Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I raised this matter first on Second Stage and I spoke to my colleague and friend, Senator Boyhan, about it and got his support for an amendment. When I raised the issue I was partly relying on a reading of the Government brief, which I misread. I had thought that Members of Dáil and Seanad Éireann had been excluded from the entire operation of the Bill.The Minister was very gracious because he did not rub my nose in it. He said:
Senators Norris and Boyhan stated that public representatives will not be subject to the offences or penalties under this Bill. That is not accurate. Under the Bill, the only penalty that does not apply to public representatives is the prohibition to seek another office in the future. I am happy to debate the detail of this measure in the context of an amendment on Committee Stage.
We put such an amendment down.
I should say that I spoke to my assistant, who is absolutely wonderful, and gave her a copy of the Bill which I had marked up from page 18, to delete everything from line 16 after "as an Irish official" down to line 23.
However, somehow the amendment that was put down was as follows: "In page 19, to delete lines 17 to 23". There was a mistake from my office in the page number stated and the amendment would not make sense if it related to page 19. I do not know what happened. I put my amendment in immediately and arguably it should have been the first to be listed, although I am very happy for Senator Boyhan to take up the matter.
We do need a situation where, as Senator Boyhan said, politicians are not above the law. Do we really want people in the Dáil or Seanad who have been convicted of corruption? Do we want corrupt politicians in this country? The public is already very suspicious of politicians who have the lowest levels of trust among the public with the exception, I am glad to say, of journalists whose rating is even lower, and so they should be. We already have evidence from the other House of people against whom grave suspicions have been raised by various tribunals, who were elected and, indeed top the poll, because they are very good constituency workers. There was no criminal finding but it does suggest that such a finding could be made against a public official.
I remember former Ministers being convicted in the courts and I do not think that they are the kind of people we want in Parliament. I really do not. Does the Minister want these sorts of people in the Dáil or Seanad? Do we want as Members people who have been convicted of corrupt offences? On matters such as the Constitution and democracy, the argument holds equally well for all the other people who are excluded, it does not operate only for politicians. This Bill, as it stands, is making a special case for politicians. I would also be interested to know what the Fianna Fáil position is and whether it will support this amendment. I put it to my friends and colleagues in Fianna Fáil that they, like everyone else, will be against corruption in Irish public life. Do they want a situation where we are institutionalising it and allow politicians alone to be excluded from the penalties in this legislation.