Seanad debates

Tuesday, 9 December 2003

Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage.


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:45 am

Tom Parlon (Minister of State, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Progressive Democrats)
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Senators will be aware of the background to this Bill. It is a short Bill of two operative sections and is concerned with mechanisms to ensure the better conduct of tribunals. While these mechanisms will be of general application, the Bill has been prompted by concerns which became apparent following the resignation in June 2003 of Mr. Justice Flood as chairperson and as a member of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, also known as the Flood tribunal.

At issue is the determination of applications by parties for costs arising out of the findings of a tribunal. More specifically, it deals with the determination of costs concerned with certain modules dealt with in the second interim report of the Flood tribunal, published in September 2002. The modules were dealt with at a time when Mr. Justice Flood was the sole member of the tribunal and that report was accordingly prepared by him. The determination of costs had not been made at the time of Mr. Justice Flood's resignation. The primary purpose of this Bill is to provide certainty to the current chairperson of the tribunal, Judge Mahon, in dealing with matters relating to the award of costs.

To avoid any ambiguity, and because of an abundance of caution, it is proposed to insert a new subsection in section 6 of the Tribunals of Inquiry Act 1979, to the effect that the sole member of a tribunal, or the chairperson if there is more than one member, may make an order for any costs that were incurred before his or her appointment which have not already been determined. In exercising this power, the sole member or chairperson shall have regard to any report of the tribunal dealing with its proceedings in the period before his or her appointment. These new provisions will apply to tribunals appointed and costs incurred before or after the passing of this Bill.

It is also proposed to avail of this opportunity to provide for an express power for a tribunal, of its own volition, to seek the direction of the High Court on the performance of the functions of the tribunal, including in the matter of costs. This provision mirrors similar provisions for inspectors appointed under the Companies Act 1990. A somewhat similar provision is also contained in section 25 of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000. It is also proposed in the Bill to provide an express statutory power, vested in the chairperson, to direct other members of the tribunal to sit as separate divisions and to determine the conditions that will apply, including the preparation of reports.

Section 1 of the Bill is a standard interpretation provision. Section 2 deals with the amendment of section 6 of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 1979, as amended by the similarly titled 1997 Act, by the insertion of a new subsection (1A) after subsection (1), providing that the sole member, or chairperson where there is more than one member, of a tribunal may make an order under subsection (1) for any costs that were incurred before his or her appointment and have not already been determined in accordance with that subsection. The sole member or chairperson shall, for that purpose, have regard to any report of the tribunal relating to its proceedings in the period before his or her appointment.

Subsection (2) provides that the amendment effected by subsection (1) of this section shall apply to tribunals appointed and costs incurred before or after the passing of the Bill.

Section 3 deals with the amendment of the 1997 Act. The section is in two parts and amends section 4 of the 1997 Act by inserting two additional sections, 4A and 4B. New section 4A concerns directions and orders of the High Court. Thus, subsection 4A(1) provides for the tribunal, or the chairperson if the tribunal has more than one member, whenever they consider it appropriate to do so, to apply to the High Court for directions relating to the performance of the functions of the tribunal or the chairperson, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2003, including their functions relating to costs.

Subsection 4A(2) provides that the High Court may give such directions and make such orders as appropriate. Subsections 4A(3)(a) to (c) provide that the High Court may hear an application otherwise than in public if satisfied that it is appropriate to do so because of the subject matter in relation to which the direction is sought, the risk of prejudice to criminal proceedings or any other matter relevant to the nature of the evidence to be given at the hearing of the application. Subsection 4A(4) provides for the High Court to give such priority as it reasonably can to the disposal of the proceedings in the court under this Act. Subsection 4A(5) provides for the Superior Court Rules Committee to make rules to facilitate giving effect to subsection (4).

New section 4B concerns divisions of tribunals. Thus, subsection 4B(1) provides that a tribunal consisting of more than one member may, whenever the chairperson so determines, act in divisions each of which consists of such members of the tribunal as the chairperson may determine. Subsection 4B(2) provides that the chairperson may designate one member of a division to be chairperson, determine the functions to be performed by the division, determine the matters to be dealt with by the division and require the division to prepare a report.

Subsection 4B(3) provides that a division of a tribunal shall provide any report as required to the chairperson. Such report is considered to have been made by the tribunal. Subsection 4B(4) provides that a division of a tribunal and the chairperson of the division have all of the powers of the tribunal and the chairperson of the tribunal in the performance of their functions. Subsection 4B(5) provides for a situation where the chairperson of a division is for any reason unable to continue to act as such.

Section 4 is a standard provision dealing with the Short Title and collective citation. The provisions of the Bill do not of themselves have financial implications for the Exchequer. However – I wish to be careful what I say here – should it be the case that ultimately the determination of costs results in the non-award to persons who have appeared at a tribunal, then, obviously, there could be a considerable saving in that regard. However, I emphasise that the issue of determination of costs is a matter for the chairperson of a tribunal. The immediate effect of the enactment of the Bill will be to dispel any possible legal uncertainty as to the authority of Judge Mahon, as the current chairperson of the Tribunal to Inquire into certain Planning Matters and Payments, to make a determination of costs. There is, it would be fair to say, fairly widespread dissatisfaction on all sides, including the Government, with regard to the costs of tribunals. These have become quite significant. I am sure many Senators wish the Government was bringing forward a more comprehensive Bill on legal costs of tribunals. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform agrees that changes are needed in the organisation and administration of tribunals in an effort to reduce the levels of legal costs associated with tribunals. To that end, I mention two initiatives currently underway.

Senators will be aware that the Government published on 2 July 2003 the Commissions of Investigation Bill, which it is hoped can provide for an alternative, more timely and cost-effective mechanism for investigations into matters giving rise to significant public concern. This would not be a single or permanent body but it is planned that commissions may be established as required and that more than one might sit at any one time. Commissions of investigation will not replace or alter in any way the work of the tribunals of inquiry currently under way or any other inquiry or investigation mechanism already available. It is envisaged that they will, instead, provide a new and alternative mechanism. In certain instances, this will be a precursor to a tribunal of inquiry. Commissions will be required to establish the factual position. A commission may be followed by a tribunal where it is unable to establish clear facts. In those situations, the evidence collected by a commission will be available to the tribunal, thereby reducing the time and cost associated with tribunals. In reducing the time and cost involved, while ensuring fair procedures and respect for confidentiality, the proposed commissions of investigation will add significantly to the mechanisms and instruments available for public investigations.

I also direct the attention of Senators to the work of the Law Reform Commission, which has been examining all issues concerning tribunals. The commission issued a lengthy consultation paper in March 2003, which traced the history of public inquiries in general, dealt with the legal and constitutional issues which have arisen, the type of proceedings involved and the issue of costs. The consultation report made a number of recommendations on the totality of issues involved with tribunals. It is expected that the final report of the commission should be available in mid-2004 and it will surely provide an important input into how public inquiries might be conducted in the future.

However, let me reiterate that the Bill we are considering today, though critical, is one primarily concerned with the issue of determination of costs, with particular reference to an existing tribunal. In that regard, Judge Mahon has indicated to the Government that he is anxious to deal with the issue of determination of costs arising from those modules dealt with in the second interim report of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments.

The timescale for consideration of this Bill in both Houses is regrettably short as it is the intention of the Government that the Bill be enacted before the Christmas recess

Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the Seanad.

Sheila Terry (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This Bill, which is overdue, is welcome. When Mr. Justice Flood resigned in June 2003, my party leader asked the Taoiseach to bring forward legislation to deal with his resignation and the subsequent fallout. While six months is not too long to wait, this is an urgent matter and I am glad it is being dealt with now.

I remind the House of the circumstances which give rise to the need for some aspects of the Bill. There was a considerable degree of delay in the Government's handling of Flood. In June 2001, Mr. Justice Flood requested extra judges. That request was only acceded to in March 2002. On 16 June 2003, Mr. Justice Flood announced his decision to step down as chairman but to remain on as an ordinary member, thus enabling him to determine the question of costs. After a series of meetings and correspondence between Flood and the Government, Mr. Justice Flood announced his decision to resign completely on 29 June 2003. It appears that up to a certain point in time Mr. Justice Flood was willing to remain on and determine the issue of costs but following a meeting with the Attorney General he announced his decision to resign fully.

Like the subsequent resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy, the Government's handing of the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood gives rise to many questions. Both resignations were remarkable and surprising. However, the same Government's mishandling gave rise to both resignations. The Government's contempt for the inquiry headed by Ms Justice Laffoy is palpable from the correspondence from her to the Government.

This Government consistently tried to discredit the tribunal mainly by disseminating the notion that its work would last a further 15 years. This assertion is without foundation and certainly does not originate from Mr. Justice Feargus Flood. As recently as last month, the Taoiseach told the Dáil the work of the Flood tribunal would run for 30 years.

The amendment effected by section 2 marks a significant departure from established practice, whereby the judge who determines the substantive matter determines also the question of costs. If put into practice, section 2 will require Judge Mahon to adjudicate on the costs of the past five years' work of the tribunal. The last thing we want is a further delay in the work of the tribunal but legislation of this nature represents an opportunity to disrupt it. I will not say anything to provide encouragement to those who will challenge the legislation, but a well drafted provision would deter potential challenges.

Section 2 of the Bill will be the most scrutinised legislative provision of recent times and there is a real danger of "over-drafting" a provision of such importance. Will the Minister of State confirm that the Attorney General participated in the drafting of the provision? Will he assure the House that he is certain of its strength? Section 2 will see legal bills of millions of euro being imposed on people and it is inevitable that the legislation will be challenged.

Section 3 of the Bill will attract much less attention but it is of great importance to the work and efficiency of the Mahon and other tribunals. By inserting section 4A, section 3 will allow the tribunal to seek directions from the High Court and specific reference is made to assistance with the termination of costs. Despite my reservations, I welcome the legislation and hope it will be dealt with speedily.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He referred to a point with which we all agree, that we would have welcomed even more comprehensive legislation on the legal costs of tribunals.

It is unfortunate that the general Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act must be amended. It should be acknowledged that while Mr. Justice Flood was chairman of the tribunal, and he should be commended for his work, the Government was most facilitating in answering the requests he made, sometimes overly so. The judge's pension was dealt with at a very early stage but Mr. Justice Flood found himself making representations on the remuneration of counsel attending the tribunal, a matter that was not appropriate for the chairman of a tribunal.

Costs are another serious concern. When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was in the House previously, I said that if I had known in 1998 when we established the tribunals what I know today, I would have argued that we should look at alternative mechanisms that would be as effective but more cost effective. It behoves us to look in that direction and the Minister of State referred to other legislation that will come before the Houses to address the substantive issues involved. That is overdue and I would like it implemented as a matter of urgency.

The matters of public concern which are the subject of the many tribunals currently functioning have given rise to serious scandals in the operation of public office and public service. The importance of the work cannot be underestimated but, in many ways, the scandals are being underlined by the exorbitant fees that are being paid. Taking this matter up with some people in the legal profession recently, I was told that the major culprit in escalating fees is the State because it engages so many of the legal profession and makes concessions to them that are wholly unjustified. The Minister should note that it is an area of public concern that we cannot manage our affairs in a way that is much more in tune with the cost effectiveness that should be hallmark of any Administration.

It is important that the provisions in the legislation before us are introduced. It is sensible to allow for the division of the tribunal so the chairman can designate specific responsibilities and tasks to other members of the tribunal. This should lead to the acceleration of the process and will inject a greater degree of pace into the operations of the tribunals. The length of sittings should also be examined.

There is a need, with the multiplicity of tribunals, with some of them impacting on the body politic, for broad consensus among parties for any changes. It might be useful to refer the operation of current tribunals to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. It could look at the tribunals to see how they could be re-focused at this stage. Senator Terry mentioned the Laffoy tribunal and it would be wholly unacceptable that the victims of sexual abuse would have to wait ten or 12 years for the findings of the tribunal to be known. There is an adage in the legal profession that justice delayed is justice denied. We should ensure that deliberations are carried out in a way which gives rise to prompt findings and recommendations that can be then implemented to avoid similar situations arising. I hope that the provision that allows tribunals to divide will be embraced by them in a way that will improve their operation and effectiveness.

The provision allowing the tribunal to make applications to the High Court of its own volition to determine aspects of its function and costs is also sensible. In areas where there is any doubt, the application to the High Court should bring clarity and perhaps avoid the challenges which might arise.

The main purpose of the Bill is contained in section 2. As a result of the previous chairman departing the scene, there must be legislation to allow the current chairman of the tribunal to determine costs based on findings to which he was not party previously.

It is interesting that at present we are holding several hearings on the criminal justice system during which we have heard presentations from many sides of the argument on balancing the scales of justice. The Human Rights Commission enshrines the right to avoid self-incrimination which although not the same as the right to silence is often interpreted as such. The legislation does not permit a judge to draw any inference from a witness's decision to remain silent in a criminal trial except in the case of a terrorist offence. A person appearing before a tribunal does not enjoy that privilege. Several of those who have appeared before tribunals of inquiry have not only been charged but found guilty as a result of interim reports. Given the powers and public nature of tribunals where witnesses do not always have the mechanisms to bring forward a defence, it seems there is a gap between many of the findings in Mr. Justice Flood's interim report and its conclusion. While the evidential part of the report was based on logic there did not seem to be a definite link between the two parts. We need to ensure when we embark on these processes that there are safeguards to protect the good name of people who may be only marginally involved in some areas of the investigation.

I have consistently acknowledged the work of tribunals as essential because it is important that in all aspects of the administration of the State people adhere to the highest standards. In general, we have a good track record in this respect but I was struck by the anomaly between the criminal justice system and the tribunals where the same protection is not given to the witnesses. Although the findings of the tribunal cannot be used against someone, the information made available makes it easier to conduct a subsequent criminal investigation.

The costs in these instances can be determined by the new chairman of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments for findings made by the tribunal prior or subsequent to the enactment of the Bill. I can understand the reason for that provision in the present circumstances but it involves retrospective legislation which is often neither welcomed nor countenanced by the Oireachtas, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the court authorities.

In conclusion, I welcome the Bill and its provisions. It is necessary to deal with future tribunals of inquiry or to create mechanisms which may obviate the need for tribunals but can get to the truth more quickly, effectively and at a lower cost to the taxpayer. That is the ideal but there is also a serious need to look at the operation of current tribunals. It will be a travesty if in five or ten years time the Oireachtas is addressing some of these tribunals still sitting at great cost to the State when their findings will probably be irrelevant. I hope that can be tackled on an all-party basis in a sensible way, if that is not too optimistic.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I welcome this Billand my Labour Party colleagues and I will facilitate its quick passage. We are not proposing amendments. It is very important that the Government and the Oireachtas give wholehearted support to the work of the tribunals and in particular to the tribunal which this legislation affects. Hopefully, the legislation will help in that work. It is important too that the Government ensures the tribunals are resourced in any way necessary to carry out their work properly and in a timely way. Senator Terry mentioned that hitherto the Government has not always facilitated this tribunal and others as it should, for example, by delaying its response to Mr. Justice Flood's request for judges. I hope this Bill reflects a new approach on the part of the Government to the work of the tribunals.

The legislation will be important and assist the tribunal's work and I hope we do not have to wait 20 or 30 years for the tribunal to complete that work. Tribunals are established to find out what happened on a particular issue and make recommendations for change. The longer it takes for this to happen, the less valuable is the work. The Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments has done much valuable work and we have already learned a great deal from its interim report. The process has changed politics too and the many recent changes and reforms in that arena are probably due to the revelations that have both given rise to the tribunals and been produced by them. My party and others introduced some of these reforms. Public funding of election campaigns, disclosure requirements, and the Freedom of Information Act are recent innovations.

Although I have been active in politics for a long time I was elected in 1999 and am perhaps more aware of the boundaries than people who entered politics 20 or 30 years ago when there was a large grey area. Some people were corrupt and others were caught in the middle. At times I am excessively conscientious about this. For example, two Christmases ago I returned some bottles of wine to a developer and then wondered whether I was being overly zealous. It was probably an insult to the person concerned.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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That depends on the year.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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The public perception is that there is still corruption in politics and the tribunals have an important role in establishing what went wrong and what needs to be done to ensure politics is above board and to restore public faith. The public image of politics has been damaged especially by the revelations from the tribunals and it will be damaged further if the tribunals do not complete their work. If politicians support the planning tribunal and act on its recommendations, and if it is not stopped but is facilitated to work in a timely way, that will help to protect politicians and democracy. It will also help people to realise that politics is not about strokes or making decisions for the wrong reasons but aims to implement policies for the common good and for different political parties to articulate their ideas.

I live in Lucan and decisions concerning that area are being examined by the tribunal. I love Lucan and have lived there most of my life. I still think it is a relatively nice place to live, but it was badly planned, which may be due partly to decisions taken for the wrong decisions. It is important to find out what was behind some of the decisions that have made Lucan the way it is today. Many of those decisions had a knock-on effect throughout Dublin. The areas in Lucan affected by such decisions have suffered a knock-on effect in terms of traffic and so on, as have other areas of Dublin. Many other parts of Dublin are the subject of investigation by the tribunal.

There have been changes in practice, although it is difficult to persuade people that procedures in planning have changed. Planning is subject to much more scrutiny by members of the public than it was in the past. For example, Adamstown has received much attention from the media. That scheme was well planned by the local county council, a great degree of consultation was engaged in and it took a long time to plan it. The manner in which it was planned is probably the way the rest of Lucan should be planned. It was difficult as a local politician and for other local politicians who backed the Adamstown planning scheme to persuade people in Lucan that this was the case. People have observed the way planning happened in the past and they have heard the proceedings of the tribunals. In terms of proper planning, there is the notion that they will believe it when they see it.

It is important that the Commissions of Investigation Bill, to which the Minister of State referred, is brought in speedily. Will he indicate when it is hoped to bring that legislation before the House? Other mechanisms also need to be examined, a point Senator Walsh mentioned.

The Labour Party proposed that in addition to such a commission there should be a parliamentary investigation system with a parliamentary investigator. The terms of reference of the proposed commission would be set by the Government. The Labour Party believes there should also be a way for the Parliament to determine investigations that can take place, which would have the benefit of being clear-cut and less costly in terms of the way in which the work of such inquiries could be set out in advance. Senator Walsh was correct when he pointed out that the new legislation will be helpful for new investigations. However, we need to continuously monitor the work of the current tribunals and, most importantly, ensure that we do not take a decision to abandon them. Irrespective of what we do, it is important that the work of the tribunals is carried out and completed in a timely way. For all the reasons I have outlined, it is important we get to the bottom of any bad planning decisions that were made for reasons that were not for the common good and that we make sure the necessary reforms are in place to prevent such things happening in the future.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is important and essential legislation. I am pleased its passage is being facilitated through this House and I hope it will be facilitated through the other House so that it will quickly become law because it is required. It will remove the uncertainty regarding the issue of costs, which arose when Mr. Justice Flood stepped down from the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments and for that reason it is to be welcomed. However, it raises broader issues which have been well debated in the media, within these Houses and elsewhere.

It is unquestionably correct to say that there has been widespread cynicism and dissatisfaction concerning the costs of tribunals, the length of time they take to complete their work and that it seems to be the case that people can repeatedly go to the High Court to try to frustrate the intentions of the Oireachtas in that regard. It is important to state that the tribunals were established by the Oireachtas. I take Senator Tuffy's point in that regard. It is important that the imprimatur of the Oireachtas is dominant in the setting of the terms of reference of the tribunals and the way in which they are constructed. There is a definite desire by some people to frustrate them, which is understandable, and perhaps it is one of the few deficiencies of the fact that we have a written Constitution.

It was notable in the recent past in the case of a major public parliamentary inquiry in Britain into the suicide of a public servant that it seemed to be possible to dispose of it in a short period. Admittedly, it was about a specific incident and the circumstances surrounding it, but there were broader issues concerning defence, the conduct of the Iraqi war and why the United Kingdom went to war in the first place. It seemed possible, through the mechanism of that inquiry, to conduct the investigation speedily and effectively. It is unfortunate in the case of the Abbeylara inquiry, which was conducted by a committee of these Houses, that there is a question mark over that type of inquiry, as there is a possibility to do much more within the ambit of the parliamentary system.

Another reason for such cynicism was a widespread belief that nobody was ever punished, that the tribunals would run their course and that they might point the finger in certain directions, but nothing would happen. However, recent events have shown that to be manifestly not the case. One senior official has been jailed and a former Minister is being charged with offences under the tax amnesty regulations. We cannot prejudice the outcome of that, but it appears there is a follow up to the work of the tribunals, which is to be very much welcomed.

Another reason for such cynicism is the substantial legal costs that arise and that the tribunals appear to be an unlimited gravy train for barristers. It reminds me to some extent of the bovine TB eradication scheme, with which the Minister of State would be familiar from his experience, whereby those with vested interests wanted to perpetuate the scheme because they were drawing a good deal of money from it. It was not difficult to understand the reason that scheme to eradicate the disease continued to run for so long. There is a certain parallel between that scheme and the tribunals, which might be stretching things a little far but, nevertheless, it is a reasonably valid point.

It is essential to remove the legal uncertainty that arose from the resignation, particularly with regard to the matter of costs. I note the Minister of State made the point that we do not want to prejudice anything in terms of what the judge might do, but certainty in regard to that matter must exist. I agree with Senator Walsh's questioning of the retrospection aspect. I have been a Member of this House for several years and I recall very few Bills where there was such a degree of retrospection. I accept that retrospection is essential, but I hope it does not lead to another cavalry charge to the four gold mines in terms of somebody challenging that aspect. I do not understand the reason for a provision in section 2(1) which states, ". shall, for that purpose, have regard to any report of the tribunal relating to its proceedings in the period before his or her appointment". I would have thought it was axiomatic that the judge would have such regard without the need for that to be specified in legislation, although it creates a standing for the reports that were prepared earlier and those reports are to be welcomed. I wonder about the necessity for that provision.

Notwithstanding the cynicism about tribunals, they have fundamentally altered the culture of the country for the better. The nod and a wink culture and the acceptance that people in high places could play fast and loose with our planning and tax laws is gone. That is the monument to the tribunals, irrespective of what was in the reports. Part of the cynicism surrounding them arose at the time of the publication of the report of the beef tribunal and the lack of clarity and conclusion that appeared to emerge from that report. Subsequent reports were much more focused and explicit in terms of where they pointed the finger, who they regarded as being responsible for certain activities – and denying those activities – and in exacting costs where that was considered appropriate. There has been a huge shift in that culture which, as we heard this morning, dated back as far as the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes. There was definitely a philosophy that the little people should not get involved in major affairs, that they were an encumbrance and that the views of the public should not be considered. I recall that in some of my early days in the Oireachtas, that atmosphere pervaded these Houses. There were people here who thought that nothing and nobody should get in their way. Thankfully, that has changed.

We must now look at where we go from here. Inquiries in general must become much more precise. That it will be possible to take several modules together by having separate divisions within a tribunal is very welcome. This alone should greatly accelerate the work of the tribunals and their conclusions. The legislation is very much to be welcomed. It is essential and important, and should be quickly enacted into law to remove any ambiguity from the issue of costs arising from the Flood tribunal. There are other aspects involved, but this alone is sufficient for the legislation to merit a speedy passage.

Tom Parlon (Minister of State, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Senators for their contributions to the debate and I appreciate their co-operation. There is a substantial degree of consensus on the need to expedite this matter. I welcome Senator Terry's remark that the legislation is overdue, and that she appreciates the urgency that applies to it now.

I can confirm to Senator Terry that the Office of the Attorney General and the Attorney General were closely associated with the drafting of the Bill. The Senator also commented on the reasons for the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood. I refute any allegations that the Government had any involvement in that resignation.

There is a general consensus that the legislation involves a great deal of common sense. I agree that this Bill is short and technical. Senators have raised wider issues in terms of the overall cost and so on, and I understand those concerns. I can also confirm that the Commissions of Investigation Bill will be introduced in the coming session and that the Government will continue to support the work of the tribunals in the interim. As to how tribunals will carry on, in terms of the new legislation, we must wait and see.

Although this is a short and technical Bill, it deals with an important issue. Tribunals date back over 80 years. In that period, tribunal legislation has been substantially amended five times. The Bill introduced today is only the sixth amendment. In general, all the amending measures were occasioned by some specific need that emerged from the experience regarding sitting tribunals or tribunals which had just concluded their work, or by the anticipated needs of tribunals about to be set up. This is also the case with the current Bill, which has been inspired by the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood as chairperson of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. However, the tribunal's mechanism has proved its worth over the years. The amending legislation which was passed since 1979 had made it more effective, while the courts, having regard to the Constitution in interpreting the legislation, have ensured that the basic rights of persons who are the subject of inquiries are always respected, while remaining consistent with the need to allay the public concern which has given rise to the establishment of the tribunal.

This Bill is an important step in enhancing the effectiveness of existing and future tribunals. We are providing certainty regarding the authority of the chairperson of a tribunal to make a determination on application for costs in a situation where he or she had not originally heard the evidence, and in that case shall have regard to any report of the tribunal. That determination is a critical matter. It might be recalled that there is no constitutional or legal right to costs, but rather a right to apply for them to the chairperson of the tribunal.

We are also providing for two very effective mechanisms for tribunals, namely, for a tribunal of its own volition to seek the direction of the High Court and for tribunals where there is more than one member to sit in separate divisions to allow for more efficient and speedy consideration of the matters concerned. Senator Jim Walsh referred to the pace of tribunals. Older players are often accused of not having sufficient pace, but in terms of cost efficiency and in particular time efficiency, this amendment will be very important.

I agree with the Senators who noted the need to look at the legislation concerning tribunals in a comprehensive way, and perhaps develop proposals to amend and consolidate it. In that regard, the anticipated final report of the Law Reform Commission will have a major influence on our future intentions. Likewise, I am sure that the proposed Commissions of Investigation Bill, which will come before the Houses in the next session, will bring about a much more efficient and cost-effective method of investigating matters of public concern.

I thank the Senators again for their comments and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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