Dáil Éireann - Volume 383 - 19 October, 1988

Ceisteanna — Questions Oral Answers - Acceptance of Gifts.

1. Mr. Cooney asked Taoiseach if he will outline Government policy in relation to the acceptance of gifts from visiting Heads of State or other dignitaries.

2. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if he will introduce any guidelines covering the receipt of gifts from other countries or from commercial interests by the spouses or families of Ministers or Ministers of State; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

[2] 3. Mr. Dukes asked the Taoiseach the estimated value of the gifts presented to him and to his wife by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; and when he intends to hand these gifts over to the State.

4. Mr. Dukes asked the Taoiseach the guidelines which exist in relation to the acceptance of gifts by him, by members of the Government, by other office-holders and by spouses of such persons.

5. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he has satisfied himself that the existing codes of practice and procedures pertaining to the giving and receiving of ministerial gifts by members of the [3] Government with the Ministers and representatives of other States are acceptable; if not, if he will outline any changes which he proposes to recommend to the code of practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Tánaiste (for the Taoiseach): I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

Successive Administrations in Ireland have conformed to the long-established international practice whereby on the occasion of an official or State visit gifts are exchanged between host and guest. Details of such gifts, which may be personal or official, are not publicised and it would be clearly inappropriate, if not offensive, to attempt to have them valued.

The Attorney General has advised that it is the intention of the donor which determines whether a gift is to become State property under the State Property Act, 1954.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will call on the Deputies in the order in which they tabled the questions should they wish to put supplementaries.

Mr. Cooney: Perhaps I could preface my supplementaries by saying that I am sure the House hopes the Taoiseach will be back with us shortly in full health. Is the Tánaiste seriously telling us that there is no question of gifts of an extremely high value having recently been received by the Government and parties associated with the Government and that it is the intention to retain those gifts for personal use?

The Tánaiste: First of all, there is no question of value involved. What is involved is whether the gifts are personal or to the State and that is a matter entirely for the donor. I would ask the House to remember and keep in their minds that, through successive Governments, we have established excellent relations with the Moslem nations both on trade and political levels. It would be in my view [4] clearly offensive to start any investigation into particular gifts they may choose to make and on what basis they choose to make them, whether it be a personal or official basis.

A Deputy: Rubbish.

Mr. Cooney: I am not requesting an investigation. I am merely asking that gifts of patently high value would be handed over to the State.

Proinsias De Rossa: My question is of a more general nature. I am asking if the Government propose to introduce guidelines in relation to the receipt of gifts either from foreign countries or from commercial interests. Will the Tánaiste indicate if he proposes to introduce such a set of guidelines and whether such guidelines would include the creation of a register of such gifts and perhaps the rule regarding value or how much a gift would have to be worth before it would be handed over to the State?

The Tánaiste: The only issue involved here is an inter-state matter between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Irish Republic.

Proinsias De Rossa: No. My question——

The Tánaiste: That is what is involved in the question here.

Mr. J. Bruton: That is not what is involved in the answer.

An Ceann Comhairle: The matter must not lead to argument.

The Tánaiste: It is entirely a matter for the visiting dignatory in this case to decide whether it should be an official gift or a personal gift. Moslem countries have their code in this respect which we should respect and do nothing offensive that may damage the excellent relations we have established with them.

[5] Proinsias De Rossa: The Tánaiste does not appear to understand——

An Ceann Comhairle: A brief question. There are other Deputies' questions to be dealt with in respect of this matter.

Proinsias De Rossa: I appreciate that. The Tánaiste does not appear to understand my question. It is a general question asking——

An Ceann Comhairle: I hope this does not turn out to be repetition.

Proinsias De Rossa: ——whether guidelines will be introduced governing the acceptance——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has put that question earlier.

Proinsias De Rossa: ——whether from foreign guests or from commercial interests. It has no relationship at all to the matter to which the Tánaiste is referring. It is a general question with regard to——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Deputy Dukes.

Mr. Dukes: Is the Tánaiste aware that in the past there have been guidelines in existence as to the conduct of members of the Government and other office-holders in regard to acceptance of gifts of a personal nature? Does he not further agree that those guidelines do not seem to have been even dusted out on this occasion or looked at? Does the Tánaiste not agree that it is utterly irrelevant to make the distinction he is now making between personal gifts or State gifts since if they were State gifts the question would not arise in the first place because the objects would be handed over to the State? Would the Tánaiste not agree that the answer he is giving completely evades answering the question which is, “have the guidelines which existed in the past been applied to this case?” Has any attempt been made, as I have asked in my second question, to value the gifts in [6] question? Would the Tánaiste not accept that there can be no question, in applying our own internal guidelines, of giving any offence to any third party or other state?

The Tánaiste: I think the Opposition have mistaken the whole basis of my reply to Deputy De Rossa. What I am saying here is germane to all the questions regarding an inter-state gift. There are guidelines, of course, with regard to commercial gifts. These guidelines have always been observed. They do not arise in this case. What arises in this case is an inter-State matter between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Government of this country of ours. That is what is involved and there is no departure from any of the previous guidelines under either of these two headings. The only heading that arises is the last one and there is no departure from that. It would be clearly offensive for us to carry out an investigation into what the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has proposed to donate on this occasion.

Mr. Dukes: I have asked two questions, the first is in relation to the estimated value of the gifts and whether the Taoiseach intends to hand those gifts over to the State and the second is in relation to the existing guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts. With regard to the second question, I again ask the Tánaiste if he is not aware that there is already in existence in print a set of guidelines about the acceptance of gifts.

Further, if I am to understand from what the Tánaiste has said that the gifts in question — the ones we are talking about — are gifts from State to State, which seems to be what the Tánaiste is saying, can I then take it that the Taoiseach is either about to hand over those gifts to the State or has already done so. If they are in fact gifts from State to State, as the Tánaiste appears to pretend, why are they not now in the possession of this State without giving offence to anybody else?

The Tánaiste: I was concerned to inform the Deputy that this is not a gift [7] from a commercial firm. There are guidelines governing such gifts and gifts on an inter-State basis. It is a matter for the donor State to decide whether its gift, given on the occasion of an inter-State visit, is on a personal basis or under the State property basis. Is that quite clear?

Mr. Dukes: No.

The Tánaiste: I cannot make it any clearer.

An Ceann Comhairle: I now call on Deputy Ruairí Quinn.

Mr. Dukes: I have two questions to ask.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have allowed Deputy Dukes a lot of latitude. This question now must be very brief as Deputy Quinn has yet to be called.

Mr. Dukes: I simply want to ask the Tánaiste whether he is now saying, having said at the very beginning that the matter is one for the Attorney General to decide, that he is disallowing what he said and is now trying to say that it is a matter for the donor to decide. The Tánaiste started off by saying that it was a matter for the Attorney General to decide but I am asking again——

An Ceann Comhairle: This is leading to argument and debate.

Mr. Dukes: ——if the Tánaiste is saying that the gifts in question were gifts from State to State, and if that is the case when are they going to arrive in the possession of the Irish State? If they were not——

An Ceann Comhairle: Brevity please Deputy, otherwise I will pass on to the next question.

Mr. Dukes: If they were not gifts from State to State what is the position?

(Interruptions.)

[8] The Tánaiste: I want to answer that because, despite the laughter in the House, it is quite clear that Deputy Dukes does not understand what I have said. The last paragraph of my direct reply which he listened to three minutes ago and which I will now repeat was:

The Attorney General has advised that it is the intention of the donor which determines whether a gift is to become State property under the State Property Act, 1954.

Mr. Dukes: Can the Tánaiste tell us what it is on this occasion? Is it a gift from State to State? He has evaded that question.

Mr. Quinn: I understand that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs must have regard to the sensibilities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that is his job, but I have to have regard for the legitimate concerns of the people who put me into this House, that is my responsibility. Quite frankly their concerns are that the reported scale and value of the gift that has been received is way in excess of any token or gesture of friendship and is open to interpretation that seriously offends the sensibilities of this republican democracy. I ask the Tánaiste if it is the intention of this Government to allay any such fears without causing diplomatic offence by transferring forthwith the gifts that were received from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into the safekeeping of the Irish State as seems to be indicated by the Tánaiste's response?

The Tánaiste: That mean and petty attitude is getting us into trouble.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Quinn: With all due respect to the Tánaiste on his welcome return to this House, if that is the extent of his reply, his silence speaks volumes and underlies and underpins the legitimate concern that many of us have on this side of the House.

[9] The Tánaiste: We will uphold the dignity of this House and of this Government in our international dealings.

Mr. Quinn: No, Sir.

The Tánaiste: Mean and petty minds.

Mr. Kelly: I have no special concern for this particular instance and I was not one of the Deputies who put down a question, but I am interested in one thing which the Tánaiste said because I think we ought to nail it here as being an unacceptable basis in which this country's leaders can do business. I do not think we must accept——

An Ceann Comhairle: A question please, Deputy.

Mr. Kelly: I ask the Tánaiste to agree with me that in a case like this it is not the intention of the donor which determines a thing so much as the public conscience of the recipient. If the recipient has been given a present, and I make no special case about this instance, because of the position he holds, surely the Tánaiste will agree that a certain sense of propriety and as Deputy Quinn has said, a certain sense of proportion, would impose standards quite independent of the donor's intention.

The Tánaiste: We are moving here from pettiness to hypocrisy.

Mr. Kelly: The Tánaiste might inaugrate the meditation room by going off and spending an hour there with his conscience.