Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform: Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform

Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Committee Stage

7:45 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I tabled the amendment in a bit of a rush last week. It deals with Cabinet confidentiality but what I mean to get at is the legal privilege normally claimed in respect of the Attorney General's advice. That cannot be discussed now and I will come back to it on Report Stage. I am thinking of a specific case. I looked with disquiet at an aspect of the draft report of the Moriarty tribunal into the mobile phone licence. At that tribunal, Ministers, including John Bruton, Deputies Hogan and Quinn and others, gave evidence. I am a bit scathing of civil servants on this - the permanent government, as I call them. The permanent government had no problem with all politicians being hung out to dry. When the draft report was produced and certain public officials did not come out in a good light on foot of a bit of criticism, the permanent government managed to get the elected Government to waive the legal privilege of the Attorney General's advice as set out in the Nesbitt opinion. That was covered extensively. The purpose was to allow the officials who were not coming out in a good light in the draft report to say they were following the Nesbitt opinion, which was privileged legal advice. They would not have dreamed of asking the Government to waive legal privilege in respect of the Attorney General's advice had it been to protect a member of the Government. Once it was affecting a member of the permanent, unelected Government, they were very quickly able to get the elected Government to waive the legal privilege.

I want the same procedures to be available, at a minimum, in respect of tribunals of inquiry that we saw exercised before the Moriarty tribunal. It will not conflict with anything here. I will be coming back with a refined amendment dealing with the waiving of privilege in respect of the legal advice from the Attorney General, as we saw happen in the interests of protecting public servants.


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