Dáil debates

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Disclosures relating to the Mahon Tribunal: Statements

 

2:30 pm

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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In the discharge of my public duties, the interests of the Irish people have always taken precedence over everything else. I believe the Irish people recognise that this is so. Over the past week, I have encountered people in different parts of the country and I have been touched by their sense of balance about this issue and their innate common decency about the personal dilemma that I had during 1993 and 1994.

Last week I put on the record of the House a number of the allegations that have been made against me at the tribunals. Each and every one of these charges is baseless. They are false and are no more than a tissue of lies. However, these allegations were made and the tribunal is required to investigate them in so far as they fall within its terms of reference. It is in this context that I have been co-operating with the tribunal and will continue to do so.

Those who have made up these allegations have gone to extraordinary lengths to set me up. For example, a forged letter, purporting to show that I had taken steps to open a bank account in Mauritius, was sent to the Moriarty tribunal. I can confirm that correspondence was subsequently forwarded to the tribunal which demonstrates the letter to be a forgery. I am placing these documents in the Library.

In order to assist the tribunal with the inquiries into some of the lurid allegations made against me, I gave all my bank and financial records to the tribunals for the years they requested. I produced all of my records going back for a long number of years which show I have not enriched myself through politics and have not abused public office.

I disclosed my financial records to the tribunal and it is deeply regrettable that these confidential records appeared in a newspaper.

The House will be aware that arising from financial pressures I encountered at the time of my separation, a number of my friends decided to come to my assistance. The loans I received from my friends totalled £39,000, that is, £22,500 plus £16,500. I wish to confirm to the House that on Friday I repaid each one of these loans with compound interest calculated at 5% per annum, and at a total cost of €90,867.

In my interview with RTÉ last week, I put into the public domain that I received a contribution arising from a function I attended in Manchester. I publicly disclosed this payment in order that the full facts relating to all payments made to me during a difficult personal and family time would be available to the public. I do not know the exact amount of the sterling cash I received. However, I know that when I changed this money to Irish pounds, it came to £7,938.49. At the time I lodged this money into my account on 11 October 1994, the sterling/punt exchange rate was 0.9883 — the sterling equivalent of the £7,938.49 was approximately Stg£7,845.61.

As is well known, I have always been a supporter of Manchester United Football Club. Since my youth, I have regularly travelled to Manchester. From 1979 to 1996, I would have attended roughly six Man United home games each season. I would travel with friends, sometimes by boat and sometimes by plane. Over the years, I have developed a very close affinity with that city and with its people. I have had a long-standing association with the Dublin Association in Manchester, the Manchester-Irish Festival and the Irish World Heritage Centre.

The function that has been the source of recent controversy was not a political function or a fundraiser. It was just a way for me to keep in touch with members of the Irish community in a city I visit often and have great ties with. I had attended similar dinners and social occasions previously.

The dinner was organised by the late Tim Kilroe in the Four Seasons Hotel in Manchester. I had a long personal history with Mr. Kilroe, whom I counted as a friend. At the end of the dinner, unsolicited by me, I was presented with cash of the order of Stg£8,000, made up by individual contributions from an attendance of approximately 25 people. Mr. Kilroe presented the moneys to me and I presume he had collected them as well. Unfortunately, Mr. Kilroe has since died and it is not possible to obtain any list of attendees or contributors at this remove, 12 years later.

I can confirm that Mr. John Kennedy attended the dinner, as he has publicly stated. As I attended various other functions in Manchester over the years, I cannot state with certainty who were the other persons in attendance. I do not want to name someone by mistake and then be accused of misleading the House.

I travelled to Manchester with a number of personal friends — as I did for all of the matches — and on this occasion, my friends also attended the function. Senator Kett was on this trip and attended this function. If the names of any other people who attended come to my attention and if I can be certain that they attended, I will pass their names on to the tribunal.

I did not receive the money as a fee for a speaking engagement. In fact, I did not even deliver a formal speech. I merely said a few words and engaged in an informal question and answer session. I did not solicit the money. I did not expect to receive it. I believe Mr. Kilroe organised a collection at the function for me because he knew, through friends, of my personal circumstances, and that he may have told others.

There are two fundamental issues that I now want to address: first, whether any code of ethics or conduct was breached; and second, whether there is any tax liability in respect of the receipt by me of the sum of approximately Stg£8,000.

The 1983 Government Procedure Instruction, which was applicable in 1994, is crystal clear. It states there are no formal guidelines on the issue of gifts to Ministers. The practice has been to accept relatively inexpensive gifts to mark occasions such as official openings. There was a practice relating to expensive gifts given to Ministers — that practice related to gifts given to Ministers by virtue of their office.

Indeed, section 15 of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, which was not in force at the time of the Manchester event, reflects this principle by stating explicitly that the rules apply to gifts given to the officeholder "by virtue of his or her office" — personal gifts and donations are expressly excluded. The 1983 instruction did not address personal gifts or political donations. The sum in the region of Stg£8,000 was not received by virtue of my office. It was given to me personally by a group of approximately 25 people to whom I spoke in a personal capacity.

I shall explain why there was no breach of the Government procedure instruction. First, the trip was personal. It does not appear in my ministerial diary, which would be the case if it was an official trip. Second, no formal invitation was extended to me as Minister as Finance or sent to the Department of Finance. Third, the Department of Finance did not pay the costs of my travel or accommodation; I did. Fourth, no script was prepared by officials in the Department of Finance, as would normally be the case if I was giving a speech on official business and, thus, by virtue of my office. Fifth, I was accompanied on the trip not by officials, but by a number of friends who attended a Manchester United fixture. Sixth, I attended similar events before and after the 1994 one both while in office and out of office. Seventh, at the 1994 event, I was given approximately Stg£8,000. These moneys were not solicited by me. The above facts lead to only one rational conclusion. My attendance in Manchester and at the event was not in an official capacity. I was not at the event in Manchester by virtue of my office. The 1983 Government procedure instruction simply did not apply. I have received advice from counsel that I was not in breach of the 1983 Government procedure instruction. Counsel have stated clearly and unequivocally that paragraph 31 of the instruction did not apply to the Manchester event and the moneys received on that occasion.

I refer to the legal context in which these events occurred. The obligations that apply to officeholders under the relevant legislation and code of conduct are significantly more detailed now than in 1993 and 1994. However, the spirit and intent are broadly similar. At that time the Government procedure instructions envisaged that Ministers would not accept expensive gifts arising from the performance of their duties. The Ethics in Public Office Bill 1995 was prepared by a Government of which I was a member. In the case of gifts to officeholders the main purpose of the Bill, as described by the then Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Eithne Fitzgerald, in the House was to provide "that if a gift is given to a officeholder and if the value of that gift exceeds £500, that gift becomes the property of the State in cases where the gift is given by virtue of that office". There was no intention of inhibiting the normal relationships of support and solidarity between friends when there was clearly no intention of influencing or compromising an officeholder. This was made evident during the debate on this Bill. For example, in June 1995, concern was expressed by a number of Deputies as to whether it was appropriate that the fact that medical or legal services had been supplied free or below cost to a Member would be required to be disclosed. A particular possibility of whether legal services being provided in anticipation of ultimate payment on conclusion of a case or a tribunal of inquiry would require to be disclosed in respect of a year when the fee had not yet been paid. That was argued to be unacceptable.

These issues were repeated during the Seanad debate on the Bill in July 1995. The Minister of State, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, assured Senators that "medical or legal services supplied free or at a discount to a value of more than £500 where this is provided by a friend or relative without any suggestion of trying to influence or create an obligation" would not require disclosure of any kind. She said, "If somebody's friends organised for personal reasons to pay for his or her medical treatment, they are not trying to influence that person in the performance of his or her functions and this would be exempt". Reading through those debates, this was the understanding under which politicians by sponsoring the Ethics in Public Office Bill 1995 were intended to be bound at the time of these events in 1993 and 1994. It was clearly understood that, in the appropriate context, politicians could receive gifts from friends without creating obligations or requiring disclosure. This was especially the case when the privacy of their personal lives reasonably required protection as in the case of legal, medical and, I would say, family circumstances. Ministers could also accept gifts of a modest character defined as less than £500 even if this arose in the context of official duties. Furthermore, under the legislation which the Government at that time put forward, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 1994, donations received for political as opposed to personal reasons could be retained and disclosed only where the individual donation exceeded £500.

Given my family and personal circumstances, which provided the context for the loans and gifts I accepted in 1993 and 1994 and given the clear intent of those who made these payments in respect of my personal purposes, I have considered the content of the ethical code in place then and since then. I consider that I had not breached my obligations as an officeholder in any way. Ministers from all political backgrounds can and do attend fundraising events and receive donations and personal gifts. Moneys are raised at such functions attended by Ministers but they do not attend in an official capacity or they do not raise these funds by virtue of their office. What matters is that funds are only received in circumstances which are legally and ethically permissible and, especially, that the receipt of the funds does not give rise to the expectation of a quid pro quo. The Manchester event did not involve any quid pro quo for anyone.

I have been separately advised by two eminent tax advisers that I have no tax liability in respect of the Manchester moneys. The funds were from persons based in the Manchester area who are not based in Ireland and, therefore, the sums were not chargeable to gift tax. In any event, the aggregate sum was less than IR£8,000 and this was well below the threshold for any gift tax that then applied, which was more than IR£11,000. Bearing in mind the small gift exemption of £500 which then applied, there would be no question of a liability to gift tax. The funds were later lodged to my bank account in AIB in Dublin.

There are few of us with the benefit of hindsight who would not change some of our past decisions. No one is infallible or perfect. If I had anticipated in 1993 and 1994 that my decision to accept loans from friends or the gifts of moneys in Manchester would cause such difficulties and media intrusion for my family and friends and would give rise to distortion of my motives and misrepresentation of my conduct, I would not have accepted a penny. As I surveyed events of the past two weeks, I realised that my judgment in accepting help from good and loyal friends and the gift in Manchester, albeit in the context of personal and family circumstances, was an error. It was a misjudgment, although not in breach of any law or code of conduct at the time. It was not illegal or impermissible to have done what I did but I now regret the choices I made in those difficult and dark times. The bewilderment caused to the public about recent revelations has been deeply upsetting for me and others near and dear to me. To them, to the Irish people and to this House, I offer my apologies.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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This is supposed to be accountability day. This is supposed to be the day when standards are defined and adhered to. This Taoiseach is still the great evader. I was elected to the House in 1975 while the Taoiseach was elected in 1977. Through those years I have watched his rise through Fianna Fáil as a Minister of State, Whip, Minister and Taoiseach. In all those years in politics, I have never descended to the level of bitter personal activities in this House. That has been my stand for 30 years, it has been my stand in this controversy and it will be my stand in Government. No Member of the Opposition raised the issue of the Taoiseach's sensitive, emotional marital circumstances. These were brought into the public domain by the Taoiseach himself and a litany of Fianna Fáil Ministers over the past 12 days.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow Deputy Kenny to proceed without interruption.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, can check the record. I respect utterly the Taoiseach's right to a private life and his family's right to a private life. This is no business of mine and I will not stray into that area.

Politically my attitude is radically different from the Taoiseach who came into the house just a short time after myself. For 12 days we have witnessed him with each intervention he has made failing to clarify matters. Today, he did not address the fundamental issue at stake. There are many things we do not know about these matters and we hope to get some answers in the following period.

We know a couple of fundamental facts. The Taoiseach admitted to accepting, while Minister for Finance in 1993 and 1994, cash to the value of €61,000 from businessmen friends and associates. We know that this cash was accepted by the Taoiseach after three separate collections. We know too that the Taoiseach claims to have had €63,000 of personal savings at a time when he had no bank account.

We thought that the culture of old Fianna Fáil — that of Haughey, Burke and others — was long since gone, but it appears to be accepted again by the Ministers, Deputies Cullen, Martin, Cowen, O'Dea, Roche, Hanafin, Coughlan and Ó Cuív, and the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan. All have come out and stated the Taoiseach did no wrong. The only Deputy to break the silence, the omerta, was Deputy Nolan from the backbenches, where he will probably stay.

Does the following sound familiar? "I am taking the opportunity to state unequivocally that I have done nothing illegal, unethical or improper." These are the words of former Deputy Raphael Burke spoken in this House on 10 September 1997 — same words, same standards, but a different application. I thought this country had moved on from that period. I thought we had moved away from the Haughey era of the 1980s but, apparently, new Fianna Fáil resurrects the same old standards in the same old way.

Of the first two items, the collection and acceptance by a Minister for Finance of cash to the value of €61,000, we know one fundamental fact — it was wrong. There is no need for discussion of ethics, no need for legislation, no need for guidelines. When the Taoiseach put his hand on that money in his then capacity as Minister for Finance, private or public, he did wrong.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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He was wrong to conceal it for the past 13 years, wrong to condemn hypocritically in this House when he knew he had accepted money, and wrong to declare he had done nothing wrong. Today, he says it is an error and a misjudgment, honest or otherwise. He refuses to face the questions I asked him last week. Is he man enough to state that what he did in accepting this money for personal use was wrong?

I would like the Taoiseach to answer the following questions. Last week, I asked him whether he would admit to his actions being wrong. Last Sunday he wrote: "I have done nothing wrong. I stand over everything I did." That is an application of double standards — preach one thing, do another. The Taoiseach told RTE newscaster Brian Dobson:

[My friends] wanted to raise a function for me. 1,000 a head, 25-30 people. I said no, I wasn't going to do that. That was personal [money]. Anyone does that, it's for politics, so I refused.

Good man. However, the Taoiseach saw nothing wrong with personally accepting €12,000 raised by friends in Manchester, except this time it was from 25 people at €500 a head. Why, by his own standards, was it wrong in Dublin but right in Manchester? The Taoiseach is the accountant. He knows the tax laws. Was it because a personal donation in Dublin would be taxable but one from Manchester would not?

Second, the Taoiseach's taking of €12,000 in Manchester deserves some straight answers. He was speaking to a business organisation about the Irish economy. By any interpretation, it would be unthinkable for a Minister to put money in his or her pocket. If the Secretary General of the Department accepted money at any such function, that person would be sacked by the Taoiseach the following morning, rightly so.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is concluded.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach cannot apply one standard to himself and a different one to others. Did he not think it strange or unusual that it was at this event only that he received payment?

Third, the Taoiseach has claimed persistently that the first payment of £16,500 came from individuals and that now, 13 years later, he has repaid those individuals. Can he explain how at least one of those payments was made by company cheque? When he made efforts over the years to repay that company, what was its response in respect of the cheque issued to him? Can he explain why he accepted a loan from eight people to pay one loan to a bank, if that was the case?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is concluded.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Finally, the Taoiseach in his interview with Brian Dobson referred to whether it was a political donation or a personal donation. The Taoiseach appears to consider the idea that this was first a political donation, which therefore could be passed to his party or constituency. What made him decide it was really a personal donation that would go into his own pocket? Was it made by cash or cheque?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to give way to Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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At any of the previous Manchester dinners, were the Taoiseach or any of his associates given a contribution that was political and was passed on to his party or constituency? Was there any other function——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to give way to Deputy Rabbitte. The House has just agreed an order on this business.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Ceann Comhairle gave way to the Taoiseach last week.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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——either in this jurisdiction, Great Britain or the United States, where a similar whip around was made for the Taoiseach personally?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has gone minutes over time. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Brian Dobson got 20 minutes. Take it easy.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The House has just agreed an order. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach on that occasion in Manchester represented my country, our people and our Government.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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No, he did not.

Deputies:

He was the Minister.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Kenny will not listen. He had five minutes to get the point but he did not get it.

Deputies:

He is 30 years in the Dáil and still does not get it.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Can he be that dull?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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In his taking of that money, those who contributed, for whatever reason, saw him not as a citizen from Drumcondra but as a named person, Bertie Ahern, the Irish Minister for Finance.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy cannot go on indefinitely. There is an order of the House by which we are all bound. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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In putting his hand on that money, he diminished the standard of his office and let down the young people of this country.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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It is fair to state that the Opposition has shown restraint in the matter of the Taoiseach accepting money for private use while a Minister. However, since Mr. Ahern had created a context that sought to explain the Drumcondra moneys in terms of his private family affairs, common decency required that Opposition politicians should have demonstrated a certain restraint. Today, for the first time, he seeks to drag the Manchester moneys into that same category. On Sunday, I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, ridicule Opposition restraint. It was, he said, ineffectiveness, not decency, on the part of the Opposition. The suggestion, apparently, is that the Opposition should cut through the smokescreen to the heart of the matter.

To me the heart of the matter is this; did the Taoiseach do wrong? Is it remotely credible that moneys outstanding for 13 years, without repayment of any kind, can suddenly be categorised as loans? One does not need to be as bright as the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to know that these transactions, if they happened, were gifts and therefore have tax implications.

On the Manchester moneys, can we do more than highlight the absolute impropriety of a serving Minister for Finance accepting payment for a nixer outside the State? Never mind the "no law was broken" defence. By any standards, it was wrong. What would have happened, as Deputy Kenny asked, to a senior civil servant in the Department of Finance if he had trousered private money from such an event? He would have been dismissed. Why is it all right for the Minister for Finance but not all right for a civil servant in his Department?

What does one say about this Government's standards when not a single Cabinet Minister can bring himself or herself to say that what happened at Manchester was wrong? One would believe in the tooth fairy if one believes that businessmen happen along to a function in a posh hotel to listen to any old Joe Soap lecture on the Irish economy and then organise an impromptu whip around to give him something for himself. In normal life one gets gifts from one's friends and one takes loans from strangers. Yet, Mr. Ahern says he got loans from his friends and took gifts from strangers.

Maybe the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan's, derision of the Opposition is because we did not adequately probe the discreet veil drawn over the other €50,000 which Mr. Ahern enigmatically tells us he put back into his account. "Back into his account from where?" is the question that must be answered. Where was the €50,000 resting since the then Minister, Deputy Bertie Ahern, did not have a bank account? Was it resting in a sock or in the hot press? If the Taoiseach says this €50,000 was savings, I accept that, but he enjoyed a ministerial and Deputy's salary and the use of a premises bought for him by friends of Fianna Fáil. In those circumstances, how can he be portrayed as living in straitened conditions? If he had €50,000 in savings, why was it necessary to raise a bank loan? If a bank loan was in place, why was it necessary to have a whip-around to replace the bank loan?

Any Opposition doing its job must ask the Taoiseach whether he has evaded tax. Why did he say that he paid capital gains tax and gift tax? How is it relevant in this case? Is he serious when he tells the country that he had no bank account when he was Minister for Finance? Did he have a bank account elsewhere on the island? Did he have a bank account outside the jurisdiction or did someone open an account on his behalf? If the whip-around was among friends, why was a company cheque issued for £5,000 from NCB? How many times has NCB been retained by the State? How does this sit with the Taoiseach's claim that they were friends and not big business? How many of the donors were appointed on how many occasions to State boards? Who were the donors in Manchester whose identity the Tánaiste said he needed to know? We are now down to two donors, one of whom is deceased. What was that function? Are these people involved in business in Ireland and did they get State contracts? Is this another loop in the golden circle?

Our new Tánaiste is also impatient with the Opposition. On Thursday, he told the House that he could scarcely forebear to sit there and watch the Opposition squander its accountability time.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Rabbitte's time has concluded.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Tánaiste had better grow accustomed to sitting in silence because after this debacle for the Progressive Democrats, the only question he will be permitted to ask in Cabinet is "An bhfuil cead agam dul amach?". The Tánaiste, Deputy McDowell, sought and got a mandate as moral watchdog on Fianna Fáil in government. He has comprehensively failed his first test and, as he stated, a party that stands for nothing will stand for anything.

We should forget about the orchestrated phone-ins, the unscientific opinion polls and the packed television audiences. The question is whether it was right or wrong for the Minister for Finance of the day to accept money for private use.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Rabbitte's time has concluded.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Taoiseach is on record as saying that he did nothing wrong and he repeated this assertion today. The Progressive Democrats are still happy with the excuse of "if he had the benefit of hindsight" and "it was an error", yet the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is the only Minister to say that what took place in Manchester was unthinkable. All the other Ministers — Deputies Cowen, Hanafin, Coughlan, Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey, O'Donoghue, O'Dea, Martin and Cullen — said that they could see nothing wrong with it.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask Deputy Rabbitte to give way to Deputy Sargent.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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If anything demonstrates why this country needs a change of Government, it is the media parade of the Taoiseach's Ministers blind to standards and defending the indefensible.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Sargent, without interruption.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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This debate is not about the Taoiseach's personal life, Mauritius, forged letters or the leaking of information. The tribunal is dealing with this and, as the Taoiseach would say, we should let it deal with it. The Government has some nerve to condemn leaks, given the way in which the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has used his position to leak Garda files to selected journalists, while the Taoiseach stood by him.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, hear. It is disgraceful carry-on.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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This debate is not about searching for a head on a plate but about ensuring that we have proper standards in Irish political life. This affair is about facts of legitimate public interest. It is about the fact that the Taoiseach took gifts from businesses and businessmen, that only ten days ago he misrepresented the established facts on Clare FM and has attempted to avoid answering legitimate questions on the matter ever since, that, as Minister for Finance, he secured payments for personal benefit and that he has transgressed ethical standards that a Minister or head of Government would have to follow in Scandinavia, Germany, the UK, the USA or any other developed country.

Faced with these facts last week, the Taoiseach's colleagues in Fianna Fáil seemed unsure of whether he was an asset or a liability. One Fianna Fáil Deputy was quoted as saying "I'm baffled and I don't know what to think." Only one went so far as to admit that the Taoiseach was compromised, but then, on mature reflection, he changed his mind. On this side of the House, we have given the Taoiseach every opportunity to resolve the issues, which are entirely of his own making. As the Green Party has a sense of fair play, we wanted to listen to him, but so far we are not impressed.

This debate is about trust in politics. It is about people faced with lifelong mortgages being impoverished to pay for the speculative profits that the Taoiseach allowed a small group of developers to accrue. Shame on the Taoiseach for being beholden to these vested interests. We cannot allow cynicism about our democratic system to grow. Shame on the Taoiseach for undermining the people's trust and for bringing the office of Taoiseach into disrepute.

This debate is about living and working according to the standards that the Taoiseach purported to hold and the good name of this country. Fundamentally, this debate is about right and wrong. The Ethics in Public Life Act may not have existed in 1994 but ethics certainly did. What the Taoiseach did in taking money from businesses and businessmen was and is totally inappropriate and improper. It was unethical and wrong. Most seriously, he has undermined his leadership by surrendering his moral authority. How can he be expected to bring to book the Ministers who serve with him? They will ask, "Who are you to set standards?" In addressing the question of whether what the Taoiseach did was right, I am struck by the fact that not one of his Ministers said that what he did was right. His deputy leader says he is "not incorrect", which is clearly the formulation of a lawyer and, as a defence, is both weak and irrelevant to this debate.

It must be noted that the Taoiseach is not the only person to have shown himself to be ethically compromised in the course of this affair. The Progressive Democrats have shown themselves to be now more interested in clinging to power than in standards in public office. Meanwhile, Government parties and other parties in this House continue to accept corporate donations, leaving themselves beholden to corporate interests.

The Taoiseach has three options by which he can show some leadership. He can resign. By his own standards, which he set out in 1997 and which he has applied to other office holders, he would have gone. If I was in the Taoiseach's position, I would have had no option but to resign. Alternatively, he can go to the people and give them the choice of whose ethics and political culture they want running this country.

(Interruptions).

5:00 pm

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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There is a third option, which would also be a positive action. Will the Taoiseach introduce legislation to ban corporate donations to political parties and limit personal donations to nominal sums rather than a sum equalling the price of a house or a large yacht? Will he cut the financial ties between vested interests and policymakers forever?

By normal standards, including his own expressed standards, the Taoiseach should not still hold his position. He has lost moral authority. What he has done is not right. It is unethical and improper and does not befit high office. However, the issue is bigger than the Taoiseach and his job, his party or, indeed, his coalition partners. We have taken up too much newsprint, too much air time and too much legislative time with this affair. We need to end it and let politics return to the issues, namely, the chronic issues in health, housing, transport, education and energy.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Sargent's time has concluded.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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The Taoiseach has choices. He can take positive action to clean up Irish politics, do the decent thing and resign or give the electorate the choice of his politics or mine.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach was clearly wrong to accept the personal donation at the Manchester event when he was Minister for Finance. It would appear that most people believe he was not personally corrupt, unlike many within his party at the time. However, only the most naive believe he was not aware of what went on in the brown-envelope and blank-cheque culture of the Fianna Fáil leadership and among many of its elected members at that time.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Meath, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's election was bankrolled.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin without interruption, please.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Of course it was not confined to Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael has shown, through the tribunals, that it too shares a similar culture. There is no suggestion that members of the current Fianna Fáil-PD Cabinet have personally benefited from bribes or backhanders during their term of office. However, there is an old saying about the British journalist that could be adapted to this Government: "You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God, the British journalist, but seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to".

During this Government's term of office, property speculators and developers have benefitted directly, as never before, from Government decisions. The Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway races has become a symbol of power, greed and elitism in Ireland——

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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And the Northern Bank robbery.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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——the way Dublin Castle and the Kildare Street Club once were.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin without interruption.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The gulf of inequality within our society has widened, something the new Tánaiste, the self-styled moral guardian of the Government, thinks is a good thing. If it was wrong for the then Minister for Finance to accept money gifts from wealthy business people in 1994, is it not even more wrong for a Taoiseach and the Government to have surrendered the State's housing policy for the past decade to speculators and unscrupulous developers who are fleecing families——

Jim Glennon (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)
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And bank robbers.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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——with the ever spiralling costs of housing.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please allow Deputy Ó Caoláin to continue without interruption.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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These are the same developers who successfully lobbied the Government to amend Part V of the Planning and Development Act so they would not have to meet their legal obligation to provide 20% social and affordable housing in all developments. This Government has brought in a form of legalised bribery——

Deputies:

It will be legalising smuggling next.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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——because it has allowed the developers to pay off the local authorities.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow Deputy Ó Caoláin to continue, please.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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What other lobby group could have turned around key legislation in the same way?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin of all people.

Deputies:

He has a brass neck.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Ciúnas.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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That is just one of the many reasons this Taoiseach, this Tánaiste and the rest of this Cabinet should be thrown out of Government. These are far bigger issues than the current controversy. It is a shame on many in this House and, indeed, on commentators in the media, that they have failed to recognise them.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin has a very short memory.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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If the Manchester payment was, in the words of the Irish Independent, "morally wrong", are decisions which adversely affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people not also morally wrong? Are they not also deserving of media attention and commentary? What about the massive tax breaks and the allocation of land at public hospital sites for developers of private for-profit hospitals? This is in the context of a grossly inequitable health service where instead of the promised 3,000 beds, we have had a thousand trolley usages over the past five days.

Deputies:

Where does the Deputy get the money?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I might add there are no marches on the streets about the current controversy but people are taking to the streets demanding their healthcare rights, as we saw recently in Monaghan and as we will see again on Saturday, 21 October when we in Sinn Féin hold a healthcare rally in Dublin.

Jim Glennon (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Deputy give them a 30-minute warning?

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Will Mountbatten's murderer be there, too?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin without interruption, please.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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In the last number of weeks we have seen the announcement of almost 1,400 job losses across this State in Limerick, Carlow, Cork, Waterford, Inchicore in Dublin and in my home county of Monaghan. It is unlikely however, that many of them will have circles of wealthy friends ready to help them out in such a time of financial crisis. Today, at Ballinaboy in Mayo, we saw another example of the natural consequences of the connection between Fianna Fáil and big business. Early this morning, gardaí were outsourced to Shell Oil to serve as their enforcers against local people who have maintained a round-the-clock vigil at the site in protest at attempts to force a dangerous and unsafe pipeline through their community.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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What about Slab Oil?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow Deputy Ó Caoláin to conclude. Your time has concluded.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is a pity, a Cheann Comhairle, that you would not endeavour to allow me the same opportunity to be heard in this House as every other Member. However, the cacophony of fools will not drown out the truth as the people know it only too well.

Photo of Johnny BradyJohnny Brady (Meath, Fianna Fail)
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Where did Slab Murphy get it?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time has concluded.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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This morning two of the protesters were injured while being dragged from the road at the behest of Shell. What about the role of former Minister, Ray Burke, in the negotiation of the terms for oil and gas exploration, the most generous offered anywhere in the world to the major multinationals? Let there be no mistake about it, the people deserve an explanation from the Taoiseach about this series of payments, loans and gifts from wealthy businessmen. However, the events of the last week should not distract us from this Government's long-standing political bankruptcy. That is something that no whip-around will be able to remedy. All of these are valid reasons this Fianna Fáil-PD coalition should resign from office immediately and go to the people. The people are ready to give judgment.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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People will be relieved that the Fianna Fáil backbenchers have been cured of the collective laryngitis that struck them silent last week.

Deputies:

We were not handcuffed, Joe.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We now know that Fianna Fáil Ministers see nothing wrong with a Minister for Finance taking large amounts of money for personal use from business interests as long, they say, as there is no proof that any specific favours were done. Thereby, they defend not only the major conflict of interest involving the Taoiseach when he accepted €60,000 from wealthy individuals, but they also defend the sleaze, cronyism, patronage and corruption that pervaded politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Not one person was caught in the middle of that who did not come up with the same catch-cry: "We did no favours and we did nothing wrong". How could Fianna Fáil Ministers think there was anything wrong when the Fianna Fáil Party is massively financed by big business? Big business financing individual leaders on the one hand, or the party on the other, is a continuous process.

There is a tendency to isolate this controversy of moneys to the Taoiseach but it cannot be boxed off from the Taoiseach's relationship with big business interests, Fianna Fáil's relationship with big business interests, and the PD's relationship with big business interests — they accept massive funds from those sources as well. It was the Taoiseach's associate who helped him with his personal donations; who, in the 1990s, sat in a plush Dublin hotel and took in millions from speculators, developers, multinational corporations, oil companies and any kind of moneybags that darkened the door of his plush suite. Every ordinary person knows that business does this to influence Government policies, and that it succeeds. Ordinary people are the victims of this. Look at the strife, struggle and stress that young people must endure to secure the basic right of a roof over their heads because the Fianna Fáil-backing speculators have put the price of a home out of their reach. The Government sat and let them do it for ten years.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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What about the houses built in the Deputy's constituency?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Tens of thousands were heartlessly priced out of the market by the speculators who financed the parties opposite. Tens of thousands are terrified of the mortgage increases — perhaps up to €200 a month — they fear are now due. That amounts to €2,400 a year, which will virtually impoverish them but it is cigar money to the wealthy people who finance the Taoiseach. Most shamefully, look at how Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were obliging the Shell Oil Corporation this morning, manhandling the decent people of Erris, so that Shell, the most notorious polluter and profiteer virtually on the globe, can get the gas they have given it for nothing out of the sea. This process started with the then Minister, Mr. Ray Burke, in 1997 and continued in 1992 under the Minister for Finance, now Taoiseach, when they gave fabulous natural resources to these companies for absolutely nothing in secret deals. How much did Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats get from the oil companies?

How nauseating, in view of all this, to see Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, reduce this whole controversy, this nexus of patronage and sleaze, to a cynical game of scrabble, of bending and twisting words so that both parties can walk out claiming to be vindicated. Taking large amounts of money from business, as the Taoiseach has said today, was an error and a misjudgment not because it was wrong, not because there was a massive conflict of interest, but because it came out into the open and caused grief and consternation to the Taoiseach and his friends. The Tánaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats sits beside him and applauds that particular statement.

What the Tánaiste is doing today is propping up an unreconstructed Fianna Fáil Party, still defending sleaze after ten years of investigation. Was it for this that the Tánaiste flew to the tops of the lamp posts all over Dublin to tell us we needed him in Government to straighten out the Fianna Fáil chancers? That event has now been exposed for the hollow stunt that it was.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time has concluded.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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He would not dare repeat it at the next election.

Deputies:

He would.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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He might try, but at least nobody will believe him this time. The lamp posts will be left to the poodles of Ranelagh to do at the base what the Tánaiste is doing today to the alleged standards he defended when he climbed up his ladder.

This tawdry affair exposes a Government utterly divorced from the reality of life of ordinary people,——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy will have another opportunity at Leaders' Questions.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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——light years removed from the struggle of ordinary working people to spread their wages over the mortgage, child care, transport and the other problems. The Taoiseach should go today not just for his grubby taking of funds from business interests, but also because his being beholden to business generally has created a society——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has a further opportunity on Leaders' Questions.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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——that rewards the powerful at enormous cost to ordinary people so let us have the general election now. There are further questions but I will delay them until Leaders' Questions. There are many detailed questions that the Taoiseach must still answer today.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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There is a long period for detailed questions. For today, I will ignore the later political points made. I do not think any fair examination of this issue would accept that sleaze, cronyism, corruption, big business interests running the political process, conflicts of interests, patronage or any of the points made by the last few speakers are correct by any stretch of the imagination. I said what I said earlier, so there is no point going back over it.

Deputy Kenny and Deputy Rabbitte followed the points made. Deputy Kenny asked if I ran any other fundraisers or received political donations outside the State for myself. The answer to that question is "No". The reason I raised the issue was that it was there. Any other fundraisers I would ever have been involved in were party political fundraisers and were done in the normal way, but nothing was done for me. This was not a fundraiser for me. It was not organised as a fundraiser. As I had been present at these functions many times, I was surprised that somebody would offer me anything. It was done for the same reason as the other issues.

Deputy Rabbitte made a valid point which I will explain. I said today that the Manchester money was associated with the other payments. I actually lodged it on the same lodgment as the £16,500 and it was related to exactly the same period and the same issue.

Questions were raised about St. Luke's. I do not own it; St. Luke's is owned by the Fianna Fáil Party. I have no long-term beneficial interest in it, but I declare my short-term interest in it as a public office.

Deputy Kenny asked if these loans were over a long period. I answered that question last week but I would like to answer it again. Some colleagues of mine, knowing the difficulties — difficulties that in the cold light of day could have been surmounted in another way — believed they were being helpful and wanted to run a fundraiser. That would have been a fundraiser where I was going to get the money and use that for personal circumstances. That was clearly wrong. It would have been organised as a fundraiser for me to do that. I said no. I said the only way that I would accept the money was on the basis that it would be loans that I would pay back. I would have paid those loans back years ago, quite frankly, except that when it came up it was stated that, because I was answering questions at the tribunals, it was better not to do it that way. Right or wrong, that was the decision I made at that stage.

In regard to the Manchester issue, a contribution was made that I did not expect. It was not a fundraising night. I was not present in my official capacity or as part of my office; it was an entirely different position. I will answer any of the detailed issues.

Deputy Rabbitte asked if I had savings and bank accounts. I think I reflected on that question but if I have to go into it, I will. He asked if I had any bank accounts in my own name. I had several bank accounts in joint names with my wife, but I was not using those bank accounts at the time of my separation until that was over. I had one account in my own name which was a dormant account.

The Deputy asked the fair question if I had accounts anywhere else, if I had accounts outside the State or if anyone outside the State opened accounts for me. The answer to that question is "No". I had no other accounts whatsoever. I operated for a fairly long period without a bank account and did keep that money in my own possession during that period. I had no other accounts. I will answer the detailed questions, but they were the relevant ones.

I will not go into the political questions today but I wish to make one point. Two party leaders have raised the issue of housing. I am very proud of the fact that the Government I lead has, in the last few years, built 515,000 houses, a third of the entire housing stock of the country. The vast majority of those houses have gone to first-time buyers.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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Where——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach without interruption.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We have served the interests of all the people in our policies, not the interests of business interests, and we have worked to achieve that.