Seanad debates

Thursday, 30 October 2008

12:00 pm

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The publication of the sixth, seventh and eighth reports of the Morris tribunal brings to a close a six-year investigation into misbehaviour on the part of members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal during a period in the 1990s. On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I would especially like to thank Mr. Justice Morris and his team for producing eight comprehensive and conclusive reports and for the huge service they have done for the Garda Síochána and the public. Mr. Justice Morris carried out the task with diligence, independence, intelligence and fairness. Having listened to more than 680 days of oral evidence from 812 witnesses, he reached his conclusions without fear or favour. His practice of publishing reports in a systematic manner at the end of each module or set of modules facilitated public discourse and enabled the Government to give considerable weight to his recommendations in framing the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

The tribunal uncovered a pattern of Garda misbehaviour that was unprecedented, disturbing and at times shocking and that called for a strong and effective response. The Garda Commissioner stated that the events outlined in the various reports of the tribunal and the unacceptable actions of individual members of the Garda Síochána identified in those reports represent a dark period in the history of a great and proud organisation. He pointed out that they do a grave disservice to the tradition of the Garda Síochána and dishonour its primary objective, which is to provide professional, fair and effective policing to all in our community. He apologised to those who were found to have been mistreated by gardaí.

The Government shares the sentiments expressed so well by the Garda Commissioner and readily acknowledges that certain individuals were subjected to police actions that fell far short of the high standards that citizens are entitled to expect from all members of the force.

The second Morris report was published in June 2005, shortly before the commencement of the Garda Síochána Act. It characterised the Garda investigation into the death of Richard Barron in Raphoe on 14 October 1996 as "prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent in the highest degree". It was heavily prejudiced against two suspects, Frank McBrearty Junior and Mark McConnell. This gross incompetence gave rise to a series of subsequent events that are fully analysed in the sixth and seventh reports. Those reports reveal a continuous pattern of misbehaviour against the McBrearty family and its relatives, friends and associates. Members of the family of the late Richard Barron were also victims of this misconduct and I extend my sympathies to them for the grievous loss they have suffered.

In the time available I do not intend to reprise all the findings of the sixth, seventh and eighth Morris reports, but I will set out the main elements of those findings and detail the strong action taken by the Government as events unfolded. The sixth report examined the circumstances surrounding the arrest, detention and treatment in custody of a number of persons arising, directly or indirectly, from the investigation into the death of Richard Barron. The report makes serious findings against a number of gardaí involved. It finds that a number of persons were unlawfully arrested and detained and that some were mistreated in custody, mainly through verbal and, in some cases, physical abuse. The tribunal does not accept the evidence to it of several gardaí and strongly condemns the instances of mistreatment uncovered.

The report made a number of recommendations arising from its findings, mainly centred on how improvements could be made to the law and practice relating to the conduct of interviews with persons in Garda custody, but also touching on other aspects of Garda investigations. In consultation with the Garda Commissioner, the Minister is carefully considering the recommendations and will table any necessary proposals for change. On the positive side, the report found no truth in the serious allegation that conversations between solicitors and persons detained in Letterkenny Garda station were secretly recorded by gardaí.

The seventh report uncovers a continuous pattern of harassment by some gardaí in the months that followed. Some 68 summonses were issued against associates of the McBrearty family with the full knowledge and approval of some of the most senior officers in the Donegal division at the time. Among the most serious findings is the finding that Detective Sergeant White planted drugs on Paul Quinn to "teach him a lesson". The gardaí impugned in the seventh report have been dismissed, have retired early or have resigned. The seventh report also confirmed that the Garda Síochána Complaints Board had neither the statutory powers nor the resources to deal effectively with events on the scale of those that emerged in Donegal.

The eighth report concluded that the false allegations against two assistant commissioners, which were brought by Deputy Howlin and then Deputy Jim Higgins to the then Minister, Deputy John O'Donoghue, were utterly without foundation. They had been constructed by Mr. Frank McBrearty Senior, assisted by Mr. P. J. Togher, a former garda, from "numerous half-truths, lies and rumours". The tribunal also identified Mr. Martin Giblin, SC, as the person who conveyed the information to Deputy Howlin.

The report was critical of the Deputies for their failure to reveal these sources of information to either the Garda assistant commissioner appointed to investigate the matter following the intervention of the then Minister or to the tribunal itself. Mr. Justice Morris is of the opinion that the Deputies should have carried out some further inquiries before bringing the anonymous allegations to the attention of the Minister. This was his recommendation because the sources were confidential and neither the Minister nor any investigators of these matters would be allowed access to them.

Mr. Justice Morris was also critical of the failure of the then Deputy Jim Higgins to disclose the existence of a fax he received on 15 July 2000 for a period of approximately two and a half years. In the fax's terms, it exonerated Assistant Commissioner Carty to a significant extent from the false allegations made against him in the information that was originally supplied to the Minister and, consequently, to the Garda investigation team and the tribunal. This also meant that the tribunal's terms of reference were framed by the Houses of the Oireachtas in the absence of important information of direct relevance to those terms.

There are differing opinions on Mr. Justice Morris's findings on these matters. However, we are all grateful that the reputations of two highly respected senior members of the Garda Síochána, Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty and retired Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey, have been vindicated by Mr. Justice Morris's findings.

As a consequence of these findings, Mr. Justice Morris recommended that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann urgently review the manner in which Members deal with whistleblower allegations to guard against unfounded allegations being endowed with undeserved legitimacy. I will return to this matter shortly.

The significant reforms that have taken place in the Garda Síochána in the past three years have in large part been a result of the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal. The major step in the reform process was the enactment of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. This legislation represented the single greatest change in the way the Garda Síochána has operated since its establishment after our independence in 1922. At the heart of the Act is a new statement of the role of the Garda Síochána as an organisation and of the Garda Commissioner as its head. The Act makes clear the Commissioner's relationship with the Minister, the Department, the Government and the Oireachtas.

Regarding accountability, individual gardaí are now required to account to a higher officer for any act or omission of an act while on duty. The Garda Commissioner is obliged to account to the Government through the Secretary General of my Department for any aspect of his functions.

A significant number of other developments are transforming the Garda Síochána and addressing the problems identified by the tribunal. The new Garda discipline regulations introduced last year have introduced more streamlined discipline procedures. There is a new system of external oversight of the Garda Síochána through the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which has been in operation since May 2007 under the chairmanship of a High Court judge. The Garda inspectorate has brought international policing expertise to bear in ensuring that Garda resources are used so as to achieve and maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness. The civilianisation programme has resulted in the appointment of civilian managers to a range of senior and middle management positions within the Garda Síochána. In 2006, a new promotions system was introduced which aims to ensure that talent and performance are recognised and rewarded. Greater engagement between the Garda Síochána and local communities has been promoted by the establishment of joint policing committees which are now being rolled out to all local authority areas. The Garda Reserve was established in 2006 and its members are making a positive contribution to policing local communities throughout the State.

I said earlier I would return to Mr. Justice Morris's recommendation in his eighth report concerning the procedures of this House. The tribunal has recommended that the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of the two Houses of the Oireachtas urgently review the manner in which Members deal with allegations brought to their attention by so-called whistleblowers, although neither Mr McBrearty nor Mr Giblin was a whistleblower in the sense of being inside the Garda structure. It is clear that the tribunal is not against the principle of whistleblowing per se. A key issue to emerge from the Morris tribunal's investigations was the lack of a whistleblower system for members of the Garda Síochána to raise concerns they may have about wrongdoing in the force. In its third report, the tribunal recommended that:

Subject to safeguards, it should be possible for any serving member of An Garda Síochána to ring headquarters, and to speak in confidence with a designated officer, or group of officers, as to real concerns they may have as to misconduct within the organisation.

The Garda Síochána (Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007, which were made in April 2007, allow civilian employees as well as sworn members of the Garda Síochána to make confidential reports on any corruption or malpractice of which they become aware. The regulations are framed in a way that seeks to strike the correct balance in achieving that objective.

The tribunal recommends that the review should be addressed urgently by both Houses "with a view to ensuring an appropriate balance between the right of access of a "whistleblower" to his/her public representative, and the right of those subject to those allegations to be fairly treated and not made the subject of unfounded allegations that have been endowed with undeserved legitimacy because they were conveyed cynically and successfully to well-meaning members of either House". In view of what happened in this case, the tribunal's recommendation is eminently sensible. I am sure the committees of both Houses will consider these matters carefully and I look forward to hearing what they have to say in due course.

It is evident that the findings and recommendations of the Morris tribunal have been a major influence on the considerable change that has taken place in policing in recent years. A strong and effective response was demanded to events in Donegal, not only by the public but also by the overwhelming majority of honest and decent members of the Garda Síochána who serve the public loyally and well, even to the point of risking their lives in the line of duty. The groundwork has now been laid to ensure the culture and organisation of the Garda Síochána are more open to the outside than ever before and that the organisation is fully fit for purpose. This has helped to strengthen it and assist it in performing its vital role in today's Ireland.

We must never be complacent and must always keep under review the adequacy of governance and oversight in the Garda Síochána. At the same time, we should recognise the major reforms that have been put in place, reforms which owe a great deal to Mr. Justice Morris and his dedicated team who are so deserving of our thanks, respect and praise.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State's outline of the findings of the Morris tribunal reports. I agree with much of what has been said. Mr. Justice Frederick Morris has done extraordinary work in his inquiry into the activities of certain individuals in the Donegal division of the Garda Síochána. The thoroughness of that work and the extensive nature of the reports make for compelling reading. The first report, which was published as far back as July 2004, highlighted the planting of bogus explosives in the 1990s. The second report dealt with negligence in the handling of the investigation into the death of Richie Barron. The May 2008 report referred to the invention of evidence and bogus arrests. The seventh and eighth reports deal with harassment and the question of how allegations are handled by public representatives. People are shocked that such activities could take place within the Garda Síochána, a body which was and still is held in high regard by most people. The Morris tribunal has unearthed an array of the most serious abuses.

It is important, however, to emphasise that the corruption exposed by Mr. Justice Morris and his team, and which has tarnished the force, was practised by a minority of individuals within the Garda Síochána. These findings have led to the introduction of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda inspectorate, with the result that confidence in the force has in large measure been restored. The most recent surveys, carried out this year, indicate a public satisfaction rating of 81%. Nevertheless, the editorial in the latest Garda Review observes that the small number of gardaí who made the headlines for all the wrong reasons completely drowned out the significant numbers who were entirely exonerated by the tribunal's findings.

Any allegations against a named individual which are the subject of a tribunal or investigation can have a serious effect on the person concerned. This is certainly true in the case of Assistant Commissioners Kevin Carty and Tony Hickey who were totally exonerated by the tribunal. Tribunals are set up to sift out allegations and establish facts. Mr. Justice Alan Mahon was recently obliged to underline that the purpose of the tribunal of which he is chairman is also to vindicate individuals who have been the subject of allegations; it is not simply about condemning people. In the case of the Morris tribunal, the two individuals in question have been entirely exonerated albeit, given the lapse of time, their careers were undoubtedly affected by the allegations. However, the point is that the tribunal has served its purpose in exonerating them.

It is unfortunate that the final reports have detracted from the main focus of the inquiry, namely, to investigate misbehaviour in a particular division of the Garda Síochána and to establish procedures to correct that. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has put a particular spin on the findings of Mr. Justice Morris in regard to the allegations that were passed by Deputy Howlin and Mr. Jim Higgins, MEP, to the then Minister. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, should be the last person to adopt this approach on such a matter. When he was asked some years ago to investigate issues concerning a former Minister, Mr. Ray Burke, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, claimed he had tried to find the truth but had got nowhere. It is difficult to carry out one's own personal investigations of allegations. For the Minister to put a spin on the tribunal's report is entirely inappropriate, particularly in his case.

There is another issue. The Minister claims in his defence that he is merely quoting the chairman of the tribunal. However, this Minister has not always been so respectful of tribunals. We have had the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals and findings in respect of a former Taoiseach. The Minister had no difficulty disavowing any findings of the tribunal in regard to the former Taoiseach.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Which former Taoiseach?

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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I am speaking about former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, and the Minister's statement last year in regard to the former Taoiseach.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in respect of the various interim rulings and procedures of the Mahon tribunal, was among those Ministers who called into question the manner in which the chairman of that tribunal was in that instance conducting his investigation in respect of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I did so myself.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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For the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to politicise this in such a fashion and to attack the two individuals who were to the forefront in highlighting the allegations made, and doing so privately——

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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In fairness, Senator Regan——

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond in due course. The Minister attacked the two individuals whose taking up of the issues of these allegations resulted in very important improvements in the Garda Síochána in terms of oversight, disciplinary proceedings, procedures, organisation of the command structure and reporting procedures within the Garda Síochána, the Garda inspectorate and Garda Ombudsman. Not alone would we not have had a tribunal but we would not have known what was possible, in terms of abuse, within the Garda Síochána. Many of the measures referred to in the Minister of State's speech have been taken to improve the force and to restore public confidence in it.

The two individuals whom the Minister chooses to condemn are, in large part, responsible for the very improvements made.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Regan is dismissing that part of Mr. Justice Morris's report. He is being selective.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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Senator Walsh will have an opportunity to speak in due course.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Regan might clarify if he is dismissing Mr. Justice Morris's assessment in that regard.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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Is this a questions and answers session, a Leas-Chathaoirleach?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Senator Regan, without interruption, please.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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It is entirely inappropriate for the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to put such a spin on the final report of Mr. Justice Frederick Morris——

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Was it inappropriate for Mr. Justice Morris to say what he did?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Senator Regan, without interruption, please.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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——-when the two individuals Deputy Brendan Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins, played a starring role in improvements in the Garda Síochána and the standing of the Garda Síochána within the body politic because——

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Regan rejects Mr. Justice Morris's report.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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——-confidence in that force and the efficiencies and procedures it follows are fundamental to a functioning democracy. I regret that the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, with respect to the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is not present to deal with this specific issue given he has personalised the debate in this regard.

Notwithstanding the furore created by the Minister in regard to this final report, the reports and Mr. Justice Frederick Morris and his team have done a wonderful service to the body politic in Ireland and to one of the most important organisations to the functioning of this State, namely, the Garda Síochána. I compliment Mr. Justice Morris in this regard.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House to debate this important report from Mr. Justice Morris. There have been eight reports, many of which have been debated previously in this House. Many changes in practice within the Garda Síochána have ensued as a consequence of these reports. As the Minister of State said, Mr. Justice Morris deserves credit. The tribunal was long and protracted and took more than six and a half years to complete its work. It is fair to say that the practice of issuing reports and conclusions following completion of each module has been beneficial in informing the change which has taken place in the policing practices in this country. We will reap the benefits of this in the future.

It is worthwhile stating that we are, in this debate, dealing with the 6th, 7th and 8th reports. The 6th report made serious findings against a number of members of the Garda Síochána arising from the unfortunate death of Richie Barron. It found that a number of persons were unlawfully arrested and detained and that some were mistreated in custody. Equally alarming is that the tribunal did not accept the evidence of several members of the Garda Síochána and strongly condemned the incidences of mistreatment it uncovered. This goes to the core of what the police force should be about in terms of trust and its respect for other institutions of the State. That the tribunal did not accept some of the evidence given illustrates that much was going wrong in that jurisdiction in Donegal.

The 7th report uncovered a continuing pattern of harassment by some gardaí, the issuance of 68 summons against associates of the McBrearty family and that Detective Sergeant White planted drugs on Paul Quinn to teach him a lesson. It is fair to point out that those members of the force impugned in the 7th report are no longer members of the Garda in that they have either been dismissed, retired or have resigned.

The 7th report also points out that the Garda Síochána Complaints Board had neither the statutory powers nor the resources to deal effectively with the scale of events that emerged in Donegal. In my opinion, this raises questions such as why the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was not aware of the deficiencies in the Garda Síochána Complaints Board and why remedial action was not taken. It also raises questions about the effectiveness of management controls within the Garda Síochána generally and, in particular, in regard to the exercise of responsibility by Garda headquarters. These matters should be examined to ensure the force is strengthened. While I accept there has been a great deal of change we must not allow this type of scenario to develop again.

I was previously a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which examined investigations by the Garda Síochána during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The lack of preservation by gardaí of crucial evidence in the most serious of crimes, some involving multiple murders, and the lack of control exercised by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform illustrated, in my opinion, a clear dereliction of duty at the time by senior people on whom the State was depending to ensure we had effective policing in this country.

I am pleased that, perhaps as a consequence of the findings of the Morris tribunal, the ensuing reports and other incidents, we now have a Garda Ombudsman Commission and a Garda inspectorate — which I strongly welcomed — which has a critical role to play in ensuring we have a police force of which this State and its citizens can be proud. The majority of gardaí are honest and good people who want to carry out their duties to the best of their abilities.

The establishment of the joint policing committees was a great innovation of previous Ministers. I accept that changes have been made. There has been much criticism of the Garda Síochána as an institution of this State arising from the events in Donegal, in particular, and in other areas. Abuses of power cannot and should not be accepted.

I join those who praise Mr. Justice Morris for his commitment to this task on behalf of the State. As a consequence of his good work, we will hopefully never see a recurrence. Listening to the Order of Business, I heard about people talking out of both sides of their mouths. We are happy to accept aspects of the report, but Senator Regan disagrees with other aspects. When others take a similar position, that is not acceptable to Senator Regan. Subjective views apply here.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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It is spin.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I do not think there was any spin on this. Mr. Justice Morris, in his report, is critical of the false allegations made anonymously through two Dáil Deputies, which impacted on the careers of two senior assistant commissioners of the Garda Síochána.

I know Deputy Howlin much better than former Deputy Higgins. We come from the same constituency. He is a conviction politician and I have good regard for him. I have no doubt everything he does is done with the best motivations. Both Deputies received information on the same day, 25 June 2000, which they passed to the then Minister for Justice, Deputy John O'Donoghue, who acted on foot of that information.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, highlighted the part of the report Mr. Justice Morris referred to regarding further information in a facsimile message received by then Deputy Higgins on 15 July 2000, which cast some doubt on the original information received. It would be helpful if former Deputy Higgins made a statement to clarify why the fax and the information in it was withheld and not reported until three years later. I will not make a judgment on it, but it could have had a bearing on the establishment and the terms of reference of the tribunal. In this instance, the tribunal was carried out more efficiently than others, but there is a large cost involved.

Senator Regan said this morning, "lessons have to be learned". Reports will be issued and the findings should and must be acted upon. Spending hundreds of millions of euro, even at a time when Exchequer finances were in a strong, healthy position, was totally unwarranted. I hope we have learned that less costly mechanisms should be used to ascertain the truth in issues of public importance in the future. One example is the commission of investigation model, which was established by theses Houses in recent years.

I have been highly critical of the cost of tribunals and of the exorbitant legal fees. There should be a maximum fees order on senior counsel of no more than €800 or €1,000 per day for High Court or Supreme Court attendances. It is not good enough that captive clients can be compelled to accept exorbitant fees in a service area where there is no competition. It is a criticism of the Competition Authority; I know it issued a report but it failed to deal with this at a much earlier stage. That is an issue of public importance which I hope will be addressed by the Minister of State.

I had discussions with Deputy Howlin and we have a difference of opinion. Where we establish, through the Houses of the Oireachtas, tribunals of inquiry into matters of public importance, preserving an absolute entitlement to non-disclosure of sources may not be justified. That is part of what Mr. Justice Morris addresses. In this instance, a case went through the High Court and the Supreme Court. There is an important principle involved. The CPP of both Houses supported the case and instructed their legal teams to go in. There were legal teams on behalf of the two individuals and the CPP of the Houses, which cost in excess of €1 million. That is not good investment of public funds.

Where a tribunal is established the absolute privilege we claim should not continue to be applied. Mr. Justice Morris raised the issue of whistleblowers, which he asked the CPP to look at because where information comes maliciously or falsely to individuals of the Houses, who act in good faith, which the two Deputies did, it can give rise to the situation that emerged here.

The overriding thrust of these reports brings us to the conclusion that the disgraceful behaviour of a small number of gardaí during the 1990s in Donegal should not be allowed to overshadow the dedication and public service given by the majority of gardaí, now and in the past, to the State. That would be retrograde and would be an injustice to those who have served with distinction.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I wish to share time with Senator Norris.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed. The Senator has 12 minutes in total.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Please interrupt me if I speak for six minutes.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am glad to hear him refer, particularly, to the Morris tribunal and state that the complaints do a grave disservice to the tradition of the Garda Síochána and dishonour their primary objective to provide professional, fair and effective policing to our community. Since the State was established and the decision made in the 1920s to have an unarmed Garda force, the Garda Síochána has been held in very high regard, and hopefully that will continue. What happened in Donegal in the 1990s caused great concern. I hope it will not hamper or damage the ability of the Garda to do, as Senator Walsh referred to, the very effective job it has done in the past.

A management term refers to "flat management", which involves passing as much responsibility as possible on to people without having a structure that has many different controls before someone can make a decision. In solving this problem, I hope we do not end up losing the innovation and enthusiasm of people in the force. There is a danger of that with the structures that have been put in place.

The Minister of State discussed the whistleblowers mechanism. After years of demand from the public for whistleblowers means within the Garda Síochána, the new confidential system for reporting Garda malpratice was announced in April 2007, over 18 months ago. Although this facility must be welcomed, why was the system not made active until just four months ago?

I understand the whistleblowers mechanism has already received three contacts from gardaí concerned about the conduct of fellow gardaí. As there have already been three cases in the four months of operation, surely this is considered a large number? I am interested in the Minister of State's view. The Government already gave up the need for legislation in 2006 that would have provided for extended legal protection for whistleblowers in favour of a so-called sectoral approach. It is not unusual for whistleblowers to be discriminated against by current or future employers or even sacked from the organisation.

Perhaps we need legislative provision to facilitate whistleblowers. The director of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, Mr. Paul Appleby, stated in May this year that he "would like to see a whistleblowing provision provided in the forthcoming companies consolidation and reform Bill". We need a different approach to whistleblowing and perhaps it is regarded as a non-Irish thing to do. The shortcomings of the Garda, which were highlighted by the Morris report, show we need to afford whistleblowers more protection and commend them on their civic contribution rather than ostracise them as informers, which has happened in the past.

There are numerous examples of very brave Irish whistleblowers. For example, Fr. Gerald McGinnity was removed as senior dean at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, in 1984 when he tried to draw the attention of its bishop trustees to seminarians' concerns about the behaviour of the then vice president. Susan O'Keeffe was charged with contempt of court for refusing to name her sources to the beef tribunal following her 1991 "World in Action" television programme which led to the establishment of that tribunal. Sheenagh McMahon experienced devastating personal repercussions when she revealed in 1999 that her husband, Detective Garda Noel McMahon, had planted home made explosives later claimed as significant IRA explosive finds. That led to the establishment of the Morris tribunal.

I have mentioned these because we must act on the need for whistleblowers. I am concerned about the solutions we are finding to put in place controls to ensure this does not happen again in the Garda Síochána. Senator Walsh spoke about the Garda inspectorate, the joint policing committees and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. The danger I see is that individual members of the Garda will be so afraid of taking a step out of line, they will be controlled by the duties placed on them. I know gardaí in the past who have taken innovative individual steps and have been able to say a problem should be solved in one way rather than another. I hate to think that young gardaí joining up, in particular, may be inhibited from taking the right steps.

With whatever solutions come from the Morris tribunal, I urge the Minister to maintain the effective Garda force of which we have been so proud over the years. We should not hamper or damage it or inhibit the individual ability of gardaí to act in the best manner of protecting citizens and giving them the sort of police force we have been used to in the past 80 years and which should continue.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on this subject. Both Houses of the Oireachtas and the people are deeply in debt to former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Brendan Howlin. The cardinal point is that without them, the Morris tribunal would not have existed. They did not make allegations but rather reported them while behaving in a very proper way. They did not abuse the privilege of the House or name people while in it. They did exactly as Mr. Cosgrave had done with Jack Lynch and went to a senior Minister with the allegations. When the allegations were investigated, the vast and overwhelming majority of them were found to be true. Our first point should be our gratitude for the proper behaviour of these two Deputies.

The findings indicate there was a serious incident and the Garda was called upon because a man was dead. One garda was off having a drink and the other two were on a meal break so they would not attend a roadside accident where somebody had died. They did not preserve the scene, although it was initially accepted it was a hit and run accident. They then started to frame the McBreartys. There was no evidence and yet they levelled charges against Frank McBrearty and Mark McConnell. They proceeded to use a plant and there were 68 prosecutions over an 18-month period.

The allegations properly passed on by these Deputies included the manufacturing of bombs, which we all heard about from the evidence given. It was re-enacted brilliantly on Vincent Browne's show, which detailed the grinding of chemicals in coffee grinders. It was a mad scenario. The allegations also included the planting of bombs, use of bogus informers and the framing of innocent people. The allegations upheld included allegations of using bogus informers, planting IRA bombs, planting a gun and explosive device to arrest innocent people and coercing murder statements from witnesses.

Gardaí lied under oath at the tribunal and then covered up the activities of corrupt senior officers out of a sense of misplaced loyalty. That was in a case where the disciplinary regime was totally deficient, as a member could hardly be sacked for anything and an answer could not even be extracted. Members did not have to explain actions to a superior officer. That was not confined to Donegal.

Thanks to the action of former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Howlin, we have a new regime, which the Minister of State referred to, where gardaí are compelled to furnish answers. A register of informers has been introduced and there is a whistleblowers charter and so on. I remind the House this would not have happened without former Deputy Higgins and Deputy Howlin. The accusations against them are misplaced. They went to the Minister and gave the information to him in confidence, as had been done in the past. No garda's name was mentioned in public utterances.

They have been told they should have investigated the allegations. How could they have done this? It took the Morris tribunal six and a half years, millions of euro and the power to compel witnesses to do so. Which of us could possibly expend that kind of energy and dynamism? It is a farce to have expected them to investigate the allegations. In any event, a decision in the Abbeylara case places considerable restrictions on the capacity of elected representatives to intervene in a matter investigating a private citizen.

The allegations were not made by the two Deputies. One allegation passed on was found not to be true but we should follow the matter a little further. When the information was passed to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John O'Donoghue, he decided to investigate. The allegations against these two senior gardaí were investigated but even after the investigation, the Minister decided to include the allegations in the terms of reference of the tribunal. If there is any responsibility, it would bounce back to the then Minister, Deputy John O'Donoghue, who after having the matter investigated still found the charges serious enough to be included in the terms of reference of the Morris tribunal. That completely exonerates former Deputy Higgins and Deputy Howlin.

We have reason to be grateful to the Morris tribunal. Although it has been expensive and lawyers make much money from such things, that is the responsibility of the Government that established them. The Government should have considered payment in the terms of reference as much money was spent. Nevertheless, it is good to think we are improving these matters and this kind of corruption will be restricted if not completely stamped out.

I have the highest regard for the Garda which serves us well. It had a systemic problem and then the characteristic few rotten apples.

This matter is not yet finished. This was a case of a couple of people who were framed by gardaí. In the previous session I raised the case of a man prominent in Dublin business life who was framed by certain elements within that circle. The Minister of State may find the records of this matter.

While I will not name the man, he was head of ISME and the matter received much publicity after I raised it in this House. The fraud squad was involved and while I do not suggest it was deliberately corrupt or anything else, although a series of meetings has been arranged between the principal in the case and the fraud squad over the years, they never meet. Letters no longer are replied to, meetings are arranged and people travel long distances only to meet a closed door. I will conclude on this point. The Minister of State should take up this matter and I can supply him with the relevant information. He should establish the reason the fraud squad continues to pussyfoot around and does not meet this man against whom serious allegations were made and subsequently disproved. He is trying to get to the bottom of the matter. They agree to meet him but then no one is there and there are no appointments. I do not understand what is going on and I believe this is a serious case.

Everyone, including Members as public representatives and the Garda Síochána, the guardians of our peace, must be accountable. To state the Garda must be accountable is not to state that widespread corruption exists or that one should be suspicious of all police. While the Garda does a good job, by and large, when it falls down on the job it has disastrous implications for all of us as citizens.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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The gratitude of the House in respect of the work done by Mr. Justice Morris already has been marked. One must repeat the comments made by the Minister of State in his opening contribution to the effect that the entire purpose of the tribunal was to examine how one particular incident affected those who were accused and how they were subsequently treated in Garda custody. The main finding of the report, which was given in June 2005, indicated the investigation was "prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent in the highest degree". To have such a finding made in respect of our police force is utterly shaming. It reflects badly on the individuals concerned and places an onus on how the Garda, as a body corporate, is perceived by the public. Everyone will accept the Garda is a highly effective police force. It is supported by the population but such incidents and those who are involved in them do nothing to ensure this confidence is shared at all times.

The tribunal findings in respect of particular incidents pertained to the culture that obtained in County Donegal in particular. However, while such incidents may have been specific to that location in their intensity, there is a need for wider debate on whether their more petty practices are to be found elsewhere. If a case exists that there is a culture of planting evidence or of petty corruption, such as the breaking of laws and subsequent avoidance of taking responsibility for so doing by Garda members or the protection of family members in similar circumstances, then confidence-building agencies are needed that will help to identify such practices, root them out and ensure they do not recur.

The office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was established subsequent to the establishment of the tribunal and it is a case of waiting and seeing as to its effectiveness. I tend to consider that the degree to which Garda representative bodies are unhappy with the manner in which the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has worked to date is a sign in its favour because it shows there is a policing of the police. This pertains to the dilemma of who guards the guards that has obtained since Members have been obliged to deal with such issues in the first instance. Members must ensure the resources and structures that are in place in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission are sufficient. During the passage of the relevant legislation, Members debated whether the three-person structure was adequate or whether the highly effective structure that operated in Northern Ireland would be more appropriate. This debate should be ongoing because the work done by Nuala O'Loan in particular, albeit in a situation that also was coloured by distinctions of a political and religious nature, was highly effective and proved to be a template for how such an office should work.

I will revert to the matters in hand in respect of the report itself. It is an additional commendation of the work of Mr. Justice Morris and his team that he is far from circumspect in spreading the blame regarding what went wrong in respect of this incident and the systems and procedures surrounding it. There is criticism of the Houses of the Oireachtas regarding the area of privileges and procedures. I consider that the work of the two Oireachtas Members in question was more to the advantage of advancing justice in Ireland than not. However, pertinent questions are asked by the findings as to whether the use of privilege and the potential abuse of privilege is something against which these Houses have sufficient protection. These are pertinent questions because of the potential that, for mischief's sake, allegations can be invented on the pretext of privilege, even without such allegations coming through a third party or an alleged whistleblower. I would welcome a wider debate on how Members can prevent such an occurrence. I must admit that in my experience in both Houses, I never have seen an incidence of the use of privilege being abused. However, that does not mean Members must not be wary of the possibility that it can be.

Blame also is apportioned to some of those who were peripheral victims of the original incident in respect of the making of further allegations. Mr. Justice Morris has made a highly serious criticism in this regard. The invention of further allegations is the equivalent of police planting evidence in the first instance and the planting of drugs in particular. I am unsure how this finding of the tribunal will be pursued. While one can argue about how this might have come about in human terms, it did not help how the tribunal was allowed to do its work or how the tribunal eventually was allowed to make its finding on the main object, namely, the death of a person and people who were unjustly accused in that regard.

Subsequently, there has been a huge cost to the State, not only in the cost of the tribunal itself but in high awards to individuals who have been affected by Garda negligence. Members' responsibility is of both a fiscal and a moral nature and when addressing the work of the Morris tribunal, they should not only state that such situations should be avoided but should discuss how it both affects the rights of the individuals concerns and how it diminishes the ability of the Government to allocate resources effectively, particularly in the area of justice. If such lessons are learned, if they can be reinforced and if such incidents can be avoided, Members should be grateful for what the Morris tribunal has done. However, if another situation arises in which such cultures are allowed to develop that somehow are reinforced by a lack of proper management within the Garda and a lack of legislative and political action, unfortunately the work of Mr. Justice Morris and his team merely will be perceived as another attempt to stop a tide that those of us engaged in politics have not been successful in stopping in the first instance.

1:00 pm

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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I will begin by echoing the remarks of other Members in respect of Mr. Justice Morris's work during the preparation of his eight reports. I refer to the extraordinary amount of work that was input, the careful consideration and sifting of evidence and allegations, as well as the highly detailed and, as Members have commented, in many ways shocking contents of the reports that have been published as a result of the inquiries the judge carried out. I also add my congratulations to those who worked with Mr. Justice Morris in his tribunal, including the lawyers, high-paid or otherwise, who performed an important public duty by sifting through a considerable number of allegations, sometimes of great complexity, as well as hearing evidence and reaching conclusions based on the evidence put before the tribunal and publishing the reports it was charged with providing to the Oireachtas when it was first established.

The most recent report is the one we are at present considering in greatest detail but, as other Senators have noted, the most serious of conclusions were reached by the Morris tribunal and each of the eight reports makes for disturbing reading. As others have quoted from the findings, I will not rehearse them other than to note that a police force in a democratic society is nothing without the trust of the community. The Garda has a remarkable tradition of coming from the community but if that connection is undermined, it will hit at the core of the confidence that the public must have in its police force for society to function and justice and policing to be administered efficiently and fairly. If authority is rooted in the society which it serves, it will be successful.

Unfortunately, the example of what occurred over a number of years in Donegal, which the Minister of State described as a dark period in our history, could be repeated and suspicions remain that similar practices continue. Ongoing scrutiny and engagement are needed in respect of these issues because we cannot be absolutely confident that the dreadful deeds set out in the Morris reports will never be repeated. Perhaps ominously, Mr. Justice Morris was of the opinion that the gardaí serving in Donegal cannot be viewed as unrepresentative or an aberration from the generality. He was reflecting on concerns that he was not inquiring into an isolated case and reminding us of the need for constant vigilance and proper mechanisms to ensure public confidence in the Garda Síochána.

One hopes these matters will be consigned to history but the only way we can be sure of this is by developing the confidence building institutions to which Senator Boyle referred. In this regard I welcome the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, although I fear that we have not gone far enough. The model successfully developed in the North might be copied in this part of the island. Like Senator Boyle, I am prepared to allow the commission some time before judging its success.

My party has made other proposals in the context of the debates on these issues. In particular, we see the need for an independent Garda authority between the Garda and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The resistance that has been put in the way of such a body is not ultimately sustainable. I do not understand why the Government is not supportive of the notion of an independent body which would scrutinise the operations of the Garda Síochána.

We have also proposed extending the remit of the Freedom of Information Act to the Garda. Regrettably, the resistance to this proposal comes from a culture similar to the one that has prevented the establishment of an independent Garda authority. This culture is based on the belief that all power should be tightly controlled within the Department and that opportunities for scrutiny in which the public might engage should be resisted at all costs. However, information is everything in these matters. Often, if people receive, in response to their inquiries or complaints, evidence of what actually occurred, they see the rationale for the decision and are reassured. However, confidence breaks down and uncertainty increases where a culture of withholding information exists.

Remarks have been made during our debate regarding the roles played by Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins. In fairness to the Minister of State, his contribution to the Seanad debate was markedly different from the speech made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Dáil. Regrettably, the Minister found himself unable to pass up the opportunity for making a baldly partisan political intervention. So many of his comments were devoted to criticisms of Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Jim Higgins that one had to delve deeply into his speech to establish his views on the Morris report. I welcome, therefore, the change of tone signalled by the Minister of State's speech to this House. It is legitimate to seek debate on the implications of what was said about the contributions of two serving public representatives who Mr. Justice Morris acknowledged were acting in good faith. After hearing the Minister's contribution in the other House, however, one might be forgiven for thinking that was not the case. He made little mention of the fact that the politicians concerned were acting in the public interest and were doing everything they could to act properly by relaying the allegations to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Mr. Justice Morris was of the opinion that the two should have made "some further enquiries before going to the Minister". My colleagues in this House have asked the precise meaning of that statement. What level of inquiry ought a Deputy or Senator engage in prior to passing allegations to the responsible Minister? Members face a considerable dilemma in trying to understand the level of investigation required of them. My frustration is shared by other Senators, including Senators Ó Murchú and O'Malley who made similar points three weeks ago when this issue arose briefly. Members act carefully and responsibly but they would need considerable resources to investigate an allegation fully. One cannot partly investigate an allegation. One either investigates it or not.

That is why we have tribunals: to hear evidence, hear the counter-evidence, hear cross-examination and analyse an allegation before coming up with a finding of fact. I am glad, as is the Minister, that the two gardaí against whom allegations were made were vindicated in the tribunal and I welcome this. In debating other tribunals, Members referred to allegations made in these other tribunals. Members on the Government side would point out that these were just allegations, not findings, and this is correct. I do not underestimate the effect on someone of a false allegation being made against him but the fact is that other allegations were made that turned out to be true. These were, in many cases, even more outlandish in content, yet they turned out to be true. If an allegation is made, one cannot know whether it is true or false and it requires a third party to determine whether it is true or false. Although the allegations proved to be false, they had the nature of allegations and were not findings.

I respectfully disagree with and question Mr. Justice Morris's point that these allegations were conferred with legitimacy to the extent that people would have thought they were true because they were conveyed by Members of the Oireachtas to the then Minister, who also acted responsibly. They were not true unless they were found to be true and, thankfully, these particular allegations were found not to be true, although many serious allegations were found to be so.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and his staff. As a nominee of both Garda representative associations, I am particularly interested in the Morris tribunal and its recent report. I pay tribute to the dedication of the tribunal and its entire staff in sifting through six and a half years of evidence. The vast majority of gardaí investigated or mentioned in the course of the proceedings were completely exonerated and the main Garda members criticised in the seventh report have either been dismissed or have taken early retirement from the force. Public confidence in the Garda Síochána is crucial to its authority and effectiveness and a recent public satisfaction survey, thankfully but unsurprisingly, puts public confidence at a high level of 81%.

I welcome the establishment of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission but it has been reported in the recent edition of Garda Review, the magazine of the Garda Representative Association, that three quarters of complaints are under Garda investigation despite the reiterated position of gardaí that they want all investigations to be, and to be seen to be, independent. The tribunal report itself concludes that the Garda Síochána Complaints Board had neither the statutory powers nor the resources to deal effectively with events such as those in Donegal. A reform resulting from the events which is particularly welcomed by the Garda Representative Association is the introduction of forensic road traffic collision investigators. Other extensive reforms have now been put in place to ensure the misconduct which occurred in Donegal cannot happen again.

I call on the Minister of State to give the House a commitment that these reforms will be regularly reviewed and that this House will be kept up to date on their implementation. A number of Members of this House, myself included, represent members of the Garda Síochána, including sergeants, inspectors and superintendents, in the parliamentary forum and consider it our right and duty to be kept informed of such measures.

Regarding the conduct of tribunals, I commend Mr. Justice Morris's practice of publishing a detailed and conclusive report after the completion of each module. This practice kept Members of these Houses and the public well informed and promoted relevant investigation and public confidence. The tribunal recommends that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann should review the manner in which Members deal with whistleblowers' allegations to guard against unfounded allegations being endowed with undeserved legitimacy. This touches on the matter of parliamentary privilege, which I have used to raise issues that deserve attention and for which there is no other forum. This privilege is a vital part of democratic society and must be preserved but I would welcome guidelines of the sort suggested by the tribunal.

Those members of the force found to have acted improperly are no longer serving, reforms have been introduced to prevent similar events occurring in the future, and public confidence in the force is still very high. I commend the work of the tribunal and the results achieved and agree that it is time to move forward.

The editorial in volume 36 of the Garda Review, published on 8 October, outlines the situation from the Garda point of view. This relates to the "serious 'appalling allegations' made against members of the service including Assistant Commissioners Kevin Carty and Tony Hickey that Judge Morris emphasised were completely untrue and unwarranted". We must be very careful, as Members, with regard to allegations. As it happens, a stone was lifted in Donegal and brought about issues relating to other members of the force. Serious allegations were made against people of the highest integrity and we regret that situation.

The other point made in the editorial is as follows:

The reality is the vast majority of members of garda rank serving in the Donegal division today were still in secondary school, even national school, when the events took place in the 1990s. Of those that were and are still serving, most had nothing to do with the inquiry but held views on the participants. Many retired feeling disgruntled to how they had been treated by the Carthy investigation and the tribunal. Many were passed over for promotion by a layer of garda management who were later found to be complicit.

The editorial is worth reading and very fair. A cousin of mine served in Dungloe, the late Sergeant Frank McDonagh. He was a man of honour and dignity and served the force with great distinction and without fear or favour. To me, he represented the quality of gardaí, sergeants, inspectors and superintendents who served the public in Donegal. I hope this tribunal report would never reflect on the commitment and dedication of so many of the 14,000 members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal and throughout the country. We are fortunate to have a force of the highest integrity and that is unarmed, brave and courageous. Many have given their lives to defend their fellow citizens. I pay tribute to a cousin regarded so well by everyone who met him during the course of his duties in Dungloe. He would be very upset by allegations made against other members of the force in the region. He reflected the highest integrity of the force and was of the highest standard. I commend the report to the House and thank the Minister for being present.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I join Members in thanking Mr. Justice Morris for his report on happenings in Donegal which brought shame on many members of the Garda Síochána. These caused distress to the vast majority of members of the force who go about their business in a professional manner serving communities fairly, diligently and effectively and without fear or favour. This has been the hallmark of the Garda Síochána since its foundation. What went on in Donegal was an absolute disgrace. The lives of families were destroyed because of the inexplicable and dreadful behaviour of serving gardaí. What a travesty of justice would have taken place if the Morris tribunal had not been set up. It would not have been set up without the dogged determination of former Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Brendan Howlin, who did the country a considerable public service — a fact acknowledged by impartial commentators and by the public. Without the intervention of former Deputy Higgins and Deputy Howlin, the unseemly happenings in Donegal would not have been uncovered. The Minister of State alluded to some of these happenings.

A family's life and the lives of the extended family were destroyed after allegations were made that they were involved in a murder. There was no foundation to those allegations. Gardaí were involved in the manufacture of bomb-making material and in planting explosive materials. A gun was planted by a detective sergeant at a halting site in Burnfoot to obtain a conviction. Drugs were planted on a person. There was wrongful arrest and ill-treatment of innocent people when in custody. These were but some of the actions on which Mr. Justice Morris reported. As a result, one senior garda was fired, as were rank and file gardaí, and we witnessed a spate of resignations.

I am sorry the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is not here, although I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan. The Minister's rant and attempt at character assassination of Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Higgins in his contribution in the other House last week was a display of arrogance and an insult to the high office he has the honour to hold. He spent nine of his 15 minutes having a go at former Deputy Higgins and Deputy Howlin. Talk about shooting the messenger. He did not even have the grace to apologise to the families who had their lives destroyed as a result of the actions of the agents of the State. I am glad this has been rectified here by the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan.

What were Deputy Howlin and former Deputy Higgins to do at that time? They came upon information in which serious allegations were made. They stated that they could not stand over the allegations to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but insisted the allegations should be investigated. They deliberately chose not to use the privilege of the House to make the allegations and did as a former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, did in informing the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, of allegations that some Ministers were involved in the importation of arms. There was no other mechanism for them. They were damned if they did and damned if they did not. It took over six years for a tribunal, at a cost of over €70 million, to investigate fully what went on in Donegal at that time. The Deputies were vindicated by their actions.

As a result of this tribunal, a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has been set up and an independent Garda inspectorate. These moves will, I hope, ensure that the likes of what happened in Donegal will never happen again. The measures taken will, I hope, restore public confidence in a force of which we should be proud, which has served the country well in difficult times and which should not be judged on the actions of some members who were a disgrace to their uniform.

I commend Mr. Justice Morris on his report. I also commend the former Deputy Higgins and the current Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Howlin, on their actions which brought about the tribunal. I condemn the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for his disgraceful contribution in the other House, which was a vindictive and scurrilous attack on two people who did a great service to the nation by their actions.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the many Senators who made contributions to this very important debate. It is important to note that we have been well served by the Garda Síochána since independence in 1922. I am always conscious of that because my maternal grandfather joined the force in 1922 and rose to the rank of chief superintendent. I am reminded of a divisional meeting he attended in Limerick in the early 1920s. Of 26 senior officers photographed, four of them were dead by the end of the 1920s, having been assassinated. That is a timely reminder of how the force has served this country since independence. It was unarmed and its peer group was often threatened and shot. My grandfather had to carry a weapon for most of his life even when he ceased being a member of the force because of the threat placed upon members throughout their careers and, in some cases, afterwards.

We need to put firmly on the record that the Garda force has served this country extremely well, especially given that it is an unarmed force and the difficult circumstances in which it found itself on independence, namely, in a civil war. A cataclysm such as the Civil War placed huge pressure on officers in its aftermath to serve the State loyally and to put the State's interests above and beyond their own personal opinions and prejudices or political views of one kind or other.

It is important to recognise that the Garda force has never become a sectarian force or succumbed, as virtually all police forces around the world have, to the culture of the drugs gangs. There is very little penetration of our force by the evil drug dealers who have, in many instances globally, corrupted forces and, in some locations around the world, hollowed them out. That has necessitated hugely painful investigation and inquiry and complete restructuring. One can think of a number of such forces. In the 1980s, the Hong Kong police force had to restructure itself substantially because of the activities of criminal gangs and the perception that it had been deeply penetrated by these drugs gangs or other types of dealing gangs. That has not happened here.

However, that is not to minimise in any way what we have read thanks to Mr. Justice Fred Morris and his report. This is a ground-breaking report. It has, in a sense, brought into a new era the professionalism of the force. The force should have perhaps been reformed in the 1960s and 1970s along the lines it has been reformed today. That would have happened were it not for the conflict in the North of Ireland. A huge security paradigm had to operate for all officers. There was a huge resource constraint and pressure on the force because it had to service the many needs of the conflict in the Border counties. I say that not to mitigate the effect of this report.

The report has come as a huge shock to everybody in this House. Mr. Justice Fred Morris has done a fabulous job for us and I very much appreciate the kind comments made about the now retired judge on his contribution and work. I do not want to make a political point but it is worth saying from a taxpayer's perspective, the Morris report cost €70 million and produced eight timely and regular reports since 2002. At the same time, the Mahon report cost €300 million. That tribunal was set up in 1997 and it has not produced as many timely reports.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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That is not a political point but a fair one.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not wish to be political. From a taxpayer's point of view, we must look at how these things are constructed. We need to learn from Mr. Justice Morris's report and how it did its work. It was certainly not cheap. I accept what Senator Walsh said in regard to capping fees. That would be laudable in the short to medium term. However, the tribunal has done its work very effectively.

Some 78 of the 102 civil actions which have flowed from this tribunal have already been resolved at a cost of €11 million. The State has seen an effective tribunal investigate some serious and depressing allegations and they have been responded to quickly and effectively by the Government. I am sure other Governments would have done the same had they been placed in the same position. It so happens we have been in power for the past ten years and it was our responsibility, with our various coalition partners and Ministers, to respond to those allegations over the period. There was a timely response to them. We now have a much more reformed force, with more civilianisation and more professional managers with technical specialties coming into the force in technical areas in which it is not necessary for gardaí to be involved. We are bringing in superb, strong management.

The Garda Síochána inspectorate is in existence. This is a fantastic operation led by a fantastic woman, Ms Kathleen O'Toole, who formerly delivered policing in Boston. She is undertaking reform and finding out how to make the force more efficient every day. I am impressed with her work. One of the early revelations of the inspectorate's work was a simple matter concerning the collection of crime statistics from various districts in the Dublin area. There were glaring disparities between, for instance, the Terenure district and its adjacent district, Templeogue, which had a similar profile in terms of population and suburban settlement but vastly different detection rates. Ms Kathleen O'Toole has addressed this issue in a profound way, raising standards, getting gardaí to concentrate on the crimes that matter in their area and that happen with frequency. Often over the years prior to the input of the inspectorate, Garda effort and time was misapplied on crimes that were not the main priority in a particular district. There can be enormous variations, as Members of this House know only too well, particularly in an urban setting, between one type of suburb and another or in one part of the inner city and another. That work is continuing.

Another response has been the creation of the Garda Ombudsman and the strengthened internal procedures now in place, which many Members mentioned, around the concept of the whistleblower. It is not perhaps the grand whistleblower inquisitor Senator Quinn would desire, but there is a strong commitment by Government through an Act of Parliament to insist there is a proper confidential complaint procedure in place for individual officers who see malpractice or corruption occurring in the force. This system is good and can be vindicated. We have had a few complaints already and the system is working well.

Senators Alex White and Boyle made some timely interventions. Senator Quinn, given his entrepreneurial, business and executive experience, would probably agree that the culture of the Garda Síochána, whether it be at management or lower levels, is entirely changed because of these reforms. We are good in this and the other House at calling for root and branch reform, changes and more regulation. It is hugely important that the leadership and culture issues of an organisation are addressed and changed. It is important that the culture in an organisation such as the Garda Síochána is not one where a person becomes commissioner because it is a Buggin's turn ritual but that we get seriously specialised managerially qualified competent people into the senior positions, whether they be civilians or serving members of the force. One makes a lifelong commitment to a force such as this or to an organisation such as the one Senator Quinn led in the retail operation of Superquinn. It is important to commit to continuous improvement in quality and standards, as Senator Quinn blazed a trail in the retail sector in Ireland. That is happening and there is such a commitment. It is remarkable.

I have only been around for a few years but I have seen a few Garda Commissioners come and go. There is no doubt that the current incumbent and the last few have been of a higher order in terms of their professionalism, conduct and determination to make real improvements in terms of crime detection and in terms of management of the organisation.

I am not chiding Senator Cummins and I know he has to score political points, but my senior ministerial colleague, Deputy Dermot Ahern — I have been a Minister of State in Departments with him for the entirety of the short duration of my ministerial career, now in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and previously in the Department of Foreign Affairs — is not the sort of person who, as Senator Regan depicted him, engages in spin. The Minister felt profoundly that it was important that the voice of Mr. Justice Morris and his opinions, which had been criticised by Members, were vindicated and brought to the notice of the House. That is important. We must be self-critical. This report is somewhat critical of the two Deputies mentioned, but I agree with Senator Alex White it is not to the point that it is blaming them or saying that they acted in bad faith.

The most timely quote from the report is on page 158, which caught my eye. It states: "Politicians must be attuned to the possibilities that they are being used to advance a wholly false agenda by constituents who may be unscrupulous, deceitful, or have an agenda against the person or persons against whom they make allegations." It is timely to quote that reference. We all have a moral responsibility to double check and quadruple check our sources of information before invoking the power and privilege we enjoy in this House. As Members, people come to us in confidence. I support some of the Opposition Senators' views on the privilege aspect. There must be some cover for a Deputy or Senator who is in receipt of highly confidential information that may be pungent or explosive in metaphorical terms. It is hugely important that some account is given to the privileged positions we hold and people trust us generally speaking. I know we all score political points around that concept of how much we are valued or trusted, if at all, by the public, but we are trusted when people who are vulnerable come to us and ask us to inquire or investigate. We must be sensitive in how we do that.

I do not believe the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, was having a go at either the distinguished former Deputy Jim Higgins, now an MEP, or the very distinguished Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Brendan Howlin.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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We will agree to differ on that.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Both of those men have had admirable and positive public service careers in this House and that is what motivates them, as it motivates all of us in the Lower House, not to aggrandise but to serve the community and society in the best way possible.

There is an issue around how we use information, privileged or otherwise, that comes into our hands and how we deploy that. Mr. Justice Morris said that. It is an indication of how fair the judge was that he was not afraid to go where perhaps we are sometimes loathe to go, namely, to be self-critical of our own profession. It is a rare privilege to be able to say things in this setting and not be subject to legal or other pressures of being sued etc. because we are in a sense the grand inquest of the nation, which is one definition of parliament. It was felt by the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, that he should defend what Mr. Justice Morris had put in the report.

A number of other questions arose in the debate which I want to address. I was struck by the issue of culture raised by Senator Boyle. The culture of organisations is hugely important. I say that self-critically, even in relation to my party and the troubles and difficulties we have encountered as a party through public tribunals by known individuals who have come before them. What is crucial in terms of the development of our organisation in response to those particular revelations and tribunals is the change in culture both at leadership level and through the organisation. It has been a painful process for Fianna Fáil and for this House. I refer to the period we have come through of accountability or ethical cleansing as people sometimes derisively call it. It has been an important process. It needs to be fair and people need to be self-reflective about its impacts. It is important to ensure that the new regulation does not result in people's basic rights and entitlements to free speech and basic privileges, as Members have said, being in some way infringed by a new regulatory environment or parameters.

I would also like to deal with an issue raised by Senator Norris, which I will follow up with the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. He mentioned the case of a prominent businessman who had been seeking meetings with the fraud squad, which he claims were constantly delayed or put on the long finger. I do not believe that is acceptable. If it is happening I will ask the Minister to address it fairly quickly because it is not appropriate and would only serve to undermine confidence in the force.

I was very struck by Senator Regan's honest leading of the survey attitudes in evidence about the Garda. I had not been aware of it. I am a Minister of State and am not engaged full-time in the business of the justice and security side of this Department that I am in from time to time. The 81% rating for satisfaction with the Garda is remarkable given the almost catastrophic and terrible nature of the revelations that arose from the Morris tribunal. The legislation that this House and the other House have passed to reform the force is testimony to our success as legislators and credit is due to the force for reforming itself.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, did apologise on behalf of the people in the other House, contrary to what Senator Cummins said.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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He did not do so in the same manner as the Minister of State did.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am very grateful that the Senator would pay the tribute to me that I appear to be more fulsome in my apology. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, I am sure he was also quite fulsome. I just was not there to witness it.

Senator Alex White asked why we do not have an independent police authority as is the case in the UK. Given that we have created the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Síochána inspectorate, and the other changes made in the Garda Síochána Act, this would only add another separate and interposing layer of accountability into the picture. I am trying to set this out fairly. We do not want to kill an organisation like the Garda Síochána by imposing an accountability paradigm that becomes almost stifling of initiative.

We must also accept that it is now de rigueur and au courant, if I may use two French phrases, for us to talk about Civil Service and public service reform. However, one must be extremely careful when one reforms an elemental part of our democracy, namely, the police force. Police forces have major operational responsibility and are not, what I would describe, arid and immutable administrative organisms. They are dynamic day-to-day operational organisations. One must be very careful in how one regulates such organisations. As I have experienced from my interactions with the Garda, it has a requirement to respond very quickly to particular evolving situations, be they criminal, public order or otherwise. That requires a more nuanced approach to reform and the issues surrounding accountability. I am more than aware of that given the security dimension of the Garda Síochána's work as the main custodian of the internal security of the State.

As a Minister of State working within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, one is from time to time included in information that must be handled sensitively and with a certain degree of respect for the kinds of operations involved. Given that individual officers, male and female, are putting their lives on the line, sometimes in undercover operations against drug criminals, sometimes working abroad in conjunction with other forces, one must be very sensitive in what one does in terms of those issues. I believe I have addressed Senator Alex White's issue in that regard. We did not want the extra layer of responsibility. Our force is a unified force whereas the UK has a series of regional forces with their own levels of accountability. Given that it is a much larger operation, it may have a requirement for an authority in that context.

The local joint policing committees will be very positive. While I am not sure how it operates in other local authority areas, I am aware how it operates in the one to which I am accountable in the sense that I operate in that territory, which is South Dublin County Council. Oireachtas Members are invited to become members of it. Sometimes in our zeal to reform and separate the functions of local and national politics, Oireachtas Members have been pushed out of the picture at local level because of the assiduous aspect of the local authority members guarding their own particular electoral and other bases. In my local authority area we are allowed to go. Obviously as a Minister of State, it would not be appropriate for me to attend. However, my constituency colleague, Deputy Charlie O'Connor, attends regularly. It is important for Oireachtas Members to involve themselves in the life of the district or local community policing fora that are now evolving and being set up. I am not sure of the approach being taken — perhaps some of the Members might enlighten me afterwards. Do different local authorities take a different view? I know South Dublin County Council encourages, invites and allows Oireachtas Members and local authority members to be present, which is very positive because we all have a contribution to make in raising genuine public concerns.

That is something I have seen changing in recent years regarding the Garda Síochána. Even ten years ago when I started out in public life one was seen to be almost out of order if one questioned the operations of the Garda locally. If one put down a challenge to it as to how it conducted its business or dealt with a situation, be it anti-social behaviour or otherwise, one was seen to be not really part of the gang in doing so. That has changed as a result of the Morris tribunal and the panoply of accountability measures and reforms introduced. It is now very easy for a public representative, either local authority or Oireachtas, to raise serious issues without being subject to a sort of fatwa from Garda sources suggesting that one was a troublemaker or anti-Garda. Legitimate complaints by public representatives are now entertained and dealt with in a more serious and appropriate manner by the force, which is a positive development.

Senator Alex White also asked why the Garda Síochána is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. As part of a general review of the Freedom of Information Act last year, the extension of the Act to the Garda Síochána was considered. That consideration involved an examination of all factors relevant to the governance, oversight and accountability of the Garda Síochána. It was decided it would not be extended to the Garda Síochána because at this time it would place an excessive administrative burden on the resources of the Garda Síochána as the force continues to discharge its challenging core duties. That reflects back to what I said earlier. One must be careful how one regulates an organisation of this kind and that one does not, in the classic sense, tie it up in knots, thus preventing it from doing its essential core activity.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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I am holding a fistful of salt on that matter.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Fair dues to the Senator. It is important that we are sceptical of these. However, I believe the Senator knows where I am coming from in that regard. I do not believe I need to add much more.

I found most of the contributions very enlightened. It is good to see how the Upper House is performing its duties. I accept that people are acting in good faith. Senator Regan obliquely referred to a dilemma. Nobody really expected that it would emerge at the tribunal that the loadstone or core document that occasioned the establishment of this tribunal was based on a concocted document. That is the harsh reality. I am not suggesting it was not good that the tribunal started its work. Clearly it has been very good because we discovered things that we could not even have imagined before it started its work. However, we cannot escape the essential fact, which is a moral point, that the core document at the foundation of this public tribunal — worthy and all as its work is — was a fraud. While I am not particularly equipped to say this, it has been said to me by many eminent people that it had the effect of nearly ruining and calling into question the illustrious careers of two senior and good officers who gave great service to the Garda Síochána.

That is a very serious issue that we must all consider. We must all learn the lessons from that. We are all for transparency and accountability and for using, standing over and defending our privileges as Dáil Deputies to raise issues of public importance. However, there must be some sense of proportion and sophistication. We cannot always return to the notion, as public representatives, that public disclosure is the most important factor. On the basis of a limited ten-year membership of the Dáil and limited experience as a Minister of State——

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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This did not involve public disclosure.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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They did not publicise it.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Some issues can be handled behind the scenes and flushed out.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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Which is what was done.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State, without interruption.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I have found over the years that the most difficult dilemma I have faced as a constituency Deputy is what to do when approached by a constituent seeking a social welfare entitlement to which I knew, anecdotally or otherwise through my own sources, he or she was not entitled. What does one do?

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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Show the person the door.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Does one help somebody whose intent is to skew or defraud the benefits system? It is a major dilemma because many Deputies like to secure a vote and cover the situation with a letter.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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There should be no dilemma.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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One of the issues that has arisen is how a Member handles confidential information.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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That example is not germane to the debate.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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Are we back to the culture of the party?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Nobody has suggested that the then Deputy, Jim Higgins, or Deputy Howlin acted in bad faith, which is the important message we need to get out. We need to be careful to mind our privileges and use them well. I thank the Senators for their contributions. Hopefully, we will never have to revisit this territory again.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I would like, with the permission of the House, to suspend the sitting until 6.30 p.m.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Why is the House suspending until 6.30 p.m.?

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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It is my understanding legislation is coming into the House at that stage.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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On a point of order, on what subject? We should know the agenda.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I am not aware.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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It is appropriate that we be informed of the item for discussion because this is quite different from the Order of Business.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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I am unaware of the legislation but I am responding to a prompt from the Acting Leader. The sitting is suspended until 6.30 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.