Dáil debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Establishment of Independent Anti-Corruption Agency: Motion [Private Members]


8:15 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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There are 40 minutes in total in this speaking slot.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I will be sharing time with Deputy Shortall, Deputy McGrath and so on. We have sent in a list. I propose to take ten minutes.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The list includes Deputies Pringle, Fitzmaurice, McGrath and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:recognises that corruption in public and commercial life represents a great threat to the democratic functioning of the State;

finds that culturally ingrained concepts of patronage, clientelism and favouritism have pervaded political institutions and have led to serious failures in corporate governance, particularly where inappropriate links between business and politics have been exploited;

concludes that such failings have eroded public confidence that politics and commerce operate to benefit the many over the few;

notes that Bunreacht na hÉireann places in the care of the Oireachtas a responsibility to ensure that the operation of free competition shall not be allowed to develop as to result in the concentration of the ownership or control of essential commodities in a few individuals to the common detriment; and that the Oireachtas has failed to adhere to this guidance in recent years;

recognises that the State has no effective means of preventing, investigating or prosecuting corruption or white-collar crime as responsible agencies are too disconnected, lack appropriate powers, or lack necessary resources;

further notes:
— that prosecutions arising from cases of proven corruption have been rare;

— the failure of the Government to adequately act on the findings of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon Tribunal) nor the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters (Moriarty Tribunal);

— that there have been eight tribunals of inquiry in the past twenty years, and where they made findings of impropriety in public or commercial life, very few consequences, if any, have arisen; and

— that five commissions of investigation are currently in operation, and that in some cases, commissions have sought additional powers to ensure they can fulfil their terms of reference; and
recommends, in order to effectively address these matters, that the Government:
— establish a permanent, independent Anti-Corruption Agency to, initially, assume the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission; the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; the Registrar of Lobbyists and the Competition Authority, but not confined to these bodies;

— mandate the Anti-Corruption Agency to act as a Standing Commission of Investigation;

— confer the Anti-Corruption Agency with powers of:
— investigation;

— compellability and testimony-taking;

— court-authorised search and seizure, including access to bank records;

— prosecution at District and Circuit Court level only; and

— arrest;
— empower the Anti-Corruption Agency to initiate and conduct investigations and sectoral reviews of its own volition;

— consolidate and reform legislation tackling corruption, official malfeasance and white-collar crime, and place the Anti-Corruption Agency at the apex of the State’s legislative architecture countering corruption;

— confer the Anti-Corruption Agency with a monitoring and investigative role over public procurement activities, both ongoing and historic;

— mandate an advisory role, initially upon the Anti-Corruption Agency in relation to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces; the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation;

professional bodies and any future Electoral Commission, but not confined to these bodies;

— draw on the experience in other jurisdictions in establishing an Anti-Corruption Agency, in particular the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) of Victoria, Australia, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of the United Kingdom, and the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption;

— create a new joint Oireachtas oversight committee, to be called the Public Interest Committee, a majority of whom shall be Opposition members; and

— establish annual reporting by the Anti-Corruption Agency to both Houses of the Oireachtas, and ensure reports are debated in both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.”

I wonder whether it is really appreciated how upset people feel after the programme on RTE last night about corruption. They are upset because they do not believe there will be consequences. Their ambition for this country is bigger and better than what we saw last night. This applies across the spectrum, from people who are living on social welfare to wealthy people.

In the past year I have met many business people who want a business culture in which everyone is playing by the same rules. Many are demoralised and some are embarrassed, particularly when it comes up in front of international colleagues, by a system they believe gives a major advantage to insiders - in other words, those in power or those who are well connected.

Only 100 years ago on this island we were subjects. We are about to commemorate a blow that was struck that allowed us to become a sovereign State. The ambition went beyond that, to a republic in which each citizen is equal. That was the aspiration. Those involved aspired to create a state in which people had individual rights but no one had absolute rights, one in which rights would be measured against the common good. They envisaged a state in which the common good would be upheld by those in authority on behalf of the individual citizen. They believed only this would ensure a genuine republic.

Last week the Social Democrats launched a proposal for the establishment of a new body to tackle corruption and white-collar crime in Irish life - an independent anti-corruption agency. There can be no denying that in Ireland we do not have an effective means of preventing, investigating and prosecuting corruption. We deal with it in the aftermath rather than opting for prevention. We have a fragmented approach which ensures that many things go unchecked and unpunished. We need a consolidated, overarching approach if we are to tackle corruption effectively. That is the premise on which the independent anti-corruption agency is placed.

We are proposing a root-and-branch reform of the anti-corruption regime in Ireland, similar to that recently undertaken in Victoria, Australia.

The establishment of the agency will ensure full oversight of public procurement, new anti-corruption legislation and a standing commission of investigation, along with other measures.

The two associated tribunals, namely, the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, cost the taxpayer in excess of €200 million, and yet the implementation of any of the findings or recommendations has been wholly unsatisfactory. In 2016 the Statue of Limitations will expire for action on Moriarty. If that occurs without action people will have a right to feel cynical.

Speaking on "Claire Byrne Live" last night, a former SIPO official, David Waddell, said the need for an agency akin to the one proposed by us is unquestioned. SIPO currently has no teeth and is essentially little more than a warning flag, but with no real powers of enforcement. Good people are involved with it, but they are very frustrated, something they have been making known for a long time.

There has been, and continues to be, a calculated removal of oversight by previous Governments and, unfortunately, by this Government. The most recent example, whereby my trek through the arduous freedom of information process was stymied with replies to parliamentary questions, shows just how difficult it is to see beneath the veil on matters of vital public interest. This calculated removal of oversight is evident at almost every level of Irish political life.

Just yesterday, Social Democrats councillor and candidate for Dublin Central, Gary Gannon, received a reply from Dublin City Council, telling him that it would not disclose the details of the tendering process for the modular homes in Ballymun as the information was commercially sensitive. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, despite refusing to acknowledge the housing emergency, has seen fit to implement emergency public procurement measures which ensure that information regarding the tendering process is restricted. The removal of oversight is exactly the kind of thing that makes people livid and destroys trust in our systems.

When I pursued issues surrounding IBRC, the Cregan inquiry was established and every other avenue to seek clarity was immediately closed down. I had pending freedom of information requests into the relationship between the Department and IBRC during the period July 2012 to the infamous promissory note night in February 2013, when banking debt was turned into sovereign debt. Those freedom of information requests were refused, but they predated the establishment of the inquiry. It is not my reading of the legislation that such requests can be refused.

I sought information because previous freedom of information requests had indicated an extremely fractious relationship between IBRC and the Department, and I wanted to understand how we came to the chaos that was the promissory note night and whether something could have happened to accelerate the extremely hasty decision. It is an issue of extreme public concern. There may well be nothing in the freedom of information requests, but we need to see the information. This is what oversight looks like, yet every avenue I pursued was closed down to me. In other words, it was, yet again, the calculated removal of oversight.

The Department had concerns about six particular transactions, of which Topaz was one. An article written by Kevin Daly in The Sunday Times, states:

The price, not disclosed on the day, is close to €500 million, making it a whopper payday ... Dennis O'Brien who acquired Topaz two years ago paid about €150 million for Topaz debt, which was sold by the liquidators to IBRC the state-owned bank, and has just forked out another €75 million to acquire ESSO Ireland. Even allowing for hefty capital investment in Topaz, they have cleared about €250 million in 24 months. "It looks like the deal of the decade" one industry source said.

These were distressed assets that were owned by the State. Is it any wonder that the Department had concerns about them?

In a letter to me last Friday, the Taoiseach kicked the interest rate issue into the long grass by claiming it is difficult to resolve, but it is a key issue. One debtor, Denis O'Brien, alleged that he was offered an interest rate via a verbal agreement outside of the normal functioning of the IBRC credit committee. It is not sufficient for the Taoiseach to say it is difficult to resolve. The question is whether this was an acceptable practice for a bank tasked with getting the optimum return for citizens. When suspicions of insider trading regarding the now notorious Siteserv transaction occurred, I wrote to the Stock Exchange, which transferred me to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, which in turn referred me to the Central Bank, which eventually referred me back to the Stock Exchange. Nobody had answers and nobody knew who was supposed to answer, which was worse. It is hardly a coincidence that there has never been a conviction for insider trading in this country. This is the precise point I want to make, namely, that legislation on its own is not enough. We need an agency with the power and teeth to do more than that.

In the letter sent to me by the Taoiseach, he referred to conflicts of interest in regard to members of the commission not sitting in on the work of any transaction that they may have had a connection to, yet the issues to be addressed by the commission are awash with conflicts of interest, none more so than Blackstone, one of the transactions about which the Department raised serious concerns. IBRC retained an American company, Blackstone, to advise on the disposal of its remaining loans which were worth €30 billion at nominal value. The same company, that is, Blackstone was permitted to bid for IBRC loans. When questioned about this, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, dismissed the contention that there was a conflict of interest because the company had put in Chinese walls. Quoting fromwww.namawinelake.wordpress.com, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, declined to disclose to the Dáil what money IBRC paid Blackstone for advice on its UK and Irish loan book, citing confidentiality. We do not know how much we, who own 100% of IBRC, are paying Blackstone to get advice on the sale of assets whose buyer might well be Blackstone. I have to take a deep breath when I read that because I find it upsetting.

This is taking place under the watch of a political party which in 2011 made a commitment to do something about such things. A Fine Gael document stated the same small network of professional advisers, accountants, lawyers, financial advisers or other consultants are linked to NAMA, the NTMA, the bailed-out banks, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance. This presents an obvious conflict of interest which undermines confidence in Ireland's public and private sector governance.

Is it any wonder that the people will be disappointed? This is precisely why we believe the new agency we propose is required to deal in an overarching way with the issues that constantly present so that we can get to grips with them in real-time, rather than acting retrospectively.

8:25 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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I congratulate RTE on the superb piece of public service broadcasting we saw last night. The "RTE Investigates" programme on corruption was journalism at its best. While some people might be shocked by the blatant “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” approach we saw displayed by a number of councillors, for most of us it just confirmed what we have suspected for a long time. Corruption remains a significant problem in Irish public life.

The truth is that Ireland does not have an effective way of preventing, detecting and prosecuting corruption. The law on corruption is scattered across several pieces of legislation. Responsibility for detecting corruption is spread across a number of different public bodies. It is very difficult and rare to see successful prosecutions of corrupt practices in business or public life. This is the case even after tribunals of inquiry have spent millions of euro on investigations, and even when they have made adverse findings against particular individuals or bodies.

Ireland’s chequered history with tribunals, ad hoccommissions of inquiry and the various investigations into ruinous banking practices instil very little public confidence in our ability to tackle corruption in Ireland in any kind of meaningful way. Indeed, the most recent inquiry, the Cregan inquiry, appears to be on the point of collapse as it does not have enough powers to investigate properly. As we have seen, the Taoiseach is scrambling around to try to get advice from people on both sides of the House as to how he might proceed.

We have heard the same complaints from the Fennelly inquiry into Garda whistleblowing. It has made a request for more powers, resources and lawyers. When will we ever get anything arising from either of those inquiries? There is no sense at all that the regime is robust, effective or, indeed, free from the clutches of those in power. There is a strong public perception that a golden circle continues to exist in Irish society, the members of which regard themselves as being accountable to no one and untouchable.

Accountability is a core pillar for us in the Social Democrats, and is a central part of our vision for a new republic. Of course, we know there can be no accountability without consequences for those who are involved in wrongdoing. This is the standard we have seen; we seem to be incapable as a society of tackling problems with corruption or wrongdoing. We have had a series of tribunals which all cost a fortune. We have had commissions of inquiry, five of which are current. We know that at the end of the process, after all of the time and all of the talk, what we will get out of them is a report and there will be no significant consequences for any of those people found to be involved in wrongdoing in the course of those inquiries. We know those reports are left to gather dust.

Earlier this year, I tabled questions to the Minister for Justice and Equality asking what is the latest on a number of the recommendations made in the Moriarty report. I was told the Department is still looking at the two reports from March 2011 and 2012 and the likely timeframe cannot be indicated with any certainty at this point. There is no sense of urgency about any of the very serious matters which arose in the Moriarty tribunal. The Minister went on to state that following the examination by An Garda Síochána of the report of the Moriarty tribunal, the advice of the DPP was sought with a view to determining whether a full Garda investigation should be commenced. The advice is still awaited four years later. How can anybody be expected to believe the Government gives a damn about accountability? No system is in place to ensure people involved in very serious wrongdoing and corruption will pay any price. Fine Gael has a very ambiguous relationship with a number of public representatives who have been found to be involved in very serious wrongdoing by tribunals and other investigations. All we get is silence, hand-wringing and a hope that it will just go away.

What exactly will be the consequences for the three councillors highlighted in the "RTE Investigates" programme? The most that has happened to them so far is that they have resigned from their parties but, of course, that is just not enough. They should be resigning from their posts. The type of behaviour we saw in the programme last night renders these people unfit for office. A very clear judgment should be taken on this by their respective parties. I call on the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Martin, and the Taoiseach to address these issues. Their respective councillors, albeit very recently resigned from their parties, have been engaged in practices that are completely and utterly unacceptable. The Taoiseach remarked today that it is indefensible but he has not moved to ensure the councillor from his party will resign. The two party leaders should call on those councillors to do the decent thing and resign from office.

8:35 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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They are not fit for office. I heard one Minister welcome the fact that one of the councillors had resigned from his party. Of course he does, because it gets Fine Gael out of a spot. People will not just move on and forget about this. Fine Gael has a responsibility to address this issue properly, but it has failed spectacularly to do so in the case of a number of other public representatives of theirs in recent times. Fine Gael continues to harbour people involved in wrongdoing who have faced few, if any, consequences.

Accountability matters because without it there can be no trust in public institutions or fair dealings in business or public life. Many people feel that to succeed they must play the game. A lack of accountability damages the reputation of the country and corrodes people's self-confidence. It undermines the authority of our public institutions and tarnishes our image as a place in which to do business. Without accountability there is only impunity. If people are used to getting away with it, or suffering little or no consequences when they are found out, then why would they stop?

If there is any good news to come out of Monday’s "RTE Investigates" revelations, it is that surely the Government cannot ignore the problem any longer. We in the Social Democrats certainly do not intend to continue to ignore it, as do other parties. We are a new party, and one of our main aims is to clean up politics once and for all. This is why we propose an independent anti-corruption agency which would have all the powers necessary to examine, investigate, pursue and, most importantly, prosecute those involved in wrongdoing, whether in public life, politics, the public service or business. We need a single agency with a single focus and all the necessary powers. The power to prosecute is critical because, as I said earlier, we cannot have accountability without consequences for those involved.

The proposal before us is detailed and if the Government is serious about tackling the corrosive problem of corruption in Irish public life, it should support the motion. The "RTE Investigates" programme has reminded us all, yet again, that we will never end corruption in Ireland unless we tackle it head on. The Social Democrats plan for an independent anti-corruption agency would do just this. I strongly urge the Government to consider supporting the motion and start the process of cleaning up Irish politics.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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I fully support the motion on behalf of the Technical Group and commend Deputies Murphy, Donnelly and Shortall on tabling it. It is very timely and should be given serious consideration and supported by all Members of the House. It was really brought home to us when we saw the "RTE Investigates" programme at 9.30 p.m. last night, which featured images which were shocking for many. While we have all heard stories about things that go on, and we may have received submissions, for me and many people in Donegal it was shocking to watch it taking place on camera. This brought home the message to people throughout the country that there are still practices going on which need to be weeded out and need to be ended. A number of councillors in Donegal have called for Councillor John O'Donnell to resign from Donegal County Council and I support these calls. He should resign to reinstate the good name of the council. It is important that this happens.

I am Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Dáil Éireann. The committee was established under the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 as part of the overall architecture of dealing with ethics in public office. Committee members have the role of investigating and examining how Members comply with the guidelines laid down in the Act. The committee's main role is to produce the guidelines every year and advise Members on how to fill in their declaration of interest when they make their returns in January. The programme last night showed how some people still do not fully understand what is required of them in the declaration of interest.

I support the proposal to establish an independent agency to investigate allegations of corruption in public life. Moreover, I would like to see the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Dáil Éireann and the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Seanad Éireann being subsumed into the new body because both are totally ineffective. One of the number of problems with how the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Dáil Éireann works is that its role is not clear in terms of what its members can and should be doing. Perhaps that is by design rather than accident. There is a sense of ticking the boxes in terms of having the committees in place in accordance with the legislation. However, nothing is really being done to implement the spirit of that legislation. Another issue is that although the committee has the power to initiate investigations and does not rely on members of the public to that end, it is not clear how it can actually do so in practice and whether, for example, it has the ability to carry out preliminary investigations to see if there is enough evidence to proceed into full investigative mode. In addition, the standard of evidence required to sustain a complaint is very difficult to ascertain. The Standards in Public Office Act provides that Members may be found guilty of a "specified act", which is extremely difficult to define. The only definition that has been put forward is that specified acts be defined according to monetary value. The guideline is that if the action in question does not have a value of more than €12,000, it is not a specified act. It is very difficult to define that.

The problem, in short, is that while we appear to have the architecture in place to investigate corruption in public life, we do not have anything that can work effectively in practice. The Standards in Public Office Commission, for example, has been trying for ten years to have its powers and investigative role enhanced. Its pleas have fallen on deaf ears within successive Governments. The current Government set itself up as being determined to deal with these issues but, like its predecessors, it has not done so. The Select Committee on Members' Interests of Dáil Éireann and the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Seanad Éireann should be dissolved and subsumed into the anti-corruption agency proposed to be established in this motion. It would send a very important message if the Government were to support the motion tomorrow, 9 December, which is UN International Anti-Corruption Day.

8:45 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the urgent need for an independent agency to deal with corruption generally in Irish public life. I commend Deputies Catherine Murphy, Shortall and Donnelly on bringing forward the motion. They are seeking to make this a priority issue rather than sweeping it under the carpet - which has been too long the case - along with so many other issues affecting our society. Most of us in the current Dáil are old-fashioned public servants who came into politics to do the right thing and help people. We consider it a great honour to win an election. I spent ten years trying to get in here. Most of us, as councillors formerly and now as Deputies, entered politics to support the people of our constituency and our country.

This debate is particularly relevant as we approach the commemorations of the 1916 Rising. If we are serious about building a new Ireland, we must support these proposals to ensure that openness and accountability are practised, and not just spoken about, in public life. Ireland was once known as the island of saints and scholars but we all know what happened in recent years. We have seen corruption, bribery, banking scandals and greedy individuals riding roughshod over the lives of ordinary people. Those involved have let the people, the country and politics down. It really gets under my skin when some of these people, particularly those who are prominent members of political parties, are caught with their hand in the kitty, they do not resign from public office but instead come out a week later and proclaim themselves to be independent. That damages the integrity of Independent Members and councillors. Even though these individuals are small in number, they have greatly damaged Irish public life. They must be rooted out of politics regardless of any party political concerns or where they come from. It is not acceptable in any form to condone corruption.

The excellent motion before us this evening recognises the reality that corruption of public and commercial life represents a great threat to the democratic functioning of the State. That is a key element of the motion. Rules regarding the links between business and politics and the whole issue of corporate governance must be clearly defined so that everybody understands them. We must acknowledge that the State has no effective means of preventing, investigating or prosecuting corruption or white-collar crime as the responsible agencies are too disconnected. There is a lack of powers and necessary resources. I am saddened by the failure of the Government to act effectively on the findings of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, known as the Mahon tribunal, and the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters, known as the Moriarty tribunal. We must act on the recommendations of those tribunals and we must do so without delay. There have been eight tribunals of inquiry in the past 20 years and where they have made findings of impropriety in public and commercial life, very few consequences have arisen. That has led to cynicism among the public. In my constituency, 35% of people surveyed said they are distrusting of all politicians and do not intend to vote in the next election. That is sad for the voters themselves and also for Irish politics. The RTE programme last night has highlighted this issue once again. We must tackle it head on.

I strongly support the establishment of a permanent and independent anti-corruption agency to initially assume the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Register of Lobbying and the Competition Authority but without being confined to those functions. We must mandate the new agency to act as a standing commission of investigation which will have powers of compellability and testimony taking and be able to initiate court-authorised search and seizure operations, including access to bank records. Those are key elements of the motion. We also need to consolidate and reform legislation tackling corruption and white-collar crime. I emphasise the latter because we have a situation where people in the poorer sections of society look on in dismay as they are locked up for minor and petty criminal acts while those engaged in corporate crime walk away with millions or billions in their pockets. I am strongly supportive, too, of the provision in the Private Members' motion to create a new joint Oireachtas oversight committee.

This very effective motion is about dealing with corruption and restoring trust in Irish politics. Weaker and poorer sections of society must be represented in this House. For many years, they were excluded because the wealthy and powerful backed particular people. I urge the Government and all Members to support the motion when it is put to a vote tomorrow night. It strives to create a new brand of politics in this country.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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This debate is very opportune in view of last night's RTE report and the discussion which followed it. There were three points that struck me having watched the programme and the debate. The first, obviously, was the extent of the corruption that was revealed. Second was the pathetic quality of the excuses we heard such as that the forms were too difficult to fill in properly. My own experience of the Standards in Public Office Commission is of its readiness to answer any questions and assist on any points on which one might have a difficulty. The third point that struck me was the use of a sting operation employing actors and cameras to discover cases of corruption. What this showed up is the need for proper and independent investigation where allegations of wrongdoing are made.

This motion is about what the programme highlighted, namely, the requirement for integrity and honesty in public life. I was a teacher for 30 years and I have always been proud to say so. I am not sure I can say the same about being a politician. It should be a badge of honour that one has been elected by one's constituents to Ireland's national Parliament.

We have had many scandals and controversies which are undermining that, so public confidence is at a low. That accounts for the low turnout to vote in elections. We hear the mantra that we are all the same, there will not be any change and, as one radio caller said today, that politicians are on this gravy train. It is very unfortunate that this is the public perspective.

How has this been addressed in the past? We could look at the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, for example. They cost a tremendous amount but what tangible result came from that, apart from lining the pockets of certain professions? In regard to Storm Desmond, while flood prevention measures have been put in place after other storms, much preventative work still needs to be done to address some of the difficulties that are now arising for people. With that storm and with what we are talking about tonight, so much is reactive instead of proactive. There is a need to address issues in a much more proactive way rather than waiting for controversies and difficulties to arise and then reacting to them.

Why are Governments not more proactive in eliminating corruption and cronyism? I looked at the Government's amendment and it condemns corruption, breaches of ethics and all other forms of white-collar crime. There is a list of Acts and the quote is that the Government is "committed to ensuring that the necessary measures are in place to effectively combat corruption" but if that were so, what was shown on last night's programme - I am not just talking about the three individuals but also about the other instances that were mentioned - would not be a reality. Legislation is not worth anything unless it is effective and it is clear the legislation to date is not effective. Therefore, why is the very valid, sensible suggestion regarding the need to establish a permanent, independent anti-corruption agency, with powers as set out in the Private Members' motion, not being considered?

There is one aspect of the motion with which I do not agree and that is to set up a new Oireachtas public interest committee. Politicians should not sit as judge and jury over fellow politicians. Any investigation must be independent and impartial. We have an unfortunate culture in Ireland of not taking responsibility for our actions. Responsibility means taking the difficult step of resigning from the position but we do not have that culture here. We also have the mentality of the loveable rogue but I see nothing loveable about somebody whose self-interest dominates everything he or she does. As Rousseau said, "[a]s soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall". We know progress has been made in eradicating complicity between commercial business interests and elected and unelected officials but we still have quite a way to go before that is completely eradicated. The suggestions in the Private Members' motion could contribute. We are a small country, so certain people move in the same social and sporting circles. That has contributed to the perception that it is about who one knows.

In 2014, Ireland ranked 17th in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index. Its definition of corruption was the abuse of public office for private gain. Private gain was not just confined to finances but also personal and partisan value for those involved. It was the tribunals of the late 20th and early 21st century that exposed the corruption in Irish public life. It was summed up in the phrase "shady dealings between businesses and political elites". The common denominators in the findings of the beef tribunal and the McCracken, Moriarty and Mahon tribunals were improper dealings, tax evasion, corrupt payments and donations and gifts to Irish political figures by businessmen and corporations to win influence. The RTE programme discovered the same, that is, donations, gifts and corrupt payments. What is in the Government amendment has not been a deterrent. Despite all the tribunal findings, very few politicians or businesspeople were criminally convicted or charged.

On the positive side, according to Transparency International, organised crime is relatively non-existent in Irish politics, which we will be glad to hear, and despite the degrees of corruption that have been found, we are one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Today is International Anti-Corruption Day. I was very struck this morning when I was at the launch of ATD Fourth World handbook, entitled Making Human Rights Work for People Living in Extreme Poverty. Those in positions of trust, elected to high office or working in positions of influence should surely be the leaders when it comes to promoting and protecting human rights rather than abusing them. The actions of that so-called elite in politics, business and corporations are responsible for the extreme poverty of so many others. As we are such a voice in the UN on human rights, we must start looking at human rights in this country and looking at ourselves is probably the first step in that.

8:55 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I call the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Jim Daly and Michelle Mulherin. They have 30 minutes between them.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“condemns all instances of corruption, anti-competitive behaviour, breaches of ethics legislation, breaches of the Companies Acts, and all other forms of white-collar crime;

recognises the need for a robust system of public standards legislation and enforcement to prevent wrongdoing on the part of elected and public officials;

— the significant programme of reforms introduced by the Government to protect whistleblowers, reform lobbying and increase transparency and oversight, which includes the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, and the Freedom of Information Act 2014;

— the major overhaul and reform of companies legislation introduced by the Companies Act 2014;

— and approves of the reform of competition and consumer protection regulation by the amalgamation of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency into the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission;

— the significant improvement to legislation enabling investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime occasioned by the Criminal Justice Act 2011;

— the further legislative improvements in regard to the prevention and prosecution of unethical and corrupt behaviour, including measures recommended by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon Tribunal), including those to be introduced by the forthcoming Public Sector Standards Bill and the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill; and

— the reform of planning legislation undertaken by the Government to implement the recommendations of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (Mahon Tribunal) including the forthcoming Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 which is to be published shortly;
recognises and strongly supports:
— the work of the Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in tackling and investigating white-collar crime; and

— the work of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement;
acknowledges the close cooperation between the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the significant success in terms of recent convictions for white-collar offences;

recognises and strongly supports the work of a range of other specialised bodies who are charged with the investigation of elected and public officials and commercial activities including the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; acknowledges the vital independence of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in bringing prosecutions for complex white-collar offences;

recognises that the Government is strongly committed to ensuring that the necessary measures are in place to effectively combat corruption and recognises the significant investment in Garda resources through investment in information communications technology, vehicles, buildings and most importantly through renewed recruitment which will see 600 new trainee Gardaí enter the Garda College in 2016;
further notes:
— that Ireland is a party to a number of inter-governmental conventions which set international standards in the fight against bribery and corruption;

— that Ireland is subject to ongoing external evaluation of the effectiveness of its anticorruption measures under a number of international evaluation mechanisms including the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, the Implementation Review Group of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the European Union Anti-Corruption Report;

— the significant work done and currently being undertaken by various Commissions of Investigation; and

— the engagement by the Taoiseach with opposition leaders to seek a consensus on how best to address certain challenges that have arisen in relation to a Commission of Investigation; and
supports the Government’s programme of legislation and reform to improve standards in public office and the private corporate sector, tackle corruption, anti-competitive behaviour and all forms of white-collar crime.”

There is not a state in the world, not even the most open democracy, that has succeeded in fully eliminating the greed, self-service and corruption of those few who abuse political office for their own gratification or enrichment. Last night's "RTE Investigates" programme highlighted how the greed and self-service of a few in public office persists in our democracy. I stress that it is only a few. The vast majority of our elected representatives, whether in this building or in council chambers nationwide, are in it for the right reasons. Their service to their communities, to the State and to the public good must not be allowed to be tarnished by the carry-on of the few. This carry-on is absolutely unacceptable. It is disgusting and it will not be tolerated.

Let us not forget that corruption is not a victimless crime. Families whose homes are flooded because a corrupt vote resulted in housing being built on a rezoned floodplain are victims. Residents of areas left years without basic community facilities because a planned town centre was shelved in favour of a privately-developed shopping centre are victims. The question before this House is about how we prevent such future victimisation and how we tackle corruption.

This Government recognises the need for robust systems of regulation, for effective enforcement of such systems and for effective sanctions when people transgress. Since taking office in 2011, the scale and pace of reform in terms of overhauling the regulation of the financial services sector, the corporate sector and the public sector has been far beyond the efforts of any previous Government. We have seen the enactment of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013; the Companies Act 2014; the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012; the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012; the Protected Disclosures Act 2014; the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015; and the Freedom of Information Act 2014, to mention some of the key Acts. In the area of criminal law, the Criminal Justice Act 2011 has provided the Garda Síochána with innovative tools for the investigation of white-collar crime. While much has been done, I would like to point to three Bills due for publication shortly, which will implement various recommendations of the Mahon tribunal and from the Standards in Public Office Commission, namely, the public sector standards Bill, the planning and development (amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 and the criminal justice (corruption) Bill.

I will say more on each of these Bills in turn but first I would like to touch on some of the issues raised in last night's "RTE Investigates" programme.

The Garda Síochána is examining the programme to see if any action is required on its part. One of the key issues addressed in last night's programme was that of preplanning application consultations. Section 247 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 sets out comprehensive procedures for such consultations, which the Act specifically states should not in any way prejudice the final decision of the planning authority and require that records must be kept. Furthermore, it is already a criminal offence for a member or an official of a planning authority to take or seek any favour, benefit or payment, direct or indirect, in connection with any such consultation.

Following Government consideration of the final Mahon tribunal report, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government published a general scheme of a Bill on 12 January 2015 to provide for the establishment of the office of the planning regulator, OPR. Establishment of the OPR will ensure that there is full public scrutiny and democratic accountability over the significant power to overturn the decisions of local authorities as regards the forward planning and zoning of their areas. It will also ensure that zoning decisions will continue to be scrutinised but in a new and independent manner, separate from the Minister's Department, where that function currently resides. The proposed detailed Bill to underpin the establishment of the new independent office of the planning regulator is intended to be submitted to Government next week for approval of publication.

Turning to the new ethics framework, the proposed public sector standards Bill is a commitment in the Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 and is required to give effect to the recommendations of the Mahon and Moriarty tribunal reports relating to regulation of conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest are currently regulated at national level by the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, and at local level by the Local Government Act 2001. The effectiveness of the current system in identifying and addressing potential conflicts of interest raises concerns, as by the RTE investigation programme. The proposals in the General Scheme of the Public Sector Standards Bill are for a comprehensive and far-reaching reform, consolidation and modernisation of the current ethics framework, streamlining provisions at local and national level and ensuring greater consistency in ethics legislation across the public sector.

The proposed Bill provides for the following reforms: the Standards in Public Office Commission be replaced by a single, dedicated public sector standards commissioner and deputy commissioner, with increased powers and who will implement improved complaints and investigations procedures; the commissioner will have stronger powers of sanction and enforcement in a range of contraventions as well as a broader role in the provision of advice and guidance; all public officials will have to disclose as a matter of routine actual and potential conflicts of interest that arise in the context of the performance of their duties; significant extension of the personal and material scope of disclosures for public officials in line with the Mahon tribunal report recommendations, with common definitions applying at both national and local levels; a graduated approach will apply, with the declarations of interests of politicians and senior officials being made to the commissioner and published; statutory prohibitions on the use of insider information, on the seeking by public officials of benefits, including gifts and favours, to further their private interests, and on local elected representatives from dealing professionally with land in certain circumstances; and standards of integrity will apply to all public officials which will be used to provide a framework for codes of standards and behaviour of public officials.

The proposed corruption Bill will clarify and strengthen the law criminalising corruption and replace the seven overlapping Prevention of Corruption Acts dating back to 1889. Penalties of up to ten years imprisonment and unlimited fines are envisaged for persons convicted on indictment. In addition, the courts are to be given new powers to remove certain public officials from office.

The recommendations of the Mahon tribunal report have been taken into account in provisions to be contained in the Bill, including a new offence of making payments knowingly or recklessly to a third party who intends to use them as bribes; and a new offence for public officials who use confidential information to corruptly obtain an advantage. It is intended to enhance the ability of the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring prosecutions by providing for the presumption of corruption where a person with an interest in the functions being discharged by a public official makes a payment to the official or a close relative, for example, where an applicant for planning permission makes a payment to a planning official; a public official fails to declare interests as required by ethics legislation; and a public official accepts a gift in breach of ethics codes. Suspected bribes can be seized and forfeited under current legislation. These provisions will be strengthened by allowing courts to order the forfeiture of assets equal to the value of any bribe given or received.

The proposed Bill will give better effect to our international obligations under the UN Convention against Corruption, the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and the OECD Convention Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. It also contains an innovative provision outlawing intimidation with the intention of influencing a person to do an act in relation to his or her job or office. The Bill will be published shortly.

In their motion, Deputies Catherine Murphy, Donnelly and Shortall propose the establishment of an anti-corruption agency. It would also be granted wide powers, including those of investigation, compulsion of testimony and prosecution. I appreciate that the Deputies are motivated by a concern to enhance the way in which a broad range of wrongdoing is addressed but in proposing the merger of such a broad range of regulatory and enforcement bodies I believe they are overlooking the complexity of what is involved. In particular, it is not clear how the amalgamation of a wide range of agencies with widely varying functions would, of itself, enhance the capacity of the State to fight corruption.

Let us look, for example, at the areas of competition and corporate enforcement.

The Competition Authority no longer exists by that name. The main mission of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is to make markets work for both consumers and businesses. This entails a wide range of functions from advocacy and information functions to enforcement and investigations to merger determinations. The majority of these do not fall within the realm of corruption, and I am advised that the proposal to include the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in a broad anti-corruption agency would not be appropriate and could be detrimental to consumers' interests.

There is inter agency co-ordination in appropriate areas, and on appropriate tasks. The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation works closely with other bodies with relevant enforcement functions, including the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, the Central Bank, the Revenue Commissioners, and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. A detective sergeant is seconded to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, and a detective inspector, two detective sergeants, two detective gardaí and a garda are seconded to the ODCE. The success of this co-operation is evident in recent convictions for breaches of the Companies Acts. In his letter of 4 December to Opposition leaders, the Taoiseach noted that he had asked his officials to assess how the regulatory, investigatory and enforcement framework can be improved.

Deputies have referred to the challenges arising regarding the Cregan commission of investigation. The interim report and the issues it raises have been subjected to detailed consideration by officials in the Attorney General's office. There also have been consultations with the commission to explore possible solutions to the issues raised. Following consideration by the Government last week, the Taoiseach wrote to the Opposition parties on 4 December setting out possible options for proceeding with the work, while also identifying some legal and financial risks that need to be considered. The Government has made clear its wish to ensure an effective and timely investigation of these matters of public concern, and believes it would be beneficial to secure the greatest possible degree of consensus across the Oireachtas on the optimum approach. The Taoiseach, therefore, intends to meet with the leaders of the Opposition this week to explore these options in greater depth.

I share the concerns expressed by Deputies regarding what we saw on "RTE Investigates" last night. There should be no place in Irish politics at local or national level for anyone who seeks to turn what is, for most of us, an opportunity to serve the public interest into a venal, self-serving, money-grabbing, corrupt practice. The Government has done much to reform the legislative and regulatory landscape. There is more to be done, and the coming weeks will see publication of further key reforms in the area of planning, public standards and corruption law. We will continue to work to ensure that we have better laws, better enforcement and a renewed culture of propriety that will leave no hiding place for those who would betray the public trust. It is in all our interests, on every side of the House, to ensure the public has confidence in what we are doing.

9:15 pm

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I have been a practicing politician since 2004, approximately 11 years, seven of which I spent in local government and the remainder here in Dáil Éireann. One of the starkest differences I noticed when I moved from local to national Government is how the agenda is set. It often disappoints me. Local government genuinely reflects the wishes and issues of the people on the ground, and the motions that are put down in county halls for the meetings every Monday come from the grassroots and are led by the people. It is real democracy in motion. However, since coming to the Dáil, I border on resenting the way the media continuously sets the agenda. I find it very difficult to understand. If anything is eroding our reputation, democracy and how the House works, it is the reactive pandering to the agenda set by the media. "Morning Ireland" has admitted it is "setting the agenda" for the day, and the House goes off on a tangent following whatever the media is talking about.

When I saw the motion, the first thing that struck me was that it was very curious timing, the day after the programme on RTE. The programme, which I did not see, was the most hyped, sensationalised and advertised programme. I have not seen RTE promote anything with the gusto with which it promoted the programme last week, and here we are in the House reacting to the agenda led by the editors in Montrose. Maybe we should hand over the Order of Business to the editors in Montrose and let them dictate the pace and what we discuss here.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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We did not even know the programme would be on when we tabled the motion.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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That is fine. The Deputy must have been living under a cloud, given that it was the most hyped, sensationalised and advertised programme. I wish we politicians would set the agenda ourselves. Politics should be about leadership, and if we are to be real representatives of the people and show the courage and conviction required of this leadership, we should set our own agenda, not react to the media. I have no difficulty with the motion and I welcome the opportunity to debate ethics, how we all perform and standards in public office and public life. While I would welcome the focus on it any day of the week, I have an issue with the media. The motion, while essentially good, is a knee-jerk reaction to the events of the past 24 hours.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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We submitted the motion last Friday morning.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I did not see the programme, and context is required. I have heard most of the references during the debate to the "RTE Investigates" programme. RTE trawled through details on every single politician, councillor, Deputy and Senator, and came up with a couple of bad apples. Given that everybody is presumed innocent, I will not take anybody's character in this forum. I am very proud to be part of this profession. If we, as practicing politicians, do not have the courage of our own convictions, to stand up for ourselves and our own integrity, rather than pandering to a media-led race to the bottom, God help us all. Balance must be brought in while we are debating the matter. Care and caution are required in the media's portrayal of politicians, and it has a responsibility not just to publish cheap sensationalist headlines, of which many have been put about. This must be challenged, and we are the only people who can stand up for ourselves. It is eroding the political system. The less respect people have for the political system, the less they will engage and interact with the system. This is the most significant threat to our democracy, which we all have a responsibility to protect.

An anti-corruption agency is not necessary as it would duplicate the work of a number of existing agencies and bodies such as the Garda Síochána, the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the register of lobbyists, the Competition Authority and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation.

If I were to look at this proposal in a helpful way, I would agree that there is room for some of the powers of some of the bodies I have mentioned to be strengthened. I do not believe, however, that the creation of another organisation - I hesitate to use the word "quango" - to do this work would solve any issue or be any more helpful. I would certainly support a strengthening of some of the roles and responsibilities of existing agencies. I would love to see the Standards in Public Office Commission, for example, being more proactive as that would help the political system. Although we self-declare our interests, or do not declare them in some cases, the checks and balances that are in place are insufficient. To be fair to RTE, it was very proactive in trawling through these documents and doing background checks. Perhaps we need a more proactive approach. I believe the existing bodies could do more of that. I suppose that is basically my contribution.

9:25 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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There are four minutes left in the slot, so the Deputy can continue if he wishes.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I am all out of ideas.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I will go to the next speaker.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil is pleased to support the broad thrust of this motion, which involves the establishment of an anti-corruption agency, and to condemn without reservation or qualification corruption in all its forms. The Fianna Fáil Party has accepted the resignation of Councillor Joe Queenan on foot of last night's "RTE Investigates" programme which looked at standards in public office. Some of the behaviour displayed in last night's programme was shocking and completely unacceptable. The instances in which the law appeared to be clearly breached need to be fully investigated by the Garda. Prosecutions should be brought where appropriate. Separately, Fianna Fáil will immediately commence an internal inquiry under the auspices of its national executive, or ard-chomhairle, to establish the full facts in respect of each allegation that was made against a current member of the party and to determine what appropriate action should be taken. Fianna Fáil expects the highest standards from its public representatives. There is no tolerance within the party for any breach of such standards.

In that context, I will set out its track record in tackling corruption. Since 1997, Fianna Fáil has introduced a comprehensive series of measures to ensure the highest ethical standards are maintained in public office. Planning laws have been strengthened and reformed to reduce the potential for corruption in future. In opposition, we have strongly maintained our commitment to open and transparent politics, for example, when we published legislation on lobbying and political donations.

I will give an overview of some of the legislation that was enacted when Fianna Fáil was in government. The Standards in Public Office Act 2001 created the Standards in Public Office Commission, which supervises the disclosure of interests and tax compliance by public representatives. The commission was designed to ensure greater transparency in politics and the maintenance of the highest ethical standards in financial affairs by public representatives. The 2001 Act compels all officeholders to provide this information. Fianna Fáil introduced the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001 which implemented the highest international OECD and EU standards in relation to anti-corruption laws, comprehensively set out definitions of corruption and those agents involved and established strong and clear punishments for those found guilty of corruption. The code of practice for employees of local authorities, which was introduced in 2001, covers a raft of areas to ensure local authority staff maintain their impeccable reputation in their execution of their official duties and avoid any conflict of interest. The Local Government Act 2001, which was a fundamental innovation in the sphere of local government, sets out the requirement for councillors to publicly declare their interest in any matters before the council. It obliges local authorities to hold a public register of an annual declaration of interests by councillors.

The Civil Service code of standards and behaviour, which was introduced in 2004, sets out the requirements to which civil servants must fully adhere. As a supplement to the ethics Act, the code underpins the high standards the Civil Service has consistently lived up to since the foundation of the State. The Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act 1999, which ensures donations to the campaigns of local election candidates are made publicly available, has created a more transparent system of electioneering and ensured all democratic elections are subjected to strong oversight of who funds them. In 2009, the changes in the limits that apply to local election candidate expenditure placed spending restraints on local election candidates to reduce the role of money in such elections and restore public trust in the democratic process.

The Mahon tribunal recognised that the planning framework has been fundamentally changed in recent years. A hierarchical framework of plans has been created to ensure there is a sustainable development process. Furthermore, checks and balances have been placed on elected members of local authorities to reduce the scope for future corruption and unsound planning decisions. The Planning and Development Act 2000 consolidated and updated previous planning law along the principles of sustainable development. It strengthened the overall planning framework and set down the basis for proper planning into the future. The national spatial strategy and the regional and county development plans are all integral parts of the 2000 Act which created a hierarchical framework of plans that constrains the potential for corruption in local areas. Environmental impact statements were also provided for in the Act to ensure strong environmental standards are fully maintained in the planning process. The Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 provides for the making to An Bord Pleanála of applications for planning permission in respect of certain proposed developments that are of strategic importance to the State. It also made certain other amendments to the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2004 to ensure strategic issues are rapidly dealt with outside the local authority structure.

After Fianna Fáil went into opposition, it introduced the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011, which proposed to implement key recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal, cut donation limits and introduce an effective ban on corporate donations. The most significant part of the Bill proposed a restriction on corporate donations to parties and politicians which would amount to an effective ban. Specifically, all corporate donations of more than €100 would have had to have been declared within 14 days, authorised by a general meeting and registered with the Standards in Public Offices Commission. In addition, all companies, directors and significant shareholders would have had to have declared current or potential public contracts at the time of making any donation. We proposed such an approach on foot of legal advice that a complete ban would most likely be unconstitutional. Fianna Fáil would be happy to propose a constitutional amendment to go further on this issue. Other changes proposed in the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2011 included a reduction, from €6,348 to €2,500, in the allowable individual donations to political parties, with the level at which these must be publicly declared to fall from €5,078 to €1,000. The Bill would also have required the publication of donation statements within 25 days of polling. This requirement is currently set at 58 days for unsuccessful candidates and 31 March of the following year for successful candidates. The Bill would also have provided for the Standards in Public Office Commission to audit the accounts of political parties each year, with income and expenditure accounts, balance sheets and donations statements to be published. It would also have extended the supervision of the commission to further independent expenditure in referendums and would have implemented the recommendations of Mr. Justice Moriarty on extending provisions to independent or non-party candidates.

In Opposition, Fianna Fáil published a Register of Lobbyists Bill in my name, in January 2012, which set out a new regulatory regime to bring openness and transparency to the lobbying industry in Ireland. The regulation of lobbying is an integral part of our vision for fundamental political reform. Such reform must seek to restore public trust and confidence in the democratic process and ensure a level playing field for all citizens in influencing policy. The following OECD endorsed principles underpinned our legislation: that free and open access for all stakeholders to Government is an integral part of the democratic process; that lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity; that there should be a strong level of transparency on what organisations and individuals are involved in attempting to influence public policy; and that a system for the registration of paid lobbyists should not impede free and open access to Government. Creating a clear regulatory framework that instils and upholds a culture of integrity and openness is essential to revamping the Irish political system.

We argue that our lobbying reforms directly complement our political donations Bill in creating a more open, fair way of doing politics. Specifically, our Bill set out the following measures: a comprehensive working definition of the term “lobbyist” that reflects the Irish political context; the establishment of a mandatory, publicly available lobbyist register; a register of returns that makes publicly available who is being lobbied and by whom; an OECD principle-based code of conduct by the Standards in Public Office Commission to help foster a culture of integrity; comprehensive implementation and sanction powers to create and enforce a culture of compliance; and a section of the Standards in Public Office Commission committed solely to the oversight of lobbying, avoiding the need for a new quango. We also called on the Government to co-ordinate with the EU on a mandatory EU lobbyist register to ensure that Brussels-based legislation across the Commission and Parliament is subject to fair and open democratic standards of accountability.

The Mahon tribunal set out a comprehensive series of measures to address the grave problems uncovered in its findings. We are calling on the Government to implement as many of the recommendations as soon as possible. However, to date it has failed to implement a number of them, such as the establishment of a planning regulator; that a breach of ethics should be a criminal offence; an increased role for the Standards in Public Office Commission; that public officials should be restricted from land dealings for a period of two years after leaving office; that all political parties should disclose full audited accounts; that a new definition should be established for political donations; and that donations should be strictly limited.

The disclosure requirements for public officials should be expanded to include conflicts of interest, non-material interests, electoral donations and interests enjoyed by a public official as part of a class of persons. Public officials should also be required to make a periodic disclosure of interests within 30 days of entering public office and to update their disclosures within 30 days of any significant change in their interests.

Fianna Fáil also has a proposal for the establishment of a new electoral commission. We believe that Ireland should have an electoral process with integrity and needs a new electoral commission with a wide remit, strong enforcement powers and sufficient resources. The current system for the administration of elections is totally inadequate. It is of the utmost importance that a new body is established to clean up the archaic electoral register. We have seen continual decline in turnout across elections in this country, yet the Department has said that it does not have the responsibility to address this, nor are there any measures to improve voter turnout. This is a complete dereliction of duty by the Minister and his Department in their responsibility for electoral administration.

A new independent electoral commission is required to take responsibility for the administration of elections and to amalgamate responsibilities for the management of our electoral process which is currently dispersed across several bodies, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the 31 local authorities and a host of different agencies including SIPO, the Registrar of Political Parties, the Constituency Commission, the Referendum Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The franchise section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has shown itself completely unwilling to address failures in electoral administration and elections in Ireland.

What should be the role of an independent electoral commission? For Ireland to have an electoral process with integrity, it needs an electoral commission with a wide remit. Renaming SIPO and adding a few additional functions such as party registration, constituency boundary design and oversight of referendums are not sufficient. It should take over the election oversight role of the franchise section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in managing candidate nominations, appointing returning officers, liaising with the local authorities in setting up polling stations and ensuring a smooth count process. It should be the job of the commission to oversee these roles, working in conjunction with the local authorities, and it is of the utmost importance that a new electoral commission take the lead role in cleaning up and modernising our vote processes and in encouraging turnout at elections. The new electoral commission should have the power to proactively call political organisations to account in relation to debates and it must be given sufficient regulatory powers and complete independence from ministerial influence.

Fianna Fáil is happy to support the broad thrust of the Bill and I am happy to have put on the record of the House the progressive actions taken by Fianna Fáil, both in the last period in Government and in Opposition, to promote integrity, honesty and transparency around the area of ethics in politics.

9:35 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion which is very timely, given what we saw last night on RTE in the willingness of a small number of public representatives to effectively prostitute themselves to random developers to gain a few pounds sterling, which seems to be their currency of choice.

The motion states that the Government has failed to act on all the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal. This means we do not have greater protection against corruption on the part of elected representatives of the type that led to the Mahon and Flood tribunals being established in the first place. It would appear there are still a small number of chancers willing to take advantage of their position of trust.

One of the key recommendations of the Mahon report was the establishment of the office of an independent planning regulator and that has simply not been done. The published heads of a bill containing provisions for a planning regulator do not fulfil the recommendation that the office be truly independent. It is doubtful whether the bill will even come before the House prior to the election. That is why I published a Bill during the summer which specifically undertakes to establish an independent planning regulator and I will be moving that Bill in the next few days. The Taoiseach said he would take on board what we said and I hope he does. The difference between what the Government is proposing and what we are proposing is that the planning regulator would be appointed by the Public Appointments Service and not by the Minister. It would have the powers to investigate and give directions to local and regional authorities and it would enable actions to be brought to recover and enforce costs and any charge, as well as the power to bring prosecutions. I brought forward other provisions some seven or eight months ago but these are three key provisions in my Bill.

A regulator such as I propose is required to ensure we no longer have the secrecy that surrounds planning in this State. That is not to suggest that most planning decisions or zonings are suspect or involve corruption.

However, we do not have the necessary transparency or the ability to investigate contentious decisions which leave matters in doubt. That doubt will always remain. This particularly applies to situations such as the Corrib gas pipeline in Mayo and the proposed industrial wind turbines in the midlands, about which there is a huge level of public distrust. In the case of the wind farm in Cullenagh, County Laois, for example, the An Bord Pleanála inspector recommended against it but the members of An Bord Pleanála ignored the inspector's findings. That is the reason Sinn Féin published legislation on wind farms which would not allow local development plans to be superseded by so-called critical infrastructure legislation.

We must restore local democracy, although what we saw on the television last night does not help in that. However, we must overcome that and ensure that the people elected at local level are accountable and that their decisions carry weight. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, will also be aware of the serious allegations regarding planning decisions in several counties. Some of them concern Wicklow County Council and claims regarding rezoning. This has led to claims that files were removed from the Minister's office. I am aware that an investigation of all of this was carried out and we have been promised a report on it on a number of occasions. Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity tomorrow night to inform us about the progress of that inquiry. There are also inquiries under way into planning in Dublin, Cork, Carlow, Galway and Donegal. Again, we have been assured at various stages that reports on these will be brought forward. Given the fact that the House is likely to sit for only a short number of weeks after Christmas before the election, I call on the Minister and the Government to bring forward any reports they have and to expedite the reports from those inquiries so we can examine their contents.

Sinn Féin commends the Deputies on tabling this important motion. It is important to state that the vast majority of public representatives at local and national level are not corrupt. There are a few people who will engage in corrupt practices, as we have seen. We have also seen the best public service being given by local authority members. Unfortunately, the actions of a few cast a shadow over that. Hopefully, we can stamp it out and this motion certainly puts forward concrete proposals for doing that.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at at 9.45 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 December 2015.