Wednesday, 4 October 2006
First, we should congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Pattison, who was elected to the House 45 years ago today. That is an outstanding record of public service.
The Taoiseach addressed the House for two hours yesterday, trying to explain his position. He failed in a number of fundamental areas to answer pertinent questions. He failed to explain how he amassed a sum of more than €60,000 without having a bank account. People find this incredible and he might take some time to explain that and, for example, whether his monthly salary cheque was cashed in the same place. How could that happen?
He also failed to address the contradiction between not accepting money in Dublin and accepting money in Manchester. He said that if he saw the collection going around the table, he would not have accepted it, yet he did so when he walked out the door and the person who handed it to him, God rest his soul, was not in a position to tell him whether it was a political donation or a personal donation.
The Taoiseach failed to respond comprehensively to a question as to whether he attended a function in any other jurisdiction and received personal moneys. There is an old saying down the country that a hen that lays out once will lay out again. He might like to address these questions.
I spent two hours 20 minutes answering questions here yesterday and I spent an hour last week. At every opportunity where members of the national media asked questions over the past two weeks, whether that was in Clare, Cavan or Dublin, I answered. I gave comprehensive answers yesterday so I will not go on each day rehashing the same questions.
The only question of substance the Deputy asked was whether I got a gift or donation in any other jurisdiction. If I did not answer it yesterday, my apologies. No, I did not.
It is simply incredible that a Minister for Finance who did not have a bank account was still in a position to put together more than €60,000 in savings in the 1990s. Deputy Rabbitte queried where that might have been kept. This matter consumes the public.
None of the Government Members believe he did wrong anyway.
Will the Taoiseach clarify what is now the new standard accepted by the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil, which means, as far as I can understand it, that any Minister can attend a function, switch off his or her public ministry, become a private citizen, feel that he or she is not under obligation to any organisation and accept €60,000 without it being morally, politically or ethically incorrect?
The Government and the House have brought in a range of stringent legislation over the past decade which governs this House. This includes the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. We all make our annual returns.
I appreciate Deputy Kenny's previous statements that he does not want to go in to my separation issues. I have explained that the accounts were in our joint names and when I was going through the separation agreement, I did not put the money into a joint account. That is all I did for the obvious reason that——
Last week the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform during his brief flirtation imagining he was Desmond O'Malley said the one thing he wanted the Taoiseach to make clear was the identity of the donors at Manchester. However, the one thing the Taoiseach did not make clear yesterday was the identity of the donors at Manchester. Although at Ballyjamesduff the Taoiseach said he had been over there so many times that there was not a business organisation in Manchester that he had not spoken to and he knew these guys well, he seems to have resiled from that position. He named a person who is deceased and the gentleman who went on the television said it definitely was not a political donation. The Tánaiste stated in this morning's newspapers that the Taoiseach told him that he would reconstitute the list. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said more people from Manchester who think they were there contacted him than attended the original event. Is Deputy McDowell correct when he states that he expects the Taoiseach will reconstitute that list?
Second, the Minister seated beside the Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, who would defend anything, says there is no difficulty in this regard. He says anybody can go to Manchester, or to any function, and take any money for his or her personal benefit so long as he or she declares it.
Is that the case or not?
The Taoiseach referred to the 1995 Act. I asked him yesterday whether those gentlemen from Manchester were doing business here, whether they had been awarded any contracts, whether they had been appointed to any position and so on. We certainly know in the case of Drumcondra 1 and Drumcondra 2 that many of those involved have been appointed on several occasions to State boards.
We are all governed by the standards applying to political accounts and donations. The Minister, Deputy Martin, made that clear. I stated that I have attended many functions and social events in Manchester. To try to piece together a list of every person who attended each individual event from the time I first began going to Manchester as a councillor, a Deputy and a backbencher is impossible. I cannot do it and will not be able to do it. I have explained this to the House, to the public and everywhere else. I have no problem getting a list of people but I cannot reconstitute a list. That is the position.
The Deputy asked me whether any people from Manchester had been appointed to any boards. The answer is that they have not been.
That is not what I asked the Taoiseach. I asked him to state whether he complied with section 14 of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, which required him to state whether he received any material interest or benefit from these people before he appointed them. I include the Drumcondra tranches in this. Did the Taoiseach declare this or not? Whatever the Minister, Deputy McDowell, stated in the newspapers this morning with regard to his expectation that the Taoiseach will reconstitute the list, did the Taoiseach just now state it is not possible to reconstitute the list?
Who is Michael Collins? Deputy Shortall tells me the only Collins she knows from the pub referred to by the Taoiseach is Mr. Tim Collins. Is there any relationship between the two? Who is this guy?
As I said, I will not go back over all of these questions. I have already answered in the public domain with regard to Michael Collins and I would only be answering the same questions. He is no relation of Tim Collins. What I said yesterday with regard to gift tax has nothing to do with these issues or any of the issues about which I was asked. On the Revenue question, I have been advised by two eminent people that I have dealt with these matters. With regard to Manchester, in as far as I can identify people at various functions, I will give that information to the tribunal, as I said yesterday. That is all I can do.
The Taoiseach yesterday told us he will not resign and he will not call an early election. The third option I put to him was a reform of the way politics is funded. I suggest it is time we had a measuring of election spending from polling day to polling day, not just during the three weeks before the election. The Taoiseach will understand the reasons for this when he sees the billboards throughout this city and beyond. We should have a limit on the spending at all elections, not just national but local, and limits on postering. Moreover, we should end the culture of corporate donations that is in many ways responsible for the position in which the Taoiseach finds himself.
There should be no place for bank drafts drawn on a company account supporting the lifestyle of a Minister for Finance. Corporate funding has already ruined the careers and legacy of four former Ministers, Ray Burke, Padraig Flynn, Michael Lowry and the late Charles Haughey, as well as the late Liam Lawlor and others. As he admits, it has not helped the Taoiseach's career either, although he may have done the State some service by exposing the hypocrisy and the "power versus principle" issues that the PDs have had to face. Perhaps their political oblivion will be one of the Taoiseach's legacies.
The Taoiseach did not answer the question I put to him yesterday, having first asked it on 18 February 1999. I asked: "[Has] the Taoiseach been the beneficiary of a payment, contribution or gift from any source which, with the benefit of hindsight, he now considers to be unorthodox, unusual or irregular?"
I conclude by asking the Taoiseach three questions. Was a gift of Stg£8,000, a huge sum of money at that time, not unorthodox? Was it not unusual? Was it not irregular? The Taoiseach told us the Stg£8,000 payment was the only such payment he received. Is it not the case that the Taoiseach clearly misled the Dáil by not answering that he received such a payment, and by suggesting that no gift he received was unorthodox, unusual or irregular?
He used exactly the same words. The answer today is the same as it was yesterday.
The Deputy asked about legislation. The Government has over the past seven or eight years put several pieces of legislation on the Statute Book. We established the Standards in Public Office Commission, which carries out its work in a rigorous fashion on all matters. I and all other Members comply with it and will continue to do so.
Changes in the law with regard to spending outside election periods are a matter for political parties to state their——
I asked a straightforward question. I did not get an answer yesterday or today. Is the Taoiseach seriously asking us to believe that the Stg£8,000 payment was not unorthodox? That suggests it was quite normal and not unusual. Is he suggesting there were other payments, if it was not unusual? Is he suggesting the Stg£8,000 payment was not irregular? The Taoiseach, in his own words, stated it was the only such payment. How does he square this with the non-answer he gave in 1999, essentially misleading the Dáil and giving the impression that he never received a payment that was unorthodox, unusual or irregular? That is clearly not the case. He lied. He misled the Dáil and I ask him to face up to that.
I made a statement yesterday and I will repeat it. It stated:
I realise 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.
I apologised for those matters and I think there is nothing more to answer.