Dáil Éireann - Volume 392 - 24 October, 1989

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Decision of DPP—Father Patrick Ryan.

15. Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if the British authorities were notified through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat of the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Father Patrick Ryan, prior to the announcement of that decision; if he has asked the Attorney General the reason there is an apparent discrepancy between the statement issued by the Attorney General in the matter, in which he appeared to imply that there was a case to be answered, and the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions; if so, if he has ascertained the reasons for that apparent discrepancy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

16. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach in regard to the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to initiate proceedings against Patrick Ryan, if the British Government were advised in advance of the public announcement; if in view of the particular circumstances of this case, a detailed public statement will be issued, similar to that issued by the Attorney General in December 1988 outlining the reasons for his decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

17. Mr. Dukes asked the Taoiseach whether, in the light of his statement to Dáil Éireann on 13 December 1988, that the charges against Patrick Ryan are of a most serious kind and that they should be investigated by a court, and in light of the recent decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to proceed under the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act, 1976, he will clarify the position and make a statement on the matter.

[33] The Taoiseach: A Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 16 and 17 together.

There was no communication by the Government to the British authorities of the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions prior to its announcement by him. The Director of Public Prosecutions issued his public announcement on the evening of 12 October. As that announcement indicated, he had earlier that day informed the British Crown Prosecution Service of his decision.

While it is not the practice to disclose communications between the Attorney General and his British counterpart, I can say that on the day and prior to its being announced the British Attorney General was informed of the director's decision by the Attorney General, who had been informed of it by the director that day.

As the House will be aware the Director of Public Prosecutions is, by virtue of section 2 (5) of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, independent in regard to decisions taken by him whether or not to prosecute in any particular case. Accordingly, while I do not accept that there is any apparent discrepancy such as the questions suggest, it would be quite inappropriate for me to comment on the director's decision in the case referred to by the Deputies.

It would also be inappropriate for me to comment on the statement issued by the Attorney General in December 1988, in connection with the exercise of his independent functions or on the decision recorded in that statement. I emphasise that it was the Attorney General's statement and it will be recalled that I read that statement to the House because I considered it desirable that the statement should be on the record of the House. On that occasion I did not, however, offer any comment on the statement and I do not propose to do so now.

Mr. Dukes: A Cheann Comhairle——

An Ceann Comhairle: I propose to call the Deputies in the order in which their questions appear on the Order Paper.

[34] Mr. Spring: My understanding of the events which took place last December is that the Attorney General refused to endorse a warrant for the extradition of Patrick Ryan on the grounds he would not get a fair trial, which would seem to have been reasonable. However the Taoiseach, who read a statement to this House, whether he likes it or not, must now stand over that statement and indeed take responsibility for that statement. Unless the Taoiseach is answerable, then in effect the Attorney General is answerable to nobody. The Taoiseach by making that statement in this House must now stand over that statement and take responsibility. I would remind the Taoiseach that at that time he read to the House what the Attorney General said — “In respect of two of the charges I am satisfied that there is an intention to prosecute and that the intention is based on a sufficiency of evidence”. I would like the Taoiseach to clarify how he can reconcile that with the decision made by the DPP last week.

An Ceann Comhairle: May I remind the House at this stage that I am obliged to deal with Priority Questions at 3.30 p.m. Therefore, please utilise the time available to best advantage.

The Taoiseach: I must repeat for the Deputy that what I was reading was the statement of the Attorney General, it was not my statement. I have no responsibility for making such a statement.

Mr. Taylor: He is the Government's Attorney General.

The Taoiseach: The Attorney General is a constitutional officer.

Mr. Shatter: Is the Taoiseach disowning his own Attorney General?

The Taoiseach: The Attorney General is an officer of the Constitution and has his own responsibilities. I am advised, and I understand precedent is quite clear on the matter, that it would not be in [35] order for me to comment on either the statement of the Attorney or of the DPP.

Proinsias De Rossa: I would emphasise here that certainly neither I nor anybody I know in this House would wish to interfere with the independence of the DPP, or in the decisions that the DPP makes, but there is clearly a discrepancy between what the Attorney General said in relation to a sufficiency of evidence and what the DPP has said — which was that he did not think there was sufficient evidence to bring this man before an Irish court. Can the Taoiseach clarify the basis on which that decision was made? Was it because witnesses from Britain were unwilling to come to Ireland to give evidence, that the evidence was there, but, that witnesses were not willing to come here to give the evidence?

The Taoiseach: I do not think I should go into that ground. These are two statutory officers who have specific statutory responsibilities in regard to which I have no function and, indeed, in regard to which I think it would be undesirable and wrong for me to have a function or to interfere, or appear to interfere in any way. As I said, the statement of December 1988 was a statement by the Attorney General in his capacity as a constitutional officer. I read that statement for the information of the House, and for no other reason. I did not comment on it then and I am quite certain that I am precluded from commenting on it now. Exactly the same applies with regard to the DPP. The DPP was established by statute by this House precisely to be independent and totally removed from political influence of any kind, and removed from the political process, so that these very important matters which are within his ambit can be decided by him strictly in accordance with his statutory duties. I am quite satisfied and clear in my mind that it would be wrong of me to comment on either of these two decisions or statements by these two officers.

Mr. Dukes: Would the Taoiseach not [36] accept that the rest of this House is bound to be very sceptical in the future about any statements the Taoiseach reads in this House which are attributed to somebody else? Would the Taoiseach not agree that what we are really asking him to do here is not to comment on the Attorney General's statement, or on what he said at that time or to comment on the DPP's statement but simply to explain to the House why there is such a difference between the view the Taoiseach reported to this House last December and what has actually turned out in fact? May I remind the Taoiseach that not only did the Attorney General go to the length of saying that there were two serious charges and that they were founded on a sufficiency of evidence, but he also went to quite some lengths to recall to the House the means that this jurisdiction has for dealing with cases of that kind? He went to the trouble of pointing out that heavy penalties are prescribed by Irish law for those offences, by which we must assume he meant the offences with which the person could be charged. He also went to the trouble of saying——

An Ceann Comhairle: Quotations are not in order at Question Time.

Mr. Dukes: I am not quoting. I am just trying to make sure I do not put any words into the Taoiseach's mouth that he did not quote the Attorney General as having said last December; but the Attorney General had requested the British Attorney General to have evidence available examined here with a view to the identification of all charges which could be tried in this jurisdiction.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have to say that the time for dealing with ordinary questions of this kind is now very nigh exhausted.

Mr. Dukes: I am almost finished, a Cheann Comhairle. Would the Taoiseach not agree that in having made that statement in this House last December and in now refusing to explain why events [37] turned out differently from what the Attorney General and he himself appeared to envisage at that time, the House is being denied information which would be of immense value to this House in a series of frameworks or connections in Anglo-Irish relations from here on?

The Taoiseach: I do not agree. I want to suggest to Deputy Dukes that he is inviting me to trespass on ground which I have no right to enter.

Mr. Dukes: You entered into it voluntarily yourself in the first instance.

The Taoiseach: I read a statement by the Attorney General to this House which has been done on previous occasions but surely if I were to interfere in any way, by comment or otherwise, with the functions of either of these two fundamentally important officers Deputies then would have very real grounds for criticising me, and criticising me very severely. The Deputies cannot have it both ways. If we want these officers to be totally independent in the administration of justice and adhere strictly to their statutory functions independently, then Deputies cannot seek to drag me into it as Taoiseach and try to have me either comment on or criticise or do anything else in regard to statements made by the two officers in full and complete discharge of their statuory duties.

An Ceann Comhairle: Now I must come to deal with questions nominated for priority. Question No. 54, nominated for priority is in the name of Deputy Michael Noonan, Limerick East.

Mr. Dukes: The Taoiseach is not being asked to enter into the function of those two officers. He is being asked why there is a difference between their two views.