Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 March 2018

12:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will proceed take Leaders' Questions under Standing Order 29 and I ask Members to be conscious of the allocated time.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Today is International Women's Day which is rightly being celebrated all over the world, including in the House. There is some irony therefore in the fact that we listened yesterday to two courageous female civilian officers working with An Garda Síochána, Ms Lois West and Ms Laura Galligan, give evidence to the justice committee of how they had endured 15 months of torment because they were doing their jobs. They claim they were put under tremendous pressure by senior Garda management to agree with homicide statistics they knew were wrong. Instead of acting on the concerns of these women, senior Garda management belittled and dismissed them. Their reward for telling the truth was to have their integrity and professionalism attacked. There was a clear attempt to shut down their critical analysis. In remarkable evidence, they told the committee that the misclassification and inaccurate recording of crime by gardaí left some women at risk of domestic violence. This is not about bookkeeping; it is possible that people were actually put at risk. Women may well have been left in a dangerous domestic situation because of Garda errors.

One year ago and at the very time Ms West and Ms Galligan were being frozen out by management, Garda top brass went to the Policing Authority to say there was nothing to look at here and that everything was in order. Knowledge of the misclassification and inaccurate recording of homicides on PULSE is not a new thing. In fact, this has been known about for some time. A review of domestic homicides was initiated almost two years ago in July 2016, the scope of which has since been extended. The issue has been also under examination by the Policing Authority for the past year or so. Every time the issue is examined, further anomalies emerge. There seems to be no determination at any level to get to the bottom of this. We are not talking about petty crime here, but about the unlawful killing of human beings, often women and children in a domestic context, yet we cannot even record those heinous crimes correctly. We have reached a point where the CSO has refused to publish the last few sets of crime statistics reported by An Garda Síochána because of concerns about the accuracy of that information. That the CSO does not have sufficient confidence in the data being provided to proceed with publication is a sad and sorry state of affairs. That alone should have set off alarm bells for the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Last night, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, issued a statement which would not fill anyone with confidence that the issue will be dealt with comprehensively and for once and for all. Having read that statement, it is not at all clear to me what is actually being done to resolve this very serious problem. It is too much to ask that there be some accountability for this issue? Does the Tánaiste believe these two staff members are owed an apology by Garda management for the way in which they were dismissed, belittled, sidelined and had their professional competence wrongly called into question? Can the Tánaiste tell the House when the debacle around the classification of crime will be corrected? When will the review of homicides, including domestic homicides, be completed and published? When will the public be able to have confidence in the ability of the State properly to record the most serious crimes committed in this country?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I acknowledge also that today is International Women's Day, which is significant in the context of the Government's commitment to gender equality and accelerating gender parity in a series of areas. That is one of the priorities of Government.

On the issues raised by Deputy Michael McGrath, I join the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, in noting my extreme concern at reports that unlawful deaths are not being properly investigated. Any substantiated allegation of this kind would be very serious and of grave public concern. The issue which has arisen in relation to homicide classification is complex and it is essential to establish the facts clearly. Neither the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, nor his Department has received any protected disclosure or allegation that unlawful killings have not been investigated fully and Garda management is adamant that they have. As of yet, the Government has not seen any evidence to the contrary but we are, of course, very open to receiving it.

The evidence provided to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality by two Garda analysts yesterday did not indicate that unlawful killings were not being properly investigated. It should be noted that neither the Minister nor his Department have received the dossier referred to by them. Having said that, serious issues were raised yesterday. The Minister of the Department will, of course, investigate fully any allegations which have been made. I was concerned, as were my colleagues in government, to see this outlined in the way it was yesterday.

Deputy McGrath asked when we can get to the bottom of some of these issues. There is an ongoing review which, I am told, will take some time to complete. An Garda Síochána has indicated that it is prioritising the review. The Minister met with senior Garda management on 5 February and received further formal assurances in that regard. The Policing Authority raised the issue with An Garda Síochána at the most recent public meeting on 22 February and it continues to monitor the issue to ensure there is independent scrutiny of how An Garda Síochána records data. I welcome the authority's continued diligence on this matter.

If there is evidence that people have been intimidated or bullied in An Garda Síochána, it needs investigation and clarification. The Government, in particular through the Department, will provide that.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We do not have protected disclosures because these two women had the courage to come forward and speak before an Oireachtas committee in public session. While we may not have any evidence that crimes were improperly investigated, we have it on record from these two women that people may well have been put in danger, in particular women in a domestic context, due to the misclassification and inaccurate recording of crimes on PULSE. That is an extremely serious matter. When these women did their jobs, completed their reports and provided them up the line to management, the issues raised were denied, their efforts were blocked and they were stymied.

Counter-reports were prepared that questioned their competence. Even the Policing Authority is not satisfied with the pace of progress. I have not heard from the Tánaiste when this issue will be dealt with. The review of domestic homicides, to which he referred, started in July 2016. It is now nearly two years later. These are quite startling revelations and we do not yet have any indication as to when the review will be completed and when we will have the confirmed statistics that can give the public confidence that the crimes are being properly recorded and investigated.

12:10 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The evidence that was given to the Oireachtas committee yesterday, while very concerning, was very welcome in that the witnesses felt they could come forward and give it. Of course, the Department of Justice and Equality now needs to follow up on that.

The point I was making in my initial answer is that we do not have any protected disclosures or correspondence in regard to the concerns. Therefore, the issues were really only raised directly yesterday with the Oireachtas committee. Of course, the Government and Department of Justice and Equality now need to follow up with the Garda to understand the basis for the concerns and complaints. It is totally unacceptable if people raising issues within the Garda concerning the misclassification of crime are being persuaded in some way not to expose them if there is a consequence in terms of domestic abuse or any other form of crime. The Government needs to deal with that issue comprehensively. We need to act on the basis of facts and evidence in regard to these issues.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Today we celebrate International Women's Day. I wish mná na hÉireann a very happy International Women's Day. It is an important occasion on which we remember the struggle for women's equality over many decades. While progress has been made, it has to be said that it has been made through the efforts and determination of generations of Irish women in tackling the historic injustices of this State. The legacy of their treatment remains for women in Ireland today. An example is pay inequality. We had only to go outside the door of Leinster House to see the protest in this regard yesterday. There is a scarcity of women in many areas of public life, including politics, leadership, government and academia. There is a lot of work left to do.

The Government has yet to deliver on the commitments it made some five years ago to the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. It is an absolute shame that those survivors are still being forced to wait.

The prevailing legacy of the eighth amendment is a blight on our society and one that the people will soon be given the opportunity to remove. Let us not forget that the 1937 Constitution of this State still asserts that a woman's place is in the home. If one said that to a member of the younger generation, her or she would regard one as absolutely insane and we look forward to removing that clause in a referendum in due course.

The continuing mistreatment of women is not just a prevailing myth; it is very real. It is even more obvious when it comes to the issue of domestic violence. Violence against women and girls remains prevalent in our society. I commend the ongoing work of organisations providing domestic violence supports and services to women and their children throughout this State. Many provide the services in a voluntary capacity. They do incredible work, for which we should all be indebted.

Late last year, Sinn Féin welcomed the decision by the Government to update the sexual assault and violence in Ireland, SAVI, report of 15 years ago. We highlighted shortfalls in policy, including those related to data collection and management within State services, such as An Garda Síochána, the Courts Service and Tusla. Are these to be included in the SAVI report?

I urge the Tánaiste to take heed of what Ms Orla O'Connor from the National Women's Council said this morning. She called for the promised review on domestic homicide to be completed. In 2016, the then Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, gave a commitment that this would be published in February 2017. It is now March 2018.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The time is up.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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It is now International Women's Day. When will the review be published? How seriously does the Government take it?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputy. The time is up.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Does the fact that it has not been published to date reflect the fact that the Government does not take it seriously?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for her question. I welcome the opportunity to outline some of the things the Government is doing and prioritising on International Women's Day. Women's empowerment is a key theme running through A Programme for a Partnership Government and it is being advanced within the framework of the national strategy for women and girls, published last May. Women's groups, civil society actors and the trade union movement were among the stakeholders across society who contributed to the development of this strategy. Stakeholders continue to be closely involved, in particular in their participation on the strategy committee advising on implementation. Our focus is now firmly on the implementation of the strategy and the Government is committed to leading by example in multiple areas.

The public consultation and national symposium were held in recent months with a view to identifying measures to address the gender pay gap, which is still at nearly 14%. This is what the figures tell us for 2014. Work is advancing on a proposal to promote wage transparency by requiring companies to complete periodic wage surveys and report those results. Work is under way to develop options to give effect to the commitment to significantly increase paid leave for the first year of a child's life to support families and the choices men and women may make. The Government is piloting a gender budgeting initiative which, during the 2018 budget cycle, will test gender equality objectives and performance indicators across a diverse range of expenditure programmes and across multiple Departments, including mine.

The Government is committed to establishing an independent business-led review group to recommend measures to boost female representation on boards of companies. The current proportion in Ireland is 17%, which compares poorly with the average across the European Union of 25%. The Government is committed to a follow-up survey to the 2002 report on sexual abuse and violence in Ireland to further inform work on eliminating violence against women. Legislation on domestic violence that the Government has promised and has already begun considering in this House will be back in this House before the end of this month.

There is a series of areas in which we are determined to try to give leadership. There are many strong women advocates for this change. The Government as a whole is absolutely committed to it.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Tánaiste. As I was listening to him speak of gender equality and leadership, there were four men and just one women in the Front Bench. I remind the House, lest we forget, that the homicide review arose when the National Women's Council of Ireland and Women's Aid requested it. It did not come from the Government. It is the groups representing women — the groups that fight women's causes day in, day out, particularly in regard to domestic violence — that have been pushing for the review, which we are still awaiting. It is being driven entirely by the groups representing women, not the Government.

Did the Tánaiste actually hear the evidence given at yesterday's justice committee? Was he alarmed by it? Will he offer an apology to the two brave women who were heard yesterday, namely, Laura Galligan and Lois West?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy. The time is up.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Tánaiste accept that there is a culture within the Garda of not taking incidents of domestic violence seriously?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The time is up, Deputy.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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If that culture exists, as many believe, it stems from the fact that the Government does not take it seriously.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The time is up.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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If it did, the Garda would not be allowed to be so dismissive of domestic violence cases.

12:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I do not know about the culture in An Garda Síochána, but there is definitely a culture here of ignoring the clock.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I think I answered Deputy Michael McGrath regarding how seriously the Government will take the evidence given yesterday by two brave women at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. On one of the Deputy's previous questions, it is worth nothing today, on International Women's Day, that the Government has made a clear decision, with unanimous support across Government, to bring forward legislation to remove the eighth amendment from the Constitution and is determined to stick to a timeline to provide for the opportunity to do that in late May. I look forward to the debates that will take place on that sensitive issue. It is important to recognise the role of Government in taking a leadership position towards changing the Constitution to protect women's health, first and foremost. It is significant and it is appropriate that it is happening on a day like today.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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As it is International Women's Day, I genuinely welcome the diligence with which the Government is prioritising the referendum on repeal. I am sorry that it has not had the same diligence bringing forward mandatory inquests in relation to maternal deaths.

As it is International Women's Day and the Tánaiste did not answer Deputy Michael McGrath's points about the powerful, explosive testimony given at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality yesterday by those two outstanding women, I will return to some of those points. The Tánaiste talks about evidence and facts if people were bullied. These are not points of dispute. The facts and the evidence are in the testimony of those women which should be compulsory reading for every Member in this House. Over a period of 15 months, these consummate professionals, analysts and forensic scientists, have found the workplace a very difficult place. Only their mutual support got them through it. Under severe pressure and their integrity undermined, they were belittled and treated poorly, and all this in our newly reformed An Garda Síochána where we are told we welcome our critical friends. I think not. What was the crime of these women? They had the audacity to refuse to sign off on a report presented to the Policing Authority regarding a review of domestic homicides which had been commissioned by them. This was a review which, contrary to what gardaí told the Policing Authority that it revealed minor misclassifications, actually uncovered significant inconsistencies of a grave nature with many ramifications regarding the ability of An Garda Síochána to protect and serve, for example, cases where the partner of a deceased person was in a new domestic violence relationship. Let us remember that this happened a couple of months ago against the backdrop where the majority of homicides in 2017 were domestic murders and where misclassification and a signal not followed could be the difference between life and death.

How many more Garda scandals will this Government take before it will hold someone to account? The Tánaiste waffles on about oversight bodies and the Policing Authority. We went to the last Policing Authority body. Is the Tánaiste unaware that it is now irrefutable that senior gardaí lied and misled the Policing Authority at its April and June meetings? Not only that but these women went to the Policing Authority with their queries, the Policing Authority knew there were problems and not alone did it not respond to them, but it went back to its bosses and ratted them out. Can the Tánaiste imagine the chilling effect on these two powerful women? They read in the media about a Policing Authority there for oversight, they went to it with their genuine problems and tried to make their case and not only were they not heard, but the people to whom they approached told their bosses. What is the Minister for Justice doing? Is he calling a meeting with the acting Garda Commissioner or the Policing Authority? Does the Tánaiste think that it is okay to lie, bully and isolate people? If he does not, who will he call to account?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Clearly, the Government does not think it is okay to lie, bully and intimidate people in any walk of life in Ireland, but particularly in An Garda Síochána. That is why the Government and the Minister are obviously concerned about the evidence that was given yesterday. We will act on that but we also need to recognise that the Minister for Justice and Equality only heard that evidence for the first time yesterday. We need to follow up on it and ensure that appropriate action is taken. To say that the Government is not committed to reform of An Garda Síochána and holding people to account is absolute nonsense. If one looks at the actions which the Government has repeatedly taken, responding to various scandals in An Garda Síochána, which has resulted in a tribunal today, the Government's whole approach is about a fundamental reform of both the culture in An Garda Síochána and the structures to ensure that we enforce and require a new culture in the future, to ensure that the type of allegations which we heard yesterday are dealt with in a much more comprehensive way than seems to have been the case.

I thank the two women concerned for the courage they have shown in raising these issues publicly yesterday. I assure them and everyone else that the Government will take that testimony very seriously in how we follow up on it. I reassure anybody who feels that they need or want to come forward to expose wrongdoing, inappropriate behaviour, intimidation or bullying in An Garda Síochána, or any other arm of the State, to come forward and do so, and that the Government will take it seriously and act on the evidence it gets while working with whistleblowers and others who are brave enough to come forward. I cannot be any clearer on that. What I cannot do is give the Deputy a comprehensive response on how the Government will act because that evidence was only given yesterday. To be fair to the Minister and his Department, he needs time to consider an appropriate response.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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Evidence of senior gardaí misleading the Policing Authority on these matters was not first made known yesterday. What clearly entered the public domain yesterday was the evidence that the Policing Authority, which the Tánaiste just lauded, also had that information for over a year. The so-called oversight body which is supposed to call the gardaí to account had this information for over a year and it did nothing. It closed the door on these women, but more than that, it told tales about them to their bosses. This is the oversight body that the Tánaiste is proud of, which demonstrates the Government's actions on reform.

The Tánaiste talks about a change in culture but is he aware that the same Policing Authority recently promoted an individual who is the subject of an internal investigation into bullying and harassment against a whistleblower? It did not merely promote him but put him at the head of training in Templemore where on the one hand he has the code of ethics and, on the other, he is cursing and banging the table and interning-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has not used a name-----

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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No, I have not used any name.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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-----but the Deputy has made a comment that would enable a person to be identified which is completely inappropriate in the House, as the Deputy knows well.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I can stand over every comment I have made here.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That may be the case but it is completely inappropriate to make such a statement here.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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The point is that it is irrefutable that the culture in An Garda Síochána has not changed, that there is a systemic problem at the top with senior management and the pathetic measures which the Government has put in place in setting up a Policing Authority, which is now part of the problem, urgently need to be addressed. The women do not want a pat on the head or to be told how great they are; they want things to change.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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No one is offering anyone a pat on the head. We are in the process of fundamental reform of An Garda Síochána. There are multiple examples of how this is happening, not least in the method by which a new Garda Commissioner will be chosen and appointed. The evidence given yesterday to the joint committee needs significant follow-up. I do not think that it is helpful for the Deputy to start pointing the finger at individuals who might be identified by the way in which she is speaking about them. There is an appropriate way in which we need to deal with this comprehensively which is what the Minister for Justice and Equality will do, acting on the evidence given yesterday and following up on it to ensure that we can expose any wrongdoing and ensuring that we put structures in place to fix it.

12:30 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I am aware of and respect the fact that the Cregan commission of investigation is under way and I will not comment on the substance of that inquiry. A statement was issued this week by the former CEO of IBRC in which he expressed concern regarding the costs of the ongoing Cregan commission of investigation into IBRC, including matters relating to Siteserv. I share these concerns about the escalating costs. When I raised the issue in the House last November, I asked the Taoiseach about the status of Mr. Justice Cregan's request for doubling of the legal fees for those working on the investigation. I have yet to receive an answer.

I did not want to see a costly and lengthy tribunal-type affair. This month marks the seventh anniversary of the final report of the Moriarty tribunal and even at this stage we are not really much clearer in terms of an outcome from that. While I share the concerns expressed in the statement on costs by the former CEO of IBRC, I take serious issue with the other blatantly spurious allegations made in the statement. I wish to be clear about my co-operation with the Cregan commission of inquiry. From the outset, I have engaged willingly and wholeheartedly with the commission. I submitted a significant body of research material and signed an affidavit to the commission accompanying my substantial evidence. Where necessary, I have liaised back and forth to help clarify issues raised. I have also been exceptionally clear in my position that at no point would I endanger the people who came forward to me at various points over the course of my lengthy and thorough research into IBRC by revealing their identities. When I engaged with people, I gave an undertaking that they could have confidence in my maintaining confidentiality. At all times, I will uphold that undertaking. I have made that abundantly clear. This does not constitute non-cooperation. Under no circumstances should my refusal to reveal private sources undermine the evidence I have presented to the commission.

On the previous occasion on which I raised this issue, I asked the Taoiseach to confirm my understanding that the commission of inquiry is answerable to the Dáil. The Taoiseach said he would find out. Will the Tánaiste confirm that the commission is indeed answerable to the Dáil? Will the Tánaiste outline to the Dáil how Mr. Justice Cregan's request for the doubling of legal fees has been handled to date? If the increase was to be granted from which Department will the money come? Will the Tánaiste confirm how many lawyers are involved in the commission of investigation at this point, which firms are involved and who do they represent? Does the Tánaiste have a figure for the legal bills associated with the commission to date? Does the Tánaiste have an agreed date for the completion of the Siteserv module?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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There are a lot of detailed questions there. Following consultations with the Opposition parties by the former Minister for Finance, the commission of investigation into IBRC was established in June 2015. Mr. Justice Brian Cregan, a judge of the High Court, is the commission's sole member. In November 2015 the commission made a determination that banker-client confidentiality and legal professional privilege applied in respect of certain documents supplied to the commission. The commission also requested a number of changes to its terms of reference. Views from the Opposition parties were sought on the issues arising and, following consultations with the parties, the Commission of Investigation (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) Act 2016 was enacted by the Oireachtas in July 2016. The Act is a bespoke piece of legislation giving a new legal basis to the commission's investigations. Following consultations with the Opposition parties, the terms of reference were also amended by the Oireachtas and now provide that in its first module the commission will investigate the Siteserv transaction, which has been identified as a matter of significant priority for Dáil Eireann. The commission is entirely independent in its work and I have no information on the status of its investigation to date. Last December, following a request from the commission and consultation with Opposition parties, the timeframe for the final report on the first module of its investigation was extended to the end of this year.

At the end of January, the commission had spent just over €3 million. This figure includes salaries for the commission staff, legal fees for counsel engaged by the commission and the commission's administration requirements. The figure does not include significant third party legal fees and costs that have been incurred and that will arise for payment in due course. In its fourth interim report, which was laid before the Oireachtas in December 2017, the commission did not make any estimate of the likely cost of the first module of its investigation. During consultations with Opposition parties last November, the Department provided a tentative estimated final cost for the commission of between €20 million and €25 million. This is based on the current rate of expenditure, the extended timeframe for the commission's work, the risk of further delays and the significant third-party legal and other costs that will arise. This is a reminder to all of us as to the costs to the taxpayer of commissions of this type.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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This is the reason why having things done in real time is so important. Will the Tánaiste confirm whether the commission reports to the Dáil? This is very important. On the legal fees - and these are the questions I asked - what response has been given to Mr. Justice Cregan with regard to that request? Mr. Justice Cregan sought a doubling of the legal fees last year. Will the Tánaiste please respond to those two specific points?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The commission is entirely independent. It is not going to be influenced by the Dáil regarding the content of its inquiry or its conclusions. It will make its own decisions on the basis of the evidence heard. I assume that once it has actually been finalised. the report will be laid before the Houses. I presume there will be a debate on the back of that, as has been the case with commission reports in other instances.

On the legal fees, I am not aware that the Government has agreed to significantly increase the funding that is available for estimated increases in legal costs.