Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Report of Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments: Statements
I am pleased to attend the House to discuss the final report of the Mahon tribunal. By now, more than one month after its publication, Senators and those outside the House will have had an opportunity to begin to digest the full findings of the report. Its size - at more than 3,200 pages - makes this no easy task, but it is important for various reasons that we understand and, more crucially, accept its findings as the culmination of long years of investigation and public hearings. While it was a long time ago, it is worth recalling how, in 1995, two concerned citizens placed an advertisement in the name of a firm of Newry solicitors offering a reward for information leading to convictions for planning corruption. The late James Gogarty came forward with astonishing allegations of widespread corruption at the highest levels, from which events snowballed, leading to the resignation of former Minister Ray Burke and the setting up of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments.
In the intervening years the tribunal held more than 900 days of public sittings; called more than 400 witnesses before it; generated approximately 60,000 pages of transcripts; and exhibited more than 80,000 pages of documentation in public hearings. By any standards, this was a monumental task. In this regard, I pay tribute to the chairman of the tribunal, Mr. Justice Alan Mahon, and his predecessor, Mr. Justice Fergus Flood, as well as to the other two members of the tribunal, Judges Mary Faherty and Gerard Keys. Without doubt, they have rendered the State a considerable service which will be a turning point in how we collectively deal with corruption, most particularly in the planning system.
By any stretch of the imagination, the tribunal's final report makes for difficult and dispiriting reading. The venality of those found responsible for accepting corruption payments and the cynicism of those willing to offer them are truly shocking. The poor judgment shown by those found to have acted improperly is equally disturbing. The headline findings are, by now, well known. The report makes findings of corruption against a number of named individuals, including former Minister Padraig Flynn, the late Liam Lawlor, the lobbyist Frank Dunlop and developer Owen O'Callaghan. It also makes findings of corruption and-or impropriety against no less than 32 councillors. In addition, the tribunal concluded that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had not provided a truthful account as to the sources of various funds and, because of this, it was unable to determine their provenance. These events span the 1980s and 1990s. From this, we can conclude that we are not, unfortunately, dealing with isolated individuals or cases but widespread corruption and impropriety. The report states unequivocally that "corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic" and that it "affected every level of Government from some office holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors". There can be no more damning finding of the system.
However repulsed we may be, we should not and cannot avert our gaze from the findings of the report, nor should anyone seek to minimise, downplay, obfuscate and dissimulate in apportioning blame and responsibility to those who have brought the idea of public service into such disrepute. Unfortunately, all have been present in the debate which has ensued on the final report. However, we cannot throw our hands up in despair; rather, we must seek to rebuild our systems and procedures to strengthen the hand of the vast majority of those public servants, both elected and unelected, who go about their business with honesty, integrity and sincerity.
In the immediate aftermath of publication of the Mahon tribunal's report and having regard to its serious content, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government referred it to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and the chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission. The Garda Commissioner has since referred the report to the head of the Criminal Assets Bureau with a view to identifying what, if any, criminal offences have been disclosed which may require investigation by the Garda Síochána. It will be a matter solely and exclusively for these State bodies to decide on what action, if any, to take on foot of the report.
In addition, on 27 March, only five days after its publication, the report was formally considered at a Government meeting. The primary outcome of that meeting was that it was agreed that the relevant Departments, working with bodies under their aegis, as appropriate, would consider urgently the recommendations of the tribunal and, by the end of April, revert to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with proposed actions to be taken on foot of the recommendations made and a timeframe for their implementation. The intention is that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will report back to the Government as early as possible in May with a whole-of-government response to the report's entire set of recommendations. Senators will appreciate, in view of the foregoing, that I am not in a position to provide a final and definitive Government position on the recommendations of the report.
Notwithstanding this, I would like to discuss the main recommendations in detail. As Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, I have a special interest in this area and, in particular, the ten recommendations the Mahon tribunal made about planning out of a total of 64 recommendations. In the first instance, before getting into the details of the recommendations, it is important to point out that planning corruption is not a victimless crime because it subordinates the public good of proper planning to the private good of developers who have deep and corrupt pockets. The Mahon tribunal revealed the wholesale degradation of the physical public sphere, particularly in Dublin, for the benefit of the few to the detriment of the many. I am keenly aware of the strong relationship between the need to have a planning system operating with integrity and efficiency and our efforts to overcome immense economic challenges and prepare for the country's economic and social recovery. I also wish to underscore the strong synergy between the planning recommendations of the Mahon tribunal's report and recent and ongoing reforms to the legislative underpinning and operation of planning.
In 2002 Ireland's first ever national spatial strategy was published. It was followed by the introduction of regional planning guidelines in 2004 and their substantial revision in 2010. Together, the strategy and guidelines provide for a more strategic approach to planning, where the debate is less about whose field is to be zoned and more about how places are to be used in the longer term. The Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 has gone some way to establishing statutory recognition of the national spatial strategy and the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 provided for further amplification. For instance, the 2010 Act strengthened regional co-ordination, delivered a better alignment of planning nationally, regionally and locally, and introduced a new requirement for core strategies in the development plan process. This requirement is intended to secure a strategic and phased approach to zoning that will facilitate infrastructure provision - showing the location, quantum and phasing of proposed development and clearly demonstrating links to housing strategies, retail policies, transport plans, new schools, etc., while showing the adoption of consistent national policy across all our regions. This process is one that local authorities are strongly engaging with because they recognise the need for a stronger, plan-led approach to development that will facilitate careful management of, and prudent investment in, infrastructure provision at a time of acute pressure on the public finances.
However, the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal indicate that the progress achieved to date is not a panacea. While the 2006 and 2010 Acts have brought improvements there is still a significant job of work to be done to ensure that a coherent, forwarding looking approach to planning informs all decisions taken at local, regional and national levels. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of deliberations on the tribunal findings. However, Senators will appreciate there is a need for far-reaching reform of the way elected members, officials and others interact with the planning process.
The need now is to re-examine zoned land and to move to a position where all zoning is based on a quantifiable need that is community based rather than developer-led. The population targets which are used in the Regional Planning Guidelines 2010-2022 have been incorporated into core strategies and will prove critical in helping to plan for future development.
The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 has provided a strengthened legal and policy framework for local area plans, particularly in relation to zoning at local area plan level. This underpins the need for consistency from the national spatial strategy, through the regional planning guidelines, to the development plans and finally to local area plan level. This is critical as, in reality, it is often at local area plan level that the strategic zoning decisions are taken. Development plans will incorporate the core strategies and local authorities will consider whether the relevant local area plans require subsequent changes to ensure consistency within the overall planning system.
The benefits that this process is bringing are significant, most notably the following: planning is better supported by evidence-based requirements and is linked to the Government's strategic plan, for example, through the national spatial strategy and capital allocations; there is a coherent basis to ensure planning and investment in infrastructure and services is focused on the most suitable locations; there is a tackling of the legacy of over-zoning and a move towards a more co-ordinated and joined-up approach to the delivery of critical services such as schools, public transport, water services and social housing; there is a focus on revitalising our city and town centres, moving against the tendency of the pre-tribunal era to envisage extensive, even sprawling extensions of our cities and towns, drawing the lifeblood out of older, established central urban areas; the elected members of the planning authorities are now required to bring together the key messages of a typically long and detailed development plan into a clear message about future plans and priorities in their area; and a level of certainty is being achieved about where development will take place, which will provide a level of certainty to developers.
I take this opportunity to outline some initiatives in which I have been involved during the short period since I took office, which are pointers for the way forward. Recently I received the regional planning guidelines implementation annual report 2011, which was prepared by the eight regional authorities, having particular regard to the core strategy provisions of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 and ensuring proper oversight of the alignment of plans at national, regional and local level. This report is very significant because it improves strategic oversight of the planning system by effectively measuring how local, regional and national planning strategies are being co-ordinated through the core strategy-related provisions of the 2010 Act. The report of the regional authorities clearly demonstrates that serious progress is being made and must continue to be made in tackling what was often the planning systems historical addiction to zoning as opposed to focusing on the issues that matter most to local communities. The 2010 Act is aimed at decreasing the need for ministerial intervention in development plans and local area plans by bringing clarity to the legal responsibilities of planning authorities to have reasonable and evidence-based plans, rather than rely on the Minister's intervention in the plan process. This does not automatically rule out the need for my future intervention, in particular in the context of ensuring local plans and development plans are consistent. I will closely monitor their consistency with the now adopted core strategies in development plans.
On 4 April last, I launched an innovative Internet-based planning information system called Myplan.ie which for the first time draws together all the zoning maps of every development plan and local area plan in the country. The aim of Myplan.ie is to create a one-stop shop for information about plans and also to provide other information which is relevant to planning decision making, such as census information, heritage sites, patterns of housing development and so on. The system is fully accessible to the public on-line and is free of charge. As such, it enables a much more open and transparent approach to tracking the integration of plans across the country, and it promises to be a game-changer in terms of how the public will view the operation of the forward planning system.
I turn to the planning recommendations of the Mahon tribunal report. Recommendation No. 2, on direct election to regional authorities, will be considered in the context of the forthcoming policy proposals of the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, concerning further local government reform, to include the regional dimension. Recommendation No. 3, to an extent, has already been acted upon in recent legislative amendments. Recommendation No. 4 is a matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Other recommendations propose sensible improvements to enhance accountability, transparency and fairness in the planning process. I believe we would all largely agree on these but we must study them closely and consider them carefully as we prepare to respond to them in greater detail. I have already met officials in order to progress these recommendations, particularly, in the planning section of the Department.
Without question, however, the most fundamental recommendation is for the establishment of an independent planning regulator. In this one recommendation, the Mahon tribunal essentially tells legislators that notwithstanding the roles of local authorities and the Minister, and progress made in recent years in tightening up a previously lax system, planning, especially the forward planning process, needs independent oversight. This oversight function must have the appropriate legal mandate and resources to determine whether plans are in compliance with legal requirements and, if they are not, to determine what intervention may be necessary where serious policy departures have taken place, or where there is strong evidence of bad practice or systemic failure. In other words, the tribunal's assessment is that Ireland needs to introduce an element of independent review of forward planning and planning administration practice in the manner that An Bord Pleanála undoubtedly delivers in overseeing our planning application appeals system. I intend to look at this recommendation and consult on it. My main focus in all this is to improve accountability and transparency.
In the short term, Senators will also be aware of a legacy of planning complaints on foot of which the previous administration had announced a planning review that was intended to assess the application of planning legislation, policy and guidance within the development plan and development management systems at local level and to inform further policy development in these areas. A number of planning authorities, representing a broad geographical spread of urban and rural areas and large and small authorities, were selected to assist in the review of policies and practices by reference to a number of cases raised with my Department. I assure Senators that work on this is progressing at a pace and I expect to receive a report from my officials in the near future following which I will make a public statement, including any appropriate actions to be pursued in regard to further policy development and guidance while also taking account of the need to develop wider proposals for improving the transparency and openness of the planning system, as recommended in the final report of the Mahon tribunal. While I do not want to prejudice the outcome of the process, if warranted, I will instigate further investigation of any matters requiring this.
I turn to some other recommendations of the final report which fall within the remit of my Department. There is no doubt that the whole issue of political donations was at the centre of many planning controversies. As Senators will be aware, the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Donations) Bill 2011 has progressed through this House and is before the Dáil. I am pleased to note that a number of specific recommendations of the tribunal are already being addressed in that legislation. Under the Bill, the books of political parties will be opened up to public scrutiny. The maximum amount that can be accepted as a political donation will be more than halved, with significant reductions in the thresholds for the public declaration of political donations. Other measures in the Bill provide for greater transparency by both donors and those in receipt of political donations.
Building on the relevant commitments in the programme for Government, the Bill goes further than any previous legislation in asserting the right of the people of Ireland to know how their political system and political parties are funded. The Bill is informed by an understanding that excessive and secretive corporate funding of politics is corrosive to democracy and to public trust in politics. Therefore, the Bill aims to see the development of a system of political funding based on a large number of small donations from citizens, rather than a small number of large donations from corporate bodies. As part of the analysis under way, my Department is reviewing the report's recommendations in relation to electoral matters with a view to facilitating early Government consideration of the need to bring forward amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage, where appropriate.
These reforms go a considerable way to preventing the kind of wholesale subversion of the planning system by those willing to fund corrupt payments, often in the guise of legitimate political donations. This is a particularly insidious process, as it threatens public trust in the legitimate funding of the political process and political parties. By developing and open, transparent and moderated system of political funding, the room for corruption corresponding narrows, although, of course, it can never be eliminated.
Another issue which has come under close scrutiny in the tribunal's final report is that of the ethics framework. Within my Department's remit the ethical performance of elected members and officials in local authorities is a key consideration. The Local Government Act 2001 introduced a comprehensive ethics framework for all those involved in the local government service, both members and employees. This framework which came into effect in 2003 imposes a duty on all to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.
The requirements contained in the Act are developed in the Local Government Act 2001 (Part 15) Regulations 2004 which include an obligation on members and relevant employees to complete annual declarations. In addition, two codes of conduct, one for members and one for employees, were issued in 2004. The aim of these codes is to set out the standards and principles of conduct and integrity for local authority employees and councillors, to inform the public of the conduct it is entitled to expect and to uphold public confidence.
The tribunal report's recommendations will be examined closely in the context of the existing ethics framework to ensure we take whatever further steps are necessary to restore and underpin confidence and transparency in the local government system, to ensure the highest standards are adhered to and to provide protection for the vast majority of members and staff who behave with probity and integrity. It should also be noted that the conduct of local authority members and employees comes within the remit of the Standards in Public Office Commission which oversees compliance with the requirements of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. In this regard, my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who has previously highlighted the importance of ensuring the legislative framework in regard ethics is robust, modernised and relevant in today's world is now examining the Mahon tribunal's final report and the Moriarty tribunal report within the Government's overall political reform agenda. In this context, it is worth noting that in its recommendations the Mahon tribunal explicitly calls for the establishment of a statutory register of lobbyists incorporating minimum disclosure requirements, as well as the introduction of a cross-sectoral whistleblower protection Act. The Government's recognition of the vital role that can be played by effective whistleblower legislation in discouraging and disclosing serious wrongdoing is fully in accordance with that of the tribunal. The current position is that at the end of February the Minister published the general scheme of a protected disclosures in the public interest Bill, while work has commenced in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on the drafting of a Bill.
On lobbying, in the light of the firm commitment in the programme for Government and following the completion of a call for evidence at the end of last month, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is drafting a policy paper on the introduction of a register of lobbyists. This paper will form the basis for further consultation on the operational design of the proposed regulatory system and is intended to lead to Government approval for the drafting of a Bill for publication later this year.
Beyond the registration of lobbyists and the introduction of whistleblower legislation, a large number of recommendations in the final report relate to conflicts of interest, characterised by the Mahon tribunal as the root cause of corruption. Collectively, these recommendations point to the need for an extensive overhaul of the legislative framework in regard to ethics. In particular, the Mahon tribunal's report identifies a range of important issues relating to effective control of conflicts of interest, actual and perceived. These include the introduction of extended disclosure requirements; the removal of exceptions to disclosures; more timely updating of disclosures; a prohibition on gifts or benefits other than those of a nominal value; and extending the enforcement role of the Standards in Public Office Commission. In responding fully to these recommendations of the tribunal, further examination will be necessary of how ethics legislation might be simplified and also the case for adopting a more integrated approach with other related legislation. This may be required in order to ensure a comprehensive and coherent legal framework will be in place in the future to seek to guard against the abuses revealed in the tribunal's report.
For everyone in the House and all others outside it, the findings of the final report of the Mahon tribunal present a truly awful picture of some aspects of political life in the 1980s and 1990s. There can be no, nor should there be, gainsaying of this basic conclusion. These findings and the associated recommendations place a heavy burden on the existing body politic to ensure, simply, wholesale corruption is never again allowed to flourish unchecked in local and national government. Work to this end has commenced. Having referred the report to other organs of State, they must now be left to do their work independently on following up on what happened in the past. In addition, the Government has embarked on an urgent and active consideration of the tribunal's recommendations in order that we take whatever steps are necessary. The overriding aim is to ensure what has been set out in the tribunal's report will never happen again and work towards restoring public confidence in the political system. Nothing less is expected of us and nothing less will suffice.
I thank the Minister of State for her opening statement. As all Members will agree, the basic foundation of any political system is confidence that decisions are made through the right processes and for the right reasons. The Mahon tribunal's report massively dented that confidence in its over 3,200 pages. It details the most appalling and outrageous betrayal of trust at all levels in the country, from a former Taoiseach and leader of my party who failed to give a truthful account of the source of over £200,000 to a dozen councillors of various parties who took corrupt payments to buy their support for planning proposals. From reading the report, what is most damning, apart from references to the individuals involved, is Mr. Justice Mahon's findings that corruption in Irish political life in the 1980s was systemic and endemic. The individuals involved have a lot to account for, but the problem was much wider than this. There was a culture of seeking and taking bribes to support rezoning proposals. The Mahon tribunal examined particular areas in Dublin for which it had a brief. I have no doubt, however, that questions could be asked elsewhere.
As the Minister of State who has responsibility for housing correctly pointed out, the report displays a culture in which people made decisions on housing developments and condemned families to live in badly planned developments, with poor access to schools and transport. Some people live in places in which there are no paths out of their estates. Decisions were made in order that developers and businessmen could make the maximum profit, with no thought for families who have been condemned to live in such estates.
I will return to the implications of the report for my party. Apart from the individuals concerned, at its most damning level the report reveals that the culture was well known at the time. Mr. Justice Mahon said it was widely known and widely tolerated. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has outlined how, as a member of Dublin City Council, she had to beat a path through developers to attend council meetings.
The report also reveals that senior politicians, while not found to have taken money, coalesced or, at least, acquiesced in the fact that others did nothing about it, including another former leader of my party. The tribunal made no personal findings against a former leader of Fine Gael. When asked about Councillor Hand's request for a bribe, he said neither Fine Gael nor the world was populated by angels.
From start to finish the report reveals that even those not personally involved in taking bribes were aware that there was such a culture. Fine Gael Councillor Mary Muldoon said after the report was published that it was her view that 50% of the councillors with whom she had served had taken bribes and that she had been punished for the fact that she had not. She said that those on councils who were not trusted at the time were not those who were dishonest but those who were honest because colleagues who were on the take did not trust others and were afraid they might blow the whistle about what was going on.
The Mahon tribunal's report details startling planning corruption at a local level which I appreciate is what today's debate is about. It is also important to briefly make the connection with the Moriarty tribunal's report. The two reports, taken together, show different levels of corruption. The Mahon tribunal's report refers to corruption at a local element, while the Moriarty tribunal's report refers to national politics and the corrupt selection of the winning bid for the most lucrative State contract in Irish history. It reveals in quite startling detail how 15 donations were made to the Minister's party in the lead-up to that contract being awarded. I say that not to make a political point, because that is not where I am coming from on this, but to say the two are just as important. As we talk about the Mahon tribunal report today, it is important we do not lose sight of the points made in the Moriarty report.
I appreciate that while I have mentioned breaches of ethics, trust and basic political standards, other parties have been implicated. To be fair to the Labour Members present, none of that party's members has been mentioned in the report, or while one individual is mentioned, that person left the party a long time ago. The Mahon tribunal report shows that proximity to power was central and the reality is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors were the ones who had the power over the period and that, in many ways, was accompanied by corruption. While other parties were implicated, there is no doubt, and in any contribution I have made to this House I have accepted, that Fianna Fáil members have been associated with some of the worst breaches of ethics.
The findings of the Mahon tribunal and the other negative findings that have gone before it represent a serious betrayal of the trust that has been put in Fianna Fáil public representatives. It is not only gutting for people who have supported us over the years and genuinely believed those they voted for were honest and would do the right thing, it is particularly gutting for our members, the ordinary volunteers who have never got a penny out of being involved in the party and who have freely given up their time to go out at election time to knock on doors in support of candidates they have thought would make a positive contribution to their communities. While the report refers to a small number of corrupt individuals, I completely accept that the impact for Fianna Fáil is much wider than that, and not just because there are leaders involved. When leaders are either openly involved in taking payments or, as I said, openly acquiesce in the fact that others have, this sends a very negative signal about the organisation. I appreciate, therefore, the shadow the Mahon tribunal report has cast on Fianna Fáil.
This is the case even for younger members like me as well as those like myself in this House who have never taken a corporate donation. While I was never in the Galway tent and was in primary school when most of the things written about in the Mahon report occurred, I still fully accept that many people do not fully trust the party as a whole. I appreciate the challenge that exists, even for younger members of the party, to regain that trust and to show people we deserve it and that Fianna Fáil representatives are honest and decent people. Again, the majority of people involved in the party will never get a penny out of politics. They are honest and decent people who have been let down, although I appreciate we have a job to do to convince people of that.
The Minister talked about some of the changes that have happened over recent years, for example, improvements in the standards in public office legislation, including declaration of donations, the procedures that have been put in place for civil servants and local authority staff and some of the improvements that have been made in the planning process. In the Mahon report, Mr. Justice Mahon accepts that things have changed and ethics requirements have improved a lot over the past 20 years. Huge weaknesses remain, however, which the Minister acknowledged in his contribution today, including the lack of transparency regarding lobbyists, the need for legislation on whistleblowing and the very high threshold that exists at present before donations have to be declared.
When the political funding Bill came through the House, the view of Members on both sides of the House, including myself, was that while donations limits were being lowered, this was not going far enough. A lot of change still needs to happen at national level. I regret that the independent planning inquiries were closed down because, while they are being looked at under a separate process within the Department, independence is important. With regard to corporate donations, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government said in the House his advice was that a referendum would be required to ban corporate donations. This is a matter that should be looked at by the constitutional convention. Equally, while we are looking at donations, the expenditure side also needs to be addressed and I hope it is on the Government's agenda. The reason people raise so much money currently is that they can spend so much money. There is no doubt many changes are needed at national level.
To return to Fianna Fáil, the party in its initial response to the Mahon report was very strong and immediate. In fact, I was criticised on some shows for the fact it was too fast, which I thought extraordinary. It was positive that when the report was published in the morning, by the evening our party leader had made it clear that motions would be brought to expel certain members from the party. I believe Fianna Fáil must go further than that. While I hope changes will be made in national politics in the areas I have mentioned such as donations, lobbying and so on, Fianna Fáil should set the highest standards of all parties. We have already done some of that. At our recent Ard-Fheis, we brought in a motion on new procedures whereby candidates, before they get on the ticket, will have to make declarations to the party about donations similar to those made to the Standards in Public Office - SIPO - Commission. Other changes are needed such as publishing our audited accounts and going further than the SIPO requirements in regard to publishing donations and the like.
The majority of politicians in all parties are genuine and honest people. The Mahon report massively damaged people's faith in politics, which needs to change. I believe Fianna Fáil, given the events outlined in this report and elsewhere, needs to be the standard bearer and needs to set tougher standards than anybody else so it can restore trust in the party.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss this important report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. It is important this House provides the necessary time to consider a report of such profound significance for the fundamentals of politics, planning and public life in Ireland. The publication of the report last month has brought to finality a process that began in November 1997, when the tribunal of inquiry was established in response to serious public concern in respect of allegations of corruption relating to the planning process, in particular in so far as this related to the Dublin area.
It has been a long and protracted process that has taken 15 years to complete and has cost in excess of €250 million. That being so, I believe we can all agree that the workings of the tribunal have had a profound and formative influence on the planning system in Ireland. The Minister of State commended the judges who took part in the tribunal and I join her in that. The tribunal has established the truth in a way no other investigation into planning corruption has ever done. I want to put on record that I accept all the findings of the tribunal unequivocally.
Some have complained about the delay in finalising the tribunal report. I know we had a referendum as to whether there is a better way to investigate systems when things go wrong. We saw what was done by the Committee of Public Accounts and the money this brought in to pay for its investigation. The tribunal has done good work and is to complimented. There should be ongoing scrutiny of all issues, however, and there should be a cost-effective way of doing it. I ask the Minister to consider this.
Corruption in Irish public life, which we now know on foot of this report was both endemic and systemic, affected every level of Government from some holders of top ministerial offices to the many local councillors who were mentioned. The report made adverse findings against elected representatives at every level of elected office from county council level to the office of Taoiseach, including two taoisigh from Fianna Fáil, Senators, Deputies and a European Commissioner, again from Fianna Fáil. Is it any wonder people do not trust politicians? It is a sad day that politics and politicians have been brought into disrepute. Senator Averil Power said it involved people from all parties but, as she recognised, it was Fianna Fail in office which really brought disrepute to the system and damaged confidence. I know there are many in Fianna Fáil, such as Senator Power and others, who are saddened to see that all three individuals who led Fianna Fáil from 1979 until May 2008, all of whom held the office of Taoiseach, have now been the subject of adverse findings by tribunals of inquiry, be it the beef tribunal, the Moriarty tribunal, whereby Deputy Lowry was thrown out of Fine Gael, or the Mahon tribunal.
Senator Averil Power referred to the Moriarty tribunal. I am keen to see one of the suggestions made at the end of the Mahon tribunal's report implemented. If people in politics are found to be tainted, they should not be afforded the same services as others with regard to meeting Ministers and so on, even if they are re-elected. I call on the Minister to re-examine the matter in the case of people in my party and others and that of people who were expelled from parties and re-elected. Such action must be considered.
The reports of the planning tribunal have far exceeded what many thought possible when the tribunal was established. They set out clearly how the planning process in Dublin in the 1980s and 1990s was undermined and corrupted by several developers and some councillors who sought to enrich themselves. I was a member of Dublin County Council at the time and party to the decisions on the rezonings in question. I was newly elected in 1991 when they were made. I was concerned about them, but I had no proof of anything. I was not a member of Mary Muldoon's party at the time. No one came to me to explain that some people were being paid for their vote and to ask whether I was being paid. No one asked me these questions. I can say that much with hand on my heart. One had to make up one's own mind. One must be sensible. I am pleased with the tribunal which has rooted out corruption in planning. I was concerned at one stage when I saw a cheque being waved in the air, but there was no proof. There was no preliminary investigation at the time into the suggestions and innuendos made. This left councillors such as me in the lurch. If something had been thrown out into the open, perhaps many people might not be in trouble now.
Tribunals must possess political and financial independence and enjoy public trust and confidence. The report's findings merit full consideration by all relevant organs of State. The Government has brought the findings of the report to the attention of the relevant authorities, including the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and the chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission. The Minister of State has outlined what she and her Department, as well as the Minister responsible, Deputy Phil Hogan, are doing.
I understand the report was the subject of an initial consideration by the Cabinet on foot of which all relevant Ministers were asked to consider the recommendations which fell within their remit. The Minister responsible, Deputy Phil Hogan, stated last month that the initial consideration was to be completed by the end of April or early May and that the Government would return to the issue collectively. The Minister of State has indicated what she is doing. I am keen to hear an update on the collective view of all Departments involved.
There can be no doubt that the findings of the report have done significant damage to the reputation of and the level of public trust in the political system. However, in vigorously condemning the corruption, abuse of office and significant ethical lapses disclosed in the tribunal's report and taking all necessary and appropriate steps to prevent their recurrence, it is imperative that we do not fall victim to pessimism and despondency with regard to ethical standards in the public service and among the holders of public office. This was properly characterised in the tribunal's report as the mistaken assumption that everyone was doing it. I was a member of Dublin County Council and everyone was not doing it. People in every party, including Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, were not doing it. It is sad some have given politics such a bad name. Perceptions such as this lead to a culture of pessimism and cast a dark shadow over the way in which our democracy operates. The corruption that took place in the past must never be allowed to recur. The Minister of State and the Minister have outlined some of the steps being taken to prevent history from repeating itself in this context.
As long as there are outside bodies involved in political funding, politicians may leave themselves open to accusations of engaging in inappropriate actions by accepting funding at election time or at a later date. There has been a major discussion on this issue. It is a difficult matter, but everyone must take personal responsibility. Everyone should not make mistakes and should ensure he or she does not find himself or herself in the position in which some councillors and ex-councillors now find themselves having accepted inappropriate contributions.
I commend the Government for the progress made during its first year in office and in advance of the publication last month of the tribunal's final report. This demonstrates the Government's determination to minimise the risk of a repetition of some of the occurrences on which the tribunal made findings. Planning is an issue that pervades the tribunal's work and analysis. I welcome the systemic transformation of the planning system in recent years undertaken, albeit belatedly, by the last Government, as Senator Averil Power remarked. Reform is continuing under the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, who should be commended for their work. The planning review announced by the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, was intended to assess the application of planning legislation, policy and guidelines within development plans. The Minister stated the cases involved were being considered and that a report would be finalised in May. The Minister of State will issue a public statement on the matter, including details of further actions necessary. Senator Averil Power is wrong in this regard. I imagine the Minister of State will come back to the point in her concluding remarks.
The programme for Government made clear the intentions of the Labour Party and Fine Gael in the matter of the reform of political funding. This was before the Moriarty and Mahon tribunal reports were published. The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 is one of the Government reforms and the Minister has referred to what needs to be done and further actions need to be taken. The Government is also developing whistleblower legislation. The Minister of State has outlined what the Government is doing in this regard.
The findings of the Mahon tribunal are totally negative and unacceptable with regard to the practices engaged in in the past, as evidenced by the Government's response. We must review the case for deepening and intensifying various reform commitments contained in the programme for Government which could help to deal decisively and definitively with some of the legislative gaps and regulatory weaknesses that permitted these abuses to occur. I hope the report of the Mahon tribunal leaves behind an era of corruption that will never be repeated. Senator Averil Power has admitted to this. I believe her party has seen the light and that some of the newer and senior members have accepted this. It should be acknowledged that certain members were thrown out of her party.
The Mahon tribunal's report provides us with the recommendations and guidance that can help us along the road not only to economic but ethical recovery. It is our responsibility to try to restore hope and confidence in the country and restore the trust that people should have in public institutions and representatives. We must earn that respect by our words and actions and have systems and people in place who enjoy the respect and allegiance of all the people.
I thank the Minister of State for her attendance. It is almost one month since publication of the report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments - the Mahon tribunal. The passage of time has not diminished the sense of shock at the implications of the report. In fact, the challenges posed by its findings grow deeper the closer they are examined. Many of the findings relate to individual cases, to some of which the Minister of State has referred. They give rise to significant concerns. However, several of the general findings are especially disturbing and I wish to comment on their wider implications.
The first finding is stated in paragraph 1.12 of the report: "The Tribunal's inquiries uncovered evidence of deep-rooted, systemic corruption in Irish public life". This statement demands our attention and should halt us in our tracks. It is expanded on in paragraph 1.21:
Given the existence of such rampant public corruption, the obvious question is why it was allowed to continue unabated. The short answer to that question is that it continued because nobody was prepared to do enough to stop it. This is perhaps inevitable when corruption ceases to become an isolated event and becomes so entrenched that it is transformed into an acknowledged way of doing business. Specifically, because corruption affected every level of Irish political life, those with the power to stop it were frequently implicated in it.
These findings reflect badly on public and political life. Rampant and systemic corruption is hardly the hallmark of a country that anyone wishes for himself or herself or his or her children. However, that is the truth, as found by the Mahon tribunal, and it is incumbent on us to face up to it.
One of the immediately concerning aspects is that the tribunal's inquiries and findings were confined by its the terms of reference to "certain planning matters and payments" within defined time periods and mostly in the Dublin area. Given the finding of systemic corruption in Irish public and political life, the obvious concern is that many more instances of corruption may be as yet undiscovered in other geographical areas, during other times, or in fields other than planning. The fact that the report took 15 years to complete and at a cost in excess of €300 million must also be a concern in terms of the message it sends to those who may currently be involved in corrupt practices or those who may be tempted to do so. Could the controversy over the length and cost of the Mahon tribunal give undeserved comfort to those engaging in corrupt practices, that there will not be an appetite for future investigations and that they may not as a result be called to account? We surely cannot allow that. For the findings of the report evidence a serious breach of the trust placed by the Irish people in our public and political structures. It will take a long time to repair this breach of trust. The lesson from this and other tribunal reports is that trust is no longer good enough. What is needed is high quality, effectively enforced regulation and oversight to ensure the proper and transparent functioning of the State's public and political structures. The immediate implementation of all of the report's recommendations would be a good starting point.
It would also be appropriate to consider whether a tribunal is the most efficient and cost effective way to deal with these issues or future allegations which might be made. Surely the key to exposing corrupt practices is by following the money trail. As such, would these issues not more appropriately be dealt with by An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners, if necessary by better equipping both bodies in terms of forensic accounting capabilities and resources?
The public also have a role to play in recreating a more ethical public system and culture. One of the greatest safeguards for the future would be the development of a culture of integrity where there is no public tolerance of corruption or circumvention of the law. Creating a culture of this kind is an ongoing struggle and relies on the personal integrity of each and every one of us in our daily lives.
The tribunal has done its job. We now need to act on the "deep-rooted", "systemic", "rampant" and "entrenched" corruption which the report identifies in Irish public and political life. Anything other than a full and urgent response from the political system to these overarching challenges will only serve to engender public cynicism at the very time when we most need a sense of togetherness.
I thank the Minister of State for her lengthy and comprehensive statement. I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the time to discuss the findings of the Mahon tribunal. It is very important lest we forget, and perhaps Fianna Fáil has already forgotten as I would like to record the almost empty benches opposite-----
It is a downright disgrace. At this moment Fianna Fáil Senators would be quite happy to come into the House and cause all kinds of arguments, to which they are perfectly entitled to do, but they are not here today and that makes a mockery of Senator Power's fine words about how Fianna Fáil wishes to rebuild itself.
Much of that speech was about Fianna Fáil and its need to rebuild itself but I am not interested in that and I do not believe many members of the public are either.
What we should be interested in is what the Mahon report means. We cannot change what occurred in the past. We can only try to change our future based on that past. We can only do that if we remind ourselves of what happened and acknowledge it. First, I would like to acknowledge the work of those who wrote the final Mahon report and that of Judge Alan Mahon and his predecessor, Mr. Justice Flood. There has been much complaint about the length of time the tribunal took to conclude its business but today I would rather concentrate on what the report means to us and what we might take from it.
The Mahon report follows in the footsteps of the Moriarty, McCracken and beef tribunals and it tells another instalment of the rotten structure that by and large was put together by Fianna Fáil from its leaders, its taoisigh, through its Ministers, its TDs and its councillors. This report is about planning matters and the payments to influence planning decisions and I welcome the Minister of State's commitment to reviewing the recommendation for an independent planning regulator and the recent launch of Myplan.ie, among other suggestions she has made. The Mahon report is really about who we are, who we became and what was allowed to happen in the 1980s and 1990s. What was allowed to happen was the slow growth of corruption at the heart of Government and, as a consequence, at the heart of everything because nothing with rotten roots can ever survive and so the edifice has fallen around us. Ireland could never have survived or prospered under that kind of Government. No matter what they said or insisted, it was a kind of a mirage, a gaudy painting, a promise that the good times would come and belong to all of us. That was just a pack of lies. The Mahon report makes sure that we know that it was a pack of lies, that public representatives and their sidekicks were lining their pockets at our expense - people essentially stealing from us by bending and breaking the rules to have things their way. Those of us who tried to call a halt, who shouted "Stop" and who spoke out were variously ignored, laughed at, derided, bullied, sued, or, as in my case, charged, arrested and made to stand trial and also derided, bullied and sued.
Through these instalments of corruption - these various tribunals - three names stand out, three former Fianna Fáil taoisigh - Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern. They were certainly able men; they turned their skills and energy, however, against the State. They thought of themselves and their cronies first and they abandoned the principle of public representation and turned instead to private greed. They found ways to use their power and status to reap a financial reward at our expense, directly and indirectly, in the short and the long term. When one turns the pages of the Mahon report the one clear message that comes through is that public representatives sought corrupt payments. The developers were not queuing up to pay them originally but pay they did when they realised that they would be left behind and would lose out in the terrible race for profit that had developed. They saw that one had to be in with the crowd and so they did what one would expect - they rushed headlong for a piece of the action.
At the time this was happening I was working on the "World in Action" programme. It was late 1992. I had made the programme about corruption in the beef industry and the programme about abuse in the Catholic Church. I had started an investigation into Charles Haughey who was the Taoiseach at the time because a very significant UK property developer had come to me and told me that a man whom he was willing to identify, and did identify, had come unannounced to his office demanding money on behalf of Charles Haughey so that a tender that he had put in for a significant property development in Dublin would be looked upon favourably. The property developer alleged that the bagman had in fact requested the money for the Taoiseach's republican activities.
Corruption does indeed beget corruption and lies beget lies. When one has this kind of corruption at the very epicentre of government in the Taoiseach's office, it seeps out and spreads, and it did, and that was the damage and the rot. In the end it included bankers, accountants, solicitors, civil servants, lobbyists, PR people and consultants - all seeking a share of this lucrative cake facilitating the slush funds and the brown envelopes with offshore bank accounts, false money trails and hidden pyramids of false companies and false trails of ownership. They were then building a cosy cabal of business men - mostly, as opposed to women - bankers, developers, politicians and lobbyists, and they were delusional. Out loud, they preached the prosperity message, that Ireland was growing, that citizens were benefiting, that this was a new Ireland where everyone could do well. They were delusional too to the extent that they thought they would never be caught.
Those of us who tried to defy all of this were told, and I was repeatedly told, that for "the good of Ireland" I should stop. That has rankled with me for 20 years. So great was this corruption that these people were quite prepared to sacrifice the people, all of us and ultimately the truth, for their own gain, their own profit, and Ireland could "go hang". It was the greatest lie of all.
The Fianna Fáil Party did everything in its power to keep this illusion alive, as evidenced by the litany of lies for two decades. Judge Mahon uses imaginative variations to describe the evidence of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, including terms such as "failed to disclose", "failed to account", "rejected evidence", "not provided with a truthful account" and that the tribunal "rejected his contention", "rejected his explanation" or that he "failed to truthfully account". Other phrases used in the report include "contrary to the position he maintained", "remains unexplained", "unable to determine the source" and "unable to pronounce as to its source". The report gives us a hint of what was going on. There were strange transactions with money from the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, a safe in Drumcondra, bags of cash in hotel bedrooms and pubs, fund-raisers and whip-rounds and councillors queuing up breathlessly for some dirty money from a dirty bag man. Let me be clear, however; we have had only the merest glimpse of the truth and reality of this dirty money and these dirty deals. This was a banana republic, a mad place without rules and regulations and, ultimately, without decency, honour or honesty.
The Mahon tribunal's report is a turning point on the road towards growing up. We have had many turning points, for example, the beef tribunal, the report of which ultimately showed the lengths to which the authorities would go to try to keep the lid on the whole business. They called me the guilty party and claimed the bag and envelope culture was a figment of my imagination. The McCracken and Moriarty tribunals signalled clearly that the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, was completely corrupt and had friends in low places who were willing to play his game and be protected by him and his rotten cronies. Ultimately, nobody stood up to him.
We now have the Mahon tribunal's report naming and shaming the former Taoisigh, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern, as well as Deputies and councillors who were methodically on the take because they could be. We have had so many turning points that we have become twisted and contorted and, ultimately, confused. The purpose of inquiry and investigation is to get to the truth and, ultimately, for all of us to see accountability. After spending millions of euro, investing hours of energy and time and putting to use some good brains, all we have are shreds of truth and an absence of accountability - at least not yet. It is no wonder people do not want to put their hands in their pockets again to bail out this country because they - in fact, we - were not the ones who corrupted it from the inside out. We have not walked away with fat pensions, big houses and cars or lavish lifestyles. There will not be a televised State funeral, after dinner speaking engagements, board memberships and lucrative globe trotting for us.
Having looked to the past for some years now, we know there is no truth and we will not obtain it either. There are too many faded memories and too much convenient amnesia. The paper shredders have rearranged the past and we must be satisfied with the shreds of truth we have been given to serve as an indicator of what took place. We must straighten up, turn to the future and look forward. Let us bring those who have lied and cheated to trial and make them stand where I stood, in other words, they should assume the label "accused" and be required to answer in a court of law. We must move on with a much greater appreciation that the rogues who can pull a fast one, love the con and bend the rules are no longer to be admired. They have ruined our country. Neither this nor any other parliament can legislate for honesty. What we must do is legislate for greater accountability. That is the rot that remains with us today. The onus is on us to build a better country and the reports of the Mahon and other tribunals must inform the future, even though they have provided us with only an incomplete picture of our past.
On a point of order, at one point during Senator Susan O'Keeffe's excellent speech there was not even a quorum of Members present. I believe we still do not have a quorum. It is a national disgrace that the House is not full for a debate of such importance. I want to know the reason we do not have a quorum of Members present.
I did not want to interrupt Senator Susan O'Keeffe's speech since it was one of the best contributions to this debate. The House should be full for debates of this nature, given the seriousness of the matter under discussion.
I regret that I have only six minutes for my contribution because I could speak for an hour on this issue.
It is important in all of this that the central theme of what we are about, namely, probity in public life, is safeguarded and preserved. There is a need-----
Senators will be ad idem that probity in public life is a sine qua non. People who are involved in politics must be able to exercise decisions independent of pecuniary interests and influence. Unfortunately, that has not been the case throughout life. Politics in this country is overwhelmingly kosher. I have been involved for many years and there are very few instances to which I could point. However, this was about very serious breaches of the fiduciary duty that people have to the offices that they held. Like others, I would have no truck with that.
The tribunal clearly showed us that there is a need for an effective and fair investigative process which can deal with these matters in an efficient and timely way, and which can bring anybody who transgresses to account. There should be significant penalties and sanctions that would act as a deterrent to avoid any repeat. In that respect, let me say that we have passed legislation in this House which restricts the quantum that a corporate entity can pay to a politician. However, we can see from this report that individuals of those corporate entities are not limited to the same extent, and we need to look at that. Throughout my public life, I have held a view that if one wants to be independent and be seen to be independent, then one should not accept political donations. Any moneys raised should be raised from some kind of central system, either through the parties or centrally, for example, through SIPO. People who contribute should say to whom they want the money donated. A certain percentage would go to them and a percentage would go into a fund that would support the whole democratic process. We just need to look at that.
This report shone a light on these issues, but if we are to be objective about it, it also shone a light on the legal profession. I have been a long-time critic of these tribunals. People in these Houses will have heard me over the last decade being highly critical of the length of time and the costs, which in my opinion were absolutely unacceptable, as were the attempts made to keep those costs buttressed at levels that were never fair and never right. I criticised the last Government about this issue, and the current Government has done nothing to arrest the profiteering within the legal profession. It should not be allowed and within a properly structured democratic republic, steps should be taken so that such privilege is set aside in future.
I was not very long as a Member of this House in 8 October 1997 when, as one of my great regrets, I went on record to support the establishment of these tribunals. The length and the cost of them was wrong. We should have tackled the issues and the Garda Síochána and SIPO should have the resources to get to terms with them in a timely way. The tribunals were asked at that time to inquire urgently into matters of public importance. It took 14 years in one case and 15 years in another case. I used to drive home on a Thursday evening having left my office at 9.30 p.m., and I used to listen to Vincent Browne on the radio. He would have a re-enactment of what took place in the tribunals that day. It was highly entertaining but all it was doing was taking time and costing the taxpayer money. Most of what I heard had nothing to do with the issues that should have been examined. We need to recognise that, or else we will repeat the mistake of going the route of the tribunal in future.
I am not alone in thinking this way. I would urge people to read the Supreme Court decision in Murphy v. Flood, when the Murphy family claimed their expenses because they had been disallowed by the tribunals. Mr. Justice Hardiman was critical of the practices involved, and he was also critical of us and our propensity to establish tribunals, which he said did not compare with anywhere else in the world. He said there was a total disregard for cost and for not getting to the truth. He also implied clearly in the judgment that it infringed the due process to which every citizen is entitled.
Most of us here would know many of the people who have been mentioned in the tribunals. It looks to me as if the tribunal measured that if a person got a donation from any of these lobbyists at a time when there was not an election, it was a corrupt payment. If the person got it during an election year, it was regarded as inappropriate.
I would like to refer Members to page 3,132 in the appendices of the report, where two people are accused of making a statement to the chief witness, Mr. Gilmartin. Neither of those people was called before the tribunal, either to validate of repudiate the statements made. From talking to them, I know that neither accepts that the meeting ever took place. Another person serving in the Government of the day was accused by Mr. Gilmartin in the tribunal one morning of a very corrupt offence. He was absolutely appalled when he heard it. He contacted his solicitor, who got a barrister to go down to the tribunal. The tribunal refused him an audience until he insisted that he correct what Mr. Gilmartin said as being totally without foundation. There is not a word about it in the report. That raises some questions as to why that it is the case. Would it have discredited the witness?
I would like to finish by going back to Mr. Justice Hardiman's judgment in that Supreme Court case to which I referred earlier. He spoke about the separation of both the investigative and adjudicative process. He stated that an investigator may become so invested in that one witness as to become blind or insensitive to things which raise doubt as to his credibility.
I think we need to use this as a lesson to eradicate anybody from political life who is found guilty of taking bribes, which is a serious criminal offence. Such people should be dealt with accordingly. We also need to ensure that the light which was shone on the legal profession is also dealt with and that there is a system in place which will restrict the exorbitant costs and the extraction of moneys from the taxpayer. We are spending millions of euro every year on this during difficult economic times. People are paying taxes that they cannot afford which are being used to pay way beyond what is justified to barristers and others in the legal profession.
There are serious lessons to be learned from this. I note that the Government has stated that it will take action on the recommendations. We will have a debate on that, but I also hope that it will take in the other issue of the abuse of privilege which this highlighted within the legal profession.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank her for her commitment, observations and views on this report. It is important we agree that we are dealing with this subject, given the seriousness of the report and the awful picture it painted. It is a report of profound significance, which arose out of the serious public concern in respect of allegations of corruption in respect of the planning process, especially in the Dublin region. One of the faults may have been the terms of reference, which were too wide initially. I do not know what Senator Walsh was doing about that. His party was in the Government when it proposed those terms of reference. They were agreed unanimously by both Houses of the Oireachtas at the time. There is some anecdotal evidence that some of these practices were not simply confined to Dublin, but due to the planning tribunal's terms of reference, it did not get to investigate that.
I accept that the vast majority of people who dealt with planning were above reproach. The councillors of this country give of themselves unstintingly but unfortunately there were a few bad apples. The tribunal of inquiry began in 1997 and had over 900 public sittings and called more than 400 witnesses, with many thousands of pages of evidence and correspondence. It is important to say in response to Senator Walsh that it was frequently buffeted and challenged during the course of its work.
The judges, Mr. Justice Fergus Flood and Mr. Justice Alan Mahon, who succeeded him as chairman, Ms Justice Mary Flaherty and Mr. Justice Gerald Keys, deserve great tribute. They presided over many years of hearings and investigations and deserve our compliments for their comprehensive final report, which runs to more than 3,250 pages. They pointed out that a module has been withheld, presumably with hundreds more pages. I assume this relates to the Carrickmines module because matters involved in this are ongoing before the courts.
Sadly the report finds corruption was both endemic and systemic in Irish political life and affected every level of Government, from senior ministerial office holders to some local councillors and its existence, unfortunately, was widely known and believed to have been tolerated. One of the most shameful aspects that occurred during the course of the tribunal's work were the attempts to undermine its independence, to express a lack of trust in it and by so doing attempt to frustrate the will of the Oireachtas. The judges stated boldly in the report that they came under sustained and virulent attacks from senior members of the last Government at a critical stage of their investigation and that the legality of their inquiries, as well as their own integrity, was questioned. This gave succour and support to the various court challenges to the tribunal that took place that greatly delayed it and held up its vital work
This Government on receipt of the report and initial consideration of its findings rightly referred the report of the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and the Chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission. The Garda Commissioner has already referred the report to the Criminal Assets Bureau for its urgent attention.
In addition to its findings of fact, the report sets out a series of policy recommendations for consideration to help ensure similar situations do not arise again in future. These 64 recommendations cover a wide area of matters, not just planning but also conflicts of interest, political finance, lobbying, bribery, corruption in office, money laundering, misuse of confidential information and asset recovery and confiscation. We have the Minister speak on all of these matters. Furthermore, the Cabinet decided all Ministers should be asked to consider as a matter of urgency the report's recommendations that fall within their respective remits and this is expected by the end of April.
It is good to know some of the recommendations are already being addressed, such as reform of the tribunals of inquiry legislation and new legislative proposals in regard to political funding corruption, whistleblowers and the registration of lobbyists. The Electoral Amendment (Political Donations) Bill is one such example. This Bill will provide for greater transparency for donors and those in receipt of political donations.
The ethical performance of elected members and officials in local authorities is a key consideration and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is examining the tribunal's recommendations closely to ensure whatever steps are necessary to restore and underpin confidence and transparency in the local government system are taken.
Planning is an issue that pervades the tribunals work and analysis. Thankfully planning has in recent times shifted from being developer-led to a more evidence-based and vertically integrated system. It is good to hear the Minister of State make clear it is a policy priority of her Department that the planning system will continue to evolve into a more evidence-based regime so scope for incorrect zoning decisions is eliminated as far as possible. We are all interested in the openness and transparency of the democratic process and the final Mahon report makes sound and sensible findings and recommendations of the most profound kind in this regard.
I welcome the Minister's confirmation that the report is being considered carefully and will be acted upon speedily and comprehensively. We must ensure history does not repeat itself in any respect in what happened with regard to planning in the past. This ongoing work will help restore public confidence in the political system, which is so important to the health of our democracy.
I will begin by reading a brief excerpt from the report of the tribunal because it highlights the cosy nature of the relationship between business and politics and the way politicians flouted and exhibited their influence. It is on page 165 of the report of the tribunal in the chapter entitled "The Leinster House Meeting".
Mr Gilmartin told the Tribunal that on a date in early February 1989, probably 1 February or possibly 2 February, he attended a meeting with a number of Government ministers and the then Taoiseach, Mr Charles J. Haughey in Leinster House.
Mr Gilmartin said that some short time prior to this meeting, at the end of January 1989, he received a telephone call from Mr Lawlor who informed him that 'his boss' (a reference to the Taoiseach) wished to meet him. Mr Gilmartin wrote the following references into his notebook for Wednesday 1 February 1989: '5:30 meeting with Ministers. At Dáil Eireann in (Leinster House)' and 'Meet Mr L. Lawlor at Buswells Hotel.'
Mr Gilmartin said he arranged to meet Mr Lawlor in Buswells Hotel on the day of the meeting. Arriving some 20 minutes late, Mr Lawlor beckoned to Mr Gilmartin, whereupon Mr Gilmartin followed Mr Lawlor through the open gates of Leinster House, and into the Dáil lobby.
Mr Gilmartin said that he then accompanied Mr Lawlor down a 'long hallway' towards a lift where they encountered Mr Ray Burke, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, and the Minister for Communications. Mr Lawlor cursorily introduced Mr Gilmartin to Mr Burke who, while he acknowledged Mr Gilmartin, did not speak to him. Mr Lawlor and Mr Burke engaged in conversation in the lift. Exiting the lift on an upper floor, Mr Lawlor and Mr Gilmartin turned right and travelled along a gangway past partitioned offices on either side towards a lobby area. Mr Gilmartin described being ushered by Mr Lawlor into a room through dark oak double doors. Mr Lawlor remained outside as Mr Gilmartin entered the room.
Mr Gilmartin then proceeded to describe the actual meeting with a number of Government personnel. He stated that in the room there was a large rectangular table and that Mr Pádraig Flynn, Minister for the Environment, sat at the top left hand corner of the table. Beside Mr Flynn was Mr Albert Reynolds, Minister for Finance. Beside Mr Reynolds was a man whom Mr Gilmartin believed might have been Mr Gerard Collins, Minister for Justice. Seated at the right hand side of the table were Mr Bertie Ahern, Minister for Labour, Mr Brian Lenihan, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mr Seamus Brennan, Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce. Standing behind Mr Brennan was a man whom Mr Gilmartin did not recognise and to whom he was not introduced.
Mr Gilmartin then described how Mr Burke (whom he had met earlier in the lift with Mr Lawlor) entered the room through a door located in the middle of the room, followed by the Taoiseach, Mr Haughey. Mr Haughey proceeded to walk around the table to where Mr Gilmartin stood and after Mr Flynn's introduction Mr Haughey's first words to Mr Gilmartin were 'I know you, you're Gilmartin from Lislary.' Mr Haughey chatted to Mr Gilmartin about his two schemes (Bachelor's Walk and Quarryvale) and complimented him for bringing such schemes to Ireland at a time when jobs were desperately needed. Mr Gilmartin was given assurances by Mr Haughey that there would be no obstacles to his plans.
In the course of the conversation, Mr Gilmartin mentioned to Mr Haughey that he knew Mr Seán Haughey (the senior official with Dublin County Council). Mr Haughey had taken this be a reference to his son, Mr Seán Haughey, rather than to his brother, and had proceeded to tell Mr Gilmartin that his son was, or was about to become, Lord Mayor of Dublin, and encouraged Mr Gilmartin to call to the Mansion House. Mr Haughey ended his conversation with Mr Gilmartin by enquiring 'if Liam was taking good care of me'.
To many people, this sounds like a scene from "The Godfather" or a similar film. The potentially toxic way in which planning, politics and money colluded is clear from the way these men conducted themselves in the scene I have just outlined. The tribunal's conclusions, and its criticism of the political elite in the State, are damning. It stated that corruption in Irish political life was endemic and systemic. It affected every level of Government, from some holders of top ministerial office to some local councillors and its existence was widely know and widely tolerated. Corruption bred a culture of corruption; it was part of the way we were. Corruption, backhanders and brown envelops became acceptable, a normal way of winning political favour, of rezoning land for profit and of buying votes and influence. The golden circles of big business, speculators, bankers, financiers and developers, allied to a corrupt political elite, are not incidental to our current political and economic difficulties but are central to them.
It was in no one's interest to call a halt to the rapidly overheating housing market, other than those who ended up paying over the odds for their homes.
Political corruption is not a victimless crime. It has caused widespread social damage. The principal victims are Irish citizens, the people of this State. They have seen our economy destroyed by the property bubble and the economic crash. This is a direct result of the corrupt relationship between developers and politicians. In addition, working class communities, especially those in west Dublin, have been affected by the poor planning at the heart of this and are still living with its consequences. Corrupt planning allowed Dublin city to expand in an appallingly ill-planned way as property speculators and developers made big money. Whole communities were moved into badly built housing estates with few facilities.
The report has indicated clearly that a culture of political corruption existed in the 1980s and 1990s within the major establishment parties, but principally within Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil is attempting to wipe out its corrupt past. A former Taoiseach and a former senior Minister have jumped, disgraced, before they could be pushed. They would like us to believe that is all in the past and that this is a new era for Fianna Fáil. However, there are Members of these Houses who have questions to answer. Deputy Micheál Martin, who was a senior member of Mr. Bertie Ahern's Cabinet, and several of his Dáil colleagues have questions to answer regarding their actions at the time.
The report of the Mahon tribunal states that during 2007 and 2008, members of the Cabinet embarked on a sustained and virulent attack on the tribunal. They questioned not only the legality of the tribunal but the integrity of its members. Deputy Micheál Martin and others need to clarify their parts in these events. All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. Did members of the Cabinet look the other way and were they complicit in this orchestrated campaign against the tribunal?
If the citizens of this State are to regain their confidence in the political system and justify the major cost of the tribunal, which was alluded to by a Fianna Fáil Senator, the Government must implement Judge Mahon's recommendations. This is essential to combat corruption and ensure the planning process becomes more transparent and accessible and the citizens of this State are never again victims of the corruption that was endemic in the political establishment of this State.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for her efforts with regard to the tribunal report.
I welcome the debate on and the findings of the Mahon tribunal. The last two decades of planning have shaken people's faith in politics to such a level that it will take a great deal of time to restore it. People's faith in politics and in the body politic, rather than any person, ideology or party, has been damaged hugely by the findings of the Mahon tribunal. I welcome the fact we have reached the end of the process. I am glad the findings have come to light and we can begin to act on them and rebuild faith in politics in Ireland.
One aspect of the report that alarms me, as it seems to everyone else, is its cost. This warrants debate. Efforts are being made to remedy the cost situation, even retrospectively. I have a sincere belief we can achieve the same outcomes without dedicating the same level of resources. That could have been looked at more closely. The academic, Ms Elaine Byrne has stated, rightly, that tribunals cost €500 million but raised €1 billion, if one goes back as far as the McCracken tribunal. This is true. However, it must be kept in mind that tribunals prior to the Mahon tribunal cost €200 million and raised €1 billion. The Mahon tribunal cost the people of Ireland €300 million and was a serious drain on resources. That other tribunals raised revenue is a distraction and is not entirely relevant. The Mahon tribunal was the most expensive in our history.
We need to look at a pragmatic step to curb tribunal costs in the future while maintaining the quality of their reports. Keeping terms of reference relatively narrow, which other Senators have alluded to, would be one remedy. Harsher punishments, financial or even otherwise, for those found to have misled or delayed the tribunal deliberately should be a minimum. On the conclusion of the Mahon tribunal we heard repeatedly that certain individuals had gone out of their way deliberately to obfuscate and confuse the issues. One prominent journalist wrote that at one stage they were rolling in the aisles listening to it. Sometimes the untruths were obvious and the attempts to derail the process cost both time and money. We need to work out a system of disincentives to curb such behaviour in future.
I represented a client who was called before the Mahon tribunal, although he had no good reason to be called, which was ultimately proved. This was at a cost of tens of thousands of euro, which were wasted. There were numerous examples of such waste during the lifetime of the tribunal, which is very regrettable. I read a report this morning that cuts of up to 87% have been imposed on the legal fees sought by witnesses to the planning tribunal. I welcome this, although I doubt we will be successful in achieving that level of cuts. This is one way to begin cutting costs. We need to look at how we audit these costs in future, how we decide on a cost to benefit ratio and how we punish those who deliberately run up the cost of tribunals, or any such inquiries. These costs are borne, ultimately, by the taxpayer.
I welcome the Mahon tribunal and its findings but I do not welcome the price tag that came with it. This price helped us adduce information many already had.
Once the Mahon tribunal report was published, it was inevitable the Houses would have an opportunity to debate it. These debates in the Dáil and the Seanad have not been a happy experience for members of Fianna Fáil, especially those of us who were not aware of the decisions being taken or the corrupt practices being engaged in at a high level within the party. That is not to deflect attention or responsibility. The current leader of our party, Deputy Micheál Martin, moved quickly to place clear water between himself and those found guilty of corrupt practices by the tribunal. The steps he took were unanimously approved by the wider Fianna Fáil membership.
There has been a suggestion in some of the contributions to this debate that Fianna Fáil was not proactive and some of the people named in the report jumped before they were pushed, which is one expression that was used. As a member of the ard chomhairle of Fianna Fáil, I can inform the House that if those people had not jumped the decision of the ard chomhairle, consisting of more than 90 members and representing all aspects of the organisation nationwide, would have taken those decisions. The fact that, once the party indicated it would expel them, the people named decided to resign should not, and I hope will not, detract from the very firm conviction of those of us in Fianna Fáil today that if the proposal to expel them had gone before the ard chomhairle, it would have been carried unanimously.
The period under discussion is the early 1990s. Even the tribunal itself conceded a significant amount of legislation has been passed since to ensure the activities investigated and outlined by the tribunal will not be repeated, in so far as it is possible to legislate against corruption. It is interesting to quote the tribunal report in this regard:
Corruption is universally condemned, and for good reasons. It undermines the equality of individuals before the law, produces unfairness in public policies and distorts the allocation of resources ... It ... [also] instills in [the public] the belief that the political system is there to serve vested interests rather than those of the public which it is supposed to serve.
Fianna Fáil accepted the tribunal's recommendations immediately and without equivocation. In making its recommendations it stated:
the Tribunal has taken into consideration the very significant developments which have taken place in these areas since the period which formed the focus of its inquiries ... since 1994 a number of other laws have been adopted ... anti-corruption measures must have a dual purpose. First, to control the abuse of public power for private gain and secondly, to promote public confidence in the fact that public power is being exercised in the public interest ... While traditionally corruption has been viewed as an issue of individual morality, in recent years, advances in understanding both its causes and its consequences mean that it is now also viewed as a problem of systemic failure. In other words, where an individual behaves corruptly, then the problem lies as much with the system which permitted or failed to prevent that behavior as with that individual. Specifically, corruption is most likely to occur where there is a combination of low ethical standards, incentive and opportunity. There will always be individuals tempted to use public power for their own personal profit and the task therefore is to devise a system which substantially reduces both the opportunity and, if possible, the incentives for doing do.
I have said repeatedly both inside and outside the House that it is a fact of life that corruption, irrespective of the laws passed to address it, is very much a human failing. On a purely practical basis, wherever corruption has proved to be endemic in a political system, it invariably arises as a result of power being held by those who are corrupted. At its simplest, I have always subscribed to the view that money follows power. Irrespective of what one might think of Fianna Fáil, the public voted for it, which is what democracy is about. The fact that there were successive Fianna Fáil Administrations for such a long period of time created what the tribunal refers to as the environment that permitted those who were so inclined to be corrupt. I hold no brief for those found to be corrupt or named by the tribunal. While in no way trying to deflect or minimise the veniality of those who led Fianna Fáil during that period, those involved in development who were bribing politicians and making corrupt payments to politicians did so across the political spectrum wherever they believed they could get a return for money. While there is no problem with lobbying, it was enhanced by the payment of money and it was human failure on the part of those involved or who thought they would get away with it because of the environment in which they were operating that nothing would ever be asked.
I have in my hand a document which runs to nine pages from one of the development companies named in the report - it is involved in a significant number of modules. Every political party received money. Not only was it paid to individual councillors and Deputies of all parties, but all political parties as entities were offered and accepted money. I only make this point to emphasise that corruption was widespread at the time and those who were offering the money were the most corrupt of all because they knew they were playing on human frailty. They knew that if they paid enough money, the chances were that they would get what they wanted and, in many cases, they did to the detriment of-----
I have said so repeatedly. Human frailty was as much a factor as those who believed they could get away with it. They accepted the money. I am only making the point that because of the environment in which developers were operating, they gave money to everybody. They were sloshing money around like snuff at a wake and it was being accepted across the board. At the time and subsequently several politicians and parties claimed that in the environment of the time they had accepted them as they believed they were genuine, legitimate political payments.
This leads us to the recommendations the tribunal has made. With my party, I wholeheartedly support its recommendations and hope the Government will start to enact them in so far as it is possible to do so because there are constitutional requirements to be met in some instances. The only way we can prevent it from happening again on the scale at which it happened - even the tribunal has stated it will never be possible to stamp out corruption entirely - is by passing the laws required under the recommendations. Fianna Fáil unequivocally and unambiguously accepts the recommendations of the tribunal and totally condemns those who have been found to have received corrupt payments. They have brought shame not just on the country but also on the party.
I welcome the Minister of State. The report has been torn apart, opened out and discussed at length, but there are central points from which we cannot escape. While Senator Paschal Mooney says it with honesty, I cannot accept his assertion that if a government is in power for a long time corruption happens automatically.
What type of country would we now have if the tribunal had not been established? At what stage would Fianna Fáil have stated it was wrong? Would have it have been in 1997, 2007, 2012 or 2013? It took this report to get it to admit that it and many of its councillors had been responsible for much of this. This has been ongoing since I was a child when Charles Haughey was parading around the country encouraging people to follow him and become rich. They followed him and became rich at the expense of ordinary people who today are living in properties that are falling apart, including in Priory Hall. I could name properties in County Donegal in cases where a local voluntary housing association paid big money for housing units only two years old with dampness rising through them. The rules in place were not followed.
The country was reaching a stage similar to what happened in Lord of the Flies, whereby things broke down. This showed in the planning system which operated on the basis of a nod and a wink. I have been a member of Letterkenny Town Council and Donegal County Council. Anytime I objected to or raised concerns about buildings clearly being built in the wrong places for the wrong reasons, the response I received from the local radio station, local newspapers and mainly Fianna Fáil councillors was that I was standing in the way of progress. They claimed they were creating jobs. However, everyone, including the planners, could see they were creating ghost estates and communities with no infrastructure. Those decisions are coming back to haunt us. People living in these estates are complaining that they were promised services, including schools. The whole system was corrupt such that not only was money changing hands but power was also changing hands from councillor to councillor. It was a nod and a wink culture. I have to put up my hand and say that in Donegal the planners were generally 100%, but there were certain councillors who seemed to have more influence than others. That was also true in Letterkenny and Border towns such as Raphoe, Lifford and Carrigans which probably trebled in size in three or four years. The houses are now being sold for €30,000 or €40,000. Everyone knew for 30 or 40 years what was happening. Only the Mahon tribunal and those who instigated it brought the matter to light; otherwise things would be much the same today.
The economic crisis can be traced back directly to corruption in planning. The banking crisis is directly linked with property and the problems here have not been experienced in other countries to the same extent. People in England, Scotland, Wales, Germany and France do not talk about knowing somebody who owns six, seven or eight houses. This was the Haughey philosophy, that if one followed him and Fianna Fáil one would become rich.
Everybody is paying for the consequences of these activities. There are people who cannot afford to pay the €100 household charge living in properties that were built for the wrong reasons, in the wrong areas and without the necessary infrastructure. We have been left to pick up the pieces in the wake of Fianna Fáil's failure of governance. I acknowledge Senator Paschal Mooney's honesty in this regard. He and certain other members of his party have come out with their hands up, but the horse has already bolted. The corruption in high places permeated right down to local government level. I saw it happening in Donegal and we all know it was happening in Dublin and in every local authority in the country. At what stage would Fianna Fáil have said this was wrong if members of the party had not been caught with their fingers in the till? All we can do now is hope that the culture of nod and wink politics is finally over.
The recent report from An Taisce which identifies Donegal County Council as the local authority with the worst planning record in the State seems fairly accurate although not, I would contend, 100% so. One of the factors in Donegal's poor showing is the large number of vacant properties in the county, which was taken as a measure of poor planning. However, one must take into account the high demand for holiday homes in the past decade, a great deal of which are now vacant. If that cohort of properties were removed, the figures might not be quite so bad. Having said that, planning practices in the county were undoubtedly poor, with certain areas being peppered with new builds without any view to the future.
Future generations will surely look back and reflect that the country was destroyed by bad planning and bad connections, by a corruption which emanated from the top and ultimately cost the Irish people dearly in jobs and money. It is an issue of which I have direct experience as a councillor. Local authority members throughout the State were aware that certain parties, individuals and councils had an interest in planning matters. Some of that corrupt interest was not for the purpose of procuring money but for power and political gain. That is the sad reality. I hope the report of the Mahon tribunal will ensure that corruption is eradicated for future generations. I welcome its recommendations.
One might say that I speak as both an insider and outsider in terms of the political process. Like my colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, I am an Independent Member and not associated with any political party. I have come in middle age to this part of my career with an outsider's perspective, which is the position from which I will make certain observations. The reality is that there is a perception, whether correct or not, that the practice of politics in this country is and has been for a long time somewhat corrupt, which is why the outbreak of rectitude and umbrage we are seeing in the wake of the various tribunal reports is being greeted somewhat sceptically by many of our fellow citizens. Most people would acknowledge that individual politicians are, with clear exceptions, not corrupt. However, there is a tolerance within the system of the notion of corruption. I have landed myself in trouble with certain party loyalists from different organisations for making this point. The response is always that they themselves are not corrupt and would never tolerate corruption and to question how I should dare to accuse them and the many hundreds of thousands of people who voted for them of being tolerant of corruption.
The reality, of course, is that this tolerance is buried deep in our political culture. There is a Sicilian expression, mafiositá , which refers to those who, although not associated with the Mafia themselves, understand its place in Sicilian society and have a certain grudging acceptance of the role it plays in oiling the wheels of that society. We had our own version of mafiositá in this country. For many years, individuals who were themselves beyond reproach in terms of their personal conduct and financial probity made a relative value system judgment that a certain amount of corruption on the part of politicians was acceptable because they had a higher loyalty - whether to party, to Civil War values or to their idea of what constituted patriotism or order - or a distaste for the other major party, which led them to the view that although so and so might be somewhat corrupt, he is still "our guy" and, on balance, he has it right. As a medical student and young doctor, I often heard this said about a certain politician who shall remain nameless. As it was famously said, the dogs in the street knew this person's conduct of his private financial affairs was not beyond reproach, yet he remained untouched for many years. One frequently encountered the attitude that he was certainly a crook but then a crook was just what we needed. That was a view one commonly encountered in the 1970s, 1980s and through to the 1990s.
Why did this type of tolerance persist for so long in this country? Although Fianna Fáil is taking the bulk of the criticism in this regard, I do not accept that the average member of that party is any more or less intrinsically ethical or moral than the average member of the Fine Gael or Labour parties. The mere fact that Fianna Fail, because of an unusual demographic factor that arose in the aftermath of the second election following the Civil War, had a near permanent slight plurality of support meant that, on average, its members were in power more often than not. Lord Acton was absolutely correct in observing that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therein likes the bulk of the explanation for why the type of behaviour we are discussing took place more often on Fianna Fáil's watch than on anybody else's. I suspect that if another party had been in power for 11 out of every 15 years, or whatever the arithmetic is, there would be a certain number of bleached bones lying in the political desert, the bones of those who had to step down as a result of various scandals. That is the very nature of being in power unchallenged for too long. Having said that, there are other factors to consider. For example, there is little to choose in terms of fundamental values and policies between the two major parties historically. That, together with a Whip system and a heavily incentivised parochialism in the way we select our politicians, meant it was easy to think of reasons to turn a blind eye to a certain level of corruption.
Where have all of these revelations left us? In a practical sense we have spent some €300 million on the Mahon tribunal and God knows how much on the other tribunals. When I first returned to Ireland the major scandal was the €30 million cost of the beef tribunal. At the time I was seeking approval for a drug called Taxol for ovarian and breast cancer patients but met with serious reservations from Government on the grounds of cost. I made the point at the time, in those naive days, that the total bill for the beef tribunal would have met the cost of supplying the drug to every patient who needed it for five years. I was contacted by the producers of "Liveline" today, which has had a succession of patients calling in to say they cannot obtain a particular drug for the treatment of malignant melanoma. This is a drug whose cost to the Exchequer could probably be halved simply by way of a proper bulk purchasing strategy by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health. It could be made available to every patient who needs it at a total cost of €5 million. However, we apparently cannot find €5 million for patients suffering a cancer which without treatment is invariably fatal, but we can spend €300 million on a tribunal. What does that tell us about the way we do public life in this country?
As I said, I am speaking as something of an outsider in making my observations. I am sure some Members are wondering who the hell is this guy - I am not sure whether I am permitted to use that word in the Chamber - to say what I am about to say. It looks to me and to many of those looking at it from the outside that the tribunals were set up primarily to fail. Consider the whole process in terms of how they were gunged up for so long, how it was possible for people to give evidence that was economical with the truth, how there have been so few prosecutions and how they gobbled up so much money. One wonders whether we should have a dedicated police unit that investigates suspected crime. Should we not have a prosecution service that is politically independent and which, when there is evidence staring it in the face that something is wrong, can go ahead and investigate it? Must we instead have this great panacea whereby we cannot comment on, discuss or legislate in response to certain matters because they are before a tribunal which may not produce any findings for 13 years and will cost hundreds of millions of euro? An independent detective unit within the Garda could have dealt with some of these issues straight away. A district attorney model might have taken up the cudgel of investigating and potentially prosecuting people a decade ago, with consequent vast savings for the Exchequer and benefits for the credibility of the political system.
I am pleased that the system has finally brought forth an outcome. The value of the result it produces, when set against the opportunity cost of the money that is gone and the reputational damage to Irish democracy, is probably questionable. I hope people will examine the report carefully and take on board the larger lessons rather than indulging in cross-aisle finger pointing.
I welcome the fact that all parties have accepted the findings of the Mahon tribunal. I genuinely feel sorry for the thousands of people involved in the major political parties who have dedicated their lives to politics and who were let down by a small group of corrupt politicians. The latter effectively destroyed the reputation of politics.
I agree in principle with much of what Senator Crown stated. Had actions such as those he suggests been taken a long time ago, we would probably be in a very different position. However, I contend that we were right to spend €300 million to ensure that our descendants will read the correct version of Irish history and not an incorrect one. If the Mahon tribunal has done one good thing it has been to ensure that the history books will be written correctly and that the record will be kept straight. Until people are put behind bars, however, the members of the current generation who have been so badly let down by those in whom they placed their trust will remain of the view that the Mahon tribunal has not served its purpose. I call on the Garda Commissioner and those around him to ensure that all resources will be made available to those carrying out the investigation into this matter in order that criminal prosecutions will be brought, as a matter of urgency, against the people who were named and shamed by the Mahon tribunal. Justice must be seen to take its course.
There was much which the Mahon tribunal could have investigated had it had the necessary remit. The entire west coast has been completely destroyed by property development of the most outrageous kind. There have been all sorts of rumour and speculation about the county in which I live, Clare, but none of this can be proven because no one is in possession of the facts. Some of the developments that have taken place in seaside resorts in County Clare are both disgraceful and appalling. Tax designation schemes, which went against everything that is right and which favoured the rich, were used to facilitate developments that should never have proceeded. The planning process facilitated the type of development which has absolutely destroyed our coast. We have a most wonderful landscape in this country but, unfortunately, it has been polluted by bad, poor-quality development that took place in the 1990s and the early to mid-2000s and which should never have been allowed to proceed.
I am sure that one would be obliged to question the integrity of those who made a number of key decisions in respect of the type of developments to which I refer. I do not just refer to politicians in this regard; I am also talking about planners and other officials. There was so much money flying around during the period in question that it was possible to almost buy anything. We are in a recession at present but perhaps that is what is required to bring back some dignity to this country. During a recession, money cannot buy one everything that one wants.
What happened in this country in the recent past was appalling. I contend that the Mahon report is merely one chapter of the book which could be written. Unfortunately, we possess neither the resources nor the capability to carry out the type of forensic investigation required and which I would like to see happen into the events which occurred in the recent past. I am a realist and I acknowledge that such an investigation is just not practical. I recall many people, including one famous politician, stating that we need to draw a line in the sand. I regret that at this stage we do probably need to try to move on. The planning legislation that has been enacted has improved the situation to a significant degree. Had many of the checks and balances that are now in place been there before, it is probable that we would not be in the kind of mess in which we now find ourselves.
We must do everything possible, including introducing new legislation, to ensure that adequate prison sentences will be handed down. As legislators, we must do whatever is necessary in order to ensure that there will never be a recurrence of the events that are the subject of the Mahon tribunal report. People need to go to prison for their part in those events. Until this happens, the people will be of the view that the Mahon tribunal has not served its purpose, namely, to put those who are corrupt behind bars. I would like the House to revisit this matter six or 12 months from now. Hopefully, some action may have been taken by that time. Action is what people want.
I am of the view that politics in this country must undergo a fundamental change. I do not believe in skirting around the edges or engaging in a bit of window dressing. Clientelism, both large and small in nature, has become a major factor in politics and this must change. Such a change would probably require an alteration to the electoral system. I do not have the answers in this regard but I am confident that the constitutional convention which has been established will commence the debate that is required in respect of the matter to which I refer.
My final point relates to the media. I am of the view that media organisations must work with us. We all, including those in the media, have a responsibility to do the right thing. When major decisions relating to the future of this country are being made, the media needs to work with those elected to represent the citizens of this country.
I could speak for a long time on this issue because I feel so strongly about it. The Seanad has a key role to play in facilitating and fostering debates of this nature, particularly as they relate to the future of our country. I see the Mahon tribunal report as a starting point for reform in Ireland. Reform can only happen through action and there is no doubt that action is required. In that context, people must be placed behind bars and the political system in this country must be changed utterly.
I thank the Minister of State for coming before the House for this debate and I wish her well in her role. This debate brings back to me the difficult time my party, its members and I experienced in the aftermath of the publication of the Mahon tribunal report. The period in question was very upsetting for us, particularly as people in whom we had placed our faith and whose evidence we had waited to be adjudicated upon were found extremely wanting by a tribunal of inquiry.
It is worth considering the findings of the tribunal and engaging in the type of political commentary and criticism to which they have already been subjected. That is certainly the entitlement of Members on all sides. However, all parties must look to their own records and their own dealings with this and other tribunals. A number of media commentators, particularly in the context of the Moriarty tribunal, have questioned the value of tribunal findings. Those in the media need to question their own actions and opinions. A tremendous amount of forensic investigation was done in the context of following a particular money trail relating to a number of individuals and a huge amount of evidence was gathered. I recently saw some documents which provide details of the donations made by one particular company during the 1990s. It would appear that there was something for everybody in the audience, including elected Members, all parties, constituency organisations, etc. All of this is documented in the tribunal's findings. The donations to which I refer were not found to be corrupt, although some of them may perhaps have been. In the context of this debate, we must look to ourselves and our parties. We must also look to the future in order to identify what we can change.
The tribunal was established by Fianna Fáil in 1997. I accept that it was necessarily established and that there was no great act of bravery involved in its being set up. The tribunal had to be established in light of the serious allegations that were floating about at that point. Who would have thought it would have ended almost 15 years later with significant costs? It is relevant to talk about the costs but not in the context of trying to undermine the tribunal and the findings it made. There is a debate to be had not just on tribunal costs but legal costs in general. I heard one commentator pointing out the State is the largest procurer of legal services and effectively sets the price. That is what happened in the tribunal. We set the price and, in fact, the price filtered down to the rest of the legal services. This must be addressed because the costs are not worth it and could have been done much cheaper.
My party had some devastating findings made against some of its members. These were acted upon within 24 hours. We fully accept the findings of the tribunal. We have to because we set it up. There is much talk about the tribunal not having any legal effect and just being a judge's opinion. The findings of fact, however, are there and were made by learned judges. They must be accepted by Members of the Oireachtas. As I said already, they should also be accepted by media commentators. Over the past few days, several of them have come out of the woodwork, employed by certain individuals, to state the findings are just judges' opinions. That is not correct and it does not bode well for law and order if judges' findings are not accepted in whatever forum they are made.
We must look to the future too and how the planning system can be changed. The single most significant measure contained in the report was the establishment of a planning regulator. Significant progress was made by the previous Administration with the planning and development legislation which corrals councils into a certain course of action decided at national level, a good development.
The tribunal did not agree that planning regulation should be carried out by a Minister. The fact that the ultimate decision and power is moved away from councillors to an independent person who should not be subject to lobbying or corruption is a positive step forward, one which I support. It is important the planning regulator will do a better job than other regulators have done who have become captured by the very utilities they are supposed to regulate. Regulators always seem to go with the companies they are regulating. I would hate to see that happening with a planning regulator. Any planning regulator should have a short term of office and be replaced every two years to ensure he or she does not fall into the same trap the financial regulator did, where there was a game of golf with the banks every so often. Who is to say that could not happen again? The only answer to that is to have short terms of office for a planning regulator.
The tribunal judges saw much of what went wrong with planning. There was much crime which has been and is being dealt with by the courts. The judges recommended breaches of ethics should be a criminal offence. They recommended an increased role for the Standards in Public Office Commission and that politicians should be restricted from land deals for two years after leaving office, as well as providing audited accounts. Much of these measures are already in the proposed legislation on corruption and are to be welcomed.
The disclosure requirements should be updated. Annual disclosure is not enough. If a politician comes into assets or property, he or she should be subject to a short disclosure period subsequently. We should have to declare any loans we have. The public interest requires we declare our assets but also our mortgages. In this tribunal and in other reports, it came to light there was a certain amount of insider dealing in obtaining mortgages involving the political system as well as media figures and other people of influence. They were all able to get loans on an easy basis from certain financial institutions which partly contributed to our economic collapse. For politicians to be above reproach, we should have to declare our mortgages too.
I look forward to the proposed legislation arising from the tribunal's recommendations. Since the tribunal was established, Fianna Fáil introduced many measures in planning legislation. They have not all worked, however. While it is important to have a centralised system for setting out guidelines, some of the national guidelines have not worked. The retail planning guidelines were a disaster. Shopping centres were built in areas which are now empty. It was not councillors but An Bord Pleanála which sited these shopping centres after objections by residents. That was a failure of national guidelines on which, presumably, An Bord Pleanála was acting.
I have also heard that regional guidelines are defective. I often say I do not want to get involved in this area as it is not my concern. If politicians move away from highlighting flawed guidelines, we could have some of the mistakes of the past made again. There will have to be a role for politicians in some way to advocate on behalf of their communities and the broad general interest.
This report, as well as the Moriarty tribunal report, is with the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda. Nothing has happened with the Moriarty findings. Who is to say nothing will happen with the Mahon report? I suppose certain things have happened with some people serving time in jail and other cases before the courts. However, I am not sure the type of retribution and justice required by the public will happen. This would be a shame after so many years and so much money spent.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House. This has been a long debate on the findings of the Mahon tribunal. I want to acknowledge Senator Mooney's apology, on behalf of his party, for what some of his party members did. I fully respect the fact there are many thousands within the Fianna Fáil Party who had no hand, act or part in what went on in the matters that led to the Mahon tribunal.
There is a term, however, that can only be used in Ireland, the "likeable rogue". It is a contradictory term but was the one used in my constituency, Tipperary South, by many local authority officials to describe several politicians in my time as a local councillor for over 25 years. It meant many things to be a likeable rogue. Ultimately, however, it meant that one was a rogue. Rogues found ways of circumventing the laws of the land. What disturbs me about the Mahon tribunal is that it concentrated only on Dublin. The Minister of State, who was a member of a local authority herself, and every other Member who was on a local authority knows there could be a Mahon tribunal for every council. What was investigated in Dublin went on up and down the country. I saw it with my own eyes for 25 years. It was brought to an art form with the language and methodologies used, as well as the people involved, who constituted a clique. They succeeded and some of it will never be unearthed because the trails were well covered. People like my colleague, Deputy Joan Burton, the Minister for Social Protection, were talking about this 20 years ago but were ignored. I spoke about it in my constituency and was told I was anti-development and anti-progress. Some of what happened has come out through Mahon but it will never all come out.
Having praised Senator Mooney, I have to take issue with his claim that money was sloshing around and given to everybody. It was not given to people in my party because we did not accept it. The one party member who did was thrown out of the party within ten days of doing so. That is on the record of the Mahon tribunal. Trying to paint everyone with the one brush and suggesting that everyone was at it at the one time is an unfair analysis of what happened.
How satisfied is the Minister that what has been unearthed will not lead to further tribunals? If one remembers how all this started, it was when one individual was vexed by the comments of an arrogant politician. That can happen any day, in any place from now to eternity. How are we ever going to get to the bottom of this? Are we only just scratching at the surface?
Much play has been made regarding the provision of a regulator to deal with planning issues. I respectfully suggest that people who are elected, whether to a local council, the Seanad or Dáil, should be willing to serve for the betterment of their community and not their own pocket or those of party colleagues. They should not be elected to be in a clique. That is from where this issue stems, and there will never be a system that can ensure people are elected for the right reasons.
I support Senator Conway, who spoke about the need to see proper penalties. We have seen people proven guilty of corruption but we have yet to hear mention of someone being jailed. There are places across Europe where senior politicians were found to be corrupt, and those politicians, especially in Germany, for example, served time behind bars. That was a message to the public and those who believe in democracy and how it should operate. If the trust of the people is breached, not alone will a person not be re-elected, he or she will also face the rigours of the law. Until we bring that into legislation, we will not even begin to solve the problem.
The 2001 planning Bill was fine legislation but there were ten amendments to it within 24 months, most of them formulated in the Galway tent, which ensured the onus on completing housing estates was handed back to local authorities rather than builders. In simple terms, some pipes did not require to be covered by a metre of earth because that would need shuttering and more money to be paid out by builders in constructing houses. Instead, they only had to be covered by 18 in. of earth. That cost hundreds of millions of euro following the big freeze during 2010 and 2011. It came about because somebody suggested that a section of the legislation should be amended to ensure money could be saved in the building of houses. That was formulated by people in the clique.
I could go on but we must face the truth of what happened. I look forward to the Minister bringing legislation to this House to deal with these issues. The strong arm of the law should be implemented to ensure those in breach are dealt with meaningfully. That will send a message that we have a real democracy and people will pay if they try to corrupt it. We will never have a democracy worth talking about if that does not happen. I thank the Minister of State for attending and I look forward to him returning to the House soon with legislation dealing with these issues.
I am pleased we have the time to consider this momentous report in detail because it has major significance not only for our planning system but also for our political system. The report has made adverse findings against elected representatives at all levels of elected office, from county councillor to Taoiseach. I express my appreciation to the members of the tribunal - Judges Mahon, Faherty and Keys and, previously, Mr. Justice Feargus Flood - for the work they have done and the reports they have produced. Their work is all the more remarkable given the obstruction and attacks to which the tribunal was subjected over the course of its hearings and investigations.
The report is very wide-ranging and makes findings of corruption against a number of named individuals. The essential point of the report is the need for everyone in public life not just to talk about high standards but also to be willing to behave and act on them no matter the personal inconvenience. The Government is committed to responding promptly and effectively to the findings and recommendations of the report. Since publication, the Government has responded with authority to those findings and recommendations. As has been stated, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has sent the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Commissioner, the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission for consideration and appropriate investigative steps. I understand the Garda Commissioner has referred the report to the Criminal Assets Bureau and asked the head of the bureau to lead the Garda examination of the report and follow-up action.
The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, has instituted civil forfeiture proceedings relating to matters investigated by the Mahon tribunal over the past 15 years and the report notes that the Comptroller and Auditor General estimated in 2008 that CAB and the Revenue Commissioners have recovered in excess of €51 million. It will be a matter for these organs of State to decide what action, if any, to take on foot of the final report.
In addition to its findings, which are well known at this stage, the report makes a total of 64 recommendations on planning, conflicts of interest, political finance, lobbying, bribery, corruption in office, money laundering, the misuse of confidential information, asset recovery and confiscation, as well as other miscellaneous matters. The Government has decided that all relevant Ministers should consider its recommendations and revert to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the co-ordinating Department, by the end of April with proposed actions. That is with a view to the Minister, Deputy Hogan, reporting to the Government for a collective response to the tribunal recommendations as early as possible in May.
The intention to bring this matter to Government again within a number of weeks will ensure we produce a whole-of-government response to the tribunal's recommendations, with a comprehensive and in-depth response to each of the tribunal's findings. Some of these recommendations are in the course of implementation through reforms of the tribunal of inquiry legislation and the new legislative proposals relating to political funding, corruption, whistleblowers and registration of lobbyists. These legislative reforms have been brought forward by this Government in the first 12 months of office. With all that has been invested in the tribunal to date, it is crucial the report is considered carefully and acted on speedily and comprehensively in order that we can help restore public confidence in the political system.
The Government's comprehensive commitment to breaking the link between big money and politics is evidenced by the introduction of the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill 2011. This legislation sustainably reforms political funding in Ireland and, as such, has endeavoured to implement the recommendations made in the Moriarty report. The trust and confidence of our citizens in the political system has been badly damaged by the revelations of this report. The evidence in the report of the many individuals who did everything they could to expose corruption and who are commended by the tribunal therefore should also be conveyed to the public.
The Government faces many challenges relating to the economy and our system of government. The Government is committed to ending the legacy of corruption detailed in this report, as outlined by several Senators during this debate. The Government has taken the necessary steps to ensure that what has been shown in the report can never happen again, and we must all strive to that end, no matter what side of the House we are on. The actions outlined in the report can never happen again and people must be brought to justice. That process will take its course, with people being jailed if found guilty by the courts. The law must take its course. Like other Senators, I am hopeful those named in this report as being found corrupt will receive the treatment they deserve, namely, being brought to justice and jailed if found guilty by the courts.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Seanad. We have had a good debate which, to be fair, has been embarrassing for many of us. I agree with previous speakers that the costs of the Mahon tribunal, at €300 million, were astronomical. It was a bonanza for a great part of the legal profession and the time it took to complete its deliberations - 15 years - was extraordinary.
I would like to refer to an instance of corruption in the United States involving the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois at the time and when he left office, the governor had sole responsibility for appointing. Mr. Blagojevich was lobbied by the hierarchy in the state on behalf of particular individuals to succeed Mr. Obama. He indicated that it was a responsible position and that financial reward would be required. He was subsequently captured on tape stating what were his requirements. His demands to make the appointment were a substantial salary for himself, his wife to be placed on various corporate boards through which it was estimated she would earn $150,000 annually, promises of campaign funds up-front in cash and a cabinet post or ambassadorship to Serbia. He had to pay the price for corruption. He was tried on corruption charges and sentenced to 14 years in jail last December. President Obama has not completed his first term. It did not take the US 15 years to make a decision on what was wrong and it did not cost €300 million to do so. In addition, the governor did not receive a single penny. As previous speakers stated, proper penalties must be enforced in this country and examples must be made of people.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the tribunal report because it highlights the wide ranging corruption that took place. Everything that happened was underhand and shameful. While the report has been referred to the Garda, past investigations point to the fact it is unlikely it will be acted on. I would like to be proved wrong but the judges' findings are based on the balance of probabilities, which is not enough to satisfy a court, where something has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The editorial in The Sunday Business Post on 25 March 2012 asked, "why our justice and political systems did not act years ago on much of what has been uncovered, the details of which were abundantly clear from the evidence given at the tribunal".
Perhaps I did not understand the difference between a court and a tribunal regarding the balance of proof necessary because one of the fundamental questions is whether the tribunal was established to give certain people more time. In other words, was it a method of postponement of certain facts until a more appropriate time? Perhaps we will never get the answer to the question. How many more cases lie undiscovered? We must now act on the weak links between business and government and introduce transparency to lobbying and fund-raising. This can all be done online now. We must even extend this to all levels of society and, for example, outline public spending online. I am not sure why the government is doing more on lobbying and documenting spending in an easily accessible way for every citizen. There must be also a real threat of prosecution.
As regards political donations, we have to go much further than recent legislation and protect whistleblowers. I proposed that we give whistleblowers some reward and that has not been even considered. Given that some may be taking a massive risk to their career and family, why can we not provide an incentive for them to blow the whistle? What if some low ranking banker in the former Anglo Irish Bank highlighted the wrongdoings in the mid-2000s? Would we be in the crisis now? It is interesting to consider. We are still not doing enough to combat corruption and we are still behind the times on that. John Devitt of Transparency International Ireland said, "Other forms of abuse are possible because of the weak or non-existent regulation of lobbyists, the concentration of political power in the hands of government ministers and weak oversight by the Oireachtas...the planning and public contracting system still creates incentives for bribery."
In the US, businesses are obliged to reveal the policies they are seeking to influence and the clients on whose behalf they are working. We have to introduce something along those lines. What about former politicians working for lobbying companies? We have all witnessed former politicians walking around Leinster House who are clearly here to lobby. There is nothing wrong with that but it should be above board. Should the Oireachtas be more picky about who is allowed in? I believe we should have fines and deadlines for not signing up to a register of lobbyists or even for furnishing misleading statements. In the UK, it was recently proposed to introduce fines of up to Stg£5,000 for missing deadlines or higher fines and a maximum two year jail term for knowingly making misleading statements. That is a real method of countering unethical business–government relations.
The Mahon tribunal has highlighted many issues such as this. It has shown we do not have a system that works and we need to do something about that. I acknowledge legislation on lobbying and whistleblowing is proposed but we can take many other measures. Most of us did not realise the problems but it is obvious from the Mahon tribunal that the problems were abundantly clear and yet no action was taken. It is time to take action. Given that the tribunal is a public service it should have been undertaken much earlier and should have had more legal weight. It is welcome that we can speak on the subject openly because often those who speak on it are perceived to have a vested interest. We have got to clean that up and make it possible for us to act above board. It is in our hands to do that in the immediate future.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for contribution. I wish her well in her deliberations and in her portfolio. I was sorry at the circumstances surrounding the departure of her predecessor but Deputy Jan O'Sullivan is the ideal Minister of State for the Department at this time. If she keeps in mind the spirit of her original political mentor, the late Jim Kemmy, what she will do in the Department and for the Government will be valid. She will need to show courage and leadership to ensure that when all the speeches have been made, action will be taken. I wish her well in her efforts.
The Mahon report and the Moriarty report are twin products of a culture of greed and cronyism in Irish politics. When I came into the House, half way through the debate, my colleague, Senator Conway, was speaking about the need to fundamentally change Irish politics. Bad planning in Ireland stems from bad politics. At the core of politics in the State, since its foundation, is cronyism and "cute hoor" politics, as some have called it. In a political system where many politicians and sometimes entire political parties can virtually stand for nothing, they therefore cannot stand for anything. Where a person's worth is described by the media and commentators in terms of the number of votes secured at election time, rather than the value and quality of his or her ideas and convictions, the political system is not working. Whether it is the Mahon or Moriarty report or the state of the economy, it was almost inevitable that, since the State was formed, the political system would land us in this situation. Therefore, we need new politics. New politics is not as shallow as pronouncing that the Seanad should be abolished, it is a much bigger picture. Part of the new politics must be a new approach to fund raising.
The Minister of State mentioned the Government's deliberations on the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Donations) Bill 2011 on which we had a positive debate, having commenced in the Seanad, with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, who indicated he was open to further thinking on the matter. That was some months ago. Since then and following publication of the Mahon report there is a need to reflect on the question of donations to politicians. During the debate I made the point that I thought the Minister had gone as far as he could and if we want to remove corporate donations and funding the taxpayer will have to pay. There are no marches by taxpayers saying they want to fund politics. It will be difficult to say to them that they must fund politics, even though they are doing so to a considerable extent. It may well be the case, arising from this and previous reports, that the link between business and politics by way of fund raising will have to be abolished.
I wish the Minister of State well in her deliberations on that issue. As part of her deliberations on the constitutional convention on politics itself, the electoral system which puts a premium on localism, clientelism and single issue politics rather than the bigger picture will have to be reviewed. We cannot rebuild the country and the type of government required with the current electoral system where virtually all Members of this and, particularly, the other House, spends most of their time looking over their shoulder at their constituency colleague, generally from their own party. That is not how one would run a company and it is not how one should run a country. All those issues which are central need to be addressed. The position has changed in recent months since the publication of the report and our reflection and recollection of other reports to the extent that the ideas expressed here on political donations some time ago are probably already out of date.
In politics we all live in glasshouses. No political party can claim to be above reproach. We can all improve and seek to do business and politics openly and transparently. We are duty bound to accept the reports of the tribunals. As they have cost a good deal of money and time, we must note and respond to what has been said and the information that has been ascertained. As the Leader of the House has pointed out, the various agencies of Government and State are deliberating on the findings. There is an expectation on the part of the public that there will be a reaction, legal and otherwise.
Senator Brennan gave a vivid account of how things can happen quickly in another jurisdiction. We need due process here. Those whose names have been listed and who have questions to answer must answer. There was a categorisation of difficulty which must be noted. The public expect strong action to be taken where corrupt practices took place. The tribunal report strongly pointed to a number of cases where such corruption has, apparently, happened. We await the outcome from the various legal investigations.
I wish the Minister of State and her Department well in their deliberations. The cleaning up and reform of politics is crucial. There must be absolute confidence in the political system and in every appointment, from a judge to State board appointees to peace commissioner to local dog catcher, that it is all above politics. For many generations the biggest party on this side of the House, Fine Gael, always saw itself as playing second fiddle and complained and looked on jealously at another party which appeared to get everything. Since we are the dominant party, perhaps there is a feeling that we should be the winners in all the contests. We must move beyond that thinking to a position where every appointment we make is above reproach. I do not care whether the appointee is Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, former Progressive Democrat or whatever. He or she must be the best person for the job. New thinking is what is required.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. There used to be an old joke at college as to what was the cost of planning permission? One lecturer wrote the answer "10%" on the blackboard and he left it at that. To a certain extent that was true. We have moved on, thankfully, from the first tribunal report when the only person threatened with jail was the Senator who sits beside me for votes, namely, Senator Susan O'Keeffe, because she would not reveal her sources. That is a good thing. What strikes me in the Mahon report is the household names who have debased and diminished all involved in politics. Some had been defended to the hilt for a long time. Others who sought to question what was going on were accused of taking their character. The report is welcome.
I take Senator Thomas Byrne's point that he and his young colleagues are trying to come to terms with its impact on their party and are working for a new future for politics, as I hope are all. I hope some will get their just desserts.
I hope to bring forward proposals to reduce the costs. I refer Members to the secretary of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse who, having forensically examined the costs, reduced them significantly.
I thank all the Senators who participated in this high quality, wide-ranging and thought-provoking debate. I think 20 Senators from all sides participated.
It is very important to state that not everybody was at this practice, that a small number were corrupted, whether they were developers, professional planners or politicians. Others resisted and stood up to what was going on, and as Senator D'Arcy said, one Member of this House was taken to court for it. We need to recognise that. While the point was made about the corruption of people in power and those who had things to gain were likely to be corrupted, which we need to protect against, not everybody was corrupted.
A number of speakers have made the point that we are the current crop of politicians and we must ensure we are in politics for public service, not personal gain. We must ensure this is what motivates Members on all sides in both Houses of the Oireachtas and all those in local government. We can retrieve the name of politics if we put our minds to it. At issue is the way we see our role. I do not accept we are all subject to corruption, if the opportunity arises, because I do not think that is the reason most people are in politics.
We must put measures in place to stop those who might be subject to corruption from succumbing to it and getting away with it. That is the reason we are putting in place the measures concerning planning, which I outlined in my contribution, as well as the whistleblowers, ethics and registration of lobbyists legislation to which Senator Quinn referred. We must put these measures in place.
I agree with the point made by Senator Bradford and others that the issue must be kept under review to see whether we need to take further steps in respect of donations. We intend to do that.
In response to Senator Keane's points about ongoing scrutiny and implementation of the recommendations, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, will come to Cabinet in early May with the departmental responses. These will not just be the initial responses of Departments. There will be timeframes for further discussions.
I take Senator Conway's point that the issue should be discussed in the Seanad again. This will not sit on the shelf, as it were. We will ensure we monitor the implementation of the recommendations and the measures we need to take to ensure politics does not fall to the standards of that time. Senators McAleese, O'Keeffe and Landy referred to that.
Senators McAleese, Landy, Harte and Quinn referred to examples of corruption in other places which could possibly be ongoing. I accept we will never again put in place such costly tribunals, on which we are all agreed, but we must ensure we have mechanisms to deal with corruption. Commissions of investigation, for example are a cheaper way of doing that.
I will speak briefly on the issue of cost. The measured cost to date of the Mahon tribunal is €110 million, but the most recent projected cost the tribunal received in April was €200 million. I heard the figure of €300 million referred to several times in the debate. It may well go higher than €200 million, but at this stage I cannot give a definitive figure. There are measures in place, including the establishment of a dedicated unit to deal with third party costs arising from both the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals. This is located in the State Claims Agency and has experience in the areas of, for example, personal injuries and property damage claims against the State. That will help to minimise third party costs. There are ongoing third party costs that have not been determined. There is an outstanding module, the Carrickmines module, that has not been completed. There are measures to reduce the cost of the rest of the work of the tribunal and we hope they will be successful.
We need to have a more specific focus in carrying out investigations in the future. The current tribunal embraced all sorts of things at various stages and we must learn from that experience ways in which to curtail costs.
The tribunals have done significant work in shinning a light on a culture that must be eradicated. Others as well as I have made the point that there is not just a financial cost but also a cost in terms of ghost estates and communities on the edge of Dublin and other towns that have been developed beyond the bounds of sense. We cannot allow that to happen again. We must ensure measures are put in place based on what we have learned. I give an undertaking to the Seanad that my colleagues and I in Government will put planning and other measures in place.
To respond to Senator Byrne's query, the review of the retail planning guidelines is almost complete and has been sent out for public scrutiny. There will be a specific focus on town centres rather than suburban sprawl.
I will be willing, as I am sure will my colleagues, to return to the Seanad to have a further debate on the issue of the tribunal report. We as public representatives must ensure we learn the lessons from it and put the measures in place to regain public confidence in political activity. We owe that to future generations.
I thank all Members who contributed to the debate.