Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Three weeks ago the Taoiseach promised the House that he would operate his Government according to new standards of accountability and openness. He said nobody would be exempt from the need to be fully honest about his or her actions, past or present. He is now faced with turning these words into action. For the last week with the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and others, he has avoided making any public comment on the Minister's dealings with the Moriarty tribunal. It is now clear that the House's consideration of the report is being designed by the Government to avoid the direct questioning of its members.
Given the seriousness of the issues dealt with in the Moriarty tribunal report, I assume the Taoiseach has taken the time to discuss them with colleagues, especially the man widely viewed as being central to his retaining the leadership of Fine Gael and eventually assuming the office of the Taoiseach. Earlier this year the Minister, Deputy Hogan, publicly stated Fine Gael would shorten the work of the Moriarty tribunal. He did this with the approval of the leader of Fine Gael. Did the Taoiseach or the Minister have sight of the tribunal's draft unpublished report before the Minister issued that statement? Will the Taoiseach indicate if there were any contacts or meetings between the Minister or any other senior Fine Gael representative with Denis O'Brien in the last 12 months and, if so, what was the nature of such contacts or meetings?
On several occasions I have made my view known that I would like to see the report of the tribunal published as quickly as possible. If the Deputy checks the record, he will find that on umpteen occasions I asked from the other side of the House when we might expect to see production of the Moriarty tribunal report. I welcome the fact that it has now been published. Neither the Minister, Deputy Hogan, nor any other Deputy was in a position to shorten the timescale for production of the report. We had expressed the wish that it would be produced as soon as possible, in the public interest. I have no knowledge of any meetings with Mr. O'Brien in the past 12 months. I did not see a draft of the final report of the Moriarty tribunal before it was published. As I said to the Deputy last week, I was informed of the report being published in digital fashion as I was going to the Cabinet meeting.
The Taoiseach might answer whether the Minister, Deputy Hogan, saw a draft of the unpublished Moriarty report before he made his statement. The statement is very clear. It was made on 6 February last. It said that the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals would be given a strict deadline to issue their final reports within months of the new Government coming into office. It said that both public inquiries would be allowed a small window in which to conclude their current work. It said that the incoming Government would have the power to rewrite the terms of reference of each tribunal and to place a deadline for the completion of their reports if the tribunals failed to demonstrate a willingness to complete them. It was a clear and specific statement. It referred to a new plan to be unveiled by Fine Gael. It was a clear statement by a senior member of the Fine Gael Front Bench of the time. It was almost menacing and threatening in its tone and tenor and in the way in which it was written. Did the Minister, Deputy Hogan, have sight of the unpublished draft of the Moriarty report prior to issuing that statement on behalf of Fine Gael? Has the Taoiseach had any conversations with Members or with the Minister, Deputy Hogan, on the Moriarty report since it was published?
As I have said, our view was that it was opportune that this tribunal and others should be brought to a conclusion. My own view was that I would have liked the Moriarty tribunal, if it was going to continue, to be able to finish before the end of this year or some time like that. I am glad that it has been concluded and the report has been published. There was no question of Fine Gael attempting to rewrite the terms of reference of a tribunal that had been running for 14 years, nor should there have been. There was a public interest in seeing that the report was published and concluded, and I am very glad that the sole member has done that. I cannot answer the question about whether the Minister, Deputy Hogan, saw a draft of the Moriarty report. I certainly did not and I do not assume he did. I expect he will contribute to the debate and answer that question.
The Government considered the implications of the Moriarty report this morning. On behalf of my Department, I sought the approval of the Government for the recommendations of the Moriarty report to be circulated to Departments that are affected by or have responsibility in respect of the Moriarty report. It was agreed that the Departments should make recommendations to the Government within four weeks with regard to the implementation or otherwise of the recommendations in the Moriarty report. In addition, there was an understanding that a number of legal cases which are pending, arising from the Moriarty tribunal, need to be borne in mind by those who speak about the report and its conclusions.
Níor mhaith liom cur isteach ar an Teachta. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that golden circles and elites have brought this State into economic distress. There is evidence of complicity and collusion between some politicians, some sections of the media, big business, financiers and so on. Some people have been accused of economic treason. As the Taoiseach has said, there is a wide gap between citizens and the political system. He has said that honesty is his only policy. I accept that. Why then did Fine Gael not inform the Moriarty tribunal about the donation of $50,000 that it received from Telenor in December 1995? There were two people at the centre of that. Deputy Lowry was chair of the board of trustees of Fine Gael. The late David Austin was an acknowledged supporter and fundraiser for the Fine Gael Party. This begs another question. How many donations were made to Fine Gael in this way?
I have referred to this on a number of occasions. I deplore the fact that - human nature being what it is - some people use and have used the privilege of being elected to this House for personal advancement as distinct from public service. I have a very fundamental view about that. The contribution that was raised by the late David Austin has been the subject of intensive discussion. I have referred to it in the House and do so will again now and later. I might make the point that I understand that the deceased person referred to by Deputy Adams also raised £60,000 for the late Mr. Haughey when he was in office. Be that as it may. I would like to address the issue of the contribution from Telenor, which was transferred by circuitous routes and came to Fine Gael under a different heading before the subsequent election. When it was discovered that it was from the group involved, the then leader of the party, John Bruton, was outraged and asked that it be sent back. There followed some further rooting before it became clear that the Fine Gael Party did not benefit from this contribution. It was neither wanted nor held when it became known.
Fine Gael sought the advice of an eminent senior counsel on whether this contribution was relevant to the Moriarty tribunal and its remit. Based on the evidence given to that senior counsel - the background information, the notes about meetings and all the rest of it - the eminent senior counsel said that in his opinion, it did not fall within the remit of the Moriarty tribunal. One has to apply political common sense to these things as well. I would have disagreed with that decision. In hindsight, obviously, Fine Gael would have sent that information to the tribunal. That is what happened when that information was leaked. As I have said, the then leader of the party, Deputy Noonan, sent the entire file down to the tribunal and asked that it be assessed and considered. It is given particular treatment in the findings of the sole member - it is said to be distinguishable from other contributions. I would have taken a different view about sending it to the tribunal in the first instance. I assume it is easy to be wise in hindsight. I wish to inform Deputy Adams that I will publish the senior counsel's advice this evening so that nobody needs to be in any doubt about the legal advice in the information that was given to the party by a senior counsel.
That begs another question. Who paid for that legal advice and how much was it? I would like to return to the whole business of payments. Denis O'Brien made a series of payments to Deputy Lowry when the Deputy was a Fine Gael Minister. A payment of £147,000 was made on behalf of Denis O'Brien via a series of offshore accounts to Deputy Lowry's Irish Nationwide account in the Isle of Man. Did Fine Gael receive any of this money? Was Deputy Lowry acting as a Minister, as a chair of trustees, or in a private capacity? Is there any way of getting clarity on this issue?
I do not speak for Deputy Lowry or the circles in which he moved, or in respect of any payments he may have received. The Fine Gael Party was asked by the tribunal about contributions that may have been made by Mr. O'Brien and it carried out an extensive trawl in respect of a range of companies in every constituency, and that information was given to the tribunal. It amounted, over a period, to €22,000 in different contributions and that was made known, fully and completely, to the tribunal by party sources.
Does the Taoiseach accept it was utterly negligent of him to allow the former Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Lowry, to sideline the Cabinet in which they both served and bounce the entire Government of which they were Members into awarding the second mobile telephone licence to Esat and Mr. Denis O'Brien by foreshortening the process and bringing it forward by one month? Did the Taoiseach understand at the time this was probably the most valuable licence that would ever be awarded in the history of this State? That being the case, is it not incredible that no serious Cabinet discussion took place about the final decision? He was part of that. We now know that Deputy Lowry delivered a licence by disgraceful and insidious means to Mr. O'Brien, which highlights the Taoiseach's failure in Cabinet. Can he explain?
Evidence to the tribunal reveals Fine Gael's enormous propensity to peddle political influence for big business funding. It had its face in the corporate trough every bit as much as Fianna Fáil. Perhaps it was in more genteel surroundings than a crude marquee in a race course but Mr. Denis O'Brien showered the Taoiseach's party with cash throughout the whole of 1995, while the mobile telephone contest raged. Without even a discussion at Cabinet, Fine Gael and Labour Ministers, including the Taoiseach, gifted the same Mr. O'Brien with a personal goldmine from which he made €300 million or more shortly afterwards. Considering the relationship between Mr. O'Brien and Fine Gael, is there any way that the Taoiseach is anything but hopelessly compromised in this situation? Will he at least begin by making a full apology to the Irish people for this disgusting relationship of big business influence and the Fine Gael Party?
Generally the Deputy uses the phrase "slurping from the corporate trough". I have heard him on that on several occasions. The subject of the Deputy's question was the subject of a tribunal that has run for 14 years. There will be a particular and special debate with questions and answers on this matter.
I am answering the Deputy. If he is ever lucky enough to serve at Cabinet level in the future, he might find himself in a position where whatever Department he serves in is given responsibility of a sub-committee to deal with particular issues. In this case, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will deal with questions in so far as the tribunal per se is concerned. I am prepared to answer questions in respect of the party I lead and its fundraising activities in so far as the Moriarty tribunal is concerned.
The Moriarty tribunal is very clear in a number of respects. It makes it perfectly clear that the Members of the current Government who sat around that Cabinet table have been completely exonerated in respect of the decision to award the licences concerned.
The Taoiseach refused to answer the question. He refused to answer for his conduct at the time. He was not exonerated, he was absent. That is the situation in regard to what the tribunal found. I remind him of the relationship between his party and Mr. Denis O'Brien. On 30 August 1995, seven weeks before the award of this licence, the current Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government wrote:
I am delighted to hear of your response in becoming a sponsor of the Fine Gael Golf Classic. Your very generous sponsorship of £4,000 will be used two-fold, with £1,000 sponsoring a hole and the remaining balance sponsoring the wine for the Gala Dinner.
Two months before Fine Gael in Government awarded the most valuable contract in the history of this State the private individual who was desperately looking for it was lubricating the throats of Fine Gael grandees at a gala dinner. Is it not obvious to everybody this was to lubricate the licence process?
I simply ask the Taoiseach to explain a dinner peddling Fine Gael influence to American big business, as is clearly outlined in this letter. He was rostered to be in attendance. Mr. O'Brien used it to make his £50,000 donation. Was he at that dinner and is that not another corruption of politics? How does he explain this?
The sponsorship by Mr. O'Brien of a golf classic conducted by Fine Gael was not an individual thing. Many companies sponsored many golf classics around the country. I am not sure whether the letter was carried through in respect of sponsoring wine or whatever.
The Deputy stated that I was "rostered" to be in New York.
I am not sure from what book he is quoting. I was never rostered to be in New York. The late Mr. Austin proposed in the beginning that a number of Ministers might attend that function and that I should be one of them. In the event, I had no hand, act or part in the persons who may have attended that function. As I certainly did not cross the Atlantic and I certainly was not in the 21 Club, his comment about being rostered to attend is off the mark yet again.