believe the new agency we propose is required to deal in an overarching way with the issues that constantly present so that we can get to grips with them in real time, rather than acting retrospectively.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I congratulate RTE on the superb piece of public service broadcasting we saw last night. The "RTE Investigates" programme on corruption was journalism at its best. While some people might be shocked by the blatant “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” approach we saw displayed by a number of councillors, for most of us it just confirmed what we have suspected for a long time. Corruption remains a significant problem in Irish public life.

  The truth is that Ireland does not have an effective way of preventing, detecting and prosecuting corruption. The law on corruption is scattered across several pieces of legislation. Responsibility for detecting corruption is spread across a number of different public bodies. It is very difficult and rare to see successful prosecutions of corrupt practices in business or public life. This is the case even after tribunals of inquiry have spent millions of euro on investigations, and even when they have made adverse findings against particular individuals or bodies.

  Ireland’s chequered history with tribunals, ad hoc commissions of inquiry and the various investigations into ruinous banking practices instil very little public confidence in our ability to tackle corruption in Ireland in any kind of meaningful way. Indeed, the most recent inquiry, the Cregan inquiry, appears to be on the point of collapse as it does not have enough powers to investigate properly. As we have seen, the Taoiseach is scrambling around to try to get advice from people on both sides of the House as to how he might proceed.

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