Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Second Interim Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments: Statements.
I am pleased to be back in the Seanad and I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this important matter.
The Second Interim Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments has rightly been described as a highly significant contribution to public and political life. Its findings on the modules completed to date are unambiguous and show the thoroughness with which the tribunal has carried out its investigations. Mr. Justice Flood has sent out a clear message to anyone who has any corrupt dealings or is contemplating such dealings in relation to the planning system that they will not get away with it. As Minister with responsibility for the operation of the planning system, I fully support that message.
Corruption and the act of hindering or obstructing a tribunal are criminal offences and the law in this regard must be enforced. The findings of the Flood tribunal are a blow to the political system. It is unacceptable for any person who holds high office and the trust of both the Government and the public to accept corrupt payments in return for political favours. The Garda Commissioner, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Revenue Commissioners and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement are examining the interim report. Mr. Justice Flood has already sent the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
This is an interim report and, at this stage, Mr. Justice Flood has not made any specific recommendations in relation to amendments to planning, local government or ethics in public office legislation. However, although much important work remains to be completed by the tribunal, some ongoing improvements of planning law and procedure can still be beneficially advanced by the Government in the meantime.
The Government has already made a series of significant changes to planning legislation in the Planning and Development Act, 2000. We have introduced more opportunities for public consultation, made the system more open and transparent, introduced measures to ensure we have up to date development plans and updated procedures for the making of declarations of interest by elected members and officials. The Local Government Act, 2001, has also brought about change. It sets out comprehensive ethics provisions for local government staff and members in relation to the operation of all their functions and not just planning ones. National codes of conduct are currently being drawn up by my Department to give effect to these provisions and are being finalised as a matter of urgency. In the context of an ethical framework, it is not merely enough to avoid actual impropriety. The actions of all participants must also be seen to be above suspicion. In order to avoid any risk of damage to public confidence in local government, any appearance of improper conduct must be avoided.
In light of the findings of the tribunal, the suggestion has been voiced that land use zoning functions should be made, or at least overseen, by a national zoning committee, possibly chaired by a High Court judge and staffed by planners. The central tenet in these suggestions is that zoning is not appropriate to local authorities or councillors. On this issue, it is important to note that Mr. Justice Flood has not made any findings in his interim report that the rezoning of land was procured corruptly. He found that Mr. Burke assured those present at the time of the payment of moneys to him that he understood the payment was being made to him in connection with the proposal to alter the planning status of the Murphy lands and further assured those present that he would honour his commitment to do so. Mr. Justice Flood found that the payment received by Mr. Burke amounted to a corrupt payment and all present were aware that it was such. However, the lands in question were not rezoned. The provisions of the Planning Acts contributed to this outcome. Zoning is carried out in public, following public consultation, and by majority decision of the elected members. No one person can, therefore, ensure the outcome of a proposal to zone land. That is as it should be. The majority of local councillors are honest people who carry out their functions faithfully and with no personal gain.
Subsidiarity in the taking of decisions at the lowest appropriate level is a principle which has been endorsed at international and national levels. It is a basic consideration, for example, in the definition of our relationship with the European Union and in charters for good governance issued by the Council of Europe and other bodies. However, it also guides Irish policies on good governance. We can all recall that in 1999 the people voted at a referendum to enshrine a role for local government in our Constitution. It is also the case that land use and zoning decisions are generally local government functions in other jurisdictions.
For all these reasons I am inclined to the view that land use planning is generally appropriate to decision making at local level. The key challenge, therefore, is to ensure openness, probity, fairness and efficiency in the operation of the planning system. It appears better, therefore, at this stage to press ahead with the recent reforms of the 2000 Act, while also awaiting the recommendations of the tribunal in due course.
The development plans to be adopted under the Planning and Development Act, 2000, are due for completion by the end of 2003. We will assess the process in the light of that experience. As the revised development control procedures only came into force on 11 March this year, it is a little early to judge their impact on increasing efficiency.
Aside from the planning code, the Taoiseach outlined in his public statement of 26 September 2002 the intensive campaign of legislative reform which has been launched to ensure the highest standards in public office. Three Acts, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2002, the Standards in Public Office Act, 2001, and the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) Act, 2001, have all been passed into law recently.
A key element of this legislation is the establishment of the Standards in Public Office Commission as a permanent statutory body set up to monitor, investigate and regulate the conduct of those elected to serve the people or who are employed in the public service. This is to ensure the maintenance of proper ethical standards. The Act imposes on politicians and others an obligation to have one's tax affairs in order and to swear a statutory declaration that this is the case. An independent and powerful body, such as the Standards in Public Office Commission, with an ongoing mandate to supervise and maintain proper ethical standards is the best guarantee that what has happened in the past will not be permitted in the future.
The Government also intends quickly to enact legislation to recover assets obtained by or enhanced through corruption. A corruption assets bureau will be established which will recover assets corruptly obtained and any increase in the value of an asset obtained through corruption. Under the new legislation, when a tribunal reports that, in its opinion, persons received or gave corrupt payments or received benefits as a result of corrupt practices in which they participated, a chief superintendent, acting as an officer of the corruption assets bureau, can go to the High Court and obtain freezing orders in respect of assets corruptly obtained or whose value has been corruptly enhanced. This is an important point which will apply whether the tribunal reported before or after the passing of the legislation.
The proposed new legislation will empower the High Court to appoint inspectors to the affairs of an individual or a company whose task will be to trace assets which have been corruptly received or whose value was corruptly enhanced through acquisitions and disposals and to report to the High Court on the current value of assets obtained with assets-funds which represent the direct or indirect proceeds of corruption. The High Court will be given specific statutory power to adjust the value of assets corruptly received into current day values. For example, if a person corruptly received £1,000 in 1960 and bought a house with that money, the High Court will be entitled to order that the current day value of the house be frozen or forfeited.
The Proceeds of Crime Act, 1976, applies to property which directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of crime. The proposed legislation will extend that definition to include reference to property, the value of which was corruptly enhanced. It is, therefore, clear that the Government will not tolerate corruption in public life.
The Government is wholly committed to providing the tribunal with the resources it requires to continue with work set out in its terms of reference in order that these matters can be resolved once and for all. To assist the tribunal, it has been enlarged by the addition of two new members. On 24 October I made an instrument appointing Judge Alan Mahon and Judge Mary Faherty as full members. I have also appointed Judge Gerald Keys as a reserve member. Judge Keys will sit with the tribunal to hear evidence with the intention that he will become a full member in the event that any existing member is unable to act for any reason.
The newly enlarged tribunal will recommence public hearings on Wednesday, 20 November, and I wish it well in its future work. There is no excuse for failure to provide information to the tribunal or hinder its work and I call on all those asked to co-operate and assist to do so in a full and truthful manner. The Government welcomes the interim report of the tribunal and the clear message it sends to all who engage in corrupt practices that wrongdoing will be exposed. The legislation proposed, enacted and enforced by this Government will ensure we have anti-corruption provisions appropriate to a modern democracy.
Prior to becoming a Member of the Oireachtas, I looked forward to the exciting responsibilities and challenges that would come with election, but since entering this House I have been saddened to note that the issue causing most concern to the public is the trustworthiness of the Government parties and their public representatives in the Oireachtas and on local authorities. I agree with the Minister that the vast majority of representatives are honest and decent people, but the wrong ones cast a shadow over us all. Again and again, the trustworthiness of certain politicians is questioned on doorsteps, at political meetings and clinics to the extent that it seriously impedes the functioning of the body politic. It is to be hoped that after Mr. Justice Flood has rattled the Celtic tiger's cage, we will have woken up to the damage corruption wreaks in any society and will do our utmost to stamp it out. Exchanges between cowboy builders and Ministers of brown envelopes full of cash make for good television and radio, but it is always the case with corruption that the public picks up the tab eventually. Corruption is the abuse of power and it is always those without it who suffer the consequences.
Having read the conclusions on pages 138 to 140 of Mr. Justice Flood's comprehensive and excellent interim report, it is more than clear to me why there is such public concern. In those pages is outlined a damning series of conclusions in relation to the activities of Mr. Ray Burke, a man I have never met yet whose activities threatened to undermine my efforts on behalf of the people and the efforts of us all faithfully to carry out our work. It is the opinion of the tribunal that the transfer of Briargate to Mr. Burke amounted to a corrupt payment to him from Mr. Tom Brennan and his associates. Payments were made into offshore bank accounts controlled by Mr. Burke which were funded jointly by Mr. Tom Brennan and Mr. Joseph McGowan and the tribunal is satisfied that on the balance of probabilities these payments were made in the interest of these men in relation to the performance of Mr. Burke's public duties. The tribunal also reports that a payment of £35,000 was made to Mr. Burke by Mr. Barry and Members and the public will be aware of what happened to RTE after that. Mr. Justice Flood further reports that what amounted to a corrupt payment was made at Briargate to Mr. Burke in June 1989. All of this leads me to request the Taoiseach and the Minister to investigate the key decisions made by the then Minster for Communications.
It is a thread underlining all democracy that people must trust politicians but there has clearly been a grave breach of that trust and people are rightly concerned that the cause of their misgivings may extend beyond what has already been found. Therefore, it is right that those in power and in positions of public trust should properly answer the questions of representatives when they are put. It is alarming to note a reluctance from those in the highest office to answer the questions the Opposition wishes to put on behalf of the people. The Taoiseach has informed the Dáil that he has no questions to answer on this matter, even though many of his multi-million pound tax evading party hacks were slammed by the interim report of the Flood tribunal which found that they had obstructed and hindered its work by giving false statements. His answer is simply not good enough given that his position must be beyond reproach. To block serious and constructive questioning is very alarming and it will not do any longer for Fianna Fáil Ministers when challenged to continue with the often reeled out attacks on one or two past miscreants from the Fine Gael Party. Fianna Fáil is the party about which very serious questions in regard to propriety and proven impropriety have arisen and the repeated proclamations of willingness to answer questions while ducking them at every step must end.
The actions of some Fianna Fáil parliamentarians and Ministers have led to Ireland being seen as one of the more corrupt countries of Europe and the fall out from the Flood tribunal still continues. Traditional notions of integrity, honesty and decency in public life have been hit badly by a succession of such tribunals which have cost millions of euro. Young and old from all walks of life are fed up that no penalties have been imposed to date, no measures have been taken to prevent corruption and no real reforms of the system have been put in place. The public is rightly cynical about what is going on, but unless proper accountability and answers come from those in high office this dangerous public antipathy towards the body politic will only fester and grow. These issues travel like an infection through that body and the view obtains that if you know the right people you can get a job done in relation to, for example, the planning process. These questions will creep through the body politic until there is complete transparency. Therefore, let us hear the answers from the Government.
What would our former leaders who fought for this island and gave us our independence say if they were around today? I heard as I travelled here that the first Taoiseach went to America to promote Ireland and was proud to describe it as a nation of integrity and decency with a Government possessing the same qualities. What has happened is shameful and I hope we will begin today to clean up our system and look to the future with confidence. The carry on of some of our Ministers is having an effect on investment and I expect to hear what the Minister intends to do. It is to be wished that the blight the Government has cast on our nation does not continue.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I should mention that the Flood tribunal has been in communication with me regarding one of the 184 matters referred to in chapter 19 of its interim report. I would have no difficulty in saying what the matter concerned is, but believe the tribunal – I have no doubt the same applies to its other correspondents – wishes me not to do so. What I have to say during this debate will not be informed one way or the other by the fact that the tribunal has been in communication with me.
The interim report of the Flood tribunal is a major work of investigation. The results have been put before the public and the judgments are dramatic and of considerable importance. One of the salutary lessons of the interim report, which will apply to other tribunals and also the future work of the Flood tribunal, is that it gives a clear answer to those who might be tempted to give tribunals the run-around, concoct fantastic or preposterous stories to explain inconsistencies or, in general, show contempt, through the tribunals, to the Oireachtas and the people.
The Minister has outlined the many measures taken in recent years to tighten up regulation in the area of public ethics and, in particular, referred to the establishment of the corruption assets bureau, which I welcome. The Legislature now has a strong armoury which will ensure it can uncover anything else that needs to be uncovered, but, equally and perhaps more importantly, which will allow us to deter anything in the nature of corruption in the future.
A prominent member of the British Government, though he would not be well known here, made the point a few weeks ago to the Leader and me that tribunals were doing Ireland's reputation a great deal of damage. That may or may not be so, but I do not look at it in that way. We are demonstrating, in practically a better way than any other country, that we are not afraid to investigate any form of corruption, wrongdoing or maladministration by whomsoever it was committed.
No one is above or beyond the law. That was intended to be the original ethos of the State and all parties therein. If there were particular non-political spheres to which perhaps that might once have applied, it is certain that there are no untouchables now. I refer to a period when the separation of church and State was observed in a manner that would not commend itself to modern liberals.
In many other member states of the European Union doors are closed on investigations either because of the eminence of the person or body involved or because of the existence of public immunity certificates, D notices, etc. I note – this matter was raised on the Order of Business – that, notwithstanding complaints about the libel laws, Ireland is now ranked in third position as regards freedom of the press. That is as it ought to be.
There was a more authoritarian ethos in the past, as, for example, when I joined the public service 25 years ago. However, it has now largely disappeared. Perhaps that ethos at times discouraged questioning and discussion and, on occasion, created scope for untoward activities on the part of a small minority. I still occasionally see signs of it being an unhealthy attitude in some public bodies in terms of their reaction to genuinely motivated whistle-blowing. It is not limited to these bodies, but extends to commercial bodies also. I refer to the evidence uncovered by the DIRT inquiry.
The lesson which must be learned from the various tribunals and inquiries is that we should not repress awkward queries because they will come back to bite us much harder at a later date. We have come considerably closer – we are by no means perfect in this regard – to the ideals of openness, transparency and accountability in government. However, there is at times an instinct to transfer responsibility to independent bodies which may or may not practice those virtues as well as the political system.
Many complaints have been made about the cost of tribunals. Even though it has been pointed out that such costs have been more than covered by items such as tax bills arising from evidence uncovered by the tribunals, there is no doubt that lawyers' fees are extremely high. This essentially raises broader issues, which I do not propose to debate today, about the high cost of justice which would deter most from going to court if it can be avoided. Eight years ago, when reports appeared in tabloid newspapers north of the Border alleging that I had engaged in meetings with certain paramilitaries, I approached the then Attorney General and quoted to him my father's advice that if one could avoid it, never go to law. He informed me that my father was a wise man.
There are lawyers and former judges who disapprove of tribunals because they are less rigorous in terms of the proof sought, a matter on which I have mixed views, partly based on history, and about what can, in effect, be political trials. On the other hand, in the absence of virtual proof or overwhelming prima facie cases, how does one get to the bottom of matters arousing great public concern in a democracy? These matters do not always relate to politicians. I refer to current or recent tribunals relating to the conduct of the Garda, the Blood Transfusion Service Board, etc.
Tribunals are fact finding inquiries which try to arrive at considered judgments on the basis of the evidence. They have value. However, great care and responsibility must be exercised because great power is placed in the hands of tribunal judges and lawyers. As a result of the eagerness of the media for sensational findings, a person's reputation can be irretrievably destroyed in an instant. I have never liked it when what is called a "feeding frenzy" is directed against an individual. Those of us in public life, whether in elected or unelected positions, know that sometimes it is a case of there but for the grace of God go I.
The bank accounts of my friend and colleague P. J. Mara – even if details of one, as he claimed, had been omitted by oversight – showed no irregular payments of any kind and he was hard done by. I recall an interim statement from a senior person in opposition a few years ago to the effect that "Heads in baskets, that is what politics are all about". I fundamentally disagree with that assertion, but I remember, approximately 15 years ago, giving my children a boardgame called "Scandal". The principal characters one played were Ronald Reagan, the Pope, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, etc., and the object was to uncover a scandal that would knock out one's opponent. One cannot entirely overlook the fact that one of the motives, perhaps, in establishing tribunals has been the hope of achieving that type of knock out. Indeed, one can argue that the beef tribunal did, in one case directly and in another case indirectly contribute to the fall of Governments. However, it is a pity to see any party investing its hopes in that type of deus ex machina rather than in its own political platform and programme.
Since 1982, most of the alternatives to the principal party in Government being Fianna Fáil have come in periods of what one might call temporary disqualification of Fianna Fáil. I would like to see parties come into Government through their own positive merits. In the system that existed there was no regulation and everybody made up their own rules. Short of blatant bribery, anything went. That was not satisfactory. I welcome the reforms that have taken place. They put people in less awkward situations where they are not under any obligation, real or perceived. The late Kevin Boland said in the 1960s, when observing some of the new methods of fund raising, that a large number of small contributions is better than a small number of large contributions.
As an elected Member of Fianna Fáil, I am sorry our party should have a role of any kind in wrongdoing or corruption, particularly as it relates to a former prominent member of the party. However, I do not believe it or any other instances that can be cited were a reflection on the character of Fianna Fáil any more than other fund raising of a dubious kind reflects on the nature of other political parties.
The often asked question is why Ray Burke was appointed. The answer is simple. He was capable and had much experience in different Ministries. Indeed, as a young diplomat, I first remember meeting him when he was a junior Minister to the then Minister, former Deputy Des O'Malley, coming back from a trade mission abroad. He was an exceptionally forceful person. He made a great contribution to the establishment of local radio, which has been of lasting benefit. When Brian Lenihan was ill during the Anglo-Irish conference, I remember Tom King breathed a sigh of relief when those bruisers, the former Deputies Collins and Burke, had to make way for him when he had recovered. It is interesting to recall that at the time of the beef tribunal Ray Burke was painted as being on the side of the angels in relation to export credit relief. My experience of him in the Department of Justice is that he was cautious.
When he was appointed in 1997 there were newspaper reports and doubts expressed about the past. He had been a good spokesman on Northern Ireland and Foreign Affairs in Opposition, guiding a new leader who had not had many dealings in those areas. He was generally sound and, as the Taoiseach pointed out in the Dáil, his appointment was welcomed on the Opposition benches, notwithstanding the rumours. I was in Stormont and the multi-party talks had just been established when he resigned. His resignation was regretted. At the time I wondered whether he should have resigned, thereby creating difficulties for the party in a minority Government and causing a by-election. With the benefit of hindsight, however, one can see why he took that decision. It is clear that he misled the Dáil and that he held bank accounts abroad in breach of foreign exchange regulations.
Ray Burke did not have an extravagant lifestyle, even though he received large sums of money. Somebody put it to me that he was in the habit of squirrelling things aways. Squirrels do go up trees in north Dublin but the nuts tend to be hidden in the ground. The details do not present an edifying picture. However, businessmen can be extremely naive when it comes to politics. Of course, as is clear from famous cases in the past – and I am thinking of the French playwright Beaumarchais – if a payment is corrupt, not only the person receiving it is corrupt but also the people giving the payment, even including people who may be tribunal heroes.
There is a yawning gap in the trubunal report. A great deal of research and effective investigation took place into the payments side of the issue. However, as the summary states: "The Tribunal has been unable to discover what specific action Mr. Burke took to advance the interests of those who had paid him those monies. but is satisfied on the balance of probabilities, that he acted in their interests in the performance of his public duties". In a sense, the tribunal drew a blank on what was done for the payments and that must raise large questions, particularly in relation to any legal proceedings. However, Mr. Burke is well able to look after himself in that regard.
The chapter on broadcasting and Century Radio is entirely divorced of its political context. Political context is not something of which I would be particularly proud but it is relevant to the decisions. RTÉ was blamed by Fianna Fáil for causing the unsatisfactory 1989 general election result, particularly the constant hammering about the crisis in the health services. There was quite a vindictive mood afterwards. There is no reference of any kind to that in the tribunal report. I do not believe the actions that were taken can be entirely attributed to financial contributions.
As always, Senator Mansergh's defence of Fianna Fáil is the party's most sophisticated and impressive. He comes from similar roots to myself, perhaps, in terms of his background and therefore understands Fianna Fáil as well as I do. I take no pleasure in what I must say now.
I learned my socialism, my republicanism and my commitment to the Irish language through Fianna Fáil. Those three values are based on the idea that politics is about making things better for everybody in society. My father served briefly as a member of a local council in the 1940s. His view would have been that it was an honour to serve. My father's greatest boast about Fianna Fáil was to point out in my home town of Athy, County Kildare, the houses that had been built which transformed the lives of people who, effectively, had lived in the late 1920s and early 1930s in mud huts. For the first time such people were living in decent housing and within a generation their lives were transformed. That is the sort of Fianna Fáil that I was brought up with.
My father died 25 years ago and for the first time since he passed away I am almost glad that he is not around. That is because I would have hated my father to read the report of the McCracken tribunal and the interim report of the Flood tribunal. I know there are many good people in Fianna Fáil, and Senator Mansergh is a good example of that sort of person. It is time, however, that Fianna Fáil members looked at where they are because one cannot simply consider this as some spectacular exception. I am not saying that everybody in Fianna Fáil has the ethical standards of Mr. Burke, but that party seems to be unable to separate its interests from the basic idea of right and wrong.
During my period in the House, Seán Doherty was elected Cathaoirleach by the votes of Fianna Fáil Members, although the alternative was that good and decent man, Des Hanafin. Mr. Doherty became Cathaoirleach in the face of appallingly bad behaviour and the abuse of his position while Minister for Justice, yet his position was defended by Fianna Fáil Members of the House.
One cannot pretend that each of these cases was an exception. This was not some marginal figure; it was a figure central to Fianna Fáil whom Mr. Justice Flood found to have taken corrupt payments and bribes. Those findings should produce outrage rather than the sort of innocuous speech the Minister of State delivered here. They have produced outrage among the public but, understandably, the public has a short memory. We must judge what was in those reports as well as what led up to them.
I do not believe it was an accident that the request for additional members for the Flood tribunal was delayed for six months; it was a deliberate tactic to slow down the tribunal's work so that such findings would not emerge until after the general election. Of that there can be no doubt, so let us not play act. Fianna Fáil knew what was coming and the shock, horror duly arrived. From the moment Ray Burke was reappointed to the Government in 1997, Fianna Fáil had every reason to be wary that this might come about because there was ample evidence.
I was a Member of the House during the 1980s when everybody outside Fianna Fáil could pick up vibes that were not conducive to a sense of open democracy. Everybody could see it and it was inevitable that more than a few people in that party were corrupt. From 1977 to 1997, members of my party served in Government for longer than Fianna Fáil; they did many things with which I disagreed and they made many mistakes. It is a fact, however, that none of them has been accused of any of these sorts of offences. Members of the Progressive Democrats, who will have served close to ten years in office if the present Government sees through its current term and does not fall apart, will not be accused of similar things either. Fine Gael has one problem in its ranks which will have to be dealt with, but outside that there will be none.
In 1997, at the same time that Mr. Burke was appointed a member of the Government, the Taoiseach appointed Liam Lawlor as a member of a Dáil committee on ethics. Members of Fianna Fáil will say, "But we didn't know anything about Liam Lawlor. We didn't know anything about Deputy Ellis's peculiar business arrangements, and we didn't know anything about Deputy Foley's peculiar banking arrangements. We didn't know anything about Frank Dunlop's activities in Dublin County Council, either."
Many of us did know, however. When my party colleague, Deputy Burton, suggested that people were receiving money in return for the way they voted on planning decisions, she was inundated with writs by people who said that such an accusation was without foundation. That is the context in which all this needs to be judged. I invite Fianna Fáil – particularly its Ministers and spokespersons – to do a bit more than simply tell us what they are going to do in the future. Ultimately, public feeling about this will penetrate the consciousness of Fianna Fáil, that most defensive of organisations. I am sick of the fact that because Fianna Fáil nurtured corruption in its core via people like Ray Burke, the rest of us are smeared with that man's values and the values of those who surrounded him, such as people who, for unfathomable reasons, went to jail to protect bank accounts. That sort of culture besmirches the rest of us.
There are indications of the sort of approach Fianna Fáil would wish to take, and they are not very nice. The former Supreme Court Judge, Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty, wrote an article for The Dubliner magazine, which was quoted in The Irish Times on 4 November. In the article, he chose to cast aspersions on tribunals, commenting:
That statement is erroneous because in every District Court in the land, and often in the High Court, a judge does decide from the demeanour of a witness whether he is telling the truth. Apart from that, however, do Fianna Fáil members agree with their protégé – who they were going to appoint as Chief Justice and later tried to appoint to an enormously well paid job in Europe, until public outrage descended on their heads – that it was wrong to allow one judge to make those findings of fact about Ray Burke? Is Hugh O'Flaherty representative of the thinking in Fianna Fáil? Or is it the usual thing, that if they do not like the message they shoot the messenger via sophisticated legal reflection by somebody who turns out to represent the intellectual wing of Fianna Fáil? What he said – I say it only because he volunteered it; it would not be right otherwise – was profoundly wrong and was obviously something that was thought out and was intended to undermine the public confidence in tribunals. Tribunals are not perfect.
I will say no more than what I have said, in deference to your views, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
On the same topic, I want to suggest to the members of Fianna Fáil that there is much they can do if they want to reassure us. I have the distinction, if that is what it is, of having been expelled from this House because of things I said about Mr. Burke. I said he was a disgrace as a Minister. I was inclined not to withdraw the remarks so I ended up being expelled from the House at the proposal of the then Cathaoirleach. I believe Mr. Burke was a disgrace.
It would be very simple to relieve much of the concern. There is a Freedom of Information Act, which came into force some time in 1998. It would require nothing more than a ministerial order to allow it to apply retrospectively to all matters in which Mr. Burke had influence. That would be in the area of communications and in the area of the distribution and sale of passports and things like that. It would let the public see that nothing else that was done was wrong or influenced by anything untoward. It would be simple to do and would not take major legislation. If we want to do more than respond to existing public concern and if we are really concerned to cut this particular offensive canker out of the political system, I would invite Fianna Fáil to commit themselves to that because it is not just about one person. Let us see what is in the file on passports. Let us see the records, not of the slightly diluted interpretations of the Minister but of the area of developing communications even before the tribunal investigated them. I suggest this because one of the aspects which has intrigued people is the way Mr. Burke carried the portfolio of communications with him wherever he went. That portfolio was enormously influential and full of possibilities for the future.
Then I would invite my friends in Fianna Fáil to do something else, to explain to me how come, as was obvious to us all and as was concluded by Mr. Justice Flood, some of Mr. Burke's associates were still honoured guests in the Fianna Fáil hospitality tent at Galway races. They were honoured guests making apparently substantial donations to Fianna Fáil long after it was obvious to the rest of us that something very dodgy was going on. We cannot have this, where things happen and they are condemned and then we are invited to ignore them.
While Fianna Fáil has undoubtedly survived electorally the scandals that have so horrified us all, the price that has been paid in terms of public trust in politics and in the capacity of politics to deal with difficult issues has been profoundly undermined. It would be naive of me to say that only Fianna Fáil can remedy it. My own view is that the best way we could remedy the smell of corruption in which Fianna Fáil has enveloped us all would be for Fianna Fáil to spend about ten years in Opposition. If they did so, they would discover how few friends they had when they had no power.
In the meantime we can only repeat that what Mr. Justice Flood found was not an isolated individual behaving badly but a particular ugly example of a culture which has taken over a once great movement. It is a culture of mé-féin-ism which seems to motivate more of that party than one would like to think and which believes that the interests of Fianna Fáil lie ahead of all standards by which the rest of us would believe ordinary people would wish to be judged.
I came to local politics in 1991 having been involved in community residents' associations activity in Dublin for the previous ten years. Having served on the old Dublin County Council and the recently formed Fingal County Council, from my own personal experience at a micro level I did not see any great conspiracy by councillors as is alleged by Mr. Frank Dunlop. I am not here to defend Mr. Frank Dunlop or other councillors, but I will give examples to this House of some of my experiences of the context, as Senator Ryan mentioned earlier, of the time in which we were dealing.
I am dealing with it in the context of how Dublin County Council ran its affairs and was taking advice from its officials – the same officials who would have served the council prior to my time – on matters which are ongoing in the Flood tribunal. At the time there was a culture of council officials saying that certain lands were not to be zoned. Some councillors took that view because it was coming from officialdom. Other councillors took a different view and at times it became a war of attrition in the council chamber. As a result, some developers decided they had to go about getting their motions up for discussion and trying to influence people.
For example, the site of the proposed North-West Business Park in Blanchardstown was unserviced lands and the council decided there was no need for additional land zoned for industry in the Blanchardstown area. Ten years later that land is occupied by many businesses. I have been told only this afternoon by Fingal County Council that the rates base from that area in 1994 was €0.54 million and today it is €4.7 million. While the council officials would not have had us rezone those lands, the industries and the jobs in that area are making a contribution, both in tax to this economy and in rates to the county council. If councillors like me and others had not zoned those lands for industrial development, we would not have that rates base or that employment in Blanchardstown and it would not be the vibrant place it is today. No doubt that example can be found in other areas of Dublin, from Carrickmines as far as Balbriggan, but I would not be as knowledgeable about other local electoral areas as I would about my own.
We know the housing crisis has developed because of a lack of supply. This has been the conclusion of the three Bacon reports. Had we followed the advice of council officials at the time, land which is currently being developed would not have been rezoned for development. At that time council officials said the Ongar lands in Blanchardstown should not be developed for housing because a substantial land bank was available for that purpose. Those lands have since been developed. Council management said in 1993 that a substantial land bank was available and there was no need for further land to be rezoned, yet in the recent development plan management granted permission for the development of 2,200 houses in Tyrrelstown, 100 acres for housing on the former Phoenix Park racecourse and 100 acres on the site of the James Connolly Hospital. Less than ten years ago we were told by council management that there was no need for further residential land in Blanchardstown.
I was delighted to hear the Minister, Deputy Cullen, say no one person can ensure the outcome of a proposal to zone land and that he would stick to the present situation. I would have said that was the situation in the old Dublin County Council when I served there, although there was one attempted exception. Prior to the discussion on the Swords development plan in 1993 a meeting was held at Mr. John Bruton's request in an upper room of Conway's public house, which I and other Fine Gael councillors attended. We were told – not requested – to vote as a bloc in the council. We were told that there was no place in the party for those of us who could not agree with the majority decision. The following morning, when many of us had decided to vote as a bloc, Councillor Cathal Boland resigned the Fine Gael Whip because the agreement of the night before had been broken by a subsequent meeting. I wonder why the resignation of a senior party member has never been discussed. I hope this matter will be investigated.
Large portions of the Flood tribunal interim report are given over to the question of co-operation with the tribunal. In 1995, before any tribunal was established, I made the then Taoiseach aware of a highly inappropriate approach made to me. Since then I have not been asked to make a statement on that matter and I am not aware of other council members being asked to do so. I hope this matter will be also be addressed.
I welcome the report. I am delighted with some of its findings. It has demonstrated the fact that no one is above the law. I hope the proposed corrupt assets bureau will find a home for some of the money which was ill-gotten. I am delighted to hear the Minister for the Environment and Local Government say he would stick to the current proposal in relation to the zoning of land and that he sees zoning as a function of local councillors. This contrasts with a previous Minister for the Environment who took a populist approach and said zoning was a debased currency. It was certainly not debased by the majority of councillors.
The question of influence being brought to bear on councillors must be addressed. The Flood tribunal is attempting to address the question of why some councillors were influenced while others were not and what inappropriate approaches were made. I have never received a political donation from Mr. Frank Dunlop. However, I would be horrified if Mr. Dunlop said those who did receive such donations did so for corrupt motives. If my colleagues on the council received political donations at the time of elections I do not believe they did so on a corrupt basis. I am not here to defend their actions. They will have an opportunity to do so if they appear before the Flood tribunal. If that is the angle taken by a person who is now before the tribunal it questions the activities of many local councillors who acted in the best interest of their communities and of Dublin. If lands had not been zoned at that time for housing and industry against the advice of council management we would not have the large tracts of industrial and housing development across County Dublin and particularly in Dublin west.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to the House. I compliment the Minister for the Environment and Local Government on his speech. We can all subscribe to his comments when he describes the report as a highly significant contribution to Irish public and political life.
In the preface to the interim report Mr. Justice Flood refers to the Brennan and McGowan module, the Century Radio module and the Gogarty module. The Minister pointed out that Mr. Justice Flood has given a clear message to anyone who has had corrupt dealings. He made it clear that he supports that message, as I am sure this House does. He pointed out that the act of hindering or obstructing a tribunal is a criminal offence and remarked that the findings of the Flood tribunal are a blow to the political system. He went on to say it is unacceptable for anyone who holds high office and enjoys the trust of the Government and the public to accept corrupt payments in return for political favours.
In our political lives we have all had to be wary and conscious of the fact that there is hardly ever such a thing as a free lunch. I agree with some of what Senator Mansergh has said. Corruption is not confined to politicians. Officials have been involved as well as those business people and developers who made corrupt payments. Unfortunately, some in the political arena operated in the manner of qui tacit consentit or he who keeps silence consents. We must be on our guard constantly.
I welcome much what the Minister said about the Garda Commissioner, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Revenue Commissioners and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. They are examining this interim report and he pointed out that the judge has already sent the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
As has been stressed several times, this is an interim report. Hence, it might not have been appropriate and might have been wrong that such a report would contain recommendations. The Minister dealt with this to some extent in his speech. If something must happen, it is a matter for Government. It must be a political judgment at that stage.
I generally agree with Senator Morrissey and I listened with great care and interest to his speech, particularly what he had to say about the culture and climate of the old Dublin County Council at the time in question. I agree that it should be a matter for elected local people in whatever authority to which they are attached, whatever part of the country that may be. Politicians must always be wary of what is developer led. The politicians must decide and should be free to do so in consultation with their officials. I hope the officials would be above reproach but, as we sadly know, maybe there were not in all cases.
The Minister rightly referred to the weapons the State has at its disposal in respect of laws to deal with corruption and wrongdoing. The Prevention of Corruption Act, the Standards in Public Office Act, 2001, and the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Act, 2001, are tools at the disposal of the State, and properly so.
I asked the Leader of the House on the Order of Business today about the Corruption Assets Bureau, with which the Minister dealt in his speech. That is going ahead and is very much to be welcomed. He pointed out that proposed new legislation will empower the High Court to appoint inspectors to the affairs of any individual or company where necessary and appropriate.
I welcome the ministerial order made on 24 October, in which the Minister appointed Justices Alan Mahon, Mary Faherty and Gerald Keys as members and reserve member, respectively, of the tribunal. Again, I echo and endorse the Minister'sclosing remarks in wishing the enlarged tribunal well in its future work. The Minister spoke of the Government very much welcoming this interim report, as I am sure we all do.
I am thankful the report spared us a recall of all the evidence, but we understand from the preface that the record of the testimony extended to over 35,000 pages. It is also true to say that they sat in public on a record number of sitting days. Matters have been reported on comprehensively. The conclusions, as the judge has said, are borne out by the evidence. He has expressed great regret about the level of non-co-operation and that people having been duly sworn did not tell the truth. He makes the point that the report has gone to the Director of the Public Prosecutions and he must decide, at his discretion, what appropriate action to take.
The judge points out that his duty was to report back to the Oireachtas. That was his obligation and he has done so. Senator Mansergh referred to the cost, about which we are all concerned, and that if there were a more efficient way for the State to do its business through Oireachtas inquiries, we would prefer that. However, it is consoling to note that to which Senator Mansergh drew our attention and what the judge refers to in the preface – in excess of €34.5 million has accrued to the Revenue Commissioners arising directly or indirectly from the work of the tribunal.
My friend Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty referred to this matter in an article recently, a press cutting of which I have in front of me. I disagree with him because he says the purpose of the tribunal was to conduct an investigation and to inform Members of these Houses of the state of affairs. As has been pointed out by Senator Ryan, judges in Irish courts make decisions on and evaluate the credibility of witnesses every day of the week on the basis of evidence offered. They have to make that call and they do and we have not heard there was anything wrong with any of those decisions over the years. In any event, they would be open to challenge and to appeal.
Great credit is due to the tribunal. It had to start from scratch without a book of evidence. The DIRT inquiry had the great advantage of having the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. As we know, all previous Garda investigations failed – so much for climbing up trees in north County Dublin. Senator Mansergh also quoted points that interested me as well.
On page 138 the report says it was unable to discover what actions were performed for Mr. Tom Brennan or his associates. It goes on to say that "the benefit which was conferred on Mr. Burke was conferred in circumstances which gave rise to a reasonable inference that the motives for making and receiving this benefit were connected with the public office held by Mr. Burke".
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to the House and I thank the Minister, Deputy Cullen, for the contribution he made at the start of this debate. We certainly owe a profound debt of gratitude to Mr. Justice Flood on the interim report he has produced. He has established very clearly in that report the facts regarding happened in respect of certain planning matters and payments.
Politics are about public service first and foremost and not about personal profit. They are not about power for the sake of power but about people doing business honestly and respecting the trust of the communities who have elected members to a particular forum.
One of the great benefits of the interim report is that Mr. Justice Flood has been able to discover documents. We have seen witnesses come in to be cross-examined. Even the banks have been required to deliver up private accounts. There are now clear and conclusive findings of corruption. It is evidence of the State's determination to root out and expose corruption and shows that nobody is above or beyond the law.
The most important issue to arise from the report is the appropriate action to be taken by the Government in response. The Taoiseach has outlined the number of tribunals established by the previous Government with the co-operation of the Oireachtas. It is also worth noting the legislation introduced on foot of reports made by the various tribunals.
In various media programmes dealing with the tribunals it has been pointed out that baseless allegations can be made which are founded on nothing more than rumours. The Taoiseach has been the victim of many of them, for example, he was unfairly attacked for a contribution he is supposed to have received from a Mr. O'Brien. It is similar to an American politician who, when challenged by a friend, confirmed he did not believe his allegations, but wanted to hear the accused deny them. By contrast, the Flood tribunal has examined a serious issue and we owe it our thanks and gratitude for what it has done so far.
Tribunals are costly, but have recovered a lot of money in the form of lost revenues. Examples include the DIRT inquiry and the Flood tribunal. It has often been suggested that the Seanad would provide a suitable forum for conducting such inquiries because, unlike Deputies, Senators are not directly reliant on the electorate for their position. Be that as it may, tribunals provide good formats to inquire into issues of controversy.
Tribunals can also have other good consequences. For example, the standards in public office legislation would not have been introduced without them. The last general election represented the first occasion on which the people voted with a comprehensive range of legislation enacted to address issues raised in the various tribunals, including requirements on disclosure and accountability in politics.
It has been suggested that responsibility for land rezoning could be removed from local authorities. The Minister is of the view that it is inappropriate for them to be involved. I have been a member of Galway County Council for over 17 years during which many conflicts over planning arose. It is still a big issue in the county, especially in west Galway. Many years ago the production team for the television programme "7 Days" researched a programme on what was then known as section 4 motions under the planning Acts, but found no evidence of abuse or corruption. Section 4 motions are no longer used, in County Galway or elsewhere.
County councillors, however, must continue to play a major role in land rezoning, especially when circumstances are continually changing. Many young people and returned emigrants are seeking planning permission to build houses. There is a need to find an answer to the serious housing shortages. It has been reported that some local authorities will only process applications made by natives of their own county, which is a serious development.
There is a need to hold a full debate on planning. Some Senators have pointed out that the failure to secure planning permission in local towns means people have to seek to build houses further away from their place of work. This is especially relevant in the greater Dublin area where many are frustrated at having to travel long distances to and from work. This gives rise to many social problems.
I welcome this interim report. Our thanks are due to Mr. Justice Flood for the work he has done. The tribunal must now deal with other issues. I look forward to seeing us deal with the consequences of this and other reports from the tribunal. The process in which Mr. Justice Flood is involved will help restore the trust and respect of the people in the conduct of public life.
Mr. Justice Flood must be commended for his excellent work in producing his important interim report. It is an act of public service to the State. Many of those who read the report are justifiably outraged at its content. It is a source of hurt to me that I am a member of a profession in which there is so much corruption. Having said that, there are very few corrupt politicians, but this is a damning report on Mr. Burke, a former member of our profession. I have been an elected representative since 1991 and perhaps if I had known then what I know now, I might have chosen another profession or at least decided not to become a politician.
I believe the vast majority of politicians enter public life to deliver what is best for their communities. Unfortunately, the wrongs committed by one individual have tarnished everybody. We are all tainted. It is up to each one of us to prove we are not corrupt. That is an indication of how low we have sunk in the public's estimation. This report is the first step in cleaning up our act. It gives us hope things will get better and that there will not be a continuation of the shady deals that were sometimes done.
There was a certain culture that was accepted by some as the way to do business. It is clear from the report that that is how Mr. Burke operated. He subverted people who were trying to carry out their lawful business by demanding payments from them. I voted for many rezonings as a member of Dublin County Council and, subsequently, Fingal County Council. The decisions I made were based on what I saw as the merits of each case. I shudder to think that there were people present who were steering rezonings through for their own ends and that I may inadvertently have been a party to their designs. I have no doubt that this happened on occasion.
I support the call by the Fine Gael Party, which was also made previously, regarding the establishment of a land use commission in order that all future rezonings will be certified. This would allow us to be sure that there was no shady dealing involved. As a county councillor, I would welcome such a development and not see it as undermining my work but rather guaranteeing that everybody involved in the process did an honest job and that rezoning decisions were taken for all the right reasons. It will be too late if, in ten or 20 years time, we are to discover that there were shady deals behind some current rezoning decisions.
We also need to establish an anti-corruption office which would investigate all allegations against public officials and elected representatives. This would provide a sense of security that honesty and fair play were at the basis of all decisions taken on behalf of the people. It would also ensure any wrongdoing could be weeded out at an early stage, rather than waiting for many years for it to emerge.
I live in and represent Lucan and Quarryvale, areas currently the focus of investigation by the Flood tribunal in regard to political decisions made in respect to land rezoning. This area has a huge population and the decisions had a major effect on people's lives, sometimes for the worst. There have been implications for the availability of housing, house prices, facilities or lack of, and planning for communities. It is important for the communities concerned and the future of politics that the tribunal gets to the bottom of the reasons decisions were taken, if they were taken for the right reasons or if there were other agendas at stake.
It is important that reforms are implemented on foot of the Flood tribunal report. Fianna Fáil has a particular responsibility in addressing the issues arising from the tribunals. While it is not the only party whose members are being taken to task by the tribunals, it is the main one. It has to be upfront about its responsibility for a culture that is conducive to corruption. Other parties have a responsibility in this regard also. This is important for the sake of politics, but also for the lives of those affected by the decisions made on their behalf.
I agree with the point made by earlier speakers that most politicians act for the best of reasons, but the fact remains that some politicians were free to be corrupt and others were caught up in the grey area. The Flood tribunal will eventually make recommendations, but there are many reforms that can be made in the meantime. The process has already begun and the Labour Party has taken the lead in terms of the openness and accountability of politics in regard to election expenditure and so on. I condemn any attempts to increase election expenditure limits from their current levels. Something must be done about the loopholes that allow parties to spend whatever amounts they like before an election is called. The link between business and politics has also to be addressed. I support the Labour Party's proposal to ban corporate donations and limit personal donations. Public funding is the preferred option. While work has begun in that regard, much remains to be done.
The other issue that needs to be addressed is that of planning and housing. I agree with the point made by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, that we should not take away the power to rezone land from local councillors. It is one of the few powers that they have and it is important for local democracy that councillors retain this power. The main problem with rezoning decisions is the huge profits that can be made by landowners, the knock-on effect of which has been to drive house prices out of control. Among other measures, we must do something about windfall taxes, the State acquisition of land for the provision of housing and ensure small builders are brought in for the provision of housing. Housing is a right and decisions concerning it should not be about profit, but about the need of people to have a proper community.
The Minister of State mentioned significant changes to planning legislation in the Planning and Development Act, 2000. He said more opportunities for public consultation have been introduced, but they have also been taken away. One now has to pay for a submission on a planning application. This is a move away from making public consultation more open and transparent.
The Minister of State has also said it is better to leave responsibility for rezoning in the hands of councillors. I agree and believe it is very important for representative democracy. I disagree with the move by the Minister for Transport to introduce quangos to take planning decisions. We already have this in the shape of the DTO and the NRA and it is not good for representative democracy. I suggest the money from corruption proceeds be put into the communities affected by corruption where it should be used to provide facilities.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this report – it is high time that we did so. I pay tribute to the work of Mr. Justice Feargus Flood and his team and wish the judges recently appointed to the tribunal well.
The interim report sets out, in graphic detail, one of the most shameful episodes in Irish political life. It is an episode which one would like to say is over, but it is not given the reporting and investigation of corruption in planning in Dublin County Council and the decisions made by Mr. Ray Burke during his tenure as a public representative. We can only comment on what has been investigated so far. This episode has had an undermining effect on Irish politics and our role as public representatives – there is no point in pretending otherwise. Unless we accept that this is the case we will not move on or be able to repair the damage done to the perception of public representatives – councillors, Members of the Oireachtas and Ministers – with power to make decisions and, as we know, misuse that power.
We must examine this matter very carefully. I have noticed that some members of Fianna Fáil have an ability to distance themselves from the events of the Ray Burke era. The culture in which he thrived was the culture of the party. The dogs in the street openly discussed his decisions and activities and what was happening within Dublin County Council. It went on openly, but it appears nobody believed it until Mr. Justice Flood put it in writing. Mr. Burke was appointed Minister eight times by successive leaders of Fianna Fáil. He was most recently appointed by the Taoiseach at a time when the noise from the public and the reports in the media had reached such a crescendo that even he could not ignore it. The manner in which Mr. Burke was appointed Minister does not represent the high point of the Taoiseach's career.
Trust in politics, particularly in local representatives, has gone. Trust in local representatives to make decisions regarding planning has certainly gone. Rezoning is a debased currency. While we might like to hope this might change, there is no sign of it doing so. There is a perception that rezoning decisions made openly and democratically were made against a background of favours. I have noticed this in my area. There is absolutely no evidence to support this, but it is the legacy we now face. How it is addressed is a very difficult question. As a public representative, I would like to think we can be trusted to make decisions. We are elected by the people and, when we make decisions, attempt, as far as possible, to look at the benefits that will result. The public does not have the same attitude to it. We will have to work very hard to change this.
While we allow political donations to be made to parties or individuals, we cannot expect this perception to change. We must move to introduce a ban on political donations. It was very disappointing to see the second largest political party in the State changes its policy on the matter. The introduction of a ban on political donations must be accompanied by the proper funding of political parties and political activity. We should not run away from this. To create total transparency in the system we must remove any question arising from political donations. We are fooling ourselves if we think political donations do not have price tags attached to them. Who will believe this having heard everything revealed in the tribunals? It will not wash any more. This would be a useful starting point if we are serious about restoring trust and transparency to Irish political life. If we want the people to believe political parties are in the business of public services, that is essential.
The programme of reform that arises from reports such as this will be a measure of how seriously we take the findings and how serious we are about restoring trust to Irish political life. Our democracy has been undermined by the breaking of the trust between public representatives and the public. Until that programme of reform is rolled out the public cannot be expected to believe the political system is willing or capable of reforming itself.
The actions of Mr. Ray Burke extend beyond planning decisions made by Dublin County Council during his time of influence. They extend to his tenure as Minister for Communications and his decisions regarding Century Radio. I worked in RTÉ in 1990 around the time Mr. Burke was Minister. I remember the atmosphere in the station, the sense of utter shock at the decisions being made and the horrendous undermining of the public service broadcaster which took place. The findings of Mr. Justice Flood and the ongoing investigation bear out the suspicion very strongly held at the time that Mr. Burke was abusing his power as Minister, that he used his position to support his friends and, in so doing, undermined the public service broadcaster. We must carefully examine how a public service broadcaster, operating for the people, was undermined so badly through the extraordinary abuse of power by one individual. This marks a shameful episode in domestic political life, the effect of which must be examined.
As my colleague, Senator Tuffy, pointed out, the programme of reform that results from the ongoing tribunal will be the mark of how we intend to move forward, whether we take these findings and the need to restore strengthened democracy in Ireland seriously and whether we can learn the lessons that Mr. Justice Flood has set out clearly for us.
Mr. Justice Flood and his tribunal have done a great service to the State. The thoroughness of the investigation conducted by him and his staff and the clarity of his report were appreciated. He ensured the people could have access to the report by making it available at a cost of €1. We can all recall the queues outside the Government Publications Office on the day it was published as people ensured they could read all the detail of his findings. The entire nation was waiting for the findings of the tribunal.
I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is present. Five years ago he stated in the Lower House that he was confident the Flood tribunal would vindicate Ray Burke. He must wonder how wrong he could have been given that words have a habit of coming back to haunt us. Hindsight is beneficial and we all make judgments in politics. However, the Taoiseach's decision to appoint Ray Burke was misguided. In appointing an individual to the third most senior political position in the State, one must wonder how much research is undertaken to ensure the credentials of the individual are above board. The Taoiseach received several warnings in this case, including from his predecessor, Albert Reynolds, and the Minister for Defence. Another person revealed recently in the media how he had warned the Taoiseach regarding the appointment of Ray Burke and many people still ask why he appointed him.
The Flood tribunal has been running for a long time but many of those who were called before it wanted to thwart its investigations and to terminate it as quickly as possible because they were afraid of the revelations that might emerge. It took more than six months for the Government to appoint the extra judges requested by Mr. Justice Flood. Was it not convenient and timely that this was so? The Fianna Fáil-PD Administration must have breathed a sigh of relief when the findings were published in June and not prior to the general election. What would the public have thought if they had been published in April or May?
Most people were amazed by the findings in the report and the simplicity and directness of Mr. Justice Flood's contribution to the report was appreciated. This was in sharp contrast to the voluminous tome that was published following the beef tribunal. The report cost £20, probably to ensure fewer people purchased it. However, the report did not pinpoint anything and the only people targeted in it resided in my constituency and worked for the Goodman company. They took most of the rap following the lengthy investigations of the tribunal.
The public appreciate Mr. Justice Flood's report. Following its publication, the mantra repeatedly uttered by the Government Chief Whip, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and others was that the Taoiseach was to be congratulated on setting up the tribunal. The Dáil set up the tribunal, not the Taoiseach, and there was a great deal of debate in the House before it was established. The Taoiseach was forced to include the activities of Ray Burke in the terms of reference of the tribunal following pressure exerted by the Opposition in the Dáil and the publication of an article in Magill. Let us be honest about what happened.
Mr. Burke was criticised in Mr. Justice Flood's report, particularly in regard to planning decisions. Many people feel the entire planning process stinks but it does not. Most local authority members do the best they can. They are dealing with small communities and when it comes to drafting development plans the rezoning aspect is not of great importance. Politicians are consulted and amendments are drafted to such plans. However, development plans and the planning process belong to the public, not to officials or politicians.
For example, as Senator Brennan alluded to earlier, a debate is raging in Adare about whether the village can cope with the dramatic expansion in housing and so on envisaged under the new draft development plan. There is still a great deal of congestion in the village because the Adare bypass has not yet been built. Draft development plans are published every six years and I wonder whether it would be better to build bypasses first so that their impact on the community could be assessed and zoning decisions would be better informed. Further discussions will take place in Adare regarding the development plan and they should be monitored closely.
As Fine Gael spokesperson on the Marine and Natural Resources in the last Dáil, I took a great interest in oil and gas exploration activity. While the Century Radio licence and planning decisions feature prominently in Ray Burke's activities, significant policy changes were made to the requirements for oil and gas exploration licences, which were beneficial to those involved. It was proposed that if taxes were not placed on the profits of oil and gas exploration companies, many of them would take up licences. This did not happen. The companies took out licences but 15 years later they still have them and we are still waiting for results. However, people involved in these oil and gas companies have been good to Fianna Fáil and I wonder whether this issue should have been covered by the Flood tribunal. If there was interference in the awarding of the licence to Century Radio, who is to say similar interference did not occur in the awarding of oil and gas exploration licences?
I am sure everyone is delighted the first phase of the tribunal's work is complete, although further phases must follow. We do not know the ramifications yet. Some people regard the expenditure of €24 million as excessive. However, it has not been excessive because it has been a cleansing mechanism for the public. I wish Mr. Justice Flood and his officials well in their further pursuit of the truth. I compliment him on the clear language he used in the report and the thoroughness of the investigation to date.
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I was taken aback by the statement made by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that the "findings of the Flood tribunal are a blow to the political system". However, but for the Flood tribunal and its interim findings, the political system would be under suspicion. It is important that the people responsible for wrongdoing have been identified. I am not sure what the Minister meant when he said the "findings of the Flood tribunal are a blow to the political system". The political system needed to be dealt a blow. Unfortunately, that blow affected everyone until those responsible were identified. I have confidence that the Flood tribunal will root out those who have not yet been identified.
It is important for the Minister to make a clear statement that the Flood tribunal will investigate wrongdoing in any part of the country, not only in Dublin. Some people maintain that planning irregularities occurred in the past in other parts of the country. If that is true and if they can be identified, it is important for the Flood tribunal to investigate them. We must face the difficulties and clean up the political system, otherwise people will continue to be suspicious and certain sections of the media will continue to make innuendoes about the activities of councillors.
I was a new Member of the other House when Ray Burke addressed it. I clearly remember him giving an emotional address about himself, his activities and the contribution he had made to public life. I felt sorry for him because he was near to tears and he seemed to be dragged into a position where he did not belong. Statements and innuendoes were made about his integrity and he referred to that in his speech. I did not know then that he was involved in corruption. I did not believe that a tribunal, regardless of its powers, would be able to extract the detailed evidence which the Flood tribunal extracted. We must thank Mr. Justice Flood and his team for the work they did and the way in which they did it.
It is beyond belief that in the past week another former judge, Mr. O'Flaherty, castigated Mr. Justice Flood and queried his capacity to make a judgment. I wonder if Mr. O'Flaherty is suffering from —
He castigated it. I accept your ruling, a Chathaoirligh. It is unfair for anyone to criticise the decisions of Mr. Justice Flood because he acted alone. He did not make a statement about anyone's wrongdoings, only about what went wrong in the planning process over the years.
It is clear from the report, which is 30,000 pages long, that people were only required to tell the truth and to do so as quickly as possible. The machiavellian actions of those who tried to disrupt the work of the Flood tribunal have annoyed many people and caused an outcry at its cost. People forget that more than €34 million has been recovered as a result of the activities of the Flood tribunal in highlighting corruption during the years under investigation. If the Flood tribunal continues for five more years and unearths more corruption, it will be doing a wonderful job, not necessarily for politics but for the country. It is important that everyone in the House and in public life states clearly and unequivocally that the work of the Flood tribunal is important and necessary to eliminate corruption in politics which has been prevalent for the past 35 years.
The Minister said the Government has done everything possible to facilitate the work of the Flood tribunal. It is a pity the Taoiseach has not been upfront and answered a straight question. The Minister engaged in double speak today, as the Taoiseach has done on a number of occasions. At the time, it was imperative the Taoiseach send out the message loud and clear that Mr. Burke would be forced out of the Cabinet if the rumours were substantiated. Instead, he covered for Mr. Burke stating that a good man was being hounded. Even at this late stage, the Taoiseach should come forward and declare what he knows.
I will be brief to avoid going over the ground covered by earlier statements. I am disappointed it took so long to have a debate on the interim report of the Flood tribunal which has been in the public domain for about a month and a half. It is inappropriate that the House is only discussing the report now given that the tribunal was established by both Houses of the Oireachtas. It should have been discussed at an earlier opportunity. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Coghlan, who has pushed to have a debate on the report since this Seanad's first meeting.
I join previous speakers in complimenting Mr. Justice Flood on his interim report which has done the country a great service. I also compliment Mr. Gogarty, the star witness at the tribunal, for doing the country a great service. He is an elderly man who came forward, alone, and called a spade a spade in the face of very strong opponents.
Many speakers argued that nobody could reasonably have foreseen the outcome of the Flood report when Mr. Burke was appointed to Cabinet. The fact is, however, that the reports and rumours surrounding Mr. Burke were in the public domain in the early 1970s, with newspaper reports expressing concerns about rezoning in Dublin as far back as 1972.
Members of the Government have been engaged in much mutual back slapping, almost to the extent of suggesting that the establishment of the Flood tribunal was a Government initiative. The Government was pushed into taking action. It is important to remember that Mr. Burke left office voluntarily, not at the request of the Taoiseach or anybody else.
In hindsight, the appointment of Mr. Burke to the Cabinet in 1997, when he was surrounded by rumours, beggars belief. In addition, the former Taoiseach, Mr. Reynolds, recently stated on the public airwaves that he brought his suspicions to the Taoiseach at the time of the appointment. Why did the Taoiseach not act when one of his predecessors raised these matters with him?
I did a little research into the Official Report in respect of the debate in the Dáil on the interim report of the Flood tribunal. During the debate a speaker cited the Taoiseach in the House on 8 October 1997, the day of Mr. Burke's resignation, when he stated: "History will judge him for his achievements, not the unsubstantiated innuendo that may fall away now that its purpose has been achieved". This statement is most interesting in light of what we now know. I am glad we now have the interim report from Mr. Justice Flood because it shows that the allegations made against Mr. Burke were not unsubstantiated innuendo but fact. I wish Mr. Justice Flood well in carrying out the rest of his task and I hope he takes as long as he needs to complete it.
I am a 24 year old politician who is proud to be a member of Kilkenny County Council. The rumours which surrounded Mr. Burke and other members of Dublin County Council regarding rezonings reflect on all members of local authorities. The only way to eradicate corruption from public office is for younger people to get involved in politics, whether through a political party or outside the party system. This will only happen if they have confidence in the political system. I congratulate Mr. Justice Flood on bringing these matters into the public domain. Through his work he may encourage young people to enter political life and eradicate all forms of corruption in our political system.
I welcome Mr. Justice Flood's interim report and pay tribute to the public representatives and officials of local authorities throughout the country who have kept their word and done their work with honour. I hope Senator Finucane's earlier reference to the Adare town plan was not inferring that something underhand has occurred.
I thank the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, and the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Noel Ahern, for sanctioning €7.8 million for a sewerage scheme for Adare, County Limerick, and €4.5 million for upgrading the water supply scheme for Adare, Patrickswell and Croom. I also thank the National Roads Authority for sanctioning a bypass for Adare town.
I was privileged to be chairman of Limerick County Council last year when the draft plan for Adare town was being drawn up. Last week a series of meetings between Limerick County Council and officials from the NRA agreed to make the bypass for Adare a priority. I am glad planning is proceeding in an honest manner throughout the country and I am privileged to have been part of it.
While I concur with previous speakers in commending Mr. Justice Flood for a very wide ranging and forensic analysis of the behaviour of a number of people who, unfortunately, could describe themselves in their curricula vitae as public representatives. When one refines the role of the public representative, one discovers the majority of them are councillors. The figure central to the interim Flood report was also at the heart of suspicions that, at minimum, a large number of votes on rezoning in Dublin County Council were questionable.
The report raises very serious issues. On some occasions the gallery was packed with lobbyists and people employed by another august organisation. The votes on land rezoning were taken contrary to all good planning regulations and against the advice of the officials and management of the council. It then fell on the Houses of the Oireachtas to establish the Flood tribunal. Nobody should believe that the tribunal was set up by the Government or the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. It was established by the Houses.
Last year, some 12 months before the general election, Mr. Justice Flood requested extra personnel to assist him and his team. Conveniently, because the personnel in question were not allocated, we first had the benefit of the report in September this year, several months after the election. There is more than a hint of coincidence in the timing of the report's publication and the denial of additional legal expertise to assist the most significant figure unearthing planning scandals in expediting the workings of his tribunal.
When we saw the report, none of us was surprised. It was a damning indictment of Ray Burke, the Government in which he served and the man who had brought him back from political obscurity to appoint him Minister for Foreign Affairs, one of the most significant portfolios in Cabinet. Despite the fact that major questions had not been answered regarding Mr. Burke's activities as a member of a Dublin local authority, the Taoiseach pressed ahead with his appointment.
Following on from that appointment and in connection with the excellent work of Mr. Justice Flood, there have been a number of very strange comments from our great Taoiseach. On 28 May, during a Dáil debate, he said on the day he appointed the then Deputy Burke as Minister he was working on the understanding that no money had been given to him. On the same day he stated Ray Burke had told him the story before he came into the House of how he had received a contribution of £30,000. However, on the day Mr. Burke resigned his ministry and membership of the Dáil the Taoiseach referred to "the persistent hounding of an honourable man to resign his position on the basis of innuendo and unfounded allegations". What a turnaround that is in the fortunes of the wisdom of none other than the Taoiseach. Are we not lucky? He has the benefit of hindsight, even though he was being told the indicators did not point in the direction he was pontificating.
What the tribunal has unearthed is absolutely scandalous and disgraceful no matter what side of the House one is on, or what political party one belongs to. Its report is a damning indictment of the behaviour of people who choose to abuse their positions in local government. At a time when local authority members are trying to forge ahead with reform of local government, the report makes it quite difficult to make the case that councillors need more power given the way in which some used their offices to line their pockets. That is just one minor implication of the report and the activities of the Ray Burkes of this world.
The report is substantive and requires full and proper consideration, but it was evident even before Mr. Justice Flood had compiled it that people who were absolutely disgusting in their actions were going to be rooted out. Such people took it upon themselves to enter council chambers to vote contrary to the advice of planners, management and officials who were suitably qualified. They benefited no end as Mr. Justice Flood has proved that they accepted corrupt payments. That is the crux of the issue. His report states the case quite clearly and therein lies the appalling vista of the behaviour of some on the county council in question.
It gives me no great pleasure to attack anyone and my speech is political, not personal. However, I must not pull punches. It does not give anyone great joy to speak passionately about an issue which concerns individuals, but the actions of those in question have led debate in both Houses to take this direction. Political office is an honour bestowed on us by the men, women and young adults across the 26 counties who place their faith and courage in us and elect us. With the trust they place in us comes a mandated sense of honour, but if someone proves he or she cannot be honourable and betrays the trust of those who put him or her in office, he or she does not belong in political institutions, or elected political groupings.
Given that Ray Burke was plucked from political obscurity and returned to high office, one has to ask what he and the Taoiseach knew the day he was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs. The previous Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, in his wisdom chose not to include Mr. Burke in his Cabinet, a decision taken on foot of advice from a number of people, not least a potential running mate of Mr. Burke in north County Dublin.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, if Mr. Justice Flood requires extra resources, be it expertise or more judges, to assist him in expediting the excellent work of his tribunal, I will implore the Government to accede to his requests. The report we are discussing is an interim one and one can reasonably assume that "we ain't seen nothing yet".
I will be brief as most of what I wish to say has been covered by the last two speakers in particular. The antics of Ray Burke in receiving corrupt payments for planning and the licence for Century Radio have destroyed trust between politicians and the electorate. When I hear people on doorsteps say we are all the same, it sickens me because we are not. I am not a corrupt politician, I have never taken a bribe, which is the case for the vast majority of my colleagues the length and breath of the country. That has to be said over and over again because of how we are perceived due to the likes of Mr. Burke. We are certainly not the same and do not want to be. The disservice to democracy and the body politic resulting from Mr. Burke's actions will never be forgotten and will go down as a disgraceful period in our history. Other speakers asked the reason Mr. Burke was appointed and the Taoiseach's words describing how we were hounding an honest man out of office will ring in the ears of many for years to come.
As has been stated, this is an interim report which means that many questions have yet to be asked and many answers have still to be given. Corrupt politicians, no matter from where they come, should be rooted out. I hope Mr. Justice Flood will flush out any others who were involved in similar activities to those of Mr. Burke. That is his job which he has handled excellently to date. One could use the slogan Fianna Fáil used in the recent general election campaign in relation to the tribunal's work and state there is a lot done and a lot more to do. That is certainly the case where Mr. Justice Flood is concerned. I wish him well in the rest of his endeavours to flush out the truth which is absolutely necessary in this democracy of ours.