Dáil debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

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


The following motion was moved by Deputy Catherine Murphy on Tuesday, 8 December 2015:

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

4:30 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It makes a very depressing vista, and who would have thought after all the tribunals, the political scandals and the exposure of the cynical and self-serving behaviour of a coterie of councillors, Deputies and even Ministers that we would find ourselves back where we started when it comes to unethical and corrupt behaviour by some politicians? Who would have thought the culture of the brown envelope, honed to a fine art most spectacularly by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, has once again reared its ugly head? I would have hoped, and the people of Ireland might have hoped, this was a thing of the past. Who could have dreamt it is still as much part of the present as it was of the past? For those who might have thought and hoped we had turned a corner in the ethical standards of politicians, and for those who thought this parish pump style political rot that had become a byword for Fianna Fáil local and national governance was but a distant memory, how devastating it must be for our electorate to discover it is alive and well and seemingly going unchallenged.

I think what most people find most shocking is that such brazen corruption of the type so graphically exposed in the recent RTE programme exists in an almost flippant and casual way. The ordinary voter would have, in all sincerity, hoped after the debacle of previous Fianna Fáil Governments mired in endemic brown envelope corruption and the promise of a new beginning by this Government that we would have left all of this behind. Should we really have expected this in real terms, particularly from a Government that has so generously rewarded the rich and punished the poor, the homeless and the single parent families? It is a Government that gives breaks to the golden circles and the media oligarchs. We would probably need to be delusional, honestly, to believe the Government would really represent a break with the corrupt politics of the past or, indeed, represent a new beginning for the country. Clearly, this is not the case.

With a wearisome sense of déjà vuwe are faced once again with the scandal of public representatives making demands for clandestine payments, and sure why would they not do it? Where is the sanction that would prevent such atrocious behaviour? Where is the punishment for those who have behave in such a delinquent manner? Can we point to any real tangible examples of corrupt politicians getting their comeuppance? The answer to this is "No", and unfortunately so for our democratic system. The example of the Haugheys, the Lowrys and the Flynns of this world is, perhaps, a beacon of hope for all those who want to use the political system for their own selfish gain to line own pockets and to do so, it seems, with impunity.

We should recall that corruption is not a victimless crime. The houses built on flood plains clearly show that the victims of corruption are ordinary families for whom these corrupt politicians clearly have nothing but contempt. Today is international anti-corruption day, and I can think of no more appropriate day on which we deliberate and debate this subject. The costs of corruption are evident. Corruption undermines democratic institutions and stunts economic development. Something with which we in particular should be concerned is that corruption makes the public, all of our voters, cynical about politicians and politics, and who can blame them?

As we stand here this evening, the question and challenge for the Government and the political system is to make, at last, a real and definitive stand against corruption, set aside self-interest and support an anti-corruption agency and an independent planning regulator with proper teeth and resources, and ensure there are sanctions, penalties and consequences for those who behave in a corrupt manner and who, by extension, corrupt the organs and systems of the State.

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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When the Government came to power in 2011 we were promised a democratic revolution, but here we are, almost five years on, and there has been little or no change in how the Government does business. Nowhere is this more obvious than how we have handled the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005. The Bill was introduced in 2005, had Second Stage in 2007, Committee Stage in 2009 and has yet to be brought to Report and Final Stages. It is a Bill by which the outcomes of the Moriarty tribunal could be furthered. Sinn Féin has continually raised the issue with Fine Gael and Labour Party Ministers, but the Bill stands still. As it stands, all the Moriarty tribunal report seems to be useful for is holding up the old sash windows of Government Buildings during warm summer days.

The reality appears to be that the Government does not wish to deal with the tribunals or anything of such matters. To do so would be to severely shift away from how the Government has acted in Ireland for many years. It is not just this Government, but also previous Governments. The findings of the tribunals caused headaches for mainstream parties and for their financial backers. A cosy consortium exists in Irish politics between certain business interests and political life. The Moriarty tribunal pointed this out and yet nothing has happened, just as nothing happened from the outcome of the beef tribunal, and just as those named in the tribunals still operate freely in Ireland, despite having been found doing wrong. In some cases they are still in receipt of Government contracts. Are we serious?

It seems very easy to bring a case against a 16 year old for throwing eggs at a Minister's car. It seems very easy to show up in the early hours of the morning to arrest water protesters in their homes. It even seems very easy to arrest a Member of the House for a political protest at Shannon Airport. Why, then, is it so difficult to follow up on named persons for serious breaches of the law? Is it that Governments in Ireland do not consider white collar crime an actual crime, or is it that the Government is so wedded to the business interests named in these reports that it will never pursue them?

I have no doubt there are many honest Members on the Government benches who do not like the carry on or the actions of these individuals. However, there does not seem to be a political appetite to pursue those who act in a corrupt manner.

The "RTE Investigates" programme was a perfect example of how corrupt practices are viewed by some in this country. I fear, moreover, that it is only the tip of the iceberg. White-collar crime is apparently untouchable. If the Government is serious about tackling corruption, it should take a stand today - UN International Anti-Corruption Day - by announcing new measures to bring offenders to justice. It is disingenuous of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians to lament the fact that the events revealed in Monday night's programme would be very difficult to prove in a court of law. Who writes the legislation? Members will recall that my colleague, Deputy Stanley, brought forward legislation to set up a planning regulator. If Government Deputies had not voted down that Bill, we might not have seen what we did in the "RTE Investigates" programme.

4:40 pm

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Deputies Buttimer, Twomey, Mulherin and Fitzpatrick are sharing time.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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In welcoming the opportunity to speak tonight, I am acutely conscious that all of us in this august Chamber share the privilege of being here at the behest of the people we represent. I do not want to turn this debate into an adversarial political game of criss-cross but I ask the Deputies opposite to reflect on the recent BBC "Spotlight" programme and on the activities engaged in by members of their own organisation in the past. The upholding of ethics in public life is a concern we all share. We all want to see integrity, honesty and transparency from public representatives. I can tell Deputy McDonald with certainty that I have never engaged in, nor would I tolerate, any type of activity that breaches the trust of the people. If she and her colleagues are determined to cast the net, I would point out to her that in the coming election, as in the previous one, I will fund my campaign from my own money and will not seek donations from anybody.

It behoves all of us to have a duty of care to the people we represent. Voters entrusted us with the task of being their voice in the Oireachtas and representing their interests and concerns. It is a privilege that comes with notable responsibilities and a privilege we must respect and honour. In exchange for the trust citizens place in us as their public representatives, they, rightly so, expect us to uphold certain standards and act in a certain manner. When that fundamental relationship is breached, when public representatives act in an unacceptable manner, it betrays the trust of the people we are meant to represent. There can be no ambiguity here. Corruption of any type is wrong and must be rooted out of the political system. No matter who we are, where we are from or what party we represent, we must never stand over corruption in the political system.

The programme RTE broadcast on Monday night last revealed worrying evidence that despite the progress we have made in the past two decades, there are still people willing to succumb to the old ways. We can never allow greed to be part of Irish politics again. Those who breach the high standard we all expect and live by in this House every day let themselves down, let their colleagues down, let the people down and tarnish the excellent work being done by the vast majority of public representatives. Even though they are a minuscule minority, their actions reflect badly on all of us as politicians and betray those of us who do the best we can every day. They erode a fragile trust between politicians and the people they represent.

It is my firm belief that seeking any personal benefit from performing the role to which we have been elected is wrong. There can be no excuses and no ambiguity about that. It is simply wrong to seek to benefit in any way from one's role as a public representative. Having listened to Deputy Catherine Murphy's contribution last night, I emphasise that the members of the party I have represented for 11 years have never sought personal gain or to corrupt the political system. We have 1,186 public representatives in this country, comprising councillors and Members of the Oireachtas. The second half of the programme broadcast by RTE on Monday night focused on the actions of three individuals. Together, they represent 0.25% of all public representatives in the State. It is saddening and sickening that those three individuals can cast a pall over all of us.

We must always operate with honesty and integrity in the work we do. The level of compliance with the requirements of the Standards in Public Office Commission is there to be seen. In addition to the reforms already in place, the Government is in the process of improving how we regulate public activities. I noted that no Member on the other side of the House referred to the ban on corporation donations. The severing of links between business and the body politic is something we must all welcome. That fundamental change in how politics is funded reveals the intent and nature of the reform this Government is undertaking. I might be in a minority of one in my view that everybody in this House, members of political parties and Independents alike, should be State-funded, because that would ensure openness, transparency and accountability. It would be a great way of doing business.

The ending of corporate donations and the establishment of a system of registration and record-keeping in respect of lobbying are welcome and should, over time, help to make the process of political lobbying more transparent. We all agree more changes are required. A public sector standards Bill, a planning and development Bill and a criminal justice (corruption) Bill are in the process of being drafted. The latter will represent a significant change, making companies liable for the actions of directors, employees and agents and making it an offence to pay a middle man, who, in turn, pays the bribe. In addition, it will explicitly make trading in influence an offence. These are significant changes that will further enhance and improve standards across public life. Given the focus that has been brought to these issues this week, I hope we can fast-track those reforms. This morning, the Revenue Commissioners published their list of tax defaulters. That, too, is reflective of unacceptable behaviour. It behoves all of us as politicians to work to serve the people in the public interest, not out of self-interest.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It is offensive to many Members of this House and to people outside it who happen to be members of a political party to have Sinn Féin put forth the claim that we can be assumed to be corrupt. When the Sinn Féin party leader was embroiled in a controversy over issues of child sexual abuse, the Deputies opposite were very coy in condemning it. They would not like if the assumption were made that Sinn Féin is a political party which is soft on child sexual abuse. Coming in here and throwing out bland statements about corrupt members of political parties is offensive. It is beneath Deputy McDonald and should be beneath her party colleagues to throw out those sorts of accusations. If they want to reduce politics to that level, a claim that Sinn Féin is soft on child sexual abuse has equal standing to the type of ridiculous remarks Deputies of that party have made in regard to corruption. It is easy for them to throw remarks out into the Chamber about decent public representatives who have never taken a bribe in their lives. There are plenty of councillors and plenty of Members of this House who absolutely condemn that type of behaviour and have always found it unacceptable.

The Deputies should get off their high horse and show a bit of respect to the Members of this House who represent the public in a genuine manner. We all know about corruption and there were times in the past when it was far too acceptable. In respect of many of the individuals implicated in the Mahon report and other reports, whether Charlie Haughey, Ray Burke or anyone else who was named in it, there was an undercurrent of knowledge that this corruption was going on. There were people who knew about it but it was hard to make those accusations and it is true that it is hard to make those accusations stick because corruption, by its nature, is secretive. However, things have changed and are changing all the time. Some of it is down to the legislation we brought through to protect whistleblowers. It is incredibly important that people can make these serious charges and still be protected. Even issues around freedom of information and how the State does its business have changed dramatically over the past couple of years and are making a huge difference in all of this. Deputy McDonald was not even at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform when we discussed the public sector standards Bill and some of the concerns we all have about this. The real issue with preventing corruption is about putting the policies and the governance in place so that those people who are the decision-makers on financial transactions do not, for some reason, get left to operate on their own and that a close eye is kept on this sort of thing. This is what many companies across the country are doing all the time.

As Deputies, few of us could engage in corrupt practices, even if we wanted to, because we make global decisions here. We work on legislation and we do not really make individual decisions that can affect the business of what people do. In this new legislation, we are placed in the A category, of lads who must send our returns back to SIPO. Senior civil and public servants are in the B and C categories. We should look at this in regard to how people make the decisions. For instance, the programme on Monday night was about councillors. The real decisions councillors make are about rezoning. It is important the rezoning process is transparent so that people can see whether something underhand is going on. It is for the people who make the decisions, like planning officers, procurement officers and other individuals who make the financial transactions on our behalf, that we should have very strong governance structures. They make the decisions. I am not for a minute accusing any of these individuals of being corrupt, because they are not, but the opportunity to take a bribe or to be involved in fraud is there. It is about looking at how the people who make the financial decisions within the Civil Service and public sector operate and how we can build structures around them to protect them as well. That is where we should start with all of this.

I am sure there are many people here who are old enough to remember there was always a level of acceptance of corruption in this country. It is a cultural thing to some degree. People used to drop off a bottle of whiskey to the local Garda station if something was fixed up for them and it was not considered particularly wrong 25 years ago. Now one would not dream of doing it. People gave small cash payments for getting jobs done. It would never happen now because the culture is changing slowly day by day. There is still a great deal more work to do. If an anti-corruption agency would speed up that process and if we could develop that sort of agency to work on the process, I would be the first to support it, as would all other Members on this side of the House, because we have done so much work already in regard to this issue over the past four to five years. We would be more than willing to do more to ensure that we root out all forms of corruption, fraud and bad practice in how taxpayers' money is spent and how the public sector and Civil Service react. It is vital that we in this House work strongly towards that because we have that role to play. However, it is wrong for members of the Opposition to start by denigrating every single person who happens to be a member of Government as being a taker of corrupt payments because they know it is not true.

Some Members on the other side of the House have been vocal and proactive in raising issues and in having those issues investigated. I particularly admire Deputy Catherine Murphy for the way she sticks with it and keeps probing but I ask her not to make allegations that Members on this side of the House are soft on corruption. We are not soft on corruption and we would be the first to give her whatever support she feels is required to ensure that all transactions done in the name of the State are done in the most honourable fashion possible. I have received extensive correspondence on some of the issues she has raised, both from Northern Ireland and from our own Department of Finance. Maybe there is something there but let us be careful not to blacken anybody unintentionally. Some people in State organisations may not always have made the best decisions but that is not the same thing as corruption. We should be careful about how we judge people and what we say about them and that we give them a fair hearing when the time comes. That is important. I do not have much more to say on that. We should continue what we are doing in this House and let us have more respect for each other when we are talking about this issue in the future.

4:50 pm

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak this evening. Like so many people around the country, I watched the actions of some of the county councillors exposed by the "RTE Investigates" programme with shock and disgust. It is totally unacceptable for any public representative to use their position in public office for personal financial gain. There should be no place in public life for the kind of behaviour witnessed on the RTE programme this week. What annoys me most, apart from the pure greed displayed by the councillors, is the fact that this kind of behaviour by some can tarnish the reputation of the many fine councillors around the country. I work very closely with many councillors in my own constituency, such as John McGahon, Maria Doyle, Colm Markey, Richie Culhane, Oliver Tully and Dolores Minogue. These councillors are of the highest standard and work tirelessly and honestly for the people of Dundalk, Carlingford, Blackrock, Ardee and Dunleer, who elected them in the first place. As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, has stated, "[t]here 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". I also agree with him when he states:

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.

I agree with him wholeheartedly that this kind of behaviour is disgusting and cannot be tolerated. We must also remember that this is not a victimless crime and victims of this crime include families whose homes are flooded because a corrupted vote resulted in housing being built on a rezoned flood plain and residents of areas left without basic community facilities because a planned town centre was shelved in favour of a privately developed shopping centre. I am very strongly of the opinion that those found to be using their position as a public representative for personal gain, whether financial or otherwise, should have the full rigours of the law used against them. Those found guilty of using public office for personal financial gain should be banned from running for public office in the future and, depending on the seriousness of the offence, should also be jailed. Under the Companies Act, a person can be banned from acting as a director of a limited company if they have not acted in accordance with company law. Why not use the same principle for public representatives? How many times have we seen a public representative exposed for abusing their position and yet they are re-elected and in some cases use the fact that they were caught as an election issue? This is wrong and should not be allowed to happen.

After the exposure of the councillors on the "RTE Investigates" programme, I would like to think the local authorities involved will now take the action necessary to ensure this sort of behaviour will not happen in the future.

I note that shortly after the programme was aired, one of the councillors resigned from his party. What I do not understand is why he did not resign his seat. How come he felt bound to resign from his party yet did not feel he had to resign his council seat?

I also welcome the fact that the Garda is examining the programme to see whether any action is required on its part. One of the main issues addressed in the "RTE Investigates" 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 it requires 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. It was quite clear from the programme that section 247 of the Act is being abused.

Moving forward, how can we ensure that the greed and corruption that has been evident in recent times is eliminated from Irish politics? The Government, since taking office in 2011, has introduced various legislation, including 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. I note also that over the coming weeks we will see a number of Bills before the House, including the proposed public sector standards Bill and the proposed corruption Bill.

I would like to put on the record of the House my complete disgust at what we saw on the "RTE Investigates" programme this week. There is no place in Irish politics, at local or national levels, for any person who seeks to turn what is for most of us an opportunity to serve the public interest into a self-serving, money-grabbing, corrupt practice. This Government has done much to reform the legislative and regulatory landscape. There is more to be done, and in the coming weeks we 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 honesty and trust that will leave no hiding place for those who would betray the public trust.

5:00 pm

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I understand Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is sharing time with Deputies Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Seamus Healy, Shane Ross, Clare Daly, John Halligan and Tom Fleming. They have three to four minutes each. Is this agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I was not surprised but I was completely nauseated by the "RTE Investigates" special on corruption. It was quite stunning to see a Fianna Fáil councillor, a Fine Gael councillor and a pro-business Independent involved in the sort of grubby corruption - there is no other word for it - that they were attempting to engage in.

It is worth remembering the cost of this for society. It is this kind of behaviour that contributed significantly to the economic collapse of this country because much of the political system was held hostage by the interests of developers who, directly or indirectly, had captured it. The interests of society as a whole or ordinary citizens went out the window in the grubby drive for profit assisted by politicians who were essentially in the pockets of developers, banks, etc., who were seeking to profit to the absolute maximum.

The Mahon tribunal reports and commentary suggested that many councillors were screaming foul about many of the development plans and the corruption going on around them, but they were told to shut up whenever they made accusations that they had been approached by developers or that they believed corruption was going on. An overwhelming part of the body politic, certainly at a local level, did not want to talk about it and wanted to hush it up. I do not know how many were involved but I think it was widespread, and that there was a widespread tolerance of it.

We had a small example of this in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in the past year when one of our own councillors was approached by a developer who was trying to get rezoning for a development he was trying to push through. It was in the balance in the council. We do not know how many other councillors he approached, but we know he was rebuffed in our office. When he did not get any commitments on the rezoning, he made an offer to pay the election expenses of one of our councillors. The councillor then went into the council chamber and stated this publicly, at which point there was pandemonium with all the usual suspects of the main parties, particularly Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, stating that one is not allowed say that. Subsequently, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council took down the footage of the meeting where the allegation was made. This is the sort of stuff that is still going on. When I, as a councillor, was doing the county development plan in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and a series of dodgy rezonings was proposed that was clearly in the interests of big private developers for shopping centres, land rezonings or whatever, one could not get one's head around how anybody would support these matters and yet there were councillors in the council chambers supporting them. One Labour Party councillor said to me in a little aside that this is how they would get their election expenses paid. It was an interesting comment. It is exactly the same as what was said to our councillor by this developer. This is the stuff that is going on and it is absolutely rank.

This is not only going on at local level. Deputy Twomey said that it is different at local authority level or with officials doing procurement, but it is not really in the Dáil. I do not accept that at all. The fish always rots from the head. I will give two examples of where there is no will whatsoever at the highest level to go after corruption. For the past few years, there has been no action from the mainstream parties on doing anything about the tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance of the big multinational corporations, which everybody has known about for the past few years, and have every reason to believe they actively facilitated the same tax evasion. Similarly, in the abuse of bogus self-employment and the relevant contract tax, RCT, system in the construction sector, which some of us have been shouting about for years and saying it simply stretches any credibility that three quarters of all building workers on building sites are self-employed contractors, the Government still claims there is no problem. Nothing is done about it because it benefits the State to have these workers so exploited because it gets cheap schools or housing built. The fish rots from the head and we need serious action to deal with that corruption.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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In 1991, my Socialist Party colleague, Deputy Joe Higgins, was elected to Dublin City Council. When he got there, he found a nest of vipers going to the local pub, Conway's, and getting brown paper bags in meetings with developers. This has been well documented. A quarter of a century later, what has really changed when we saw what was in the programme the other night?

The Taoiseach and the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party have expressed their shock. They are the only ones in the country who are shocked - the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, can take that as read. They also stated that these councillors brought the so-called body politic into disrepute. The body politic could not go any lower in repute among the public.

We are essentially talking here about members of the two big parties, plus one so-called Independent. I ask the Minister of State where were the swarms of gardaí conducting dawn raids on the homes of those three councillors the morning after that RTE programme? As for the idea that the parties are taking this seriously, all that was done was that a quiet word was had in the ears of those two councillors to resign from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael so as not to spread the rot. It seems that only public representatives who are opposed to measures such as water charges, austerity and war get arrested in this country and face possible imprisonment. The others, who are money-grabbing from their involvement in politics, walk free.

I also take issue with some comments on social media. This is not gombeen politicians getting small amounts of money. The amounts of money that we are talking about regarding the potential for corruption on local authorities is immense.

I spent 11 years on a council, and the rewards are large if one wants to be in the big parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, some independents and, occasionally, but less so, the Labour Party. Development plans and planning decisions mean big bucks, thousands and possibly millions of euro. Members of parties of big business, or some of the so-called independents, many of whom are from that general gene pool, money in brown envelopes for votes is the stock in trade.

One Deputy who spoke here said it was difficult for a Deputy to be corrupt and asked what a Deputy would get from it. As long as one is in a party that accepts donations from big business, the potential for corruption is obvious. Why do developers and big businesses give money to parties? Is it because they love democracy? They are not doing it for nothing but because votes will be taken in this Chamber on their behalf that benefit the banks and corporations, the Apples, Googles, Starbucks and all of them. A politician does not have to personally receive money. There is major corruption in here.

Why are councillors allowed to get work from a council to which they are elected? Why is a councillor who is elected to a council able to receive money from the council? Will this practice be banned in the legislation next week? It is obviously corrupt. Councillor Hugh McElvaney had a waste business and was doing council work. It is unbelievable. He was elected to represent the people. This had better be outlawed in the legislation next week. This is not the first time it has arisen. Councillors in Kerry County Council, some of whom were elected to the Dáil, did significant business with the council, and there are Deputies who are in the same boat.

What action will be taken against the councillors who, when they were filling in the disclosure forms which we all have filled in for 11 years, forgot that they owned a house, land or other property? Many of the councillors are working in businesses that have very close connections with councils, dealing in property and land. Will the parties of big business, including Fine Gael, ban councillors from accepting money from developers and big businesses? Will they ban Deputies and political parties from doing the same? Will they ban councillors from doing work with the councils of which they are members? Will they ensure councillors do not personally benefit from being elected? I do not think so. To the Anti-Austerity Alliance it is very important that we do not gain personally from being Deputies or councillors but take necessary expenses and live on an average wage. Corruption is alive and well. I do not have time to deal with it, however Siteserv shows that the idea that the few paltry laws the Government has introduced have dealt with it is completely wrong.

5:10 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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I welcome the motion. It is scandalous that the Government will reject it. I want to highlight an issue that underlines the need for the anti-corruption agency with a monitoring and investigative role over public procurement activities for which the motion calls. Public procurement is a key area in which the space exists for public representatives or others to interfere with public processes for the private benefit of themselves, other private individuals or big or small business. There is an ongoing and unresolved controversy which I have highlighted in freedom of information requests and parliamentary questions, and about which Justine McCarthy has written in The Sunday Times. It relates to the very serious irregularities that have been exposed in the tendering process for telecare equipment in the senior alert scheme. I was first contacted about it several months ago by a not-for-profit company that had participated in the tendering process. The company raised serious concerns about the process, particularly the role played by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. The more information that The Sunday Times and I have uncovered, the more it is clear that very serious irregularities occurred and that there are very serious questions to be answered by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, in particular. Months after we started digging, those questions remain unanswered.

At the heart of the irregularities is a meeting that took place on 10 December last year between the Minister, a Department official, Labour Party Deputy Brendan Ryan and two representatives of the company, TASK limited, that went on to be the successful bidder. The meeting happened just days after the deadline for tenders had ended and while Pobal, an agency under the Minister's Department was assessing the tenders. It is suggested the CEO of the company is a supporter of Deputy Ryan. The fact the meeting occurred would appear to be a clear breach of the procurement rules. Although the relevant tender rules, in section 6.7, clearly stated that canvassing shall disqualify, the company that appears to have attempted to canvass went on to be the successful bidder.

Other serious questions remain unanswered. Inexplicably, no minutes were taken at the meeting. A few days ago, I asked the Minister why no minutes had been taken. I received an answer in the name of the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, which accepted the meeting had taken place and said it was "of brief duration in respect of which minutes were not considered necessary". However, the Minister did not reveal to me what was subsequently revealed to The Sunday Timesafter a freedom of information request, that, two days after the meeting, Pobal, the agency responsible, sent an e-mail to the Department that stated, "the process as a whole is now void and redundant", and that the process was abruptly stopped. Later, the process was restarted. Why did we not receive this information as part of the answer to our question? Was it an attempt to cover it up?

The Department stated that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, had no idea that representatives of the company would be present at the meeting. This begs two questions. Why did the meeting take place in the form it did if it was going to be a meeting between two party colleagues? Why have a Department official there and in such a formal way? What on earth was Deputy Brendan Ryan doing bringing company representatives involved in an ongoing tendering process to meet a Minister unannounced? The notion that it was a meeting for which minutes were not considered necessary, where nothing happened, does not tally with document four, which we received through the freedom of information request, an information note written further to the meeting on Wednesday 10 December which clearly states that following the meeting with TASK the Minister raised a number of issues, particularly the division of the market into ten lots, a minimum standard for any equipment supplied and consultation with suppliers. Why was there a meeting in which nothing happened, apparently, and no minutes needed to be taken, and yet the Minister felt prompted to raise the very particular points that related to the tendering process?

Pobal said the legal advice it received afterwards suggested that the procurement process had not been affected and it was able to restart it. On what basis was this advice given? On what version of the meeting the TASK representatives attended was it based? Surely the legal advice should be published. There are very serious questions for the Government and Minister. On what basis was the 10 December meeting organised if the Minister did not know TASK representatives would attend? Why were minutes not taken? Why did Pobal decide to suspend the process and based on what legal advice did it decide to restart the process?

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I compliment Deputies Paul Murphy, Donnelly and Shortall on bringing forward the motion, which I support. Public and commercial life must be transparent and accountable. The purpose of the motion is not to accuse any individual or party but to put in place effective structures to ensure corruption in public and commercial life is dealt with effectively. The motion recognises that "corruption in public and commercial life represents a great threat to the democratic functioning of the State" and 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". Nobody can take issue with those statements. I support the proposal for the establishment of a permanent, independent, anti-corruption agency to deal with the situation and that the agency should have powers of investigation, compellability and testimony taking, court authorised search and seizure, prosecution at District and Circuit Court level and arrest to deal effectively with the situation and to ensure public and commercial life are accountable and transparent.

The manner in which election after election, politicians and political parties make promises they have absolutely no intention of keeping is a grave threat to the democratic process. They break those promises and commitments on a regular basis. If one looks at the previous election, one will be able to confirm that this happened. Fine Gael wanted to burn the bondholders. It told us that the banks would not get another cent, that the trolley situation in hospitals would be solved, that it was unjust to tax the family home and that disability would be a priority. The Labour Party gave us the old line that it was Labour's way and not Frankfurt's way. It said that there would be no water charges and no reduction in child benefit. It made a series of other promises as well. Both parties happily went on to break all of those promises. There must be sanctions for such behaviour. The possibility of losing an election after five years is simply not an adequate sanction. The public must be in a position to ensure elected representatives - Deputies, Senators or councillors - can be recalled if they deliberately break promises they make during election campaigns. I would like that to be noted as well.

5:20 pm

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin South, Independent)
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I congratulate the three Deputies who have proposed this motion. It has just occurred to me to contrast this country and its deeply embedded culture of corruption with other countries that take more extreme measures against corruption. I suspect that if some of the offences we are talking about were committed in China, the offenders would be shot or beheaded or whatever they do in China when people commit offences of this sort. In Ireland, many of them are greeted as heroes. The real problem we have is not just the offenders themselves; it is ourselves as a people and our attitude to corruption. Some years ago, I attended a dinner in London at which the guest speaker was the former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald. After he had spoken, he was asked questions about the corruption that was rampant in Ireland at the time and news of which had reached England. A rather stuffy Tory at the back of the room put up his hand and asked Dr. FitzGerald how he tolerated all the corruption that was associated with people in his party and other parties. In response, Dr. FitzGerald said that the problem was not with the public representatives or politicians but with the electorate. The capacity we have as a people to constantly re-elect people who are associated with and, indeed, guilty of corruption is something we are going to have to face.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin South, Independent)
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It is all very well and quite right that we should condemn what has happened. However, we should remember the old maxim that we used to hear in connection with a former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, which was that he may have been a crook but he got things done. In other words, his behaviour did not really matter as long as he did things that mattered on the other side. Our tolerance for corruption is something we absolutely and totally refuse to face. We are going to have to face it, however. It is okay to condemn those who act corruptly and to try to set up agencies but we also need to stop tolerating politicians and others who are obviously corrupt and in some cases have been proven to be corrupt. We have a responsibility for that in this House. The way we have disposed of that responsibility in the past is completely and utterly inadequate and very cowardly. One solution, which is not inevitable but which is proposed almost every time a massive scandal erupts, is to set up a tribunal. I suggest that tribunals are proven to be vehicles of escape for corrupt people. They delay matters to such an extent, and kick these affairs so far down the road, that nothing ever really comes of them. They expose certain corrupt activities from time to time but nobody ever pays a price. They actually guarantee impunity. They underline impunity. They guarantee freedom for those who have committed corruption. We will see the terms of the Bill that is to be introduced next week but I doubt that it will tackle the serious underlying problem, which is not always what we saw on "Prime Time" the other night, awful as it was. The underlying problem is in ourselves. I would be very doubtful that those who are committing the sorts of crimes we saw on that programme will ever see the inside of a court. I would like to say one other thing? Do I have a minute left?

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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No, I am afraid not. There are two further speakers.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin South, Independent)
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Okay. I will not say anything else. I will hand over to Deputy Halligan.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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It is interesting that the document produced by Deputies Catherine Murphy and her colleagues uses the phrase "threat to democracy". I heard someone in the bar last night suggesting that the use of such a phrase was a bit tough or rough. We have to ask whether it is inappropriate. We might consider that war, armed revolt or severe apathy to the political system constitute threats to democracy. However, I suggest that corruption is a threat to democracy that goes under the radar and is not often reflected on as such. If we look at the histories of various countries throughout the world, we will see that corruption, rather than war or armed revolt, has damaged the political processes in many of them. Deputy Ross has spoken about what has happened in Ireland over the years involving city managers, politicians and planning officers. A friend of mine who is a businessman in France told me that during the period of the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, when various details of corruption were breaking, he picked up a business magazine in a hotel which sadly referred to this country as "Irlande: banana republic". I do not know the name of the magazine in question but it accurately reflected how we were thought of in light of everything that had gone on in a relatively small country with a relatively small Parliament and a small population.

The point remains that corruption will continue to go on. It was felt that people would cop on after the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, but we might as well not have had the tribunals in the first place because this Government has done nothing to act on their recommendations. It was in that context that we saw what was depicted on the television on Monday night. I refer to the arrogance of these councillors in thinking that, as members or ex-members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, they would be able to get away with what they were doing. This is exactly what has happened over the last 20, 30 or 40 years. I do not know what we would dig up and find out if we were to go back to the 1950s or 1960s. It is rather shameful that we appear to have learned nothing. As Deputy Coppinger said, it is not good enough for people to try to excuse their actions by saying they did not know what to put on the forms. People come into my office with housing forms and medical card forms that are 20 or 22 pages long. I find it difficult to fill out these forms, such as the form for the old age pension, but these arrogant assholes come along and say they did not know about the form and could not-----

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Watch your language, Deputy.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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I apologise. We are actually believing them when they say they did not know what it meant.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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People are thrown off the housing list if they fill out their forms incorrectly.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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Exactly. If some poor old age pensioner fills out a form incorrectly, it is sent back. He or she might not get his or her medical card or pension. We are tolerating those who claim as a last resort that they really did not know what they were filling out, or what they should have filled out. Is this what we have come to in this country? Are we now allowing some people to subvert politics? That is exactly what is happening. None of us is shocked that this is continuing to happen. If ever we needed an agency to deal with corruption, we bloody well need it now in light of what has taken place. We failed with the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals because nobody paid any attention to them and they went under the radar. We need an agency to deal specifically with elected politicians - councillors, Senators and Deputies - by examining them continually and forcibly to ensure they are not breaking any rules. I would be very disappointed, but not surprised, if the Government was to fail to support this proposal.

5:30 pm

Photo of Tom FlemingTom Fleming (Kerry South, Independent)
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In 2014 the European Union published its first anti-corruption report, which examined issues of transparency, public procedure policies and bribing across EU member states. According to the report, corruption related risk due to close ties between politicians and industry continues to be a cause for concern in Ireland. The report further noted that the adoption of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 needed vast improvement. A major legal grey area regarding political donations relates to the number of times corporations and individuals can donate. The current legislation tackles the amount donated in a single transaction rather than the overall amount one can donate. The report further found that legislation regarding election and referendum campaigns remains weak. Many of the Irish anti-corruption laws were overlapping and contradicted each other, leading to legal difficulties and loopholes.

A large portion of Ireland's anti-corruption laws are still based on the United Kingdom's prevention of corruption Acts. Problems regarding outdated and conflicting legislation are affecting the capacity to prosecute and punish corruption efficiently. We do not have, for example, an independent urban planning regulator with the capacity and the powers to investigate systemic problems arising in local government. Indeed, the findings of the report of the EU are that although Ireland is tackling political corruption to a certain extent, it remains a major problem.

Back in the 1990s we started off with the beef tribunal and a host of tribunals followed it. The tribunals found evidence of political corruption but very few politicians were criminally convicted or charged. In response to the McCracken tribunal, the Moriarty tribunal was established in 1997 and this exposed corrupt payments, donations and gifts to prominent Irish political figures by businesses and large corporations to win favouritism and influence. The Mahon tribunal was the most expensive and longest running in this country and it shook the Irish political system, highlighting the dysfunction and corruption of the political culture as a whole. I fully support this very good and logical motion and all the proposals put forward by the Social Democrats group.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Minister, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; Kerry North-West Limerick, Fine Gael)
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This Government recognises the need for robust regulation and enforcement when it comes to tackling corrupt behaviour. We have overhauled regulation of the financial services sector, the corporate sector and the public sector. A major programme of legislation, including the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013, the Companies Act 2014, the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 and the Criminal Justice Act 2011 has been enacted. Deputies have pointed to the need to do more to implement the recommendations made by various tribunals and the Standards in Public Office Commission. There is no dispute on this. The Government knows that there is more to be done, and it is taking action.

Three Bills are due for publication shortly which will implement those outstanding recommendations. They are the public sector standards Bill, the planning and development (amendment) (No. 2) Bill and the criminal justice (corruption) Bill. All three will be coming before Government for approval to publish in the coming days and weeks. A Bill which will establish the office of the planning regulator, OPR, will be brought to Government by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government next week. Under the provisions of the Bill, the office will be fully independent of the Department, responsible for the independent assessment of all local authority and regional assembly forward planning, including zoning decisions of local authority members in local area and development plans, to ensure compliance with relevant national and regional policy, empowered to review the organisation, systems and procedures used by any planning authority or An Bord Pleanála in the performance of any of their planning functions under the planning Acts, including possible risks of corruption and on foot of individual complaints from members of the public, and required to undertake research, education and public information programmes to highlight the role and benefit of planning. The Government's aim is to ensure proper oversight of planning authorities that will ensure public confidence in the delivery of quality outcomes in planning decisions. Establishment of the OPR will ensure 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 public sector standards Bill will deliver comprehensive reform, streamlining provisions at local and national level and ensuring greater consistency in ethics legislation across the public sector. The Bill will significantly enhance the framework for identifying, disclosing and managing conflicts of interest as well as minimising corruption risks. It will replace the Standards in Public Office Commission with a single public sector standards commissioner with increased powers. The deputy commissioner, who will be independent in terms of the investigations functions, will implement improved complaints and investigations procedures. The commissioner will have stronger powers of sanction and enforcement as well as a 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. The Bill significantly extends the personal and material scope of disclosures for public officials in line with Mahon tribunal recommendations, with common definitions applying at national and local level.

The corruption Bill will also be published in the coming weeks. It will clarify and strengthen the law criminalising corruption. It provides penalties of up to ten years' imprisonment and unlimited fines for persons convicted on indictment. Courts are to be given new powers to remove certain public officials from office upon conviction. The Bill will implement Mahon tribunal recommendations for a new offence of making payments knowingly or recklessly to a third party who intends to use them as bribes, and for a new offence of using confidential information to obtain an advantage corruptly. The Bill will contain presumptions of corruption: where a person with an interest in the functions of a public official makes a payment to the official or a close relative, where a public official fails to declare interests as required by ethics legislation, and where a public official accepts a gift in breach of ethics codes.

The proposal to establish an anti-corruption agency is clearly well motivated. What is proposed is the merger of a range of existing agencies with wide and varying responsibilities, functions and powers. It is not clear how the amalgamation would enhance the capacity of the State to fight corruption without having adverse consequences for the existing functions of those agencies. We also need to acknowledge the strong co-operation that currently takes place between agencies. For example, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation already works closely with other bodies, including the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Central Bank, the Revenue Commissioners and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. Indeed, a number of gardaí are seconded to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Recent convictions for breaches of the Companies Acts were made possible by that co-operation. I remind the House, however, that the Taoiseach has asked his officials to assess how the regulatory, investigatory and enforcement framework can be improved.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Is it agreed that the Minister of State can continue? Agreed.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Minister, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; Kerry North-West Limerick, Fine Gael)
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Issues have arisen in relation to the Cregan commission of investigation. The Government wants to ensure an effective and timely investigation of matters of public concern and aims to secure the greatest possible degree of consensus across the Oireachtas on the optimum solutions. The Taoiseach, therefore, intends to meet the leaders of the Opposition to explore these matters in the coming week.

I believe all of us were shocked by what was revealed on RTE the other night. All of us who have been in this House over the years, in my case the past 35 years, were made to feel very conscious of our responsibility to the people, to ourselves and our system. We have a great system of government in this State and we were shocked and felt let down by what we saw. If the people are to have confidence in our democracy, we must robustly prevent, detect, and punish corruption no matter how rarely it may occur. This Government has enacted significant reform through the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 and other reforms. We are not complacent. Further significant reforming legislation on planning, public standards and corruption law will be published in the coming days and weeks.

We must all work together to restore public trust in politics and politicians. We must reinvigorate the systems that regulate political behaviour and the systems to detect and punish wrongdoing when it occurs. Legislation and enforcement are important parts of the solution. Of equal importance will be the efforts we make to change the culture. We must have a culture where there are no winks or nods and where it is not possible even to contemplate a wink or a nod. Nobody should respect, excuse or attempt to justify the attempt to fix, square away or sort problems in grubby, corrupt deals. We must end the culture of cute hoorism for once and for all.

I commend the Government's amendment to the House. I also acknowledge the sincerity with which this motion was tabled by the Social Democrats.

5:40 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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I support this motion and congratulate the Deputies who tabled it. It gets to the nub of the problem, namely, the lack of political will to take real and effective action to deal with what the Moriarty tribunal found to be systematic and endemic corruption. The words "systematic" and "endemic" do not mean a few rogue politicians or a few bad apples corrupting what is, in general, a clean system. They mean systematic and endemic. People are paying the price for that today, including those whose homes are flooded because they are located in areas prone to flooding and the thousands of individuals and families being made homeless by housing policies geared to the interests of speculators and developers. These policies show an undue influence, to put it mildly, by speculators and developers on the establishment political parties.

One need not go back to the publication of the Moriarty tribunal report, which was only three years ago, to see the influence of this lobby of builders, developers and land speculators. One can look to the Kenny report published 41 years ago in 1974. Basically, the Kenny report contained recommendations that would have ended speculation in building land. That is the reason not one of its recommendations has ever been implemented. Even the Green Party, which included these recommendations in its 2007 general election programme, made no effort to implement any of them when it was in government, despite former Deputy John Gormley being Minister with responsibility for the environment.

There is nothing new in the failure to tackle corruption in the planning process or corruption in general. The implementation of the key elements in the Kenny report and the key recommendation of the Moriarty tribunal, the appointment of an independent planning regulator, would go a long way towards addressing this corruption. The political will to do that does not exist in Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or, unfortunately, in today's Labour Party.

I refer to a report last year from the Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption, of which Ireland is a member. This report expresses concern about corruption among elected representatives and the lack of independence of the Judiciary. It found that Ireland now has its lowest ever ranking with Transparency International among the business community. It has fallen to 25th place behind countries such as Uruguay, Chile and the Bahamas. The report states that recent reforms of the freedom of information and ethics Acts are too complex and conflict each other in some areas. The report wants laws that threaten Ministers and politicians with six months jail for disclosing confidential information to be scrapped because the latter discourages whistleblowers. It calls for more stringent rules on conflicts of interest and asset declarations. These should include liabilities and the interests and assets of those with close connections to elected representatives. It calls for a judicial council to appoint judges, establish an ethics code and oversee training.

The Council of Europe group has given the Government 18 months to report on the steps taken on its 11 recommendations. Hopefully, it will not still be seeking that action 41 years hence.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I thank the Minister of State and Deputies on all sides for their contributions to this debate.

We have much to be proud of in Ireland at present. Businesses are growing and creating new jobs. The deficit is being eliminated and the economy is expanding. Despite all of that, however, public trust in government is at an all-time low. This year's Edelman trust barometer shows that public trust in institutions in Ireland is second from the bottom of the 27 countries assessed. Trust in business has fallen since last year, as has trust in the media, government officials and regulators. Why is that? It is that for all the growth, there is a whiff that things are not quite right. People do not believe we are all on a level playing field; they believe there are insiders and everybody else. Nobody sees any accountability or consequences for some of the things that happen.

An experiment was carried out in New York city a few years ago. A car was parked on a street to see how long it would take for somebody to break into it. It was first parked on a well maintained street and then it was parked on a street with several broken windows. It will be no surprise to hear that the car was broken into far more quickly on the street with the broken windows. Anybody who maintains a public park will confirm that if there is already vandalism and graffiti happening in the park, it will be repeated quickly. However, if it is cleaned up, there will be much less damage. This is because we all react to our environment. We are more likely to break the law if we believe that other people are breaking it. We are also more likely to break the law if we believe that the chances of being caught and penalised are slim.

This lack of accountability exists in Ireland. In response to serious allegations of insider trading relating to the Siteserv deal, Deputy Catherine Murphy contacted the Stock Exchange and asked it to investigate. The Stock Exchange said it was not its jobs and that she should go to the Central Bank. Deputy Catherine Murphy contacted the Central Bank and asked it to investigate but was informed that it was not its job and that she should contact the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. She did that but the office said there was nothing to investigate. To this day, no case in respect of insider trading has been taken in Ireland.

The agencies in Ireland with responsibility for tackling corruption are dispersed and under-resourced, as is evident from Deputy Catherine Murphy's attempts to bring serious allegations to the right authorities. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has numerous cases of alleged anti-competitive and cartel behaviour but it does not have the resources to investigate them. Judge Cregan recently reported that he had neither the power nor the resources required to investigate the large IBRC transactions he was asked to examine. Nowhere is the fragmented nature of the State's response to corruption better illustrated than in the Government's amendment. Last night, the Minister of State referred to the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act, the Companies Act, the Electoral (Amendment) Act, the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act, the Protected Disclosures Act, the Regulation of Lobbying Act, the Freedom of Information Acts, the criminal justice Acts, the public sector standards Bill and the planning and development (amendment) (No. 2) Bill. That is a great deal of legislation but there is no investigation, no enforcement and no accountability. What is the point of the legislation?

The Government makes great play of things being done, but members of the public do not trust the Government. Why should they? In response to numerous, specific parliamentary questions to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, regarding the Siteserv deal, the Minister steadfastly refused to disclose that there were any concerns until Deputy Catherine Murphy followed them up with freedom of information requests. At that point, the concerns started to appear in the Minister's replies to the parliamentary questions. The Taoiseach sent a senior civil servant to the home of the Garda Commissioner late at night and maintains to this day that there was no intent to put any pressure on the Garda Commissioner to resign, which, surprisingly, he did the following morning. Due process of Parliament was overturned in respect of the banking inquiry when the Government added two members.

The Taoiseach then came to the House and said he had done it to control the terms of reference of the banking inquiry.

In the motion before the house, the Social Democrats propose a policy response to restore public trust, create accountability and foster a culture of openness. We propose the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency. The agency would have the powers and resources to initiate and conduct investigations. It would bring together several relevant agencies, including the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the register of lobbying and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. Critically, the agency would be able to initiate investigations and conduct them. It would have the power to compel witnesses, to arrest and to prosecute through the courts. Nothing like that exists in Ireland today and we have all seen the consequences.

The proposal of the Social Democrats is based on a recently implemented model from Victoria which is already showing very promising results. It was developed with the input of Rory Treanor and Gavin Elliot, whom I thank for their hard work. The creation of an anti-corruption agency was explicitly called for on Monday night by David Waddell, the former head of the secretariat at the Standards in Public Office Commission, after the "RTE Investigates" programme. Were such an agency in place, it would conduct the inquiry being conducted by Mr. Justice Cregan. It would have sufficient powers and resources and the advantage of inter-agency expertise. Were the agency in place, it is far less likely that we would have seen the behaviour uncovered by the "RTE Investigates" team on Monday night. Indeed, David Waddell stated that SIPO does not even have the resources to conduct the kind of investigation "RTE Investigates" was able to carry out. In and of itself, that tells one all one needs to know. Were the agency in place, serious allegations of insider trading would be investigated and not passed from pillar to post and then dropped.

The Minister stated he did not know how the amalgamation of different agencies would enhance the capacity of the State to fight corruption. Amalgamation would foster co-operation and the sharing of expertise. Coupled with sufficient powers and resources, an independent anti-corruption agency would be a bold statement from Government that the culture needs to change and that public trust must be re-earned. The Government protests that it is serious about tackling corruption, creating a culture of openness and establishing a level playing field. At this stage, nobody believes that to be true. Here is the challenge to the Government. If it is serious about tackling corruption and giving the State the resources and powers needed to fight corruption, it will accept the recommendation of the Social Democrats and begin the process of establishing an independent anti-corruption agency to send a clear message to the public that the culture and the rules have changed for good and for the better.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 40.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Stephen S. Donnelly.


Amendment declared carried.

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 40.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Stephen S. Donnelly.


Question declared carried.