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Once a hypocrite-always a hypocrite.

Dáil Éireann - Volume 480 - 10 September, 1997

Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry (Dunnes Payments) and Establishment of Tribunal of Inquiry: Motions.Aherns notorious "Hypocrisy" speech.

The Taoiseachs infamous  ·"Speech from the Doc- sorry- the Dail" 

I move:That Dáil Éireann

–welcomes the publication of the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry (Dunnes Payments,

–thanks the Chairman and the legal and administrative teams for their work in conducting the Inquiry, and

–welcomes the Government's proposal to establish a further Tribunal of Inquiry.

Mr. Justice McCracken is to be complimented on his excellent report and on the manner in which he willingly undertook and carried out the onerous task assigned to him. The tribunal into certain allegations of payments to politicians was established  last February, consequent on resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann on 6 February 1997. I welcomed it; indeed, I had sought it. I also welcomed the appointment of Mr. Justice McCracken as chairman and spoke of his expertise in commercial law and in unravelling complex accounts,(not yours Bert-hard cash is leaves no traces) as well as his reputation for getting to the bottom of these matters in a short time. Mr. Justice McCracken has brought all these attributes to bear on his task during recent months and a debt of gratitude is owed to him by all of us. It is also appropriate that we commend, as he does in his report, the work of the team, both legal and administrative, which assisted him so efficiently in his work.

The report of the tribunal is a model of clarity and conciseness, and we must come to terms with the starkness of its contents. Its judgment, on what it has discovered, is trenchant, but in the circumstances appropriate. The tribunal stresses a point I have repeatedly emphasised, that public representatives must not be under a personal financial obligation to anyone. We are not dealing with legitimate political contributions here. While I felt a deep sense of relief on reading in the report that the tribunal had concluded that “no political impropriety”, or, in other words, no actual corruption, had been shown to have occurred within its terms of reference, the findings of the tribunal in relation to Mr. Charles Haughey and Deputy Michael Lowry are nevertheless extremely disturbing.

Let me outline in particular what I, and I believe all of us, and indeed the tribunal find unacceptable. It is unacceptable that people who have held high office and enjoyed a high degree of public trust should give evidence that is “unacceptable and untrue”, or deliberately conceal vital information from this House or from a tribunal established by this House. There is no excuse for this. It is also unacceptable that in the case of Mr. Haughey full co-operation was with-held from the tribunal forcing it to undertake lengthy, painstaking and costly research to establish facts, which could have been established almost at once with his full co-operation.

It is unacceptable that in a manner hitherto concealed from the public a Taoiseach should be personally supported to the tune of £1.3 million. It is appalling that any businessman should be able to believe, even if wrongly, that he could in any sense “buy” the Taoiseach, or that he might have him in his pocket, if he ever needed him. By accepting such favours, Mr. Haughey thereby laid himself open to the possibility “that political or financial favours could be sought in return for such gifts, or even be given without being sought”, even though thankfully this did not occur. As the tribunal stated, “if such gifts were to be permissible, the potential for bribery and corruption would be enormous”.

In the case of Deputy Lowry, who received several hundred thousand pounds in cash or in kind, the tribunal comments that he “made himself vulnerable to all kinds of pressures from Dunne's  Stores, had they chosen to apply those pressures”, and that indeed he would be open to blackmail from other sources.

There is also an issue of equity of access, that has arisen in the general context of political contributions. As the tribunal puts it, ‘if politicians are to give an effective service to all their constituents, or to all the citizens of the State, they must not be under a financial obligation to some constituents or some citizens only’.

Taoisigh and Ministers often have the duty to urge on the nation or on particular groups income restraint, and to warn that we all have to live within our meansbut we should not require of others what we are not prepared to practise ourselves. Otherwise, we only encourage deep cynicism and a resistance to the notion that moderation can be in the long-term interests of all.

It is unacceptable that the people, who decide upon the laws, and especially those in Government who have to set an example for others, should engage in placing their money outside the jurisdiction in offshore accounts, not merely for the purpose of concealment from the public but in a way that lends itself to wholesale tax evasion. To avail of the tax amnesty, while politically condemning it and flouting its obligations, is particularly reprehensible. Paying tax is not something just for ‘the little people’. No one, however eminent, is above the law. Tax evasion is a form of stealing from the public purse, which pays for schools, hospitals and many other social services. The amnesty was an opportunity for full and voluntary restitution. If our tax system is too onerous, then it must be changed for all, not bypassed by a few with access to offshore accounts and resourceful accountants.

We must make it clear in this House by our actions that we are going to insist on the highest standards in public life. It would be very dangerous, if the message were ever to go out, either here or abroad, however ill-founded, that Government here operates on the principle of backhanders, or that there are golden circles with a high entrance fee. We must nip that notion in the bud once and for all.

The disgrace now being suffered by a former Taoiseach and a former Minister should be a solemn warning to any aspiring Deputy or any other elected representative to stick to the rules we make and by which others are required to abide. I accept the criticism that too permissive a culture has been allowed to develop, particularly during the past 30 years. While some may have been more outspoken in pointing out the dangers than others, can any party point to an entirely blameless record? The responsibility and the corrective action should be undertaken collectively. I am glad to say that the legislation we passed in the last Dáil went a considerable distance towards closing off possible avenues of abuse. We must find new more transparent and acceptable ways of raising necessary political funding from our supporters and well-wishers without making [675] further calls on the taxpayer and without allowing a privileged few to create a sense of obligation.

I naturally and sincerely regret the damage to the reputations of those most directly concerned. Deputy Lowry did much good work for his constituency of Tipperary North, (he,s still helping you out Bertie!)for which, despite everything else, the people there are still grateful, and some good work as an office-holder. However, as a new Minister he made the fatal mistake of preaching to others about cleaning out “cosy cartels” and implying that innocent third parties were in some way guilty of improper behaviour. Keeping offshore accounts, except where they are necessary or convenient for legitimate transactions abroad, is not my idea of patriotism or public duty. The question does arise as to what standards we expect of those who sit in this House, and whether the House has adequate sanctions in respect of unacceptable behaviour. We may need to put in place, on an all-party basis, tighter rules for continued membership of this House.

The record of Charles Haughey is well-known.

Parts of it, independent of anything related to this report, will always be controversial. However, in many important areas, valuable service by someone of immense ability will be recalled. For the positive things that he did he will always be held in high regard by many people. None of us will disagree with the verdict of the tribunal that “by allowing himself to be put in a position of dependency”, Mr. Haughey “has devalued some of the undoubtedly valuable work which he did when in office”. It is inevitable, unfortunately, that his achievements will now be seen or set off against what we have learned from the tribunal. I find that very sad for an individual that many of us know well and have honoured and admired. Nor is it just sad for the party he led or for his former colleagues in Government who sought to serve the public under his leadership. It is sad for our democracy and our nation that a leader who, after Lemass, put more of his stamp on the Ireland of the second half of the 20th century than possibly anyone else should have demeaned himself and political life by accepting such  sums of money for his personal benefit.

(Do you mean CJH or yourself Bert.?)

There are some who wish to damn the entire Fianna Fáil Party by association and all the numerous honest and public spirited members who are proud to belong to the organisation. However, I am no more responsible for the misdemeanours of Charles Haughey than Deputies John Bruton, Dick Spring or Proinsias De Rossa are responsible for the misdemeanours of their colleague in Government, Deputy Michael Lowry, or would be for any other colleague who departed from politically acceptable norms of behaviour. All of us took Government decisions on the basis of the best information available to us at the time, on the political judgment of colleagues whom we trusted and in our view of the country's best interest. That is the view of [676] Members on all sides of the House whenever decisions are made. If there was any hidden manipulation from motives of private gain, which has not so far been demonstrated, then none of us was aware of it at the time.

Why were we not more aware that something was untoward? In most walks of life, particularly with colleagues who have made a substantial income previously from a successful business or professional partnership, we respect their privacy and do not pry into their personal financial circumstances. Perhaps we were at fault for not asking more questions, though that is never an easy thing to do given our instinctive respect for each other's privacy.

That charge is levelled primarily against Fianna Fáil, even though Charles Haughey's leadership was more contested than any other. In the state of knowledge that we then had, his strong points had to be weighed against known flaws and honourable people took different sides of the argument. In that there was no conduct unbecoming. However, one could equally ask if Deputy Lowry's senior colleagues or his leader ever wondered at his facility in procuring substantial contributions both for the party and for themselves individually from Ben Dunne. It is easy to be wise in hindsight.

Politicians do not always appreciate the critical attentions of the media, to put it mildly. The media can sometimes seem to be unfair, particularly when they try to judge yesterday's actions by today's rules and standards, or when they single out an individual for persistent and unwarranted attack, but it is right to pay tribute to those in the media who exposed the state of affairs brought before the tribunal or who previously questioned it. The Fourth Estate — a free press — is vital to democracy. We, as politicians, are entitled to argue with people from the media where we think they are wrong and to defend our integrity and reputation where needs be. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and the only issue in regard to the matters before the tribunal is whether there was enough vigilance and how we can in future ensure adequate vigilance.

It is our job to do everything in our power to restore public confidence in the political system. However, before looking forward it is necessary first to clear up the past. Answers are needed on essential points. I am not interested in hounding people to death, in witch hunts, or in scape-goating one or two individuals for faults in society as a whole. We have important problems, long-term unemployment and social exclusion, peace in the North and economic and monetary union to focus on. To the extent that the tribunal and related matters are impediments to concentrating on the central business of Government, we need to sort these matters out expeditiously without recourse to endless tribunals. We need to do the job properly, and not to have to keep coming back to it.

In the light of the report of the Dunnes payments tribunal, the evidence which was given [677] before it and the limitations placed on it by its terms of reference, there seem to be reasonable grounds to investigate whether other payments were made which fell outside the terms of reference of the Dunnes payments tribunal. Accordingly, there is a motion before the House seeking the establishment of a new tribunal to investigate whether any payments were made to Mr. Haughey in the period from the beginning of 1979, and Mr. Lowry, while they held ministerial or public office and whether such payments influenced any decisions made by them in an official capacity. The terms of reference of the new tribunal are geared towards following the “money trail” rather than examining particular allegations concerning specific public, ministerial or Government decisions, so that we do not unnecessarily drag in innocent third parties or, on the other hand, omit decisions that may turn out to have been tainted.

The Government considers that following the money trail is the most efficient and effective way to progress this type of inquiry as witnessed by the great success of the Dunnes payments tribunal which adopted this approach. Any relevant decisions can be examined in the light of that. The tribunal will be required to ascertain whether there were substantial payments, who the donors were, how much was involved, when they were made, whether any of the controversial decisions were made at that time involving that donor and whether, as a consequence, the tribunal believes that either Mr. Haughey or Deputy Lowry did any act or made any decision to confer any benefit on that specific donor in respect of that particular transaction.

Deputy Spring has raised the issue of the party leader's allowance during Fianna Fáil's period in Opposition. In so far as I could with little available records I am satisfied, having spoken to the person who administered the account, that it was used for bona fide party purposes, that the cheques were prepared by that person and countersigned by another senior party member. Their purpose was to finance personnel, press and other normal supports for an Opposition leader. There was no surplus and no misappropriation. The person involved had sole control of the account. The money came in, the person lodged the cheque, dealt with the bills and invoices and paid those not covered by the ordinary allowance. The account as far as her excellent recollection goes was normally short, not the other way around. I have spoken to her at some length. She has served many Taoisigh beginning with Mr. Jack Lynch. We consider her to be totally honourable.

The motion also provides for the further investigation of the so-called Ansbacher accounts to ascertain if any funds were held there by or for the benefit of any other holder of ministerial or other public office. I remind the House in this regard that Mr. Justice McCracken has yet to decide whether the tribunal should proceed with its appeal against the ruling of the Grand Court in the Cayman Islands concerning these accounts. [678] I have already stated that it is the Government's desire that the appeal should proceed, but I acknowledge that this is a decision solely for the tribunal. I assure the House that any resources which are required by the tribunal to proceed with the appeal, should it decide to do so, will be made available.

In so far as the Ansbacher accounts relate to private citizens, the Revenue Commissioners have the powers to pursue inquiries and will no doubt take into account in a more general way the picture presented and lessons learnt as a result of the tribunal. Large-scale tax evasion must be vigorously pursued, and those who engage in it must realise that if caught they face the possibility not just of severe penalties but diminished public standing and even public disgrace in the eyes of their fellow citizens, no matter how prominent they may be. No one is too powerful or wealthy to be investigated. It is appropriate at this time to refer to the Government proposals for legislation on Cabinet confidentiality that have been put to the House and will be the subject of a referendum on 30 October 1997. These include relaxation of the rule of absolute confidentiality of Cabinet discussions where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in the interests of the administration of justice or by virtue of an overriding public interest pursuant to an application by a tribunal appointed to inquire into a matter of public importance as a necessary prelude to any investigation by a tribunal which is mandated in respect of issues on which it is necessary to seek evidence in relation to discussion at Government meetings.

In regard to the future, I have often stated my determination that financial probity should be strictly observed by all our elected representatives. The public is entitled to have an absolute guarantee of the financial probity and integrity of their elected representatives, officials and, above all, Ministers. It is a core value which I am sure is shared by all in this House that participation in the democratic life of this country is about public service alone.

It is important to draw attention again to these basic principles which must underpin our democracy. It is in this context that the report of the tribunal must be considered. To ensure these principles of good public service are rigidly adhered to, neither I nor the Government I lead will shirk from taking any decisions necessary on foot of the tribunal report. The aim must be to ensure mechanisms and structures are put in place so that the public can have full confidence in the manner in which public affairs are conducted from now on. The undertaking contained in An Action Programme for the new Millennium published by the two parties in Government to implement the recommendations of the McCracken tribunal will be honoured quickly. We may indeed go beyond them.

Turning to the specific recommendations made by Mr. Justice McCracken, on reflection and further consideration I agree with the tribunal [679] that it would be impractical and ineffective to seek to impose an obligation on accountants, bankers and other professionals in regard to certain transactions concerning politicians.

The Government will consider the recommendations concerning extension of the powers of the Ombudsman to carry out investigations of breaches of ethics in public office. The Government will also consider the implementation of the recommendation contained in the Report of the Constitution Review Group, May 1996, and endorsed by the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in its first report, that a new Article should be inserted in the Constitution in relation to the Office of the Ombudsman. Such a constitutional provision would confirm the establishment of the Office, providing for the independent exercise of such investigative and other functions of the Office as may be determined by law. A referendum on such a provision could best be held in conjunction with the referendum which will be necessary on the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Ombudsman, however, has much other work to attend to relating to the vindication of the rights of the individual citizen vis-à-vis the State, and more debate is needed before we would decide to shift radically the public focus of his work.

The report recommends that it should be mandatory for any candidate for either House of the Oireachtas to produce a certificate that his or her tax affairs are in order, accompanied by a statutory declaration to that effect. As promised in the Government's action programme, we had been examining such a proposal, which we strongly support in principle.

Government consideration will include reconciling the tribunal recommendation with the recommendation of the all-party committee on the Constitution in relation to the establishment of an electoral and ethics commission. As the all-party committee states in its first report, a single commission, incorporating the Public Offices Commission, the Constituency Commission and a proposed independent referendum commission, under the Constitution would guarantee the independence and impartiality of the commission; generate greater confidence in public life; create greater transparency in public institutions; and provide an independent source of advice and information in the areas of ethics in public life and electoral law reform.

The all-party report also makes the point that provision in the Constitution for such commission would provide a powerful constitutional mechanism to guarantee the probity of public life. I personally believe such body is the best way for us to go, so that we have a permanent watchdog in place, with the necessary powers, which will develop a special expertise in this area.

I hope this debate on the tribunal's report will provide an opportunity for these options to be discussed. Subject to the outcome of the Attorney [680] General's examination of all these issues, the system which will be put in place will mean all allegations of impropriety by politicians or public servants will be dealt with in a comprehensive and transparent manner.

Pending the introduction of substantive measures by the Government, I have instructed that the necessary amendments to the Ethics in Public Office Act be prepared for introduction in the House in the next session to implement with immediate effect the tribunal's recommendation in regard to the creation of a criminal offence for breaches of the legislation and the consequent barring of a convicted person from standing for subsequent election.

Any decisions which will arise from Government consideration of the report will not prevent existing authorities such as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and the Comptroller and Auditor General from exercising their statutory powers as they deem necessary. I remind the House that the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners has stated publicly that the proceedings of the tribunal had been monitored closely by Revenue and all appropriate action will be taken. The Minister for Finance has also indicated that any additional investigative powers required by the Revenue Commissioners can be introduced.

I now want to go through the legal rationale behind some of the terms of reference. The purpose of paragraph (a) of the terms of reference is to capture “substantial” payments of cash either directly to Mr. Haughey or through some third party or parties in circumstances where, from the point of view of an objective observer, there may be an inference that the motive for making such a payment was in some way linked with the holding of ministerial or other public office by Mr. Haughey. It goes further and captures substantial payments which, although not having the effect of influencing the discharge of ministerial or other public office, would still have the potential so to do. In other words, it does not matter whether or not there was any cause or effect associated with the actual payments. According to this term of reference, the tribunal does not have to look to see whether or not something was done in return for the payment but rather inquires into whether any payment was made at all. It also permits the tribunal to inquire whether such payments were used to discharge moneys or debts due by Mr. Haughey or due by any company with which he was associated or by any person connected to Mr. Haughey. A similar provision applies to Deputy Lowry.

The word “substantial” in relation to payment is not defined. It was proposed that the word “payment” should not include moneys or any benefit in kind less than £500 in current money values. However, it has been considered prudent to allow the tribunal itself to determine what is “substantial” without setting out any specific threshold.

 It has been said it should be included in any terms of reference that an inquiry should be undertaken as to the lifestyle of Mr. Haughey and the sources which sustained it. The objection to this is that the concept of “lifestyle” is too nebulous and uncertain and would fall foul of the criterion set in the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 to 1979 in that it lacks the characteristic of “definite”. There is a risk that such a term of reference could be challenged in the courts as being ultra vires the legislation and as being too vague.

Paragraph (b) of the terms of reference captures the following class of bank accounts: (i) the Ansbacher deposits held for the benefit or in the name of Mr. Charles Haughey; (ii) the Ansbacher accounts held in the name or for the benefit of any person who holds or has held ministerial office; (iii) any other bank accounts that may be discovered by the tribunal in the name of or for the benefit of Mr. Haughey; (iv) any other bank accounts that may be discovered by the tribunal in the name of or for the benefit of a “connected person” to Mr. Haughey within the meaning of that term as it is defined in the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995; (v) any bank account discovered by the tribunal held in the name of or for the benefit of any company in which Mr. Haughey owns a majority shareholding or is a director or member of the board of directors of the company.

This term of reference will enable the tribunal to inquire into the circumstances of the source of moneys paid into the above mentioned accounts. Presumably, these sources will be domestic and therefore it may not be necessary to seek evidence outside the jurisdiction, although this is merely supposition at this point. The focus of inquiry is not who benefited from the payments but who paid moneys into the above mentioned class of accounts.

Paragraph (c) of the terms of reference enables the inquiry to be focused on the recipients of any payments from the bank accounts described in (b) above. It is confined to payments from those accounts to recipients who hold or have held ministerial office. It permits the tribunal to inquire into such payments that were made at the time only that the recipient held ministerial office.

The challenge for us is that we should be seen to get our house in order. We are an important profession in this democracy. People who serve in this House do so at great inconvenience to themselves and their families at all times. They are not particularly well remunerated for it. When independent groups indicate to what extent we should be remunerated we have difficulty in implementing even that. People in this House are honourable, and what we have to do in the period ahead is to prove that by bringing [684] in whatever legislation is necessary we are prepared to stand on these issues and are not afraid to be questioned on them.

Thanks for that speech Bert.Out of a rating of one to ten,for hypocrisy- it gets the TEN.!