Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

An Bille um an Tríochadú Leasú ar an mBunreacht (Fiosruithe Thithe an Oireachtais) 2011: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha / Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries) Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages


6:00 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)

I thank the Members opposite for their thoughtful contributions and addressing this issue. It is an important advance for the Oireachtas to deal with these matters. I will deal with Deputy McDonald's points and thank her for the amendment she tabled. She can claim ownership because her amendment certainly formed part of the persuasive argument to make explicit what I considered to be implicit. There is no harm in so doing, even if, as Deputy Fleming has observed, it has consequences for the future.

There has been a great deal of talk about the balancing of rights, but the problem for the past 20 years has been that the public interest was never really included in the balance and lost out in the balancing of rights. It has taken decades to get to the truth of matters. I note that had people appeared before a committee or inquiry and simply told the truth - this is such an amazing thing to ask - we would not have had years of tribunals at phenomenal cost to the State. Moreover, such tribunals often had findings which were beyond relevance by the time they came to conclusions and people had forgotten what they had been asked to do in the first instance. We must have a system that is more robust than that and that is what we are aiming to do.

We can talk ourselves into protecting the rights of the individual to such an extent that we cannot have an inquiry into anything. Someone who does something fundamentally wrong should have his or her good name tarnished in terms of adducing convincing evidence objectively as long as fair procedures are applied. A person should be furnished with a full copy of the evidence which could reflect on his or her good name. He or she should be allowed to cross-examine any witnesses that give evidence. He or she should be allowed to rebut any evidence given and permitted to address any inquiry in any way he or she wants. These are understandable rights that would flow from Deputy Fleming's question on what constitutes fair procedure.

We published very detailed heads of the Bill, which are much more detailed than is normally the case at this stage of the discussion. Deputy Fleming is correct in that they will form the backdrop in terms of reassurance for people about what processes will be involved. I would not be quite as sanguine as he is in terms of his comments that the Bill cannot be amended. It will be, as long as the principles are understood.

I would welcome any suggestions from the other side of the House in advance of finalising the Bill, as I said last week to the oversight committee. If there are any significant ideas to amend the heads I published, I would welcome them in order that when the Bill is published for the guidance of the electorate in advance of the referendum, it encompasses, as far as possible, the views of the Opposition.

When we come to do a detailed scrutiny of the Bill, assuming the electorate supports it, I have an open mind to get this right. As I said to the committee, I do not think this will be the end of the matter. We will come across practical difficulties when we start the process and should be open to making further amendments when we learn about them. I do not have a date for publication but it will be in advance of the referendum.

In terms of exclusions, there cannot be an investigation into matters that are subject to criminal investigation or a breaking of the constitutional prohibition on the collective deliberations of Cabinet. Other constitutional provisions allow the State to function and all the recitals in the draft heads simply cover things that are normal.

In regard to leaks, in which Deputy Fleming is interested, draft head No. 34 of the Bill states:

A person who receives a draft report from a relevant body under section (31) shall not disclose its contents or divulge in any way that the draft report has been sent to that person except ... with the prior consent in writing of the body [and] to the extent necessary for the purposes of an application to the Court [for any legal proceedings].

The heads state a person who contravenes that subsection shall be guilty of an offence. It will be an offence to leak information, unless it is in accordance with the normal procedures-----

The heads state a person who contravenes that subsection shall be guilty of an offence. It will be an offence to leak information, unless it is in accordance with the normal procedures-----


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