Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I have heard what the Minister has said and I know the dilemma he faces. I asked him about constitutional issues and if he had the Attorney General's advice he might share that with us. He did not refer to the Attorney General in his response, which is fair enough. I do not expect him to tell us things he cannot tell us; he is constrained in what he can say here. However, everyone has to be held to account equally before the law whether they are citizens or politicians - I do not wish to draw any distinction between them.
I am somewhat disappointed that so few Members are present; they may have other business to attend to. I have heard what some of the Senators have said. It is a sensitive issue and needs those from all parties and none to look at it, but the current situation is not good enough.
I draw Members attention to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service digest on the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017. The team in the Oireachtas Library and Research Service do a great job. I do not know how many people use them, but I use them every day. I rely on their independent validation and scrutiny of legislation. It is a real tool to assist us in our work.
An appendix at the end of the digest draws attention to the international anti-corruption conventions, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the Council of Europe Conventions on Corruption, Civil Law Convention on Corruption, the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and a range of others. It deals with the requirements in the conventions we have signed up to.
When reading the digest, I wondered if we have forgotten about the recommendations from the report of the Mahon tribunal. Have we learned anything from that tribunal? Have we studied all the politicians who were hauled before that tribunal? I accept there were ramifications for some and others for various reasons got off. There were reviews and subsequently other decisions were made. We spent a lot of money and saw many politicians appear before the Mahon tribunal over irregularities.
Are these people suitable to be in public office? The Minister is telling me it is acceptable to allow them to run in a general election and the people will know. The people do not know a lot of things about a lot of politicians - including some who are in here. They do not necessarily need to know. There are people who have a considerable amount of money and can well afford to fund very successful advertising and propaganda campaigns to promote themselves. All this gets a bit lost. There is an old expression that this morning's newspaper wraps tonight's chips. If a year or two pass between an offence and an election, people can forget.They are hooked in by promises. I am not sure we are sending out the right message. I started my contribution by saying members of the public are held equal before the law and I mentioned that politicians could not be above the law. That is what the perception will be. That is what I am taking away from it. The Mahon tribunal discussed it. We know what international best practice is. I understand the Minister's dilemma and if he is telling me there are constitutional problems, we need to consider amending the Constitution. If the Minister is stating we are constrained by the Constitution and if the Constitution is not serving us well, perhaps that is another constitutional amendment that should be on the list of proposals the Government might consider putting to the people. I am not prepared to accept as a Member of the House, however, what the Minister proposes in this Bill. If the Government comes back and says there is an anomaly or problem and that we are constrained by the Constitution, that is fair enough. If it is the case, however, let us do something about it. Let us identify it as a difficulty and do something.
I came to the House today to decide to call a vote on this but I am not going to. I have heard what the Minister has said and I have heard the Senators who have spoken. However, I ask that we come together. This is an appeal to the House and to the Dáil. I ask that we look at this again on the next Stage and come up with something better than this. This does not go far enough in my view but, ultimately, that is a matter for Members to decide. The Members here will debate this issue in the coming days in the media. I have no doubt about that. Ultimately, we will have to make our own cases and say where we stand on this issue. I will continue to be active on this. I will take it to Government and to others. I will put pen to paper this very day and write to a number of people, including the Taoiseach, to ask that this particular matter be given a focus. As I understand it and having regard to what the Minister has said today, this does not go far enough. Every Member of the Oireachtas of all parties and none must address this issue. We must be frank and honest and put appropriate legislation in place. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reflect on this as he said he would with the previous amendment and bring this back on Report Stage to see what can be done. In the meantime, I make the commitment that I will not be found wanting in lobbying and engaging with all political groupings in the Houses and in government to see if we can revisit this particular issue.