Tuesday, 3 October 2006
As the Taoiseach's speech has not been circulated, as was supposed to happen, it is difficult to take a 15-minute contribution and understand the nuances of what has been a very carefully choreographed piece of programming from the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil. This is a bad day for accountability, the body politic and the Progressive Democrats. It is a good day for cynicism and hypocrisy.
He will get his comeuppance. He is probably the nastiest bit of goods of them all. I want to return to two fundamental issues. In his response the Taoiseach said this was an error and a misjudgment. This appears to be the best the Progressive Democrats have been able to wring out of all the contacts over the weekend between Tipperary, Dublin and everywhere else. This would not have happened in the days of the Tánaiste's immediate predecessor. She has a clearer view of probity, justice, right and wrong than he who is supposed to be in charge of the scales of justice in this country.
When a Minister steps forward to receive his or her seal of office from Uachtarán na hÉireann, he or she crosses a threshold which is indivisible between private and public. While the Taoiseach may well have been in casual gear at the function in Manchester, those present saw him not as an ordinary citizen but as a citizen who happened to be the Minister for Finance.
In that regard, the Taoiseach said in respect of the €16,500, the second payment, that the payments were made in the form of cash, personal cheque or company cheque. The use to which the Taoiseach put that money is unclear. In his television interview he said: "I had no house, the house was gone so they decided to try to help me."
I make the point that the entire Government will not accept that what the Taoiseach did in accepting the money in Manchester was wrong. I ask him now, with regard to his comment in respect of the €16,500, was the money used towards the purchase of his house? Who started the collection at the function in Manchester? Was it a Manchester person or was it one of the Taoiseach's friends from Dublin and, if so, does he know who it was?
I do not think we have seen any cynicism or hypocrisy today. I still believe as strongly in probity as I ever did. Deputy Kenny asked two direct questions. He asked if I used that money for the purchase of my house. The answer is "No". I purchased my house with an Irish Permanent Building Society loan and some money from my current account which was not linked to this current account. I saw a report the other day that I bought my house for £67,000 or something, but that is not true. My loan was an Irish Permanent Building Society loan and mortgage which I took out and paid over recent years.
On the other issue, I had no knowledge that anybody was organising a fundraiser. None of the people who was with me asked anybody to raise funds for me in Manchester. Nobody did that. I do not believe that one of those I had told at the end of that weekend was even aware of the issue. I would think that some of my friends would have spoken previously about my circumstances, but that was no secret to some of my friends in Manchester because the issue of my personal circumstances had been in the newspapers a number of times that summer.
I still cannot understand how any Minister, particularly a senior Minister, could sit at a function and have £8,000 sterling collected around the table, accept it and put his hand on it. The fundamental issue is that the Taoiseach will not accept that action was wrong, that it sends out a signal about politics and politicians in Ireland that is incredible for every young person with an interest, remote or otherwise, in politics. All the Ministers here, including the Progressive Democrats, accept that this is a standard that applies in Irish politics from the head of Government down. That is the difference between the Taoiseach's party and mine. It is wrong and he is afraid to admit it is wrong. The Tánaiste is nodding his head. He knows that to accept £8,000 sterling at a function in Manchester or anywhere else, whether private or public, is utterly wrong and, as Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he should be man enough to stand up and say so.
I have two questions. Is the Taoiseach saying that money received at a function like this is not to be considered as a matter of ethical judgment if there is no official invitation or script and it is not in the Minister's diary? In other words, can one accept anything outside of that?
Is he saying that unless the payment can be shown to create an obligation on the officeholder in the performance of his or her duty it is all right or that it must be shown that there is an obligation and otherwise it is fair game to accept anything and everything? Is that the standard, which was evident in this case, that we must now accept from the Taoiseach?
Deputy Kenny said the money was collected around the table, as if I was sitting there and watching it, but that is not what happened. At the end of the night, Mr. Tim Kilroe, who owned the hotel, gave me the money. It was not collected like that. If I sat there in any capacity and saw that happen, I would not have accepted it, and I think the Deputy knows that. It was not that kind of position and it cannot be put forward as such.
In the circumstances, I have said it was an error; it was a misjudgment. The Deputy has asked what the codes are. The codes are well documented. I had a hand in later codes, but I did not have a hand in the codes then. Having watched what has occurred over the past few weeks and having watched what I have been faced with, I wonder what would happen in the future. Any Member who attends a function and receives a contribution of less than €500, if it is a fundraising issue he or she can put the donation into his or her political donation account and record who gave it. Next January when the Member makes his or her declaration he or she can put down that somebody gave €500. That is all any Member does. The impression that has been given——
There are no twists. I will give a factual position. I am conscious that I am not just talking to this House. The position that operates for most Members in this House today under the Ethics in Public Office Act is that if they have a fundraising function they put the funds raised into a political account and record the names of the donors and whether somebody has contributed over €500. That is proper and is as it should be.
I want to answer the Fine Gael leader's question. I opted to tell the whole truth, 100% truth, and did not say that something that was a personal sum was a political donation. If I had been in Manchester last Friday and received the same donation, I could have taken the list of names from Tim Kilroe, put that money into my political account and made a declaration. The reason I did not and the reason I raised it last week was that I did not want to be accused through some future leak, since everything may be leaked. I did not want to be caught in that way.
I am making a distinction. I have no problem with the current situation but to say that what I did was totally unethical is untrue. If I had been hypocritical, with a slight adjustment, I would have said it was a fundraiser. It was not a fundraiser because I used it for myself and that was the reason I made the distinction. However, I still say it was an error. It was a lack of judgment by me, and I am glad to say that.
How can the Taoiseach say with a straight face that he could have accepted the money last week and put it into his political account? This is the whole point. If he put it into his political account, he could only use it for political purposes. He did not put it into his political account; he put it into his personal account. Is that not the whole point? Why does the Taoiseach drag this red herring across it because it has absolutely nothing to do with it?
The Taoiseach referred to the late Mr. Kilroe collecting the money. I refer to his declamation at Ballyjamesduff——
——when he said:
What happened was that some of my own friends were over there. I think some of them were there. On the one night they collected it. Needless to say, it was not something I asked for. It was totally a surprise to me.
It appears the lads collected it, not Mr. Kilroe. I am only quoting the Taoiseach's own words to him. Does the Taoiseach still maintain that The Irish Times was "off the wall" when it stated that the money being investigated by the tribunal was between €50,000 and €100,000? We have three separate moieties: €39,000, or almost €50,000; £8,000 sterling and the other €50,000. How can the Taoiseach say that The Irish Times was "off the wall"?
The Taoiseach has advice now. How can he say it was "off the wall"? I wish to ask a question about the NCB cheque. The Taoiseach informed the House several times that this was a group of friends helping him out at a time of distress. This cheque was a corporate cheque. Has the Taoiseach made any inquiries with NCB about the status of the cheque, about the tax liability attaching to it or anything else?
Why has the Taoiseach abandoned the test he set down in the House when we previously discussed this matter a few years ago, when he stated that if somebody sought to present something as a loan, he would need to have incontrovertible, written evidence, including the arrangements for repayment entered into at the time? Why does that not apply in the case of Drumcondra moneys one and two? Incidentally, if the Taoiseach lodged the money from Manchester on the same day as he lodged Drumcondra two, when does that date the event in Manchester? If the Taoiseach tracked the event down to the Four Seasons Hotel, can he, for the sake of completeness, say to the House when that particular event took place?
The Taoiseach cherry-picked the questions he answered and the format facilitates that. In respect of the other €50,000, did that come entirely from his salary and his parliamentary allowances?
I am not trying to cherry-pick the questions. The point I made on the political funds was that at that time there was no such thing as a political account. Everybody at that time would have lodged fundraising moneys, if they did not relate to the constituency, into their own accounts. I did not do so because I always kept them separate even though there was no obligation to do that. I know that people on all sides of the House did that. If one reads the debate on the public office Bill, one will read what people did at that time.
That is the point I am making. Because I was honest I said it was not a political donation and I kept it separate.
Deputy Rabbitte referred to my Cavan contribution when the media asked me to make a lengthy reply — a question arises as to whether one should or should not do so in these instances, but I did so in order to be helpful — but they were certainly not my friends who asked for this.
I accept, if that is what is stated there, that it is incorrect. I made it clear throughout that it was not them.
On the NCB issue, the initial loan which I received from eight friends, included money from Pádraic O'Connor. This money came to me in the form of a bank draft. It was not a cheque and could not therefore have been a company cheque. I think everyone is aware that bank drafts are drawn on a specified bank and in this case it was drawn on the Bank of Ireland and does not carry the name of the person who drew it. As far as I was aware, Pádraic O'Connor personally gave me this and I never believed anything else, and I repaid Pádraic O'Connor. I have not discussed this with Pádraic O'Connor. A number of my friends wanted to give me a donation and I refused a donation. I stated that the only reason I would accept it was based on the fact that it was a condition of a loan and that I would repay it. I made that clear from the outset. I may not have gone back to every individual a number of times but I went back to a number of individuals several times and said that I was in a position to pay it and I would rather pay it. My savings were totally out of my own income, from my TD's salary and my salary as Minister for Finance.
In answer to the question about the dates, I was in Manchester at least seven times in 1994. I cannot say exactly which date it was but I think that function was probably early in the season, in the autumn of 1994. However, I cannot be certain because from what I have been able to gather from people I——
What has changed since the Tánaiste told the House, with a grave demeanour, that there were fundamental issues of public concern? I am glad to see we have now gone to advising the Taoiseach on how to answer the questions. What has changed? If they were grave issues of public concern last Thursday, how does the statement by the Taoiseach that with the benefit of hindsight he made an error get the Progressive Democrats off the hook?
Is this the best basis for partnership Government, that the Taoiseach rubs the noses of the minor partner in it? He makes them eat humble pie and he thinks that is a basis for going forward for whatever time is left to this Government.
There is nothing in the script circulated by the Taoiseach that could justify the Progressive Democrats saying that the level of accountability the Minister wanted and the answers he wanted about the Manchester event in particular, the identity of the donors and so on, have come forward. None of them has come forward. I ask the Taoiseach, before this debate finishes, to set out clearly why the Progressive Democrats can stomach this. How did the Taoiseach reach an agreement over the weekend with the Minister, Deputy McDowell? What happened the Minister when he led his troops up the hill and then, like the old Duke of York, led them down again? I can imagine how those fellows on the backbenches will treat him in the coming months.
I can imagine the way Fianna Fáil backbenchers will treat him. No man should be subjected to this. The Tánaiste did nothing wrong. The Tánaiste did not take money in Manchester. The Tánaiste did nothing wrong and the Progressive Democrats will be the main losers in this. Is there any fairness in this business?
On RTE, the Taoiseach made the point that one of the problems he had in the 1990s was with expensive legal fees as a result of issues in which he was involved. Many Independent Deputies have made the point to me in recent days that constituents of theirs facing the same fees were not able to proceed to the courts to try to get the justice they deserved because they could not afford the fees being charged. In the powerful position he had in Government would it not have been a more appropriate response for the Taoiseach, rather than take a hand-out from very wealthy friends, to have taken steps to curb the obscene level of fees a section of the Law Library charges ordinary people as they try to get justice?
The Taoiseach also brought £50,000 worth of savings into the story. Why did he bring this into the public domain? Was it because a sum of £50,000 was deposited on one occasion when he eventually opened a bank account and the tribunal asked him to explain it? If so, how did he accumulate that massive amount of £50,000? Did he accumulate it in cash and keep it in a shoebox as it grew month by month, year by year? Does he not believe it was extremely incongruous that a Minister for Finance of a modern capitalist economy for a period of years stashed his savings in a shoebox?
Bill Gates sending his letters by carrier pigeon comes to mind.
The Taoiseach said today that it was an error and a misjudgement to have taken money from these business people. Did he use those terms only because of the problems caused for him in the past week and the embarrassment and consternation to his party, not because it was wrong or because there was a potential conflict of interest?
I say to Deputy Higgins again, I did not take and neither will I ever say I took it from business people. I accepted a loan that I paid back with interest. I received €38,000 — a loan from friends — and paid back more than €90,000. I accepted it from them because they were friends and I paid it back to them because they were friends. It was in that capacity that I got it.
It was not because of anything else. There have been efforts to make them into business people who came together. They were long and trusted friends of mine for many decades.
The issue of savings arose because of completeness. When I was giving the interview I gave the facts. There was no one sum of £50,000, but in my accounts and when I answered all my questions I showed where all my money came from in the period so that I could deny the issues I was being asked to answer, which gets lost in all these issues. They were the issues to show that I did not get £50,000 from Denis "Starry" O'Brien, on behalf of Owen O'Callaghan, that I did not get a bribe from Owen O'Callaghan, that I did not have offshore accounts in the Netherlands, the Antilles, Liechtenstein, Jersey or England with €15 million and that I did not have forged accounts in Mauritius. To the best of my ability for the years requested I showed precisely any lodgements and matched any lodgements to clear my name because these were the issues in which I was asked to co-operate.
Yes, I did save the money and I did not save it in a shoebox. In a capitalist state one might say it was in a shoebox. If it was a socialist state, it would have been offshore or in some company's——
While these were loans with interest, I paid them back. If I had thought that any of these issues would create this amount of conflict or fuss, it would have been far easier for me to pay it back on a bank loan. However, friends were friends and they tried to be helpful. They meant well. Ultimately it got me into more trouble than it was worth. However, I paid it back.
These allegations are made against me because I am uachtarán Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach. If every Member of the House had to deal with the same allegations and needed to go through all their bank accounts over a prolonged period and match up everything——
If the revelations came out not 13 years after his so-called loans, but perhaps 20 or 25 years later, would they still be unpaid and would they still be in the same category as they were when the Taoiseach was outed? That is quite clearly the case. The Taoiseach insists that these are not business people but just friends. He told us that he only knew two of the Manchester crew. Is he seriously telling the Dáil that after appearing at several of these gigs over a period of years, presumably organised by the same people, with the same people in attendance, he only knew two of them and can now only account for two names? We got no more names.
What are the implications for the Revenue Commissioners? Is it not the case as a result of the precedent the Taoiseach has set that anybody who got a gift perhaps ten, 12 or 15 years ago and had not paid tax can now say, like the Prime Minister of the country, "It was a loan and you cannot get me."
I am sure Deputy Higgins, like everybody else, would have heard a number of my friends, particularly Mr. Charlie Chawke, who gave a number of interviews, make it very clear that I had offered to pay back these loans a number of times, which I had done. That was made very clear. I said in my opening statement that I would probably know all the people at that function in Manchester but I cannot pin down, without being able to talk to them all, who exactly was at what function and I do not want to do that. A number of people from Manchester rang me, because this was on the news in Manchester on Friday evening, to say they had met me.
With regard to gift tax, I was making the point that, in respect of capital gains tax, income tax and gift tax, I paid them whenever they were due. They were relevant to other issues rather than these ones, but I have paid capital gains tax and gift tax.
The Taoiseach said, when his friends approached him about having a private function for him, that it would be wrong. He also said, when they suggested they would give him a gift, that it would be wrong. Why then, when it came to Manchester and this private function, was it a gift and apparently right? How did this change come about? A matter on which the Taoiseach had been very firm with his friends suddenly became all right in respect of Manchester.
With regard to the new explanation being offered for the Manchester payment, as far as I can detect, the Taoiseach is offering two defences as to why it was all right to accept the payment in Manchester. The first is that he was not there in a public capacity. Is the Taoiseach saying that, if a Minister goes to a function and there is not an official invitation or official script and it is not in the Minister's diary, he or she can accept anything given? Is that the new standard which the Taoiseach is applying? The second defence which the Taoiseach seemed to give for the Manchester payment was that it was a gift and not for the performance of his duties. Is the Taoiseach offering the new standard that a payment is only wrong if it can be shown that it creates precise obligations on the office holder? Surely, that is the test of whether this payment was corrupt, not the question of whether it was ethical.
The issue here is whether it was ethical to accept these payments. Is it not the case that it was not ethical because it was a private function, which the Taoiseach said was wrong, was a gift, which he also said was wrong, and was interfering with his capacity to do his tasks?
Is the defence being offered by the Taoiseach not the very same defence that was offered by Charles Haughey and, I am sure, would have been offered by Deputy Callely in the case of his misdemeanour? Is the Taoiseach not applying entirely different standards, belatedly and in retrospect, to his own case?
No, I am not. What I stated with regard to a fundraising event being organised with the sole purpose of raising money for my personal use was that it was something I would not accept. When it was put to me that my friends would do that, I said, no, I would not have that, and it was on that basis that I then said I would only accept it as loans. The Manchester function was not organised on the basis of being a fundraiser for me or to raise money for me.
It was not organised to do so. People there who know me well gave me a donation afterwards, but it is not the same thing. It was not organised for that purpose. As the Deputy will see if he examines the Government procedures, with which he is familiar, it was crystal clear at that stage, even though there were no formal guidelines on such issues for Ministers, and in the 1995 legislation that it was by virtue of their offices. Did I receive this by virtue of my office? No, I did not.
In answer to Deputy Bruton's question of whether I am making a new explanation on the other money, I am not. I linked them in the television programme, on which I did not have all day and obviously could not go into detail, because they were linked anyway. It was not a new explanation and I linked them from the start. I have said it was a misjudgment and an error in terms of looking back on it after two weeks of debate, but it was not in breach of tax law or the code of conduct which a Minister has to follow. All my political life, I have tried to be as careful as I possibly can on these issues and I was extremely careful over the years, so it was not in breach. Looking at how these things can be taken, it was a misjudgment.
Last Thursday, the Tánaiste said that one of the questions he wanted answered concerned the identity of the Manchester donors. Will the Taoiseach tell the Tánaiste and the House the identity of at least some of the people — or those he can remember — who gave him the money in Manchester?
In response to an earlier question, the Taoiseach said 35 people came forward over the weekend to say they met him in Manchester. Do I take it there are 35 people who think they gave him money in Manchester?
With regard to his earlier statement that he would not accept the Drumcondra money by way of a fundraiser or a donation and his insistence that he would only accept the money as a loan, why did he not apply the same strictures to the money he received in Manchester?
In response to an earlier question, he said there had not been any other fundraisers or political donations. Did he receive any other unsolicited payments of any kind when he was a Minister but while he was not being a Minister?
They rang me because they heard there was an issue about functions, but the problem is that neither they nor I can be sure, 12 years on, whether it was that function. The Deputy will be aware that I am well known in Manchester. I have attended functions there for the better part of 30 years, as a councillor, backbencher, Front Bencher, Minister, Minister of State, Leader of the Opposition and Taoiseach. I hope I will continue to do so when I am out of this job sometime in the future.
I have close contacts with them.
Deputy Gilmore asked me a fair question. I have tried as best I could, for the years requested by the tribunals and to prove my innocence in respect of all these other issues, to link all my payments and would have done that for the vast majority. The very few I was unable to link were because I was not able to get bank records. In so far as I have been able to piece together all my records, I do not believe I received unsolicited money. Like everyone else, I received political donations over the period but not many because, throughout my career, I have allowed my constituency office to run fundraising activities. Most of the money I ever got would have been for those periods.
Lest it be misconstrued, Deputy Shortall asked a question when we were dealing with another question and I wish to answer it. It was on a point of law that my legal team, on the in camera rule, has taken issue with the tribunal. I follow the advice of my lawyers. I have heard comment in the House——
——about the reason I am blocking this. I do not wish to make any comment about the legal issue because I have been warned about it so many times. Every time I say something, whether in the Dáil or outside, I get another letter, either from the legal team or from the tribunal, so it is hard to defend oneself. On that particular issue, it has been said, although perhaps not touted, that the reason I did not want that out was that it would show there was a huge donation that I gave to Miriam in the contents. That is just not true.
A valid question was asked and I wish to ask it again because it should be answered more clearly. Would we ever have found out about these payments or would the loans, as the Taoiseach describes them, have been repaid if The Irish Times had not found out? On 18 February 1999 — six years almost to the day from when Senator Lydon got me in a headlock, which I remember very well — I asked the Taoiseach a question in the Dáil. It was: "Has the Taoiseach been the beneficiary of any payment, contribution or gift from any source which, with the benefit of hindsight, he now considers to be unorthodox, unusual or irregular?" It was a straightforward question and the Taoiseach's reply — at least it was the nearest thing I can say to what was the reply — was: "The Fianna Fáil/ Progressive Democrats Government is clean of all these issues which have been thrown at us this week." Can we have more clarity on that reply, given that it is somewhat wide of the mark? Does the fact that the Taoiseach found that question unworthy of a clearer reply indicate that there were any other payments, including payments to support St. Luke's?
The Taoiseach says St. Luke's is political but there is a material benefit. If I had a constituency office owned by the Green Party, I would not have to pay the rent. It is important that we understand whether funding has gone to the Taoiseach directly or to St. Luke's. Was that unorthodox, unusual or irregular, or does the Taoiseach see it as perfectly normal?
I would like to think that it does not just apply to me and that there are people in this House and elsewhere who, at times of difficulty, would be given loans by either family members or close friends. That is not unorthodox or irregular.
It was always my intention to pay back the loans with interest. While some people have difficulty with it, I would have done that. I do not accept for a minute that that was the issue.
St. Luke's was set up by a legal trust. The beneficial owner of St. Luke's is the national Fianna Fáil Party.
The Taoiseach said that he does not know who went with him to Manchester aside from Senator Kett. However, he said there were other people with him. The Taoiseach said he went with friends to Manchester on many occasions and that he is well acquainted with Irish organisations over there. It is incredible that the Taoiseach cannot remember who went with him. He said today it was a unique event in that he received £8,000 sterling at it. That would surely be clear in his mind, as well as the people who travelled with him. Did the Taoiseach tell them that he had received the money that night? How is it that nobody remembers it?
The Taoiseach is clear about the number being 25, but he can only name two of them. That is difficult to accept. He knew all these people generally because he knows the Irish organisations and the football associates. If he might not have known their names, he would have known that one of them must have had a big business. Perhaps he was a publican, developer or a lawyer. The Taoiseach would have to remember who was there; I cannot accept that he does not.
Can the Taoiseach explain the role, if any, played by Mr. Richardson in each of the three payments he received? In 1993 Mr. Richardson was appointed national fundraiser for Fianna Fáil. Was he at the Manchester function and did he raise money in Manchester, perhaps for Fianna Fáil and not for the Taoiseach personally, on other occasions?
My long-standing friend, Senator Tony Kett, was with me, as was Mr. David McKenna. Over the 25 years I have gone to matches in Manchester, by and large the same group of people, not all of them friends of mine, would have travelled on the flights. Most people would know the people who went. Certainly, Senator Kett and Mr. David McKenna came with me. I told Senator Kett that I received it and he made a statement about that previously. Mr. Des Richardson was not with me. Mr. Richardson was involved in the IR£22,500 in December 1993 and was one of the contributors to it. I gave the House the names of the contributors last week. He was not involved in the second payment and he was not involved in Manchester.
The Taoiseach reminded the House that at the time he received these moneys he was a serving member of the Labour Party/Fianna Fáil Government. He said that the ethics and electoral Acts did not apply because they had not been enacted when he received the moneys. He will recall that, over Christmas 1992, he and I were part of the negotiating team that agreed that Government's programme for government, which included those legislative measures. He would, therefore, have known the standards that were expected of office holders in that Government, given that they had been agreed and set.
Leaving all else aside, does the Taoiseach consider it acceptable for a serving Minister for Finance to have accepted €60,000 for personal use? The answer given is that it was not connected and that there is no proof of benefit given. Would the Taoiseach not accept that this is a criminal standard of proof, that is, proof of a crime? What is being asked here of members of Government, then as now, is not a criminal standard of whether he committed a crime but whether he had an acceptable standard for an officeholder when he knew what was set?
I refer to the Taoiseach's contribution as leader of the Opposition to the debate after the resignation of former Minister, Deputy Lowry, when he set the standard that if it was alleged that any moneys given to a serving Minister were a loan, he would demand incontrovertible proof of the terms of the loan in writing at the time the loan was taken out. In respect of the two sets of loans, details of which the Taoiseach has put on the record, is there incontrovertible proof that they were loans? What terms and conditions were agreed? Where is the written evidence of those conditions?
Deputy Howlin put it as if it was a donation. It was a loan I had to pay back with interest, so I did not receive the sum of £60,000 as a donation. I received two loans which I said I would pay back and I always intended to do so.
I have also gone back and read what I said. I said that one cannot associate oneself with business and with a company and say one is in business with or doing business with somebody and have £200,000 — I mentioned the figure of £200,000, although it subsequently turned out to be far more. I was not dealing with business, with a contract for business——
I was not dealing with a business or doing business with a private sector employer of the size with which Deputy Lowry was. I do not wish to make life difficult for the Deputy — that is not fair; it was many years ago — but the context was that it was a direct business engagement. That is business and in business one tends to have contracts. I had an arrangement with friends who were assisting me. I could have done it with the bank and it would have been just as easy. In fact, I did part of it with the bank and then reversed it later because I accepted their loan. I would have paid the bank the interest and I paid them the interest. In my mind — one can accept it or not — it is totally different. I do not believe I have changed my position on that.
To look at a different aspect of this, because there has been quite a lot of repetition, when does the Taoiseach believe the former Tánaiste became aware of the questions that have confronted him in recent weeks? Does he have any concern that she may have known of impending questions and that it might have, in some way, influenced her decision to vacate her role as Tánaiste when she did? Does he have any concerns in that regard as he has continued to ask questions as to from where this information may have emanated? Why does he believe there is such a strenuous failure on the part of the former Progressive Democrats Deputy and now editor of The Irish Times to expose the source of the leak from the tribunal? Is he aware that only one member of his Cabinet failed to applaud his contribution this afternoon? What is the Taoiseach's view on all this?
Given that the Taoiseach complained about the leak of the information from the tribunal as forcefully as he did, is he prepared to condemn the abuse of his office by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he so happily leaked information to a journalist which was used to destroy the Centre for Public Inquiry? Does he have double standards in that regard? Does he not see the clear connection with leaks of the nature we are addressing?
On the connection between his party and the other coalition party and big business, does he agree there are far bigger issues regarding that relationship than all that has been exposed in this episode? I speak specifically about the cosy relationship that secured such a favourable arrangement for oil and gas exploration not only off the Mayo coast but elsewhere. Given the mystery behind how Fianna Fáil was so quickly able to deal with its massive accrued debt, would the Taoiseach like to tell us the extent of that relationship? For instance, did Fianna Fáil receive any contributions from Enterprise Oil, the people who initiated and hosted his first tent at the Galway Races? What is the truth behind how quickly the Taoiseach was able to deal with all that?
What are the full facts and truth behind the role of Ray Burke, as Minister with responsibility at that time, and others, including the Taoiseach, who must have been privy to the detail that allowed for such a cosy relationship where big business in the guise of these multinationals can ride roughshod over whole communities in this country? Many serious questions need to be addressed and not only the detail in regard to the specific accusations now levelled at the Taoiseach.
There was no connection between the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, moving from her position and these matters. For many years we have worked hard to try to attract exploration and the handling of some of our natural reserves. It is a long time since we set out terms to try to attract multinational companies to come to explore our seabed for exploration purposes. We have changed those conditions a number of times. Some Irish companies are involved in this business, which is good, as are some multinational companies. It is totally wrong to make any connection between these and any political parties. It takes a huge amount of money to drill gas or oil holes and to be able to license and explore over many years. I do not believe my party or any other party has been beholden to any of these interests at any time over the years.
The Taoiseach said he has done nothing wrong and he is not corrupt. Does he accept he has damaged the image of our profession? Last week in Cavan when asked a question about who collected the money and who organised it, the Taoiseach stammered and stuttered because he did not know the answer, yet after careful preparation over the past few days, he has come up with the name of someone who organised this but who cannot give us his account of what happened. I find that hard to accept. Did that information come from the Taoiseach's personal records or did he telephone a friend to find out? How is he now so sure about who did that?
The Taoiseach said he went to Manchester at his own personal expense. How did he get to the airport?
It is a simple question. Did he use the car given to him by virtue of his ministerial office to bring him to the airport?
The Taoiseach is regarded as a cunning and clever person by many inside and outside this House. As a cunning person, does he believe——
The Taoiseach has been described as a very clever and cunning person. Can I ask him, through the Chair, if he genuinely believes that these people, friends or whoever they are, gave him money because he is a nice chap or because they thought he had no money? He was able to go to Manchester for six matches a year although he had no money. Does the Taoiseach believe that they gave him money just because he is a nice chap? As a clever person, does he believe, and does he expect us to believe, that these people handed over sums of €500 or €5,000, or those sums in sterling, for no other reason than that?
I do not think what I have done over the years in trying to assist others here in bringing in rules and standards about how we deal with our affairs has done anything other than help the image of politics. I complied with those rules as well.
I would not like to see the political profession trying to wrap itself up in cotton wool and for everything to be seen to be done in a totally purist fashion so that one could not take a loan from friends or other people. I do not think we should allow our profession get into that because, quite frankly, I do not see anything wrong with that.
It was one thing to try to clean up the issue of huge donations and a small number of people giving sizeable donations to either my party or any other party and to bring in rules about what we can take, how we record it and so on. I did all that too, and I am quite happy to do that. However, if we get into a position where if one is in politics that one can have no friends and that if one is photographed with any——
Can I give an answer? I will tell the Deputy what I think. He is one of the youngest Members of the House — if not the youngest. If we get into that position, there will not be too many other young people coming into this House. We will damage politics because we should be open, fair and accountable — and I have been.
I have had to say today that perhaps it was an error, and I accept it is an error, but I do not think we should get ourselves into boxes where, forever more, nobody will go near politics. That is the damage that will come out of these things.
The only person I can tell the Deputy who had the money is the person who gave it to me. I have given the name of the person who gave it to me.
I have three questions for the Taoiseach. First, as a matter of interest, who is this mystery man, Mick Collins, one of the donors or should I say lenders? Perhaps the Taoiseach would give us some more information. I know many journalists have been trying to identify him so perhaps the Taoiseach would tell us a bit more about him.
Second, earlier the Taoiseach made the point that he lodged the £8,000 sterling he got in Manchester on the same occasion that he lodged the donation or loan of £16,500. Clearly, he has checked out these matters very carefully and given the fact that the Taoiseach lodged both amounts on the same day, can he tell us the date of that lodgment?
Third, most people following this saga would find it impossible to imagine how somebody, not least a person who is Minister for Finance, could have functioned for six years without a bank account. People are wondering about mundane things like what he did with his salary cheque, how he paid bills, where he had the £50,000 in savings——
I refer to the financial strain which the Taoiseach has explained he was under. In 1992, during the period of financial stress outlined by the Taoiseach, it is interesting to note that while he was Minister for Finance he reduced the tax on oil and gas exploration finds from 50% to 25%.
Did the Taoiseach on any occasion meet with Enterprise Oil's former chief executive, John McGoldrick, who has been known to socialise with Mr. Des Richardson, former Fianna Fáil fundraiser and friend of the Taoiseach who was responsible for the whip-round for him?
In 1996, the Taoiseach, speaking after the McCracken tribunal report, said that the public is entitled to have absolute guarantee of the financial probity and integrity of their elected representatives, their officials, and above all their Ministers. They need to know that they are under financial obligations to nobody other than public lending institutions, except to the extent that they are publicly declared. Does the Taoiseach accept that he breached that standard which he set for politicians?
I do not accept that I am under financial obligations to anybody. I do not believe that by accepting a loan or accepting the donation in Manchester that I am under any obligation. None of those people ever asked me for anything or put me under pressure for anything. They are friends.
I have carefully examined, scrutinised and taken full advice on both the governmental practice and the code of practice and I have given my position on that and the legal position. As I stated earlier, I accept it was an error and misjudgment but I do not accept that it is anything more than that, or that I have broken any standard that was in place then or now.